Alumni

Alumni profile - Franck Ulrich Zahou Koula

I am very proud and honoured to be part of the Queen Mary University of London global alumni community. I still have my graduation photo fixed somewhere at home, so that every visitor can see, and so that it can motivate my younger relatives!

(Mathematics, Business Management and Finance BSc, 2006)

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Why did you choose to study BSc Mathematics, Business Management and Finance at Queen Mary? Did you have a particular career path in mind?

I chose this course because it looked really comprehensive and this reassured me that it was going to give me several options in terms of career opportunities that I could pursue after graduation. My aim was to become a financial analyst and I thought with the variety of modules on offer, I would be able to work in a variety of different sectors.

What did you enjoy most about studying this degree?

The fact that I was able to study mathematics which I really love and I was also able to learn other modules which were all complementary to one another; I was exposed to a large pool of knowledge that I had never encountered before. I remember when we were collecting our student cards for the first year, a member of staff said to me that my course must be very long because of all the different modules I was studying!

Were there any academics or fellow students that had a strong influence on shaping your time and studies here?

My fellow students were very helpful and instrumental to my time at Queen Mary. Unfortunately, I do not remember the surnames of them all, but the one I want to thank first is Leena, a native from London who used to speak very fast. Despite the 9-month English course I took before coming to Queen Mary, I needed some time to settle in with the pace of the native speakers. Once I could understand Leena’s English, the rest was routine for me!

I also want to thank Grace Edwards who remains a good friend of mine, and Kaydian, Alphonso, Bernard, Rubben and Ladi who recommended me to the football team. All of these individuals helped me to feel comfortable during my time at Queen Mary and gave me the guidance I needed to do well both on and off campus.

Having grown up in Côte D'Ivoire, what or who prompted you to pursue your studies in London and at Queen Mary in particular?

As a native French speaker, coming from Côte d’Ivoire, I had the support of my mother who understood the advantage of having English as a second language. I knew that I would be more competitive in the job market if I spoke both English and French, and if I studied in England as I knew this would help with my fluency and later enable me to work and travel worldwide.

My cousin and mentor, Freddy, had already been living in London for more than a decade, working at Barclays in Islington after finishing his degree. It was reassuring to know I would have family in London and together we came to the decision that Queen Mary would be a great place for my studies.

I would encourage prospective students to study in another country because the returns are just unlimited. Moving to another country, whether it is for study or work, is a great way to remain open minded and to meet lots of new people.

How did you find the experience of moving to London to study? What helped you adapt to a new culture and way of life?

Moving to London has been the best experience of my life so far, and I always thank those who made it possible, including my parents. Having some relatives in London, especially my cousin/mentor who went to university before me, helped me to settle and adapt to the culture as they were already deeply immersed in the culture themselves. During my first year, my cousin asked all of his friends who visited our flat to speak only English to me and one of them played the game so well, that I was shocked when I discovered months later that he was actually from Côte d’Ivoire too!

What advice would you give to prospective students thinking of studying in another country based on your own experiences?

I would encourage prospective students to study in another country because the returns are just unlimited. Moving to another country, whether it is for study or work, is a great way to remain open minded and to meet lots of new people. Being in the UK also helped me to do a lot of things on my own such as learning how to look for jobs, how to write my CV, and how to carry myself in interviews. Even the job interviews that didn’t result in a job still had a positive impact on my life as I have been able to learn and grow from them.

Can you describe your career path to date and touch on your current role as a Sales Manager for a Japanese trading and investment company?

My career has been a mix of different experiences. After graduating from Queen Mary in 2006, I had my first ‘office job’ in 2007 as a credit controller at Delta Nursing Agency Ltd. I worked here for 18 months and then left London for Birmingham, to study MSc Management and Finance. I then worked briefly as a telesales consultant before leaving the UK in December 2010. Back home, in Côte d’Ivoire, I was part of a 13 person team who were hired as credit and financial analyst officers by Advans Côte d’Ivoire, a type of bank for people who do not have access to the ‘classic banking sector’. We were trained first at the Advans branch in Cameroon and then we returned to Côte d’Ivoire to open the first Advans agency in the country. In this role I was responsible for sourcing new clients and offering them credit to expand their businesses into various sectors.

