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Meet The Oxford Saïd MBA Class Of 2017

Kyle Ewen

University of Oxford, Saïd Business School

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Finance kid by week; crossfitting cycling hipster by weekend!

Hometown: Johannesburg, South Africa

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have an ever growing collection of Happy Socks!

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Stellenbosch, Bachelors of Accounting with Honours

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation: Deloitte South Africa – Audit and Advisory Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I would note my relationship with my junior staff as my biggest accomplishment. Throughout my time as a manager at Deloitte, I had great relationships – both professionally and socially – with the staff reporting to me. I feel this relationship was beneficial to both myself and my junior staff. I really felt the impact of these relationships when I left Deloitte to purse my MBA, and the number of heartfelt messages I received from staff who had worked for me, thanking me for my impact on their development and work life, with one or two even calling me their ‘favourite manager’.

Looking back on your experience, what advice would you give to future business school applicants? Firstly, don’t be put off by any timelines, but they do also need to be managed. I only started looking into attending business school in earnest in January of this year but was able to make it work – with focus on my side and some assistance from SBS as well. Given the tighter timelines I was working with, I liaised with SBS and they allowed me to submit my application before I had a GMAT score – it is amazing how accommodating schools can be if you just ask. Take the time to develop a relationship with your intended school and see how they can help you.

Prospective students need to spend significant time thinking about which school they would like to attend. While ratings are a good reference and something to consider, there are more important factors to consider in detail and apply to your own situation: In which country do you want to study? Do you want a one or two year course? How diverse a working and cultural background would you like your class to have? Do you know the culture of the schools you are considering? How do your post-MBA aspirations align with the business school?

With the time, effort and costs associated with the applications, it is a much better idea to apply to fewer schools (those which align to your criteria) and then put together a quality application.

Another thing to consider is that many business schools will ask for references to complete their submission directly on a website, and not through a submitted document. So unless your reference is happy to complete write-up after write-up on you, keep the number of applications limited. And remember, the best reference is someone who knows you well, not just someone with a C-suite title.

In terms of overall preparation, I had access to the Economist GMAT online study tool, which definitely helped prepare me for the test. The tool explains concepts, quick tricks in answering and also often has timed questions so you know how long it is taking you to answer questions – an aspect of the GMAT that cannot be overlooked! I only completed just over half the content available on the Economist tool and still managed to come out with a higher score than I was aiming for – so I couldn’t have asked for a better way to prepare. In terms of the essays and interviews, I went with a ‘This is me’ approach. I did not want to try and sell someone who I was not. I think the best advice is to put your best foot forward, so long that it is an honest foot. I feel schools are looking for real people with real stories, hopes, dreams and aspirations post their MBA – so be that version of yourself.

What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? SBS was in fact the only school to which I applied. I spent a lot of time researching various schools and their programs in considering the school I wanted to attend, but also had a list of factors I wanted in a school:

  • 1 year program – I did not want to be out of the job market for 2 years both from a funding perspective as well and a general career progression perspective;
  • Diverse classroom – I feel that at least half of the learning in an MBA can come from my classmates. Thus I wanted a varied background – professionally and culturally – in the class;
  • Within a University – being afforded the opportunity to study again is unique and rare and I wanted to take full advantage of that by supplementing my MBA with other university activities like sports, events at other faculties as well as campus life;
  • With a focused aligned to mine – I am interested in finance roles (traditional investment banking and private equity) and roles in which finance and operations work together (think CFO, COO type roles).

These factors are all areas where I believe SBS scores well. The program is only one year, has a diverse classroom (currently 58 nationalities and too many professional backgrounds to note here), they are embedded in the world class University of Oxford which allows involvement in the greater academic community and the College system; and they have a focused Finance Lab which will allow me to work on my finance skills.

