It took Oxford centuries to emerge as one of the world’s most renowned universities. It only took the Saïd Business School 20 years to do the same feat.
In 1996, Saïd was a late arrival to the MBA beat, short on achievements but blessed with the best brand name in education. Fast forward to now, where Bloomberg Businessweek ranked Saïd among the top three international business schools, a result buoyed by receiving the highest marks in the alumni survey and finishing third among recruiters.
GO BIG AND GO GLOBAL
So what’s behind this rapid emergence? Think strategy over brand. Forget the lore of Oxford being the finishing school for poets and prime ministers, steeped in centuries of tradition and governed by manners and decorum — a posh playground for the privileged and a refuge for rowers and royals alike. At Saïd, the school thrives by breaking with convention. Here, the old world and the new world don’t merely collide…they get along splendidly.
The biggest difference is an intensive focus on all things global, says Dean Peter Tufano in a 2014 interview with Poets&Quants. “When I speak to CEOs and other business executives about what they need, they want rigorous training in accounting and so on, but they also want understanding of world-scale topics that you wouldn’t find in a marketing or finance course.”
That’s particularly true with Saïd’s passion for Africa, whose growth potential has been described by the McKinsey Global Institute as “Lions on the move.” According to Tufano, Saïd has been promoting investment in the continent, while boosting the enrolment of African students at the program to a record 10% of the class. “Our ultimate aims are to create a positive change in the region, to inform a global audience about opportunities that exist on the continent, and to have a direct impact on the path of the individual lives of our African students,” Tufano tells P&Q in a written statement. “We also feel that having a substantial African presence at the School—a global community where everyone is a minority—will teach others about opportunities in the content.”
FORWARD-THINKING PROGRAM THAT ANTICIPATES THE WORLD THAT WILL BE
This commitment to the broad global view is also reflected in the Saïd curriculum, which added several new international electives this year. One, says Associate Dean Kathy Harvey, was “Growth Prospects and Opportunities In Africa.” Developed through a partnership with several African firms and held in Johannesburg, South Africa, the course covers the “long-term drivers” of change in Africa, along with the array of opportunities available on the continent. Another course, she adds, takes students to New York City to get an inside look at digital transformation and its implications on an array of industries. “Andrew Stephen, L’Oréal Professor of Marketing who is running the elective, explained that ‘New York affords us with a great diversity of companies and experiences,” Harvey notes.” These help students learn about digital transformation from many different perspectives, for example: they spoke with marketing agencies and brands, but also cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, government agencies such as the digital office within the New York City Mayor’s Office, and publishers like Mashable and the New York Times.”
This latter course also represents the second differentiator of the Saïd MBA program: pairing this globalist approach with a strong futurist bent. Before taking the job as dean in 2011, Tufano queried leading business executives on trends that could fundamentally re-shape how companies do business in the next quarter century. As a result, the program strongly weaves in larger socio-economic issues such as demographic shifts and environmental concerns. This core tenet is personified by the annual GOTO (Global Opportunities and Threats) project. Here, students partner online with peers, faculty, and alumni to conduct research that addresses the “big challenges,” with the future of work being the most recent entry into the GOTO canon. “The GOTO project and the entrepreneurial orientation reinforce the commitment of the school towards world-scale problems and market tendencies,” says Chile’s Matthias Zwanzger, a classical music and guitar aficionado.
Naman Sanghvi, who developed wind and solar energy products before enrolling at Saïd, echoes Zwanzger’s sentiments. “The program’s various components – working on a global challenge such as Water Markets in Global Opportunities and Threats Oxford (GOTO) module, getting involved with the world-renowned Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, and listening to internationally acclaimed orators at the Oxford Union – are all geared towards creating responsible leaders. Creating responsible business leaders who will tackle world-scale problems is embedded in the program’s DNA.”
94% OF CLASS COME FROM OUTSIDE THE UK
Indeed, you won’t find another MBA program quite like Saïd. Where else will you find global business rules, entrepreneurship, and responsible business as the cornerstones of the curriculum? Such a philosophy attracts a different type of business school student, which has only made the one-year Saïd experience even richer as a result.
“No major business school can match the powerhouse of diversity that Oxford Saïd offers,” states Sagar Doshi, a Stanford grad who was previously a special assistant to the chairman of the United States’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC). “It’s not just lip service. More than 90% of our student body comes from outside the UK. The biggest subgroup is North America, but North Americans don’t even squeak past a quarter of the class. I’ve met classmates who have run anti-trafficking nonprofits, wearable tech incubators, and even oil rigs. A disproportionately large number of students want to go into social impact careers. If you want to surround yourself with people who will teach you from a wide range of angles, this school is the place.”
That filters down into the paths that MBA candidates choose to pursue. “If you research Oxford, I guarantee that you will struggle to find any kind of stereotypical career path associated with the MBA,” adds Germany’s Katharina Gromotka. “I think that is awesome!”
CLASS INCLUDES SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS, FORTUNE 500 MANAGERS AND REGULATORS
In the Saïd MBA Class of 2018, it’s hard to find a student who cleanly fits into any stereotype. Kyle Ewen, who collects Happy Socks, describes himself as a “finance kid by week; crossfitting cycling hipster by weekend!” Taylor Markham is an intrepid sort, who “once hitchhiked from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia in order to see the ancient ruins of Angkor.” There’s more than meets the eye with Gromotka, who’d lived in Niger, Germany, Vietnam, and the UK by the time she was 17. She calls herself as an “Introvert frequently disguised as the sociable, cheerful host.” Where do you even begin with Doshi? He is “In love and loved, irreverent, energetic, future-focused, technophilic, intentional, companionable, joyful, and hungry.” Wow!
“Wow” is also a response you’ll hear after flipping through the class’ CVs. Ndakuna Fonso Amidou, who once dreamed of becoming a fisherman before ending up at the UN, founded a healthcare clinic in Cameroon that has delivered over 3,000 babies. Laura Johnson Blair grew a microinsurance social enterprise that reduced risks faced by over 400,000 farmers in nations like Tanzania, Rwanda, and Kenya. In war-torn Columbia, Ana María Ñungo founded AccesoSolar, which delivered cleaner and more affordable water, freeing up precious dollars that families can use for food and healthcare. In Kenya, John Kakungulu Walugembe worked alongside the Ugandan government to develop pilot projects involving solar energy and water management.
Other accomplishments were harder to quantify, but impressive nonetheless. At Deloitte, Ewen believes his best moment came when he discovered the impact he’d made during his tenure. “I had great relationships – both professionally and socially – with the staff reporting to me,” he shares. “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.’” Gromotka was overwhelmed by the send-off she received from clients and colleagues alike after leaving Bloomberg for b-school. “Establishing such a strong, supportive network of mentors, advisors and champions for me and my ideas in the workplace is what I consider the biggest accomplishment in my career to date.”
Doshi’s big moment was historical in nature. He was part of the FCC team that developed the open internet rules that he believes cuts costs and opens up competition. “I got to see every part of this challenging, fascinating debate over an incredibly complex issue, and I’m so proud of our outcome,” he beams.