By Andy Smith

The interview with the GE recruiter was going “lukewarm” at best, recalls Mohammed “Mo” Mijindadi, a 2008 Penn State Smeal MBA graduate. The recruiter only needed two Penn State students for the company’s Experienced Commercial Leadership Program (ECLP) — a coveted post-MBA program that accelerates management and leadership development in select GE hires.

“Like most overzealous MBA students, I was going on and on about my work background and education,” he says. “At one point the recruiter asked me if there was anything I really enjoyed doing outside of work… what brought out the best in me? I shared that I ran nightclubs in my home country of Nigeria as an undergraduate and entrepreneur. My partner and I would rent out space in hotels and warehouses as venues to host our clubs. I took her through all the steps that entailed — from scoping out locations to running promotions and marketing.”

Mohammed Mijindadi

“By the end of the interview she wanted to hire me,” he says with a laugh. “She said what I had just described was exactly the process involved in running a complex business. That was the beginning of my journey with GE.”

A rapid rise through the ranks

Mijindadi’s self-described “love affair” with GE began well before his interview with the recruiter.

“Many of the case studies in our MBA classes had something to do with GE,” he says. “That piqued my interest in the company because I wanted to work in an organization with a strong focus on leadership and at the forefront of infrastructure.”

Once he was accepted into GE’s ECLP, Mijindadi quickly rose through the ranks. He spent the summer of 2007 working as an intern for GE Transportation in Erie, Pa. After graduating from Smeal, he joined the program full time and relocated to Houston, where he worked for the Marketing and Product Development team within the Transportation division.

“On a visit to Erie, the GE Transportation headquarters, I was fortunate to have a one-on-one chat with the business CEO,” Mijindadi recalls. “I talked about Nigeria, the infrastructural gaps, and how great of an opportunity it would be for GE to have a foothold there. Luckily for me, he remembered the conversation! About a month later, our sales leadership approached me with an opportunity to manage a significant project in Nigeria, and I said yes.”

His leadership career continued to advance, and in February of this year, Mijindadi was named president of GE Nigeria at the age of 42. It’s a position that has him leading GE’s efforts to strengthen the company’s impact across its Power, Healthcare, Aviation, and Renewable Energy sectors, and supporting the businesses to develop and execute market strategy.

“And all of this started with me talking about my passion for entertainment and interest in Nigeria during an interview at Penn State Smeal.”

Mohammed Mijindadi
Mijindadi at a family event at Oia, Santorini, Greece
Tai Davis ’09, Oscar Mejia ’08, and Mijindadi at a rally held at University Park in 2008
Left to right: Tai Davis ’09, Oscar Mejia ’08, and Mijindadi at a rally held at University Park in 2008.

The road to Penn State

Mijindadi’s route to Penn State Smeal was circuitous. He was born in Ithaca, New York, where his father was an agricultural economics professor at Cornell University. The family moved back to Nigeria when Mijindadi was in elementary school, and there he remained until academic staff labor strikes during his early years at the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria threatened to disrupt his education.

“I decided to finish college in the U.S.,” he says. “I attended Temple University, where I was a double major in civil engineering and business administration. After graduation, I worked as an engineer for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority [SEPTA], but I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing.”

By that time, Mijindadi’s sister Maimuna (Smeal MBA ’06) had come to the U.S. to study at Penn State. She pitched Mo on the idea of joining her.

“This was a crossroads for me,” he says. “It was my chance to build upon the engineering path my father wanted for me while expanding into business strategy and leadership, which I was passionate about.”

To get into Smeal, Mijindadi interviewed with Carrie Marcinkevage, the MBA admissions director at the time and now Smeal’s CRM strategy director. Maimuna was Marcinkevage’s graduate assistant, and she thought her brother would make a great student.

“She was absolutely right,” Marcinkevage says. “Mo had this easygoing intensity, which I know sounds like an oxymoron. You knew, even in a crisis, that you could turn something over to him and he’d get it done and everything would be just fine.”

Others at Smeal also took note of the young Nigerian student who seemed to possess equal parts IQ and EQ.

“Mo had an ear-to-ear smile that can’t be faked,” says Andy Gustafson, associate professor and director of Smeal’s MBA Communications Program. “I had him in my year-long leadership communication course. I also coached the MBA case-competition team he was a part of, which competed in several contests during his second year. They advanced to the finals at the National Black MBA conference competition. Mo was the type of student who could lift the spirit of an entire class.”

Mo Mijindadi and Dr. Halima Mijindadi
Mijindadi and his spouse, Dr. Halima Mijindadi, in Penn State gear after voting on Nigeria’s election day in 2019.
Dr. Vernis Welmon and Maimuna Mijindadi Anyene
Dr. Vernis Welmon and Mijindadi’s sister, Maimuna Mijindadi Anyene, at Mijindadi’s MBA graduation in 2008.

A silver lining in the dark cloud of tragedy

The Mijindadi siblings went their separate ways after graduating from Penn State. As Mo rose through the ranks of GE in Nigeria, Maimuna joined United Technologies, working in Connecticut as an HR manager responsible for executive compensation.

In 2012, tragedy struck when Maimuna, her mother, husband, children, and other family members lost their lives in a plane crash while on their way to her younger brother’s wedding in Nigeria. Suddenly, Mo’s best friend and sister was gone.

“We were two peas in a pod,” he says. “We had a running joke among family that we could have been twins in another life. She was smart way beyond her years and always had a smile on her face.”

Following Maimuna’s death, her family, former Smeal classmates, and friends on two continents came together to start an endowed scholarship in her name. The Maimuna Mijindadi Anyene Memorial Fellowship is awarded each year to an outstanding candidate from Africa or of African descent who demonstrates a strong connection to their Smeal community and a desire to support and promote public and charitable work in the future.

“I never met Maimuna, but given the outpouring of donations after her death, it’s clear she is a lasting part of the Smeal family,” says Mike Waldhier, managing director of Smeal’s resident professional graduate programs. “Mo has been integral to the scholarship from the beginning. He trusts us to choose the recipient, but he’s part of the conversation and he always reaches out to the student afterward.”

Mijindadi has stayed close to Smeal since his graduation, even attending a class reunion a few years ago. He describes his sister’s fellowship as a “legacy that will live beyond her” and the recipients as an extension of his family.

“The love and support I received after Maimuna’s death from everyone at Penn State was so appreciated,” Mijindadi says. “My time at Smeal was a defining moment in my life. This was a community we both grew to love. We were from another country, and we had no family here. Penn State became our family.”

Photos courtesy Mohammed Mijindadi