Ahmed Alimi
Home Region

Lagos, Nigeria

Undergrad Education

University of Lagos, BS Actuarial Science, 2008

Previous Experience

Helios Investment Partners LLP, FBN Capital Limited, KPMG Advisory Services

HBS Activities

Africa Business Club, Private Equity & Venture Capital Club, Dance Club

“You transform from a function-oriented person to a strategy-oriented person with a broader view of the world...”

What's a natural childhood ambition? To be an astronaut? A firefighter? For Ahmed Alimi, the attraction was to number crunching. "My parents tell me that as a child, I said I wanted to be an accountant when I grew up. I loved math."

In fact, Ahmed became "the de facto accountant" for the small business his mother ran in his home country, Nigeria. He continued to study accounting in high school, then pivoted to the actuarial sciences when he attended the University of Lagos. In the following six years, he assumed accounting and finance roles at three large companies: KPMG Advisory Services, FBN Capital, and Helios Investment Partners.

"At Helios," Ahmed says, "I had a unique opportunity to work on deals as well as support value creation efforts at our portfolio companies. I worked closely with CEOs of our portfolio companies, all in Africa. For me, it was a unique opportunity to blend the skills I had acquired in finance with operational skills in strategy and management. I loved this work and wanted to do more. However, I know Africa is a uniquely fascinating market, and success requires more than number skills; it also requires skills at getting things done, cultivating relationships as well as leading people. I thought I needed these 'next level' skills and felt HBS was the right place to get them."

Gradually, Ahmed also felt "a greater calling. I had been doing some work mentoring youths in Nigeria and over time felt that the best use of myself would be to provide a bridge for others, particularly young people, to have a more successful life. I thought HBS could help prepare me on this journey."

An unexpected turn toward entrepreneurship

"The number one thing about HBS is the classroom experience," says Ahmed. "In Nigeria where I studied before now, the teaching method is lecture-based. The case method is very different for me—but it's a confidence-building process. Whatever you say, you have to be ready to back it up with evidence, because you have 95 smart people thinking with you. I'm now a better communicator and a better on-the-spot thinker."

"HBS teaches new skills, inspires confidence, and opens your mind. If you immerse yourself in the experience, you will discover new possibilities. When I came here, I thought I'd pursue private equity. Now I'm more open-minded. Just a few months ago I started working on a new business—very different from what I expected when I arrived."

In January, Ahmed participated in the Start-Up Bootcamp with three other classmates who worked on building an asset-management business in the United States. "We learned how to create a business model diamond - value proposition, route-to-market, technology & operations model, and cash flow formula – all in just five days." Though Ahmed dropped off the team after the Bootcamp, it provided the seed for a new idea: "an online platform that will provide wealth-planning platform for middle-class Nigerians."

"The resources at HBS have been amazing," says Ahmed. "At the i-lab, I've found a lot of support for the business, especially in the area of tech and product design. Just say 'hi' to someone, and it could be an engineer who will sit with you and walk through any issues you have or know someone at Harvard University or MIT who can help solve the problem. Whatever questions you have, you can find answers quickly."

For the summer, Ahmed will divide his time between McKinsey in San Francisco and one month exploring his new platform in Nigeria. His business will also serve as the foundation for an independent project in his coming EC year.

"Every second at HBS has been truly rewarding," Ahmed says. "You transform from a function-oriented person to a strategy-oriented person, with a broader view of the world and able to connect different pieces. I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. But the lessons here have given me a newfound confidence that I can do it."