Picture for a moment a classroom at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. What do you see? Is it Hogwarts Lite, with students decked in striped ties with a house emblem emblazoned on their cardigans? Are they following the cautious customs of Jane Austen using the decisive diction of Downtown Abbey? And do their lifeless lectures revolve around the soon-forgotten minutiae of factor costs and reverse logistics?
Instead, imagine a strikingly diverse student body from 51 nations and nearly every conceivable background. In class, their gripping exchanges might race from how falling birth rates will re-shape banking strategy to the impact of climate change on food production and distribution. Barely two decades old – yet already ranked among the top one-year MBA programs – Saïd is dynamic and forward-leaning, a community that dares to ask the hard questions – and isn’t afraid to tackle the big, the complex, and the ambiguous.
A DESIGNER AND FINANCIER ATTACK POVERTY FROM OPPOSITE ANGLES
Look no further than the Class of 2018. Take Eva Hoffmann, a Stanford grad who describes herself as a “nomadic, sustainability-obsessed designer who spends too much time dreaming about poverty eradication.” At d.light, she was a design director who helped launch the A1 solar lamp, a $5 solution that can save poor and rural families up to 20% of their annual incomes. You might find Hoffmann roaming the halls with Barati Mahloele, an aspiring financier who plans to return to Africa to increase access, opportunities, and social mobility by “disrupting existing business models in financial services and capital, energy, education and affordable quality health care.” It is also a class of creators like Sidhya Senani, who founded a children’s school based on egalitarian decision-making and self-discovery. And it is a class of talents-in-transition like Conor Healy, a successful screenwriter with a passion for promoting renewable energy.
Such students hardly fit the stereotypes of self-centered snobs. You know the stereotype: the entitled and indulged progeny of the privileged who bunked together at Gordonstoun or Eton and view Oxford as a refuge for rowing and formal dinners. In reality, Oxford is elite but shuns elitism. Chartered a generation after the Magna Carta, Oxford is associated with prestige and tradition and shrouded in legend and awe. Saïd, however, is something altogether different. Think of it as Tesla plopped down in the middle of Monte dei Paschi di Siena – an ambitious startup culture that reaps the synergies of a long-established and resource-rich parent. It is a place to blend and build as much as reflect and review. Even more, as the school is fond of saying, it is an MBA program designed to prepare students for what business will be like in 20 years.
During her visit to Oxford, Katie-Coral Sicora, a 1+1 scholar who earned a masters in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance at the school before starting her MBA, worried that the school would be, quoting Joni Mitchell lyrics, too “old and cold and settled in its ways.” Instead, she was impressed by how the students and faculty, top-to-bottom, lived up to the school’s purpose. “Said’s mission aligns with what has always driven me—that I can and should leave the world better than I found it,” she says.
THE PLACE TO GO TO CHANGE THE WORLD
For Mahloele, the appeal of Saïd is its diversity. In her experience, it attracts “incredible people from all corners of the world, and vast backgrounds, but all with a common fibre of wanting to contribute in some way to transforming individuals, business, and ultimately society.” That, she says, is what truly sets the school apart.
“The dean once said that if you want to change careers, geography or progress up the corporate ladder, then in all honesty, you have a plethora of business schools to choose from,” she recalls. “However, if you want to change the world – then there is no better place than Oxford Saïd. There is no bigger pull factor than that!”
Thus far, the program has more than lived up to its promise of impact for the greater good, says Hoffman. “The classmates I’ve met so far have already completely amazed me with how considerate, diverse, and globally-conscious they are,” she shares. “Oxford Saïd’s self-definition as “the business school the world needs” sounded like a catchy marketing slogan to me at first, but each conversation I have with students, staff, and professors here only reinforces how true this tagline is. I am so excited and humbled to be a part of this!”
FROM A “RECOVERING LAWYER” TO A “MODERN HIPPIE”
International…entrepreneurial…fearless…committed…These are all virtues you could apply to the Class of 2018, a class that thinks big like so many before them at Saïd. Many have taken some stunning journeys just to make it to Oxford. Yogan Appalsamy, for one, is truly grateful to be a member of the class. He grew up in the tumultuous 1990s in South Africa, as a brutal apartheid regimen gave way to a fledgling democracy – and the hope and freedom it promised. “Against the odds, I’ve managed to build a long and successful investment banking career at top international banks, travelled the world, and now have the privilege to live and study in one of the world’s most historic universities.
Others faced down their biggest obstacles when they arrived at Oxford. That was the case with Sicora,
who had a baby last year as a masters student. For many, that means sleepless nights, time tradeoffs, diaper duty, and baby blues. Then again, Sicora has a talent for finding the best in any situation. “Not enough people talk about how much FUN it is to help a small person come to know the world and become wholly themselves…Plus, you get to build forts!”
Yes, the class is quite cheeky too. Sicrora, for one, calls herself “ELECTRIC” (in all caps, no less). “I have the audacity to see possibilities and gumption to act,” she exclaims. And she is hardly alone in bringing their high ideals and big personalities to campus. Ash Walker’s story is that he’s a “recovering lawyer whose promising sporting career was cut short by a severe lack of talent.” Want formidable? Perhaps you should recruit Andi Garavaglia to your side. A former soccer player and executive with the National Hockey League, she is “driven by an academic’s curiosity and a goalkeeper’s determination.” Despite her McKinsey and PwC roots, Itua Iyoha thinks of herself as a “modern hippie who believes in the magic of logic and love.” She isn’t the only one in the 2018 class with a dual identity, however. Just ask Appalsamy, a “finance nerd by day and an aspiring guitar player and a red-wine connoisseur by night.”
GETTING A LULLABY…FROM MORGAN FREEMAN
Boy, do they have some stories to share at their respective college dinners. Think of Hoffmann as Oxford’s dirty jobs answer to Mike Rowe. “I embrace pretty much any challenge as a learning opportunity, and as a result I have had a really bizarre set of jobs – catching sharks in the South Pacific; teaching 3D printing; sorting recyclables with Cambodian wastepickers; writing copy for pharmaceutical ads; and combing rats’ fur in Africa.” Not to be outdone, Garavaglia motivated her college soccer teammates to camp out in front of a Tex-Mex chain to win free burritos for a year. “We claimed our prize, but not before I was told to write a letter to NCAA governance explaining that we were not paid promoters,” she jokes.
To say Connor King is “active” and “adventurous” would be an understatement. This aspiring sports agent has already visited every continent except Antarctica. How is this for a story? Most people associate attorneys with throwing tantrums and disrupting proceedings – and Walker did just that…as a baby. However, there was one person who knew the secret to pacifying him. “Morgan Freeman took me from my mother’s arms and quietened me with his soothing voice after I disrupted the filming of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (starring Kevin Kostner) with my foghorn-like wail at a castle in France.”
Go to page 3 to see in-depth profiles of incoming Saïd students.