Mamadou Ndiaye: Farm Kid Math Whiz Becomes Top IBM Executive in Africa

It’s a long way from the remote farming village of Ndioulbete in Senegal, where Mamadou Ndiaye’s parents raised peanuts and corn, to becoming the top IBM executive in his native country. Ndiaye ’02CS made that remarkable journey and earned three graduate degrees from American universities along the way, including one in computer science from NYU-Poly. His secret: lots of drive, a highly competitive spirit and years of hard work.

Today, Ndiaye is country general manager for IBM in Senegal. His most recent achievement is equipping the Customs Directorate of Senegal’s Ministry of Finance with two of IBM’s latest System Z mainframe computers and helping to modernize and digitize its systems, including payroll and human resources.

The project, he said, represents a “big leap ahead” for the accuracy, speed, efficiency and control of Senegal’s import-export business. The new IT system has been installed in 30 border crossings. Customs fees are a major source of government revenue, and the new system not only ensures data security and energy efficiency, Ndiaye said, but also offers real-time information to customs officials, enabling them to make decisions quickly.

“The most satisfying thing is doing work that changes the lives of ordinary citizens through technology,” he said. “That’s what drives me. IBM contributes to the economic development of the entire continent. We are able to change people’s lives by bringing technological innovation to our customers and creating jobs.” Other IBM projects in the region are in the banking, oil and gas, and telecommunications sectors.

Ndiaye’s own life was changed when his parents sent him to live with relatives so he could attend high school in the city. He went on to earn a degree in mathematics in 1986 from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar and became a high school teacher on the Ivory Coast. But he wanted to rise above what his father, a farmer, breeder and trader, had accomplished.

“I always wanted to be the best at what I do and am very competitive,” he said. “My parents were not rich and not poor. But I wanted to offer my future family a better life. My goal was to attend the best university in America.”

In 1994, Ndiaye went to the United States and was accepted into a master’s program in statistics at Columbia University. He and his wife, Monique Diomande, and their new baby daughter, Ndiaye Khar, lived in the Bronx. He worked days full time at a Staples store, where he supervised the computer department, and commuted to Columbia to take courses full time in the late afternoon and evening.

One day at Staples in December 1997, he said, “I met the most important person in my life.” A customer, pleased with the electronic organizer Ndiaye had recommended, asked him, “What else do you do?” Ndiaye said he was finishing a master’s degree at Columbia. “He pulled out his business card and said, ‘send me your resume.’ ” Ndiaye did. Two weeks later, he got a call from IBM Human Resources inviting him to attend " Project View " in Atlanta, Georgia an initiative to gather a pool of minority talent to give them an opportunity to meet IBM hiring managers. Ndiaye was invited to a site visit in Poughkeepsie, NY, where he was interviewed and got a job offer as a software engineer, with the z/OS Organization. “That was the beginning of my career at IBM,” he said.

Ndiaye worked for IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY, primarily on the System Z mainframe, from 1998 to 2010. During that period, he earned an Executive MBA in 2006 from Cornell University. He progressed through a series of executive positions in West Africa and was promoted to his current post in January 2011.

Ndiaye said he decided to return to Senegal in 2011 “because I wanted to give back to my community and country. I wanted to use the professional and social experiences I had in America to inspire young people.” For the past five years and at his own expense, he has sponsored a math competition for children in grades 7-12. The prizes are a ThinkPad and textbooks for math, chemistry and physics. “Everyone owes something to his country,” he said. “I tell the students in the competition that they have to study hard, because it can lead to great opportunities.”

Inspiration played a role in Ndiaye’s student life at NYU-Poly. Industry Professor Robert Flynn, Computer Science and Engineering, was a crucial influence. “In class, it was beautiful listening to him explain computer architecture,” Ndiaye said. “He spoke with such ease … that he made it seem simple. I never missed a class. Teachers like Bob are rare. He was a great role model because he gave me the energy and inspiration to go the extra mile.”

In Africa, Ndiaye said he sometimes talks with students who are interested in studying in the U.S: “I always say ‘go for it.’ America is the land of opportunity. If you study hard and work hard, you’ll be rewarded, and I am now able to use what I have learned to help IBM's expansion strategy in Africa.”