Let’s take a closer look at what some MBA’s are doing and what it took to get there. Here we highlight: CHANTELLE LUDSKI

Chantal is the founder and chief executive officer of an organic food manufacturing and retailing business. She is based in London, England.

What I Do

While at business school, I started an organic coffee shop on campus. The outlet opened in September 1999, as I was starting my second year and about to go on exchange to the University of California, Berkeley. Since then, a small team of us have opened (and closed) some more stores and started a food manufacturing operation. We now supply one of the biggest supermarket chains in the U.K., as well as some specialty food businesses. We have recently opened an organic juice and salad bar in London.

Although our business has grown rapidly, we are still a small, hands-on team. As chief executive officer, I have many areas of direct responsibility—this can even include jumping onto the sandwich production line when required! Fixing personal computers and printers has become one of my specialties. Something that I also pay very close attention to is making sure that we invoice our customers on time and then get paid when we should.

One of the best aspects of the job is product development—coming up with new and hopefully tasty sandwiches and salads. Our aim is to build a brand; we don’t contract-manufacture for other people. My employees include two full-time and two part-time on the retail side, seven in manufacturing, one administrative person, and our operations director.

What I Enjoy Most

I get a great buzz out of having a huge food business discover our products and get totally hooked on them. I love seeing a business grow out of a good idea that is executed well.

What I Enjoy Least

The trick to executing well is to manage and maintain quality. In reality, you can’t add people as fast as you add a customer, so you have to focus on getting some underlying systems in place to enable growth. Putting together a system—a plan, a how-to kit—is not sexy, but it is necessary.

Why I Chose This Career

I am sort of the accidental entrepreneur. I am a lawyer, and lawyers are a risk-averse lot by trade. However, I had a lot of exposure to start-ups in my last legal job and that got me thinking about getting businesses up and running, whether as an entrepreneur or an entrepreneur. I love food, and I already had some background in the food industry. As a South African living in London, I had started a South African restaurant here.

During that time, I was a full-time lawyer; my partner was the chef. I was the business side of our restaurant partnership—seeing the opportunity in the marketplace and raising the money. Later, while I was at the London Business School, I saw an opportunity for a café and increased the size of my student loan to help fund the business. Things took off from there.

Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career

Coming up with a good business concept is the easy part. You must have the stamina to see it through. I put in many 16-plus-hour workdays. There is no series of projects with completion dates and time to breathe in between projects; holidays and time off are things that go out the window!

You must be adaptable. You have to have the ability to look at something critically, to sit back and see what’s not working, and to be willing to admit it and change it. Determination and a huge sense of self-belief are essential. Plus, be passionate about what you’re doing (or want to do).

Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path

Try not to grow too fast. Pay attention to the details. You can easily get carried away with all the great ideas and overlook the boring, underlying infrastructure. Remember, your team members are motivated by different things than you are; they don’t own the business. Understand what those motivations are for the rest of the team.

What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)

I practiced corporate law for eight and a half years. During that time, I also started a restaurant.

Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)

  • MBA, London Business School, with MBA exchange to the University of California Berkeley, 2000
  • Master of law, University College London, London University
  • Bachelor of arts (law) and LLB (Legum Baccalareus—two-year postgraduate degree similar to Juris Doctor), University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa

In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…

Look for programs in which you can build a very good network of people you can go to after you graduate—including lecturers, alumni, and fellow classmates. Get involved in lots of things—what you put in is what you get out. In retrospect, I am very glad that I pursued many elective courses in entrepreneurship and an exchange program. I wish that I had had more time to take another marketing course, another strategy course, and an advanced operations course.