Tell us about your dream job or dream employer at this point in your life? I openly admit that determining my career path is a big part of doing the MBA, but if I could pick a job and employer right now it would be as an Investment professional at the IFC (International Finance Corporation). This would allow me to participate in the investment process like those in investment banking and private equity but with a greater and deeper social conscience – I feel in this job I would really have a sense of purpose and meaning.

What would you like your business school peers to say about you after you graduate from this program?  I was recently asked by a class peer what I wanted to achieve through my MBA and I determined the following:

  1. I want to be a changed person by the end of the course. I would like there to be a distinct change in who I am when this year is over. That doesn’t mean I need to be a completely different person but I would like to be a better person in some way or other;
  2. I want to make friends I will have for life, whether that be in the school or greater university community;
  3. I want to find my sense of purpose and a job that will be a compliment to this purpose.

So I would like for my peers to comment that I achieved these goals – that I improved myself as an individual, that they made a great friend in me and that they can see I have a greater and more defined sense of purpose. Oh, and that I had a lot of fun in achieving these goals!

  • geoff elliott

    An interesting discussion. however, how do reconcile that most business schools teach/replicate 1970s/80 Anglo?US management models and concepts which are invariably reductionist and analytical. they are predicated on the Cartesian paradigm

  • Spartan 22

    I imagine that being a 1-yr program makes it more difficult for career switchers to get placed. Also, Europe is in a bit of an economic “down” period (particularly places such as Spain, Italy, France, etc). Your best bet remains a top 15 U.S. based program unless you’re adamant on working in Europe

  • radish

    It was Steve Ballmer NOT paul allen!

  • tamix

    I heard he was a saudi businessman with a controversial business career in arm dealing and other questionable things. The students union and many faculties and professors and alumni of Oxford protested such degrade and urged the university to decline the fund, but they couldn’t find any alumni who can fund a business school. Cambridge has managed to get its business school named after one great alumni, but oxford could not. Many attribute this to the unloyal alumni and weak network nature of european schools in general. Partially because they are public, but essentially it is a cultural thing. I heard also that the current dean has persuaded Paul Allen of microsoft to donate to the school to name it after him, but he refused.

  • DD

    Comes from a syrian businessman named Wafic Said who donated funds to start the business school at Oxford.

  • Rimond

    What does the word of “Said” mean ?!

  • thor

    Not even the INSEAD or LBS program?

    No offense, I agree the top US programs (HBS, Stanford GSB, Wharton, Haas, Sloan, etc) are stronger. But I think your general view on European business education is myopic. Perhaps that’s caused by your lack of exposure to, or lack of knowledge about, European business schools.
    The only advantage I can see of attending a top US b-school is its ability to send its graduates to top banks and consulting firms, which I admit, they offer very lucrative remuneration packages to fresh MBA graduates. But other than that, I think there’s no clear advantage of attending a top US b-school vs a top European b-school. I don’t think the scope, lectures, professors, level of difficulty (standards), students or facilities vary significantly that an MBA candidate can confidently differentiate any major distinction favoring the top US b-schools.
    I’ve visited Oxford-Said, Cambridge-Judge, LBS, Warwick, Manchester and LSE (which doesn’t offer MBA but is also an excellent choice for those who want a career in banking and finance), and I’m quite impressed with Oxford Said, Cambridge-Judge, Warwick and LSE (in that order) the most.
    Personally, I’d go for Oxford or Cambridge if I can’t get into what I consider the top 5 MBA programs in the world: Stanford GSB, HBS, Berkeley-Haas, Wharton and MIT-Sloan. Meaning to say, Oxford-Said and Cambridge-Judge are, for me, the better choices than Chicago-Booth, Kellogg and Tuck. But then again, I’m one of those who think Yale-SOM and Columbia are better choices than Booth, Kellogg and Tuck.

  • josh

    It is quite surprising that the GMAT range starts from 550 while in their website they say the threshold for admission is 600 !!

  • Hayward78

    Which points? The post’s points seem valid!