Change that’s more than cosmetic: MBA proves to be the right chemistry for a trained pharmacist

Manchester MBA has helped Ahmed accelerate and develop a successful career with the multinational and progress into his latest senior leadership role.

Ahmed Wagih leads the regional Consumer Products Division for L’Oreal and a team of more than 400. It’s a long way from his formal training as a pharmacist and the full-time Manchester MBA has helped Ahmed accelerate and develop a successful career with the multinational and progress into his latest senior leadership role. 

Ahmed has spent nearly nine years with L’Oreal during which he has undertaken four assignments with increasing responsibility and scope. Initially, he started as a Country Sales Manager in Kuwait for the Active Cosmetics Division, looking after some of the world’s top medicated cosmetics brands such as Vichy, La Roche-Posay and Skinceuticals. With the support of a great team, he was able to double the turnover in two years and gain market shares across all the categories in which they operated. His next assignment took him closer to home - literally.

“I was asked to move to Egypt, my home country, to turn around the Active Cosmetics Division as a General Manager. I was just 31 years old at the time. The division was the smallest for the Egyptian subsidiary compared to the company’s other three divisions (Consumer Products, Professional Products and Luxury Products). Within two years, I was able to build a team that grew from around 15 people to more than 100 and to grow the division into the second largest, delivering triple digit growth rates year after year. We also launched Vichy as the most premium dermatology cosmetics brand in the Egyptian market. 

My next assignment took me to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the biggest country for L’Oreal in the Middle East and North Africa region) to lead the same division with a remit to turn it around. Within three years, we achieved a similar success to Kuwait and Egypt. 

Following this, I got my last and most important assignment to lead the company’s biggest division (Consumer Products) in the GCC, Iraq & Jordan. This meant looking after some of the biggest beauty brands worldwide, such as LOreal Paris, Garnier, Maybelline New York and NYX Professional Makeup. 

Today, I am leading a team of more than 400 people and a multi-million dollar business. However, 10 days after taking up the role, COVID hit and it became one of the most challenging times both professionally and personally. Along with a great team, we were able to navigate the division through the most difficult times for beauty as a category during a pandemic that limited people's movement."

How has the MBA contributed to your career success?
I am a pharmacist by training, and despite having always worked in business, I never had a formal business education. The MBA helped me to build the foundation that enabled me to progress in my career. What really helped me to strengthen my understanding of business was the consultancy projects and the fact that you can apply and practice all the theories and learning from the classroom in the real world with real clients. 

Did you have specific learning goals when you started the MBA?
I opted for a full-time MBA to ensure that I dedicated all my time to the upskilling and learning that I needed. My goal was to grasp all the knowledge, build my network and apply what I learned to the real world through consultancies. And that’s why I chose Alliance Manchester Business School. 

Did the MBA change the way you think about business?
Yes. Before the MBA, business to me was very transactional. After the MBA, it was much more strategic and required a broader understanding of the environment. I understood that business is not just a simple function of the popular 4Ps which you can read about in any text book, but required more of a holistic understanding of how people engage and exchange to solve problems that might exist today or will exist in the future. I learned how important people are and that teamwork can amplify the work of an individual and make it much greater. 

Have your career goals changed since graduating? 
I believe I was clear in my objectives. I wanted to grow and lead bigger teams as I developed. I also wanted to help more people realize their own ambitions. During all my assignments, I have been growing my team and helping to bring the best out of them. 

What were some of the highlights of your MBA studies? 
Our Professor of Strategy taught us that a company can outperform rivals only if it can establish an edge or a difference that it can preserve. Since then I have been working in every job/assignment to strategize my plans based on sustainable competitive edges. He was an inspirational professor who used many real life examples to prove his point.  The Professor of Marketing taught us that marketing is a domain that encompasses all domains of business – and to be a good marketer you need to be a good businessman. Spending nearly 18 months in Manchester was also very enriching. It’s a city that will always have a special place in my heart, vibrant yet homely - a combination that is rarely found. 

Were your student peers an important part of the study experience?
Indeed and I remember we had 37 nationalities represented in the class. The level of exchange and engagement was so enriching to the overall experience and it also helped me to be more inclusive and more appreciative of diversity in my own leadership approach. 

Did you benefit from any international exposure during your MBA?
I did an exchange at the University of Austin in Texas, McCombs School of Business. This took my MBA experience to another level by getting the US dimension as part of my overall MBA experience. I spent nearly 6 months there with some of the brightest business professors.

Is timing an important part of deciding when to study for an MBA?
I decided to do my MBA three years after my graduation from the Faculty of Pharmacy. I believe at least three years of work experience is needed to understand the value of what you will study in the MBA and set your objectives clearly, as well. 

What would you advise someone who might be considering an MBA?
An MBA will only help you if you are willing to learn and not just doing it for the three letters on your CV. If that’s your intention, then go for it. 

What did you learn during the MBA that you still use in life or work today with L’Oréal?
Inclusivity and diversity can be a source of power to progress.