March 31, 2014 12:01 am

Women in business – Maryanne Maina, MBA student

Maryanne Maina is studying for an MBA in luxury strategies at HEC Paris. She is also the vice-president of the French school’s Women in Leadership club, which aims to foster gender diversity in business. Her role is to create and sustain relationships with external organisations relevant to the club’s mission.

Before moving to France, Ms Maina worked in public relations for various African countries, including Kenya where she grew up. In her spare time, she enjoys swimming, visiting art galleries and writing about luxury in Africa.

1. Why did you decide to do an MBA?

I wanted to learn about the universe of luxury in the land of luxury. In addition, HEC Paris has Jean-Noël Kapferer and Vincent Bastien teaching on the course, who are gurus of luxury strategies being applied by companies world wide.

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2. How does life in Paris compare with life in Kenya?

Each has its own vibe and soul. Paris is beautiful and dreamy. When you get into some of the districts, such as the sixth, eighth and 16th arrondissements, you are struck by the moment of the place, the streets, the fashion, the beauty, the gardens ... It is an addictive city. Nairobi is vibrant, very active and happening and the weather is perfect. It has a great social life: people are always making deals, creating new business ideas and it’s easy to find places to hang out. Paris has a home in my soul but Nairobi is perfect, it’s home.

3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

Read beyond your books. Read the news and know what is happening in the world.

4. What is the last book you read?

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre by Dana Thomas. An insightful book that describes how Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Dior and many other luxury companies started – how they established their foothold, their ethos, their supplier locations for the materials needed for their products; how the ateliers [workshops] operate; the mergers and acquisitions; and how some luxury companies collapsed.

5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Always be professional in all situations and treat people the way you want to be treated.

6. Who are your business influences?

I have mentors from a pan-African bank and the African Development Bank who have pushed me to greater heights and they inspire me very much. One is a gentleman and the other is a lady, therefore I am able to get advice from both on different aspects. I keep them constantly informed about my career progress and share my achievements with them. When I am in a difficult situation, where I am not sure of what decisions to make – such as what role suits me or where to network – I ask them for their guidance.

7. Why did you join the HEC Paris Women in Leadership club?

I joined because it is important to identify and embrace women’s advancement and to reduce barriers that can hinder us from success. I want to be a successful female leader and I want other upcoming women to dream for much more and to have the tools to succeed in those dreams. Each of us as women are in this journey, knowingly and unknowingly. It is our duty to unite, support each other and work with men to grow together.

8. What do you hope women in business will achieve?

Mentors and coaches to guide them in business because women are a powerful force in the entrepreneurial world. We need more Indira Ghandis, more Christine Lagardes, more women leaders.

9. What are your future plans?

I want to work in luxury brand management in Paris or Africa where there is a lot of potential for it. Craftsmanship is a huge component of luxury [and] craftsmanship is not new to Africa. We had artisans who created beautiful items for royalty and the wealthy a long time ago. The two traditional luxury markets are South Africa and Morocco but now the focus is on Nigeria and Angola. Nigeria, for example, is the second largest consumer of champagne globally after the French.

There are also several African luxury companies such as YSWARA, which develops luxury tea, jewellery and beautiful artefacts embracing African culture. And Luminance, a boutique business in South Africa modelled around the concept of Collette, the store in Paris. At Luminance, you can purchase Louis Vuitton alongside Africa paintings.

10. What is your plan B?

Wealth management, preferably in Nigeria where there is growth in the number of wealthy individuals. Wealth management will grow in demand as their wealth keeps increasing.

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