Kenyan Entrepreneur Keeps Promise to Himself, Returns to UVA Darden

28 October 2016

By Dave Hendrick

Nishal Sodha’s (Class of 2017) first up-close exposure to the United States came during his college summers, when the Kenya-based entrepreneur decamped from the London School of Economics to small towns across America to sell study guides door to door.

Toward the end of the third summer, Sodha did his final book-selling stint in 1997 over two weeks in Waynesboro, Virginia, and managed to visit and tour the University of Virginia during some rare downtime. Impressed with the Grounds and intrigued by a friend’s “blatant lie” that the female-to-male ratio at the School was 7:1, Sodha made a personal vow to return as a student and earn an MBA from the Darden School of Business.

Although making good on that promise would take nearly two decades, as building a career and starting a family took priority, Sodha eventually followed through, enrolling in the Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) program and keeping up with his cohort from his home in Kenya.

As the head of a blossoming import-export business and father of two sons, it’s not necessarily a convenient time to head back to school, but Sodha said he recognized that he had been hitting a professional ceiling in terms of development.

“I got to a point in my life where I had been doing my business for five years and I felt like I was stagnating a little bit, and I felt that I wasn’t growing,” Sodha said of his decision to finally enroll at Darden. “When you are running your own business, you leave personal development to one side because you are so focused on your business. You hardly ever take any money out — you’re plowing it all back in just to grow as much as you can.”

A manager and director at the Danish shipping company Maersk before leaving in 2010 to revamp a portion of the family business, Sodha’s Global Hardware Ltd. focuses on importing the steel, cement, brick and boards fueling the construction demands of one of the world’s fastest-growing countries.

The coursework in the GEMBA program has already proved valuable, he said, noting that he took lessons from a recent Operations course when considering recent reorder levels. Too, Sodha said a recently introduced coaching segment of the course would provide “immeasurable” value as he seeks to strengthen the personal traits he believes are essential in today’s business world.

“I’m getting what I want out of it,” Sodha said. “I’m growing, I’m learning. I’m building a good network and developing certain skills and learning new practical things that I can actually implement into my own business.”

Although the only GEMBA student in his year from Africa, Sodha said his cohort is particularly diverse, with students from a variety of professional backgrounds in the United States, China, Colombia, Brazil and Taiwan, among other countries.

“That diversity is what enriches the entire conversation and brings the perspective that we don’t necessarily get to see or experience on a daily basis,” Sodha said, adding that the responsibility to not let his peers down was an incentive to do his best work, even when time was at a premium.

A nearly 20-year gulf separated the day he first laid eyes on UVA and when he finally enrolled, but Sodha says it was worth the wait, allowing him to achieve the dual goals of growing himself and his business.

“We are really moving forward with a variety of different things operationally, as well as with different tools that I have managed to find thanks to discussions with my cohort,” said Sodha. “I’m going to use those tools to upskill and add tools that my team can use to be that much closer to my customers, and inevitably we are going to grow the business — there’s just no doubt about it.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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