Tom Ilube (Finance MBA 1988 and Honorary Doctor of Science 2018) – The Entrepreneurial Journey and how to get there

Recently appointed incoming Chair of the Prince’s Trust UK’s Board of Trustees, Tom Ilube can count an impressive track record of business, philanthropic and educational achievements both past and present. He recounts the journey through Bayes, into the worlds of finance and consulting, and onto the entrepreneurial mission that he had mapped out for himself. An entrepreneurial success story made in Bayes and City.


From what background did you arrive at Bayes in 1987?

My journey to Bayes was part of a clear career path. I grew up in England, then my Dad took me to Nigeria when I was about 14. I finished my secondary schooling over there and then on to university where I studied Physics at Bachelor’s level.  However, I was already quite entrepreneurially minded – even at that stage, I knew that my career was probably going to go in a more business direction rather than science. Whilst holidaying back in the UK I visited Bayes and had a chat with Professor Gordon Gemmill about the track I would be applying for.


What made you choose Bayes and the Finance MBA?  

The reason for choosing Bayes was three-fold. Back in the late-80s, Bayes was already among the top three or four business schools in the UK.  In addition, I was looking for an intensive, 12-month MBA, which the school offered. Better still, it allowed you to specialise in a particular area of interest. The Finance MBA enabled me to gain an understanding of how the City worked and take in as much knowledge as possible over a concentrated period.


What are your memories of Bayes student days?  

It was full-on, but that was the kind of learning experience I was after.  The student cohort was really diverse, which was an aspect of Bayes that I always appreciated.

We had great guest lecturers coming in to speak, practitioners from trading and corporate finance, among other fields. This gave our studies a genuinely applied feel. We had the opportunity to specialise, in my case in finance. HR and marketing were among the other options to concentrate on. However, there was a lot of interaction between students from other specialisations, so there was that inter-disciplinary element on top of all the other plusses.


How did the desire to become an entrepreneur come about?  

I didn’t have it all pre-planned, but I did want to get a good chunk of corporate experience before I went down the entrepreneurial route. I didn’t know when and in what form, but I knew that it was going to come. I said to myself, right, I’d like to get some solid blue chip corporate experience before the move into the consulting world. Before then, I worked at British Airways, then the London Stock Exchange, but the MBA gave me the opportunity to move into management consulting, first with Capgemini and then PwC. After a good few years working in the consulting world, I moved into banking with Goldman Sach’s, and it was after that that I felt that I’d got the corporate experience I needed and was ready for the entrepreneurial world.


How has the MBA served you on this entrepreneurial journey?

The case studies we worked on proved very helpful as we got immediate insight into how businesses were created and run. It was when I started setting up my own businesses that I truly appreciated the value of the MBA. There I was faced with HR, accounting, and marketing matters to deal with, things that the MBA had given me a solid grounding in. In short, I knew every aspect of what it took to run a business, whereas before the MBA I definitely didn’t.

The MBA had trained me how to get up to speed on something really quickly. When you’re being thrown into a consulting situation as a relatively junior management consultant in an industry that you haven’t worked in before, the MBA equips you not just with knowledge but also ways of working.  It has given me self-confidence, tools and skills, all of which have proven invaluable throughout my career to date.


What kind of challenges do your current roles pose?

Over the past 10 years I’ve moved from being purely an executive into having a more diverse portfolio of different but complementary roles, from start-ups and sitting on the board of big businesses to charity work, plus my current responsibilities as Chair of the Rugby Football Union, CEO of Crossword Cybersecurity, non-executive director of WPP and then from August incoming chair of the Prince’s Trust. I am also involved in the education field as well via the Africa Science Academy. In fact, I just got back from Ghana after the highly uplifting experience of witnessing the graduation ceremony of my students.

The reason why I can do a range of things is that I am very good at prioritising – I am ruthless at prioritising. I do the things that are important, and I don’t do the other stuff. In a nutshell, I say to myself “what are the one or two really important things that are going to make the difference?” Then I do those one or two things and don’t lose any sleep about the other 20 things because if they’re really important, they’re going to become one of the one or two important things. The MBA again helped in terms of my ability to switch between tasks.


How will your appointment to the Prince’s Trust fit into all these responsibilities?

The Prince’s Trust is one of the really great British charities. Of course the King’s Charity, which started 48 years ago, is coming up to its 50th anniversary in 2026, so I’m really excited about that. It’s done tremendous work over the years, helping young people into the world of work. The focus is the 11-30 age bracket, but ages 16 to 30 in particular are the people who need to find a way into the world of work and get their businesses up and running. The Prince’s Trust helps with mentoring and financial support. This dovetails nicely with some of the other areas in which I’m working.

The Trust has probably helped over one million people, so it’s a tremendous charity and with my entrepreneurial background and journey, as a black start-up guy who’s navigated British society to create what I’ve created, it makes perfect sense to be working for the Trust.

What I’m interested in is looking at what the Trust means for young people, and does it make things easier for them? What can the Prince’s Trust do with employers and young people to make sure that these same young people see the benefits of these changes to the world of work rather than being further disadvantaged by it?


What advice would you give prospective students considering a similar path?

I would probably say two or three things. One is to separate the objective of where you want to get to from the precise journey that you’re going to take to get there. I found that there are always a million different ways of getting to your objective, so stay really focused on where you’re trying to attain, but don’t get overly attached to the route that’s going to get you there. If the route that you’re going down isn’t working, then simply try another.

Secondly, give yourself a margin in terms of timeframe – it doesn’t matter whether it takes two or five years to get to where you want to get to. I don’t get stressed about things like that and don’t measure myself against anyone else. It doesn’t matter to me that somebody who was doing the MBA at the same time as me has accelerated ahead in their career. I’m relaxed about my own timescales. I’m just very focused on the outcome.

Third and final thing is to recognise that failure is part of the process to being successful. To my mind, there isn’t a route to achieving what you want without experiencing failure. What you learn from it and how you go again has been so important for me on my journey.