MBA of Impact Spotlight: Meet Nancy Oduro
In this Spotlight series, GMAC showcases successful MBA alumni of color who agreed to share their personal journeys to earning their degrees and achieving career success. As each path towards an MBA is different, each graduate's story is also unique in how they have leveraged their MBA experience. We hope these professionals of color inspire you to think about how to master your unique career path and journey.
Name: Nancy Oduro
MBA Program: Stanford MBA
MBA Graduation Year: 2019
Undergraduate Alma Mater: Georgetown
Undergraduate Major: Healthcare Management & Policy
Current Role: Customer Strategy & Marketing Senior Consultant, Deloitte
Let’s go through the beginning… Tell me a little bit about how you figured out where to start for graduate school? What place were you at in your life?
The first place I looked at was MLT. I had friends that had completed MBA Prep and I knew I wanted to be a part of the network, so I looked at MLT’s requirements and started taking the GMAT test more seriously. I looked at the GMAC website to see what else was needed. I considered taking a prep class because standardized testing was never a feat of mine. I took the test on the GMAC website and wasn’t too impressed with my score. This was in December 2015, so I decided in the new year that I wanted to make some changes. I enrolled in private tutoring courses with Sherpa Prep in DC. Sherpa broke down what this test meant and what the test was trying to test. It helped me figure out my test strategy and equipped me with the tips and tricks I needed to improve my score. On my second try, I finally got the score I wanted.
Who or what had the biggest influence on your decision to pursue an MBA and why?
I’m a first-generation Ghanaian, so my parents always stressed the importance of attaining the highest level of education I could get in the field I was most interested in. I always knew I was going to get another degree; it was just a matter of which one. My two sisters were also very influential in my decision-making process. I saw them grow as lawyers and doctors, and watched them study for their respective tests, apply to their respective schools, and pursue their respective careers.
All this inspiration, though, started from watching my dad who was an MBA student when I was born. I got to see him as a great example. There was no excuse for me not to try.
I did! MLT was obviously one of them before business school. It gave me a cohort of people in DC who were supportive as well as assigned me a coach who is still my mentor and helps me so much today!
Forte was another organization. Forte is a pre-MBA program for women applying to business school so this was great to get connected with a group of women who support and encourage each other, especially when applying to the same school. We had the ability to compare notes. I had solidarity with women who were different from me, but we were also so connected.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is Lime Connect. I completed a fellowship program during undergrad, but I also recently joined the board of the organization. Lime Connect helped me push forward, especially as a person living with a disability, which is the focus of the organization. The community of people I gained through Lime Connect has been invaluable in my adult life, and they really supported me while I was applying to business school.
They have been the biggest source of strength. Being a woman of color and a person living with a disability - these are the communities I connect to! While studying for the GMAT, I had to have surgery due to complications from my disability: Klempky’s Palsy. I was on medical leave and when I wasn’t spending time focusing on my own healing, I was using my time to focus on my goal of getting into business school. That time was another reminder of the many ways my “different-ability” propelled me. My identities have brought character building and growth.
I picked Stanford because I knew it was the school that would stretch me the most. My time was full of personal growth that connected to my professional life, but dealing with that personal growth was the biggest challenge I had, specifically when it came to learning how to ask for help. Business school required me to rely on my tribe in ways I never really had to before. Stanford’s administration, specifically, provided me with so much support. I had many champions at school who took me under their wings.
That personal growth, though, ended up being the best reward – learning how to take care of myself, understanding interpersonal dynamics, and becoming surer of who I am. There’s often this pressure to show that you’re confident and have it all together. That confidence was tested for me at Stanford – the experience doesn’t break you; it bends and molds you and you grow so much because of it. I was already who I was when I got there. But I got to appreciate and love who I am even more, and that level of care now shows in how I approach work and teams. The experience of growing my confidence helped me reinvigorate my passion for photography. One of my advisors asked me to pick up something I loved that had nothing to do with accounting. I registered for a photography class and it ended up being a beautiful way for me to not only fill my own cup, but also allowed me to connect with my classmates in unexpected ways. Stanford tapped into my photography to showcase the stories of my classmates during Black History and Women’s History Month. None of that would have happened had I not done the work on myself with the people around me encouraging me to just do it!
