INSEAD’s EMFin - An African’s Perspective

Thabo Limema

Who are these guys?

I first came across INSEAD when I was on secondment in London, that was around March/April 2010, and the Open Day Lecture was about the Blue Ocean Strategy.

INSEAD Blue Ocean strategy At the time, the Nintendo Wii had just disrupted the console market, forcing Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s X-Box to play catch up. Since then, there had been numerous disruptions in various markets and industries, most of which resulted in household brands being written in case studies and used as examples of ‘how not to get caught napping’ - BlackBerry, Kodak and Nokia are a few such examples.

Years later, I am in the Corporate and Investment Banking business of a Pan African Financial Institution, Absa, and find myself having to think about how to keep myself, the bank and the entire industry relevant, given the many sweeping changes happening across the industry, worldwide.

At the recent SIBOS 2019 (a financial services and payments conference) held in London, Fintech’s stole the show and really made their mark as key players in the financial sector. Whether we like it or not, they’re here to stay, and the banking industry has to either embrace them and find ways to partner with them or find themselves displaced in many respects. We can’t be the next BlackBerry, Kodak or even get caught napping like the hotel industry (AirBnB) and taxi/cab industry (Uber, Grab,etc.).

Netflix When they see usHow does “Blue Ocean” explain the rise and growth of Netflix and how their films are making waves globally?. Look no further than the success of ‘When They See Us’, and how it dented the art of storytelling. Other players are joining the party now, with Apple TV+ and Disney + being some of the next anticipated entrants in the streaming service, amongst many others.

What is this ‘EMFin’?

That’s the first question that came to mind. I had no doubt about the quality of INSEAD and its academic programmes, and when I saw the INSEAD EMFin Open Day advertised on my Facebook account I knew I had to make an appearance.

I knew I wanted to study further, but with a focus on sharpening my technical skills and getting a global perspective at the same time.

Hence the inclination to doing an EMFin versus an MBA. No institution is as diverse or gives one an experience that’s as closely aligned to where Africa is, and how diverse the organisation I work for is. It has to be INSEAD. And after engaging with the EMFin students on the panel, and a few conversations with Mai Chu, the Assistant Director of Recruitment, and reading up about other EMFin’s, this was a no-brainer to me.

I see myself as a banker and will be in this industry for a very long time, but now is the time to challenge myself to think critically, to be technically sharp and have global experience and perspectives. 

INSEAD EMFIN brochureIn the brochure, it states: “The INSEAD EMFin allows you to acquire an advanced finance and management education at one of the world’s best business schools while making an immediate impact in your organisation. It takes place on our campuses in Asia (five modules) and Europe (one module), giving you the opportunity to experience two very different business environments.” 

Why is the EMFin relevant for me?

There’s no doubt that bankers now have to be multifaceted in skills, leadership, perspectives, thinking and many other aspects of being a professional with a global perspective. I find myself having spent over 10 years in the banking industry and seeking to sharpen my skills further and doing it with peers that are at a similar or advanced stages of their careers in the financial services sector.

My organisation is entering into partnerships with Fintechs and other banks. I am doing a great deal of work in strategy execution and find myself in various leadership roles. While doing this, one can’t help but think of the future of the continent I come from and love, Africa.

Are financial institutions fit for purpose to serve the continent, its people, businesses and governments? Are our regulatory, credit, compliance, governance and many other policies relevant to the customers we serve and our people, who are tasked with the responsibility to provide exceptional client experience?

While we are on track in many respects, I feel there is a lot of room to improve in many areas. That is why I am doing this EMFin, to start thinking of how to do this practically and adopt global best practice. I also wish to learn from my peers from countries and businesses that have already made progress in implementing some of the ideas I have for my business.

The ultimate intention is to take my learnings, adapt them to be fit for my continental context, while being abreast of global themes and trends, and set my sector up for success and be an example for the world. 


After the first module, I am more convinced that I made the right choice to study my EMFIn at INSEAD. The intensity, rigour, wisdom and insights from the lecturers and the rich discussions in the classroom and group discussions make it even more worthwhile and invaluable. Looking forward to the next chapter of this journey!

Ideal for anyone who embraces diversity 

The class is extremely diverse, and through the various interactions we have, we can see the diversity of thought come through.

My country, South Africa, has a coat of arms that embraces this spirit. The motto is: !ke e: /xarra //ke, written in the Khoisan language of the /Xam people, literally meaning: diverse people unite. It addresses each individual effort to harness the unity between thought and action. On a collective scale, it calls for the nation to unite in a common sense of belonging and national pride - Unity in Diversity.

coat of arms

​#UnityInDiversity #TheBusinessSchoolForTheWorld


Heritage Day, 24th September 2019 (South African Public Holiday, where South Africans are encouraged to celebrate their heritage):


​Here in my Basotho Seshweshwe top. 

​INSEAD EMFIN Module 1 farewell dinner:

Africa, Asia, Australia & Europe represented on one table