By Lauren Wallace

Nishal Sodha, a student in the GEMBA ’17 class, is a Kenyan native who currently lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya.  Prior to joining the global executive MBA program at Darden, Nishal started Global Hardware Ltd., a hardware supply company based in Nairobi, after working for Maersk Line for nine years.  Nishal took some time to share and reflect on his Darden experience.

 How did you hear about Darden?  Could you tell me a bit about why you chose the GEMBA program?

During my undergrad years at the London School of Economics, I ran my own business in the U.S during the summer holidays.  In my third summer (1997), I was relocated to Joliet, Illinois and, having fallen just short of the sales target, I asked to continue selling for another two weeks to achieve it.  Hence, while my fellow colleagues from LSE were graduating in London, I spent a further two weeks in Waynesboro, VA with two other friends who had the same intention as me.

While I was in Waynesboro, a colleague of mine from the Southwestern Company and a current student at U.Va. took me and some friends for a tour of U.Va.’s Grounds. We visited the Lawn, the Rotunda and some other U.Va. grounds, including Darden, before a night on the town.  Darden really stuck with me and I promised myself that if I were to go to business school in future, I’d go to Darden.  Twenty years later, I am fulfilling that promise.

I chose the GEMBA program because it fits well with my schedule.  I run a business in Nairobi called Global Hardware Ltd. and being on Darden grounds once a month would not have been feasible.  A hybrid of distance learning together with two-week residencies with my cohort in different parts of the world was a perfect fit for me.  GEMBA also has the coolness factor of traveling to different cities in the world for two weeks at a time, and having two weeks in that country allows us to really immerse ourselves into the business and cultural environment to try and understand what makes that economy and its people tick.

What has been your favorite part of the GEMBA program?

There are many aspects of the program that I really enjoy.  The two-week residencies, as mentioned above, are awesome.  The people who are in my program are amazing: all are from different walks of life, in different industry environments, from different cultural backgrounds countries, too.  It is an incredibly diverse mix of people and I have cultivated an individual, unique relationship with each person that I cherish and look forward to every time I prepare to go on another residency.

I enjoy the case study approach to our learning.  While the case study approach is not unique to MBA programs worldwide, reading a case about a company in Brazil in São Paulo one morning, and then meeting the very person featured in the case that very afternoon, is unique to only Darden.  We had the same opportunity in Paris and it truly brings to life the lessons from the materials that we are exposed to.

Outside of the scheduled GEMBA programming was an elective course to visit Cuba with members of Darden’s EMBA program.  I am so glad I took this opportunity to visit Havana and see parts of Cuba.  In true Darden fashion, the itinerary included visits to cool cultural places like the rum and cigar factories, as well as the famous Vardero resort.  I thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Mariel too – the port that is under development in Cuba.  I worked for Maersk Line, the Danish shipping company, for nine years before I started Global Hardware Ltd. in Nairobi and the presenter at the port was an ex-Maersk employee too.  It brought back nostalgia of the complex and exciting shipping world, and it was eye-opening to learn about how Cuba could play a huge role in bringing costs down further for American consumers.

During the Cuba trip, I met an EMBA student who regularly visits Kenya for her work. We made a plan to meet up next time she is in Nairobi. Although I wish we could’ve made this connection sooner, this is yet another reason why I’m grateful for the many global opportunities that Darden offers in its academic programs.

My biggest lesson learned from the GEMBA program has been the humbling realization that in the world today we have wider freeways and narrower viewpoints; we have taller buildings and shorter tempers.  It’s phenomenal how the same technology that brings us close to those who are far away, takes us far away from the people that are actually close (30 billion WhatsApp messages are sent per day, and yet 48% of people say they feel lonelier in general).  Relationships are foundational to everything in life, including business, and this rings as true in Rio de Janeiro as it does in New Delhi, in Beijing as it does in Paris, in Havana as it does in Nairobi.  As an aspiring global leader, this incredibly important lesson is one that I will carry with me throughout my life.  Investors don’t invest in companies—they invest in people they believe in.

How are you planning to use your MBA once you’ve graduated in May?

My first priority, now and after graduation, is to implement some of the things I’ve learned in the program that will immediately impact my business:

* Operational improvements: FIFO / LIFO considerations, workflow improvements

* Re-financing and re-packaging some of the debt we rely on

* Enhancing some of the systems in place such as CRMs, re-order levels, etc.

Some initiatives are already under implementation, while others, which have a longer runway, are at various conceptual stages.

Through the GEMBA program, I have benefitted from exposure to various companies in the seven countries we have visited.  I expect to continue to rely upon and expand connections with some our speakers, gain a better understanding of how to brand my business, my products and services, and overall expand my supplier portfolio.

I have put together an OPPP as developed by Verne Harnish & the Gazelles Team that I continue to refine.  In it are names of members of my cohort (as well as the EMBA cohort) with whom I will continue to maintain friendships with far beyond graduation.  These people truly inspire me and with their diverse backgrounds and incredible careers, I look forward to continue learning more from them in the future.