Nairobi to Northwood


Chris Songe was doing just fine. After growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, he earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Nairobi and landed a series of sales jobs in auto dealerships, selling and servicing well known international brands such as BMW, Volvo, and Renault KIA. It was the late 1990s.

But Chris is not the kind of person to settle for fine.

"I was looking at the big picture," he remembers.

How big? As big as the world, it turned out.

At a career fair in Nairobi, he struck up a conversation with someone who told him about Northwood’s world-class automotive marketing program.

"I had been thinking of going back to school. I wanted to have a successful career, and to find a job in the OEM space within developing markets," Chris said. "And I was very excited about the fact that Northwood was one of the few universities that had an automotive marketing program. I'm a car guy."

Still, Midland is a long way from Nairobi.

"I was really torn about leaving my family to come to Northwood," Chris recalled. "But it was an opportunity I didn't want to pass up."

So he headed off to the United States, not sure exactly what to expect.

"I remember two things very clearly. I was very intimidated when I got to the airport in Chicago. I was afraid I would miss my flight to Midland," he said. "The only other thing I was worried about was that I had never used a vending machine."

Fitting in at Northwood proved to be less scary than the concourse at O'Hare.

"The university did a fantastic job helping me get settled in," Chris said. "And one good thing was that there were a lot of other international students. From Holland. From Canada. I was the only student from Africa in the automotive program, but I didn't feel like I was the only guy who was away from home."

Northwood's openness to international students is a benefit to everyone, said Mamiko Reeves, Northwood assistant vice president and dean of International Programs.

"When students come here from around the world, they bring fresh ideas, unique perspectives and valuable insight," Reeves said. "It all adds to the character of the university, which is a big part of what makes Northwood special, and helps advance our mission of developing global leaders."

In 1999, Chris earned his Northwood bachelor's degree in Automotive Marketing and was quickly snatched up by CDK Global, which provides integrated technology solutions to more than 27,000 auto, truck, motorcycle, marine, RV, and heavy equipment dealers throughout the world. He started as a business solution consultant, helping clients' employees learn to use the company's system, and has advanced to his current role as an implementation manager, overseeing implementation for hundreds of clients per year. Chris and his wife, Tracy, live with their two sons, George and Ian, outside Minneapolis.

"I'd like to give thanks to Northwood," Chris said. "I wish I had come here from the beginning."