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Mohamed Kande, ’96, has lived and worked on four continents, and that worldliness informs his work at accounting and consulting giant PwC. There, he leads clients through large-scale business change, from strategy through execution, as vice chair, PwC US, and global advisory leader.

Being agile and overcoming adversity were early life lessons for Kande. At 16, he left his native Côte d’Ivoire to study at Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs en Génie Electrique in the Normandy region of France. Kande furthered his education in Canada, where he earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Polytechnique Montréal. He migrated to the United States in 1993 to build wireless telecommunications networks in cities around the world with Chicago-based Motorola. After his stint at Booth and several years in management consulting, Kande joined PwC in 2011.

Kande sees his difference—being African born and raised—as an asset. His home now is in Washington, DC, which he appreciates for its international flair. For his teams doing business abroad, he drills down on being aware of cultural differences. “You don’t have to be global to have a global mindset,” he says.

I have had to become comfortable with change and ambiguity. While I grew up in West Africa, I moved to France when I was 16, to Canada when I was 21, and then to the US when I was 25. I didn’t know anybody in any of those countries, and I only really learned to speak English professionally when I moved to the US. Later in my career, I traveled extensively across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. These experiences reinforced the need to be curious. Ask a lot of questions. Learn from others. And accept the fact that you are going to be wrong a lot. And that’s OK—in fact, it’s necessary! Just figure out how to learn and grow from your mistakes.

Curiosity led me to business school. Working as an engineer made me realize that I wanted to better understand all aspects of the business world. At Booth, I learned the language of business: marketing, corporate finance, organization management—one favorite course was on entrepreneurship with professor Steve Kaplan. Going to Booth taught me The Chicago Approach™—how to use critical thinking to solve problems. Getting an MBA was one of the best investments I’ve ever made in myself.

After business school, the choice was investment banking or management consulting. I went with consulting, because I like solving problems. That’s what I loved about engineering—solving technical problems. Consulting gave me the opportunity to marry my engineering expertise with my business school experience to help clients solve their biggest business challenges.

For Motorola, in the 1990s, I designed and built wireless networks for cell-phone use. I worked in Tel Aviv, in Hong Kong, in Bangkok. I was sent to places where English was the common second language. That’s when I learned to listen differently, to watch body language, to tune in to what people are really saying.

“In an ever-changing world, we are constantly doing things we’ve never done before.”

— Mohamed Kande

Building a strong team is key. When I was asked to lead our US consulting business, the first thing I did was gather a strong team of leaders. I want people around me who will challenge me. I don’t like “yes” people. I want to learn from their perspectives and experiences and foster healthy debate. And, of course, they need to be comfortable with (and excited by) a constantly changing environment. Together, we were able to double the size of our business in five years.

Change is the only constant these days. Change is no longer about a series of milestones with a beginning and an end. It’s an endless journey. For example, growth results in a tremendous amount of change. With greater scale, you face new and different problems and you need to evolve to address them. You must make changes to every business process. And you must consider how the changes impact your workforce—from talent attraction and retention, incentives, and engagement, to how you team up and drive collaboration. And you can’t rest on your success. Today’s business environment dictates that you have to continually look around corners and prepare for what’s next.

Leadership is about asking the right questions. In an ever-changing world, we are constantly doing things we’ve never done before. Asking questions also helps us make sure we’re focusing on the right things—there’s nothing worse than putting in a lot of work to solve the wrong problem! 

Companies cannot survive without trust. It’s the new currency. For stakeholders, customers, investors, employees, and suppliers, trust is built and managed all the time. Society has great expectations, and it takes only a minute to lose the trust built. During shortages, producers have to prioritize their trusted customers, because pricing is a one-time thing, but trust is forever. We also see employers who can’t attract and keep workers because of a lack of trust in what the company is making or selling.

I understood the importance of diversity of thought at an early age. Our household was Catholic and Muslim, and multigenerational. Where I grew up in Africa, color of skin was not used as a descriptor for people the way it is in countries where I would later live and work. The best leaders are the ones who value diversity in all ways. They listen more than they speak. They value a variety of opinions and they get them from all parts of the organization. They bring different perspectives to a problem and encourage dialogue. They ask a lot of questions, and they truly listen to the answers. You don’t have to be global to have a global mindset.

Learning never ends. It can’t end with getting an MBA. It’s a lifelong pursuit. Recently, I got my Certified Public Accounting (CPA) license. It was a humbling experience—I was the oldest person at the testing center by decades! But it was important to me to be able to more deeply understand the accounting parts of our business and be able to put myself in their shoes.