The highlight of my time at Advans was a presentation I delivered with my French manager (who worked in the US) and a colleague from Ghana in front of 80 Ghanaian sellers we were prospecting. I was so proud to lead the presentation, in English of course, and see the people coming to our branch to open current accounts and apply for credit afterwards. From Advans, I then moved to a bank as a Foreign Operations agent where I was in charge of all operations in USD, GBP, CHF, EUR from our bank to banks abroad. I then wanted to try something very different, so I successfully applied for a role as a Commodity Analyst Manager at Olam Ghana Limited. This was a wonderful experience which involved visiting and analysing lots of cocoa and cashew fields in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and advising Olam London traders who would then advise big chocolatiers where to buy the best cocoa.

Since 2017 I have been working as a sales manager for Marubeni Corporation where I oversee finding clients for our trading products (chemicals, etc.) and investment opportunities in various sectors (food, energy, renewables, infrastructures, etc.). Our office covers more than 20 countries in the west and central regions of Africa, mainly the French speaking countries.

What are some of your daily responsibilities in this role?

Introducing our trading products to companies; keeping existing clients in the portfolio via email, telephone, or personal visits; organising and attending meetings with our private and government contacts/partners; sharing any new business opportunities in the region we cover with office members, and following up on projects. I have also been trying to learn some Japanese because business travel has been suspended until further notice due to the pandemic. It is currently a very different way of working!

I would advise any student who wants to pursue the same degree as me not to worry because the opportunities provided by the course and Queen Mary are plentiful. My career is an example, I started in the micro-finance sector, then moved to banking, and today I work as a sales manager.

How has your degree helped you in your current role and in your career?

During my recruitment at Marubeni, my former general manager made the point that my academic degree was a strong point in my interview. At Olam Ghana also, my manager used to work in London and knew very well the good reputation of Queen Mary. In the microfinance and banking sector, some modules I took in my Bachelor of Science played a hand in me securing these jobs and understanding the role and what was expected of me.

Have you had any life-changing or stand-alone moments where you’ve realised that you’re doing a job that you really love?

I would say currently at Marubeni that I really enjoy what I am doing, simply because the company is involved in so many different sectors that I learn new things in every meeting, in every piece of research, and in every project. I love travelling and as our office covers 22 countries, before Covid, I used to spend half the month in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) and the other half of the month on business trips in Senegal, Cameroon, Gabon, Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso. I have had the chance to attend our annual workshop at Johannesburg three years in a row where the African HQ is and where each staff per country presents his/her annual work. I have also attended training in Holland where the company has a subsidiary. In this role, it is only the Japanese that I am struggling to master!

Before Marubeni, Olam enabled me to travel back to London and across almost all regions of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. I have been to cities and to villages (including the villages of my parents) that I never imagined I could have visited in my own country.

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments?

One of my most memorable moments was graduation because I had always been fascinated by graduates throwing their hats on TV, so I loved that I could become one of those people and experience this for myself.

Another memorable moment was after a championship game between the Queen Mary football fourth and third teams, as both teams were in the same league. According to my captain and teammates, I played a good game, and I remember I played without proper football boots. After the game, the captain of my team offered me his boots, and I still have them to this day! For someone who loves football like me, to study in the country of football, and to be able to join the Queen Mary football team, was truly memorable.

Lastly, what advice would you give to a prospective student considering the course you studied and Queen Mary?

I would advise any student who wants to pursue the same course as me not to worry because they would be making a very good choice as the opportunities provided by the course and Queen Mary are plentiful. My career is an example, I started in the micro-finance sector (so this links to the finance part of the course), then banking as I went into the commodity forecasting sector (the statistics side of the course), and today I work as a sales manager looking for business opportunities (the marketing and management side of the course) - this course really does have it all. The title might look long and scary, but the content and the advantages are priceless.

I am very proud and honoured to be part of the Queen Mary University of London global alumni community. I still have my graduation photo fixed somewhere at home, so that every visitor can see, and so that it can motivate my younger relatives!

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Franck or engage him in your work, please contact Nicole at n.brownfield@qmul.ac.uk.