Alumni Spotlight – Jean-Philippe Odunlami SVMP ’02

In pursuit of his own American Dream, Jean‐Philippe Odunlami moved from France at the age of 17. Now an HBS graduate and entrepreneur, he shares lessons from his time at HBS and perspectives from the international business arena.


Alumni Beat: What is your current role at Focus Partners LLP and what do you do in this capacity? Why did you choose Singapore to anchor your firm? How has your time abroad affected your perspectives on business?


Jean‐Philippe Odunlami: I set up Focus Partners in 2006 in my second year of the HBS MBA program. I was naturally drawn to Asia because being from Europe, having spent nearly a decade in the U.S., and with family roots in West Africa, I thought Asia was really the missing piece in my mental world map.


Singapore seemed like a great platform because it is business‐friendly and connected to all of Asia, not just China or India. Business‐wise, my goal was to figure out how to use my global background to fill business gaps all over the world, starting with Asia. The bulk of activities at Focus Partners, is taking companies from lowgrowth countries and developing them in growing markets in Asia. I also spend some time advising the Singapore government on policies and incentives to encourage more local companies to grow and internationalize.


The important takeaway for me from the international experience is that different models work in different places. Business and career opportunities don’t look the same everywhere. International business is a great way to learn new things and adapt to different mindsets.


AB: You were able to not only attend SVMP but also HBS for your graduate studies. How different were the two experiences, if at all?


JPO: I think most people who have been through both programs agree that SVMP is really a window into the MBA program. You get many of the same benefits: the networking, the professors, the classroom discussions and the branding.  If you’re not at one of the top tier undergraduate universities, SVMP shows you that you really have a shot at attending HBS at some point. Once I had the chance to experience SVMP, and see how supportive the system was, from staff to professors, I knew that getting an MBA there could be a wonderful experience…and importantly, possible.


AB: What advice can you share with alumni who would like to follow a similar path as yours?


JPO: First, I think each individual has to understand and chart his or her own path, step‐by‐step. You have to determine why you do what you do. Instead of seeing things like SVMP or the MBA program as an end goal, it is better to view them as tools to achieve your overall objectives. I knew I enjoyed business, had a pretty good head for finance, and an international background, so the key was to figure out how to make all the pieces fit together into a coherent life plan. Once I had a sketch of that plan, the MBA program was a way to gain the tools to refine it and implement it. However, if you don’t do that self‐analysis, even if you get into the program, you might get lost because there is tremendous pressure to follow the herd. The MBA program at HBS is a once‐in‐a‐lifetime opportunity, so the key is not to miss that big picture and not be sidetracked once you actually get there. One way to do that is to ensure you are connecting with your roots, whether it’s your university, your home or even your previous career.


AB: Now that you have benefited from SVMP, HBS, and years of work experience, what are some of the most important things you have learned about yourself, and what are your dreams for the future?


JPO: The most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s ok to chart your own path. And it’s important to put the priority on doings things that are enjoyable, instead of beating yourself into a particular mold of success. I think for many of us, we tend to follow the “goal posts”, like SVMP, Fortune 500 companies, MBA programs, etc. We want to “check the box”. But it’s fine to move outside of that at some point. But importantly, if the MBA is not in the cards for you, it’s perfectly fine. I think there’s a tremendous amount of energy and creativity that is lost when we feel that we have to do what seems successful to others. In terms of dreams for the future, my aspirations are fairly simple. I’d like to continue doing exactly what I’m doing now, and become even better at it. At some point, I want to be in a position where I can also show others how to do it, and share my passion for global business. Of course, I welcome financial success, as long as I can still be a good person in the process.


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