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Kola Adebiyi, SEO Alumnus

Like in many traditional African households, the sole ingredients for a successful career are believed to be education and hard work; however, I quickly realised that this alone wasn’t enough. In my case, the missing part was access, which is where organisations like SEO London were able to step in and bridge the gap through their partnerships and corporate relationships.

The Beginning

I was born in South London and was raised by Nigerian parents who settled in London during the 1980s. As a child my ambition was to become a professional footballer, but that dream was quickly rerouted as I was encouraged to study and work hard if I wanted to achieve a long and fruitful career.

Listening to my parents’ advice, I immersed myself in education, and during my A-Levels I found myself to be totally captivated by my Economics classes. For the first time I felt that what I had learnt in the classroom had great value in a world that I could see myself pursuing. In addition, I had always enjoyed Mathematics, leading me to undertake a degree in Mathematics with Economics, at Aston University.

SEO London Introduction

I understood more about the target companies, the specifics of the roles, the application processes, and how to best position myself for success in future.

Whilst in my first year of university, I became interested in a career in Finance, with a preference for the banking industry. At the time, I was surrounded by budding students, all with the same goal and from similar socio-economic backgrounds. The problem was that none of us had been given guidance into how this dream would become a reality, so it was like the blind leading the blind. After speaking with an older student, he mentioned an organisation called Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, and how they would be of benefit to me given the ambitions I had in mind.

I applied for the ‘First-year fast track’ to Investment Banking Programme, and although I wasn’t successful, I learned a tremendous amount through that experience. I understood more about the target companies, the specifics of the roles, the application processes, and how to best position myself for success in future.

My relationship with SEO London continued, and I was able to apply for and attend networking sessions, plus I received support for interview preparation. I progressed through applications and went on to attend assessment days with banks in London, but unfortunately, I was unable to secure a graduate position.

Entry to the Corporate World and Career Development

What initially began as a speculative summer internship progressively developed in to a seven-year career

In May 2014, I moved from London to Basel, Switzerland to pursue a summer internship at Novartis, an opportunity that was made possible because of the partnership that SEO London

had developed with Novartis, and the desire of the company to promote, develop and progress diverse talent. To my surprise, what initially began as a speculative summer internship progressively developed in to a seven-year career, spanning two roles, one secondment, tonnes of great experiences and life-long relationships. My time at the company was a life-changing experience, I not only developed and progressed as a finance professional; but my world view broadened in a way that I didn’t realise was possible. Looking back, SEO provided me with the necessary access to launch an international career, a platform which hard work and education alone might not have been able to provide.

A Black Experience Abroad

Despite the many advantages of living and working abroad, the fact remained that I was a young black professional in a community where racial diversity was lagging. Amid the international company culture, there existed an underrepresentation of black associates in Basel, and on occasions I would receive the odd stare or awkward facial expressions upon entering meeting rooms with new people or when entering cafeterias. Nonetheless, Novartis continued to progress within this area, by adding racial diversity as a strategic objective within the diversity and inclusion agenda.

In the wake of the events relating to the murder of George Floyd, black associates wanted to speak up, and the company was at more liberty to listen. Building on this momentum, I was part a core team who founded PACAN (Pan-African Associates at Novartis), an employee engagement group with over 100 members focused on building an inclusive community and endorsed by C-Suite leaders. This gave us a platform and a voice, not only to share what we felt through our experiences in Basel, but also to share similar experiences across the many countries where the company was represented. The group gained enormous traction after the inaugural event in May 2021, and I am privileged to have contributed at the early stages of the mission.

The Future

Today, I am an MBA2023 candidate and one of the first SEO London Scholars at London Business School. Despite always wanting to pursue business education I couldn’t quite imagine how it would materialise, so the SEO partnership with LBS was a key factor in helping me realise this ambition. As I look forward to the future, I am extremely excited to immerse myself in the program. Given a class of more than 500 students with 67 different nationalities, across a diverse range of industries, I am thrilled to be at one of the world’s best business schools where I can learn among some of world’s future leaders.


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