Talk to me a little bit about your experience as a Black woman going through business school and at work...
I’ve always been inspired by Black Girl Magic. My interviewer at Stanford was a Black woman and it really set the tone for the experience to come. She is Black Girl Magic. During the interview, we talked about way more than just Stanford and she was part of the reason I selected Stanford in the end. She was honest in admitting that the Stanford she attended in the 90s, with fewer than 10 black women in her class, is different from Stanford now. I started at Stanford with the intention of helping to build a strong community. I made it a point to amplify the communities I identified with, so I joined the Africa Business Club and used my leadership role to give other Black women a platform to shine and share their expertise during our annual Stanford Africa Business Forum.
Outside of community, the consciousness of my identity also followed me in group settings. At times I have struggled to speak up and voice my opinions and contributions in large groups. With the help and feedback of my classmates, I became even more aware of the impact this had on my influence and brand. It weighs heavier on me now when I don't speak up because I’ve come to learn the power of my voice. Oftentimes, I’m the only Black person and the only Black woman, and even the only woman in the room. It can be tough, but I make sure I say something in all settings now because I understand the power in being heard and spreading Black Girl Magic.
You have a powerful personal brand identifying as an African Black woman with an MBA. How did business school support you in building your personal brand?
I took a reputation management class and realized that I have a stronger brand than I was giving myself credit for. I think of my personal brand as what stays in the room when I’m not there. I remain authentic to myself and I’m proud of what that’s done for me so far. I’ve had to be honest about my struggles. That’s part of my personal brand. I don’t need to have it all together and I’m less afraid of showing that side of myself. Ironically, business school helped me prioritize taking care of my mental health and realizing self-care is very much part of my personal brand.
Yes, and not only people of color, but yes. I encourage them all to pursue an MBA (if it’s right for them)! I’ve helped and encouraged my mentees with getting into schools like Stanford and others. Similarly, in consulting, I am also involved with supporting people interested in applying to b-school.
GMAC has done research that suggests that some underrepresented minorities feel like “business isn’t for people like me” (due to lack of representation in business school classrooms, accessible role models familiar with the degree or careers in business, and alignment of personal aspirations). What would you say in response to this?
I think it is all about the perspective you choose to take. Communities of color are one of the largest consumer groups today, so every big brand makes money from us. So why shouldn’t “business” be for us? We need to own the power we have in this economy. Black businesses are growing around the world. Founders of color are starting businesses and increasing rates. We are no longer waiting for “business” to be for people like us; we are BUILDING the businesses to be for us and by us.
I might be too much of an optimist, but I see what our communities are doing, and I choose to be inspired. It’s not perfect. Equity has not been reached and we need more allies to join us in this fight. But I’m hopeful we will see even more of us at our own tables. Powerful things are happening.
Is there any advice you would give to other underrepresented minorities that are thinking about going to grad school and/or progressing further in their career?
1) Don’t doubt yourself. The process may make you doubt - the applications, test scores, interviews, rejections. But remember that there are people with a spectrum of scores and experiences at every school. Don’t let the process knock your confidence down. Go for it because you CAN do it.
2) Be clear on why you want to do it and do it for yourself - you go through a lot throughout the process, so make sure it’s worth it.
3) Find the school that’s right for you. Not for the ranks, but what's right for you. Be thoughtful. Ask real questions. Don’t do yourself a disservice by picking the school where you “think” you should be.
Deciding to put my health first and deciding to have the surgery I discussed earlier. I thought it would set me back in my career, but it was life changing in the end. I go back to that decision constantly when thinking about my “whys”. I do what I’m doing because I want to help other people beat the odds, too.
Making that decision also taught me what great leadership looks like. When I was debating whether or not to have the surgery, my mentor and the Diversity & Inclusion Lead for Deloitte Consulting saw that I wasn’t putting what mattered most first and he encouraged me to have it. He put my well-being before the job, and I try to emulate that as I manage people today.
No, everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen! I would do it the same way.
To closeout, can you channel your inner DJ Khaled? What “major keys” to success would you give specifically to people of color interested in a career in business?
Don’t second guess yourself because the person standing next to you isn’t. Go for it. Don’t be afraid to fail! Fear should not be greater than what your success should amount to.