Bringing Back the Diaspora: Alum Uses his EMBA to Help Reverse the African Brain Drain

After 7 successful years an attorney, Joel-Eric Missanhoun was given the opportunity to lead Africsearch’s HR consulting operations in his native Côte d'Ivoire. His passion for contributing to reversing Africa’s brain drain was never in doubt, but the lawyer-turned-Managing-Partner noticed he lacked sufficient management acumen. So, to bring those capabilities up to speed, he turned to the HEC Paris Executive MBA.

Joel-Eric Missanhoun is Managing Director of Africsearch, an HR consultancy based in Abidjan whose mission, in part, is “to bring young professionals living in Western countries back to Africa.” Basically, he says, “we want to bring back the diaspora.”

According to the AFD (Agence Française de Developpement), a French government non-profit, the African diaspora in France accounts for roughly half of the African diaspora in Europe.

Among them is a growing number of what the AFD calls “repatriates”, as opposed to “expatriates” — including an estimated 70% of African MBA students who want to return to Africa. That latter figure is very good news for the likes of Africsearch.

Joel-Eric should know a thing or two about being a repatriate firsthand. After all, the Ivorian native and recently minted HEC Executive MBA alum is a poster child for this movement to reverse the brain drain.

A resourceful human

HEC Paris Executive MBA participant Joel-Eric Missainhoun is Managing Director of Africsearch

HEC Paris Executive MBA participant Joel-Eric Missainhoun is Managing Director of Africsearch

“My family sent me alone to France when I was 11 to study,” he says, shrugging. “It’s just what a lot of families do.” After years of schooling, he passed the Paris bar, which opened the door to a 5-year career in corporate law at Ernst & Young. Today, however, he finds himself back in Abidjan helming an international recruitment consultancy, much to his delight.

“I always knew I would return to the Côte d’Ivoire. It was always just a matter of timing.”

A fortunate series of events in 2009 helped make his return permanent. That year, he left his job as an attorney, and he and his wife left France — the country where they had met — and moved to the Côte d’Ivoire.

“Moving from attorney to headhunter was like a breath of fresh air.”

“Moving from attorney to headhunter was like a breath of fresh air. It moved the focus from minimizing taxes paid by big firms, which I became uncomfortable with, to reversing the brain drain and bringing the diaspora back to Africa, which is very close to my heart,” he says.

Back to where it all began

At the beginning of his time in the Ivorian capital, he found that all the insight and experience from his years as a lawyer did him little good when needing to make managerial decisions. For all their merits, personal preference, drive, and a burning desire to return and succeed in the country of one’s birth aren’t enough to successfully run a firm with the scope of Africsearch. In his own words, “being a good attorney doesn’t make you a good manager.”

“I realized that I was missing some tools to be a good manager. I was very conscious of this gap in my skills; that was the main reason why I wanted to do an Executive MBA.”

Committing to career growth

Making that decision was not straightforward. Much less, in fact, when you take the logistical concerns of working and studying into account.

“Choosing a program was really not easy. It’s more difficult when you’re so far from the centers of education like I was; being in the Cote d’Ivoire meant I had to travel to France every six weeks for 5-10 days at a time. It’s important to be absolutely sure of yourself, and to have a good idea of what will come after you finish the program.”

In order to get a better idea of what he could expect, Joel-Eric talked to clients and candidates at his company, many of whom had attended HEC in some way.

“The president of the HEC Alumni Association in the Cote d’Ivoire was one of our clients [at Africsearch]. We had a lot of discussions about education and performance; how to recruit the right people and the skills that people need.  After those discussions and visiting the HEC Paris facility in Porte-de-Champerret –– the decision to come became a very quick one.”

HEC Paris Executive MBA intake featuring Joel-eric Missainhoun

Joel-Eric and his intake in 2018.

His advice for anyone considering the program – “just go for it” – is derived from his own experience of committing himself to the pursuit of an EMBA.

“It’s a very interesting time in your life, because you’re going back to school, and meeting many new people. The program is clearly organized to take you from one point and bring you to another; I found that your experience is really well taken care of by HEC faculty and staff throughout the process.”

Joel-Eric graduates from the program this year, and the benefits are already obvious to him. “There’s a clear difference between the person you are at the beginning of the program as opposed to who you become at the end. You learn how to prioritize effectively. It’s important to be focused, though: it’s very easy to convince yourself you can check work messages and email your clients while you’re in the classroom, but if you do that, you’ll see that you’re missing something week after week. If you can commit to focusing when you’re in class, you’ll reap the rewards.”

One of the products of Joel-Eric’s resolve during the program was a fruitful partnership that he was able to secure with Alexander Hughes, a global HR consultancy that didn’t yet have a foothold in Africa before their pact. The roadmap tool he used to secure the partnership between Africsearch and Alexander Hughes was derived in part from his EMBA Capstone Project.

“The capstone was the key in this transformation. The tool that helped us put things together: a roadmap for moving the partnership forward.”

An able leader

“Thanks to the EMBA, I now know that I’m able to articulate a plan, bring people with me, and move us all in the same direction.”

Moving the partnership forward will require the application of yet another set of skills Joel-Eric perfected at HEC Paris: “organization and vision.”

“Thanks to the EMBA, I now know that I’m able to articulate a plan, bring people with me, and move us all in the same direction. Before the program, I wasn’t really conscious of the reason behind taking certain strategic actions. I learned that you need to have a target every day. You need to be able to tell if your efforts are moving the company forward or not.”

In other words, he says, “Now I know that I’m able to lead.”


More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe, and nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. According to the Financial Times, the HEC Paris Executive MBA is ranked #1 in Europe and #3 in the world; click here to learn more. If you’re ready to take the next step in your EMBA journey, introduce yourself here