Aminata Kane Ndiaye is constantly on the move. Some say this powerful 39-year-old woman achieves the impossible by balancing a rising career at Orange with her role as a mother of three children. This is a candid conversation recounting over 20 years of a sometimes perilous but always forward-looking journey.
On the morning of our interview, Aminata’s executive committee meeting is early and she has to reschedule our interview. As a busy business leader, she answers our questions from a car on her way to Mohammed VI Airport in Casablanca, heading to Dubai. Today, she’s flying to the Young Leaders Global forum and will then head to Cairo, saying, “but I won’t have time to see anything” as if apologizing.
The HEC Years (2004/2008): The Foundation of a Bright Trajectory
After completing her preparatory studies between Ginette and Saint-Jean-de-Douai, Aminata enrolled at HEC in 2004 without a defined career plan, except for her strong interest in the Majeure Entrepreneur. She recalls, “At that time, I wasn’t ready, but I knew I would get into entrepreneurship. And it turned out to be true.”
During her master‘s years, she went to New Zealand for a semester exchange at Auckland University of Technology, an experience that left her with only good memories. “It was truly the other side of the world. Only three of us from HEC went there. It was a very exotic experience, a place unlike any we usually visit“, she nostalgically recalls.
At the campus, Aminata made meaningful connections with influential teachers like Alain Bloch, the Director of the Major, Eloïc Peyrache, an economics professor at the time, Bernard Ramanantsoa, former Dean of the School, and Laurence Parisot, her class’ godmother. She had visited the students at her office at MEDEF: “I went there with determination to secure an internship. I pestered them so much that they eventually accepted me ! ”
Despite the lack of diversity on campus and the underrepresentation of sub-Saharan Africans, a fact that Aminata laments, her friends from that time are still her friends today. The night before our interview, she had dinner with Yasmine Benkabbou (H.08), co-founder and associate director at Ranch Tassaout. The bonds formed with alumni are strong and seem unbreakable in Aminata’s case, even transcending borders.
Armed with her diploma and in search of her calling, Aminata resumed the travels she had started with her parents in her early childhood. During her gap year, she specialized in banking and alternated between BNP Paribas in Switzerland and Goldman in London and Paris. She also did an internship in Mauritania at an oil distribution company.
Aminata then took a six-month break after her graduation to travel the world and immerse herself in the knowledge of different cultures. She traveled to India with a friend for backpacking and, in her unquenchable thirst for learning, she journeyed to Fès alone, where she was hosted by a generous host family to learn classical Arabic. She affectionately describes the family as “incredibly generous.”
Returning to France after her grand voyage, Aminata joined McKinsey in 2008 in Paris. She spent three years at the firm before setting off again, this time to the United States, where she earned a prestigious MBA from MIT. This new degree made her parents proud, as they had wanted her to start her studies in France and gave her the opportunity to fulfill her American dreams.
During her MBA, she launched her first company, Fula&Style. With this ready-to-wear brand, Aminata aimed to provide clothing that better aligned with the values and culture of African women. She called it the “Zara made in Senegal” and had the ambition to break stereotypes and offer women clothing that fit them, of high quality, and at reasonable prices.
The business thrived for three years, with clothing selling rapidly, and it expanded internationally with online sales in the United States, where the diaspora had a strong interest, and across Africa.
However, the young creative director had to put an end to this ambitious project due to “quality issues, insufficient funds dedicated to fashion at the time, MBA loans…“. Aminata refused to raise prices, remaining committed to her goal of providing affordable fashion to African women.
Orange: The Rise of a Determined Woman
Orange had long noticed the strong, independent, and ambitious young woman that Aminata was during her MBA. Just as she had gotten married and was planning to settle in Senegal, the telecommunications giant offered her a position with the promise of rapid advancement within the company. Aminata, who had initially planned to stay for only two or three years, is celebrating her tenth year at Orange this year.
As agreed, Aminata, full of humility and patience, started at the bottom in 2013. She accepted a customer loyalty manager position in Senegal and modestly explains, “When I started at Orange Senegal, I was paid less than in my previous job, despite having an MBA from MIT in addition to my HEC degree. But I had never worked in Senegal, even though I had grown up there, so it was reasonable for them to ask me not to start too high. I started as a department head, without a department, without subordinates, and I did that for a while. I learned a lot from it.”
The following year, she received a promotion to become the PMO (project manager office) of the Marketing Department, where she fell in love with Mobile Money. This revolutionary service had a real impact on people’s lives starting in 2015. At the time, cash was king in a country where 80% of the population didn’t have a bank account. This new technology allowed people to have an electronic wallet linked to their phone and make mobile payments and money transfers. This service was a huge success, and the number of Mobile Money customers grew from 300,000 to 2 million in less than three years, thanks to the establishment of a network of agents associated with mobile top-up locations, customer financial education, and large-scale communication campaigns.
As a contributor to this overwhelming victory over their direct competitors, Aminata climbed the ranks rapidly. She was offered the position of General Manager of Orange in Sierra Leone in 2018. “I didn’t expect this at all! I was taken by surprise, and I thought, ‘I want to make rapid progress and trust in my skills, but really, I’m going to become a General Manager!” she says with a laugh.
Before accepting, Aminata wanted her husband’s opinion, and he provided unconditional support. “Such a great opportunity to become a General Manager at the age of 33, do you think such an opportunity will come your way again? You need to go for it, and we will figure it out“, reassured her husband, who was also the father of their two children at the time.
Supported and full of ambition, Aminata accepted the challenge despite all the difficulties associated with the position. She arrived in a company in crisis in 2018. Orange was facing financial and employee-related challenges. It was a chance to tackle significant challenges for the new General Manager.
Upon her arrival in 2018, the situation continued to deteriorate and didn’t allow for a peaceful family life. “During the first year, I was the one making the back-and-forth trips to see my family. I cried when I arrived, and I cried when I left. Then, my two children moved to Sierra Leone with me, and it was my husband’s turn to cry when he was saying goodbye to them!”
In 2021, hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, which terrified a population already traumatized by the devastating Ebola virus a few years earlier, Aminata had to keep the company running and reassure her employees on-site. A hard worker, she never left her post, working from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
After four years of hard work in Sierra Leone, the set challenges were met, far exceeding expectations. Aminata wanted to return to her family, who had eventually moved back to Senegal, as they had become an easy target for those who might have wanted to target a female corporate leader. “Everyone supports women as long as they’re not too powerful, but once they become powerful, they become the ones to be taken down, more so than men“, she points out, having become accustomed to living with bodyguards.
With constant tension and her family far away, Aminata, pregnant with her third child, asked to return to Dakar and took a few months of leave.
In February 2023, four months after giving birth, Aminata was appointed Vice President of Orange Money in Africa and the Middle East, covering 17 countries. Aminata seeks to strike a balance between her professional and family life, saying, “The situation is challenging. My husband stayed in Senegal, and the children and I are now in Casablanca.” Despite her frequent business travels across Africa, the young mother insists on spending weekends with her family.
Her other ambitions are, of course, focused on the company and its growth. She wants to see Orange Africa grow and transform under her guidance. She explains, “Beyond just managing the business, I need to ensure that it grows. My mission is to transform the business with teams based in several countries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.”
Aminata Kane, impressive in her courage and determination, is and will remain an exceptional source of inspiration for future generations of entrepreneurs. Not even in her forties, it’s highly likely that we will continue to write about her ascent.