Student Voices: Meet Kutlwano Mzwinila, One-Year MBA Class of 2021
A former technology consultant who believes that small and medium enterprises are key drivers for economic growth that can break down barriers to financial inclusion, meet Kutlwano Mzwinila, One-Year MBA Class of 2021.
Before enrolling at Johnson, Kutlwano was a technology consultant at Freethinking Business Consultants in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was responsible for leading the development of fintech products targeting financial inclusion of the unbanked and underbanked across Africa and the Middle East. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business science from Rhodes University, where he majored in economics, mathematical statistics, and information systems. He also hold a master’s in information technology from the University of Pretoria, where his research focused on small and medium enterprise product development in southern Africa. He has first-hand experience starting a business within the South African market and faced the same challenges his research discussed.
As a student in Johnson’s residential, Ithaca-based One-Year MBA program, Kutlwano took core classes over the summer with Johnson Cornell Tech MBA students. He and his One-Year MBA cohorts are continuing their degree program with classmates in the residential Two-Year MBA programs. He is focusing his studies on digital technology, data analytics, and strategy. Learn more about Kutlwano in this Q&A.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
I decided to pursue an MBA because I wanted to understand the business decisions behind strategic initiatives. I also wanted to gain business-level competencies that cut across industries and roles.
What career goals will it help you achieve?
The MBA will help me to gain stronger quantitative decision-making skills that I will apply to run organizations in the future. It provides the necessary skills, networks and critical thinking that I felt I needed.
Why did you choose Johnson at Cornell?
I wanted to attend a world-class university that cares about students. From my interactions with academic advisors, career management personnel, and immersion leaders, I felt a genuine care and interest from Johnson. They made me feel part of Johnson even before I applied! As evidenced with the school’s reaction during the pandemic, the academic and administrative staff at Johnson care about the well-being of the students. The close-knit community fostered by the school is displayed in everyday life. From an academic standpoint, the Johnson curriculum allows me to take courses that are aligned to my interest in technology (courses offered through the Cornell Tech MBA curriculum), general management, and fintech (offered through the Fintech Intensive in the spring).
What aspects of Johnson’s One-Year MBA program do you most value?
I did not want to pivot my career and sought a program that would enhance my current technology background and enable me to get exposure to business decision-making skills. The Cornell One-Year MBA program fit the above criteria. It allowed me to quickly (albeit stressfully) complete the core program during the summer. In that time, I got to know my fellow One-Year MBA students as well as the Cornell Tech MBA students. Once the summer semester was finished, we began to take electives with Two-Year MBA students in their second year. During the fall and spring semesters, the program encourages students to collaborate with each other, thereby getting exposure to individuals with different backgrounds and varying post-MBA goals. I have been fortunate to collaborate and interact with intelligent and driven individuals.
Did you have second thoughts about starting your MBA now, during the pandemic? If so, what tipped the scales in favor of starting now?
I think most students had some initial reservations about starting the MBA right in the middle of a global pandemic. The program begins in May, and leading up to the start date there was a lot of confusion on how it would impact the MBA experience and employment prospects after graduation. The confusion and challenges caused by the pandemic also created opportunities to show determination and grit. I was determined to take advantage of the opportunity to attend one of the best MBA programs in the world. From this perspective, I am one of the few students who can talk about the Johnson MBA experience during a global pandemic. I know what Zoom gloom is, how to network virtually, and what it means to take a leap of faith.
How many of your classes are in person and how many are virtual?
I was fortunate to travel to the United States at the start of the fall semester. I have an even mix of in-person and virtual classes.
What, if anything, surprises you about your virtual classes?
I had no idea what to expect when attending virtual classes, so I was surprised at how well-run they were. Lecturers really took the effort and time to get to know the technology and how they wanted to run their classes. I was impressed. It is easy to forget that lecturers also had to adjust to the virtual realm and had to upskill themselves quickly. As students, we had the easier job of showing up and contributing to the class, whereas lecturers and their assistants had to amend their material and teaching styles in a timely manner. I truly appreciate the effort all of the teaching staff have taken during this time and want to thank them for that.
Are you connecting with people and making new friends in spite of virtual classes and social distancing?
I am very close with my core teammates from the summer. We still keep in touch with each other and have weekly standups! Even though we didn’t have classes together physically, we are connected through our pandemic-filled MBA experience and the bonds we created whilst coping with the program. I have also been fortunate to connect with fellow One-Year and Two-Year MBA students through electives and clubs. Everyone tries to help where possible. When the weather was good during the fall semester, socially responsible hiking treks were organized as well as virtual get-togethers.
Have you joined any student clubs? If so, which ones?
Despite the pandemic and virtual classes, there are still a number of activities and clubs to participate in. It is very important to manage your time and take advantage of what Cornell has to offer. The first club I joined was the Johnson African Business Society (JABS), a club that provides a platform for Cornellians to learn about African business opportunities. I am also an Emerging Markets Institute (EMI) Fellow, and as an EMI co-chair for the One-Year MBA students, I pass along information on events and encourage students to participate. These two opportunities allow me to connect with students who have an interest in developing networks in emerging markets and Africa. I also joined the Johnson Christian Fellowship (JCF) where I could practice my faith with fellow Christians. I experienced my first Friendsgiving to celebrate the Thanksgiving holidays.
What’s one thing you’ve learned so far from your Johnson MBA experience?
Take each day as it comes. There are things that are in my locus of control and others that aren’t. Learn to leverage your networks and friendships when faced with a challenge you cannot tackle alone. The teaching staff, administration, and student body are here to support you.
What have you most enjoyed about being a Johnson MBA so far?
The community. Everyone is always willing to help each other and has their own unique story as to how they chose Cornell. I really enjoy getting to know my fellow Cornellians and hearing their stories. I have also enjoyed networking with alumni and hearing about their time attending Cornell. I know I have a unique experience with the pandemic. I want to capitalize on this amazing opportunity and cannot wait to tell my story to future students and be part of the alumni community.