Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
Hometown: Louis Trichardt, South Africa
Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Cape Town, Bachelor of Business Science: Finance (hons)
Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I started off as a corporate finance analyst at Deutsche Bank, based in South Africa, and then went to join a social venture capital fund, which focused on investing in small businesses that had the ability to scale impact.
Where will you be working after graduation? Still weighing various options. I am building a start-up that could potentially define the next few years for me.
Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Saïd Foundation Scholar; Co-chair of Africa Oxford Business Network; Lead organiser for the Oxford Business Forum Africa (2016)
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I led a team that put together the Oxford Business Forum Africa, 2016 (OxfordBFA). What an incomparable learning opportunity! The forum was an immense success. The speakers and delegates brought the day to life and the feedback was phenomenal. We pulled together an incredible event in a very short amount of time under a lot of pressure. But those aren’t the things that will forever remain with me. The glow of success fades after a while. What I will remember are the days where I had to dig really deep. The relationships that became my pillars of strength and lifetime friendships that grew out of it — and the intensity of our excitement when the pieces started to fall into place. Most memorable, though, was looking around the room to see what Africa had brought together. The theme for the day was “Unreasonable Africa,” and to experience that idea embodied by every single person in the room — it still gives me goosebumps.
Favorite MBA Courses? The very first day of my Strategy and Innovation course, I was confronted by an interesting idea: “The future is already here, it is just very unevenly distributed.” Somehow, that single theory changed the way I looked at everything going forward. Life is a random arrangement of scattered dots. But it is only once you begin to connect the dots that something — a thought, a pattern, a question — begins to take shape. Almost irrationally, I began to wonder, “What if I already have everything I need to transform my beloved continent into a supernova?”
Entrepreneurial Finance was definitely a firm favorite. For someone with venture capital experience and entrepreneurial aspirations, stepping into the role of an entrepreneur was both a fascinating, and very relevant, practical experience.
Why did you choose this business school? I like to think that it was the other way around, actually. Sometimes, you walk into a room, unsure of how you came to be at an Oxford event because you have no intention of being trapped in 800 years’ worth of bureaucracy … but the wine promised to be good and it was on your way home anyway. When someone mentions entrepreneurship, you look up because 800-year-old institutions aren’t supposed to know what that is — and most certainly not when it’s followed by “Africa.” So a seed is planted that literally sets your heart on fire and chubby little angels fall out of the sky singing in an off-key harmony that “this is it — this is the one!” Before you know it, you’ve packed up a bag and a box and have set sail for the other side of the pond, where the sun doesn’t shine and people think it’s socially acceptable to have endless conversations about this sun that refuses to shine. That’s okay though, because you tell yourself that the sun will shine in your heart. And it does. But it’s “Hell-ary” term now; the sun doesn’t shine here anymore. Rumour has it set to rise again in T-2 weeks.
What did you enjoy most about business school? Oxford … in all of its centuries-old glory. There is a kind of magic in the air here. An intellectual stimuli that penetrates the pores of your curious mind and sends you into a spiral of questions that you’re unlikely to fully answer by the time you leave. But the conversations you’ll have and the people you’ll meet in pursuit of those answers will be the spark that sets off a fresh inferno of dreams that burn holes into your sleep — so compellingly vivid you’ll be left with no choice but to merge your waking moments into every other breath. That is all.
What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? A friend of mine once articulated it really well for me. She mentioned that the MBA was essentially just a place where you are confronted with the most complex characters you’ll ever encounter all in one place, and your role is to survive, essentially, without burying anyone in the backyard (thank you, multiple group projects). She was on to something. Except, in this MBA arena, you are in fact pitted against every fear, insecurity, and flaw you have ever encountered within, personified through individuals and mirrored in the murkier experiences. The ultimate battle is against yourself. You’re the biggest winner. You’re also the biggest loser. If nothing else, I’ve learned to peel off each layer and self-validate at every level. Also, people — your people are everything.
What was the most surprising thing about business school? People come to business school, and expect business school to “happen” to them. We moan about how nothing is what the brochure said it would be. We sit in our classes, our circles, and wait to be “wowed.” Because damnit, if I paid this much money to hear the balding gentleman in front of me preach for three hours at a time, his spit better be laced with gold. But as much as it does not feel like it at the time, we are the captain of this particular ship. That’s why we are here, after all? To take charge of the direction we want to head in. As cliché as it sounds, you have the control to decide what this experience will be for you. Yet, it still surprises me how many people are still lurking in the sidelines … waiting.
What was the hardest part of business school? It is knowing when to say no. But equally, knowing when to say yes. Basically, now that you’re the captain, you have to decide in which direction to steer this ship. You swoop in, a bundle of excitement, ready to drinketh from the cup of life. And then life dumps an ocean into your tiny glass three days before your programme begins and you never quite reach the surface again. That feeling you once had, where you were actually on top of your game and more or less one step ahead? Yeah, that’s over. There isn’t a single moment where I have ever felt “comfortable.” Because every day ranges between one to three standard deviations away from my comfort zone, and every moment leaves me feeling just shy of drowning in my tiny cup. It has been incredibly overwhelming, in the best, most invigorating way possible.
What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? Leave room at the end to take stock of the whirlwind that was the last year of your life. Nothing will be as it was when you first arrived. Spend the first few months of your MBA getting lost in the myriad options and opportunities that Oxford will present you with. But at some point, figure out your plan. Because before you can blink again, the year will be over. Your “plan” isn’t your career path; that is almost the default. Your “plan” is which amazing Oxford-style balls do you want to go to? What historical college have you not visited yet? Which incredible school of thought is next on your list? Which person do you want to curl up on a couch with a good bottle of wine and soak up all of the murmurings of their brilliant mind? When Oxford offers you such a wealth in breadth and depth of experiences, it would be a damn shame if all you ever walked away with was an MBA from Oxford.
“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… applying to business school. This was an important piece of my puzzle.”
What are your long-term professional goals? To change the narrative from Africa being “the consumer” to become Africa as “the producer,” “the leader,” “the innovator,” “the force.” I want to build a strong network of African businesses. I’m still connecting those dots.
Who would you most want to thank for your success? It really is difficult to attribute it to just one single person. Where I’m from, we like to say that “It takes a village to raise a child.” My “village” has many different faces: my mother, who constantly reminded me that I was a Queen; my friends, who inspired me to live the dreams that kept me wide awake night, in fitful bouts of excitement; teachers, who have come in surprising forms and with unexpected lessons; and strangers, whose choice of conversation left me feeling like I had been ejected into a different reality. The specific people who helped me keep my faith, and who, when it became necessary to do so, even kept it for me. You see, it really does take a village to raise a child.
Fun fact about yourself: I am on a quest to travel to 30 countries by the time I am 30. I started 3 years ago. I’ve done 14. I think I’m doing okay
Favorite book: Just one? No! Do you know how many books are out there?! Can I name by category?
Favorite movie: Madagascar. Definitely the first one. I still watch it
Favorite vacation spot: Island, anytime. The kind with white starfish-studded beaches and turquoise waters. Framed by a charming language where the only phrases I know are “cocktail, please” and “thank you” and cellphone reception is only available on top of the third palm tree to your left.
What made Hangwani such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?
“Through her role as co-chair of the Oxford Business Network for Africa, Hangwi led the coordination of the Oxford Business Forum Africa. She led the team incredibly well, secured high-level speakers, and consistently went above and beyond what was required to create a platform that represented African business. Hangwi’s passion for the continent, combined with her openness to new ideas, intelligence, and strong communication skills, marks her as an exceptional MBA student and a future leader.”
MBA Recruitment Manager, Africa & Women
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