Meet Oxford Saïd’s MBA Class Of 2018

Andi Garavaglia 

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford 

Describe yourself in 15 words or less:  Sports business professional. Internet/society researcher. Driven by an academic’s curiosity and a goalkeeper’s determination.

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Fun Fact About Yourself:  As an Italian-American, I have a predisposed affinity for food. I even once convinced my friends to sleep outside of a Tex-Mex chain because the location’s first customers would win free burritos for a year. Many of my friends, like me, were members of our university’s NCAA soccer (football) team. The chain was so pleased with the team’s patronage that they published a picture of us in the local paper. We claimed our prize, but not before I was told to write a letter to NCAA governance explaining that we were not paid promoters of the Tex-Mex chain; rather, interest in a year of burritos was disproportionately higher amongst my friends on the team than my friends in the general university population.

My senior thesis explored the psychology of undergraduate Facebook use. To comply with the requisite experimental framework, I convinced more than 100 students to commit to one month of being Facebook-free so I could test Facebook users against abstainers. While post-hoc analysis did not return significant results, the “Facebook Challenge” sparked enormous discussion and reflection on campus over the role of social media.

I feel supremely lucky to have a twin brother who is three minutes older and likely three minutes wiser than myself.

Undergraduate School and Major: Stetson University- BA Psychology; Minor Marketing; Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:

2014 – 2017; National Hockey League; New York City, USA; Manager, Retail Sales & Marketing

2011 – 2013; Brighton Agency; St. Louis, USA; Account Executive, Project Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My role at the NHL allowed me to give back to a sport that shaped many childhood conversations around the table, that motivated both of my brothers through echelons of elite competition, and that served as the backdrop for most father-daughter outings. Helping the league develop engaging content, inspire young athletes, and provide families with treasured memories was an honour and a lot of fun, hard work. Upon reflection, two initiatives are particularly salient:

  1. 2017 NHL Winter Classic— The Winter Classic is the NHL’s most prestigious outdoor game. In 2017, I was responsible for event retail operations in iconic Busch Stadium, home to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was incredible to contribute towards the hometown crowd’s experience, and the retail results were some of the strongest on record.  After the event, I assembled a panel of female colleagues from the league, the St. Louis Blues, the St. Louis Cardinals, and Adidas to speak at a local, all-girls high school. The message was two-fold: that students should follow their aspirations despite adversity, and that financial literacy is of the utmost importance. Given that enrolment in the school’s finance classes doubled, it seems the panel’s messages may have resonated.
  1. Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), sponsored by the U.S. Department of State — As a member of the NHL’s mentor-team, I helped emerging, female sports leaders design action plans encouraging development of infrastructure run by or designed for women in their home countries. I assisted a Ukrainian hockey professional in establishing sports clinics for children impacted by the Crimean conflicts; twins from India in sharing record-breaking ascents of the Seven Summits to counteract traditional gender bias; and, most recently, a Macedonian entrepreneur in drafting a business plan for an eco-tourism agency. Through GSMP, I recognized sport’s role as a powerful mechanism for social change.

Looking back on your experience, what one piece of advice would you give to future business school applicants? 

Start early. The decision to go to business school is probably not a whim, so do not create your application on a whim. There are a lot of pieces and parts to tackle. I had calendar appointments set 90 days, 60 days, and 30 days out from my submission deadline to keep myself on task.

Evaluate your application holistically, as though it’s a brand portfolio. All parts of the application— essays, recommendations, interview— should convey a consistent, clear vision of yourself and your ambitions. Consider jotting down a few key themes and ideas that reflect you as a b-school candidate; then, allow those ideas and themes to inform how you draft your essays, who you ask for recommendations, and what you reinforce in your interview. This designed approach will allow you to submit your application with confidence that it emphasizes your strongest merits.

Study the GMAT, specifically. My most critical error was that I studied math covered by the GMAT as opposed to “GMAT-math” specifically. I strongly recommend accessing online resources (such as Magoosh.com) that mimic the GMAT experience, and studying with someone trained in GMAT-specific quant strategies. After focusing on “GMAT-math,” my cumulative score increased by more than 100 points.

What was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? I attended University of Oxford for a study abroad term in 2011 where I self-designed curriculum in Psychology of Social Media. My tutors did not ask me to regurgitate information; rather, they empowered me to read widely, draw my own conclusions, and defend those analyses. This experience convinced me of the enormous value of Oxford’s educational philosophy.

My interest in the disruption potential of technology did not subside; in fact, it characterized a good deal of my professional experiences. Computer-mediated workforces, economies, and marketplaces are rapidly changing the nature of business as well as the skillsets demanded of organizational leaders. For this reason, it was important to me to attend a business school with a global network, an emphasis on world-class research, and a modern approach to curriculum. University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School uniquely meets these criteria and, accordingly, was my only application.

What would success look like to you after your first year of business school? As one of the first SBS candidates to enter the school directly from a professional sports league, I feel a profound obligation to favourably represent my industry. I hope to introduce classmates to the dynamic microcosm of society and industry that sport represents, as well as some of the complex challenges facing the industry today.

Additionally, I want to enhance my awareness of internet and society research, potentially even pursuing an MSc in the subject. I want to be an organizational leader that can navigate offline and online ecosystems with sophistication and respect for the capabilities and limitations of each.

Finally, back when I played soccer (football), I developed a bit of a mantra. Before each game began, I would tap my goalposts and say aloud, “For those who came before me. For those who come after me. And just a bit, for me.” My vision of a leader is not someone who is solely concerned with his or her individual legacy, but someone who honours past efforts by learning from them and improves the way forward for future generations. In one year, I want to graduate SBS poised to become that type of leader. I want to have created, not solely consumed. I want to have engaged in self-reflection, not solely in self-promotion.