2018 Best MBAs: Elly Brown, University of Oxford (Saïd)

Elly Brown

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

“Driven and purposeful, with a streak of wicked Aussie humour.”

Age: 27

Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

Fun fact about yourself: I once won a breakdancing competition in a Brooklyn warehouse

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Prior to the MBA:

  • Master of Public Policy (MPP), Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
  • Bachelor of Arts (Politics & International Studies), University of Melbourne

 Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I started my working life as a Business Analyst with McKinsey & Company, and spent three years in strategy, operations and organisational change consulting across a wide range of industries, from banking boardrooms overlooking Sydney Harbour, to remote dusty mining sites in the Pilbara desert (and everything in between).

Between McKinsey and grad school, I spent a year focused on advancing gender equality in Australia through two roles. As Board Advisor to YWCA Australia, I created the strategy and ran negotiations for an eleven-way merger of the branches of Australia’s oldest women’s non-profit organisation, negotiating directly across all eleven Boards and Executive teams. At the same time, I was also Program Director of the Elite Sport Male Champions of Change, convening a group of Australia’s top elite sporting organisation CEOs who were committed to driving gender equality within their own organisations.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? I spent last summer at Opportunity@Work in Washington D.C., working with CEO Byron Auguste to set up an alliance of major employers in pursuit  the organisation’s goal to rewire the US labor market’ through the introduction of skills-based hiring

Where will you be working after graduation? I plan to return to McKinsey & Company, Australia as a Senior Associate, with a focus on public & social sector projects that can have a material impact in strengthening Australian society.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I chose Oxford because I wanted more than just a business education – I wanted to test my assumptions about what role business can – and should – play in society.

I have done this by combining my MBA with an MPP as a Saïd 1+1 Programme Scholar, and deliberately seeking different perspectives outside business & management academia. I co-Chair the Global Business, Government & Politics Student Network, where we have focused on events that bring our MBA classmates into closer contact with graduate students from social policy, political theory, economics, international development, and environmental studies, to build a wider perspective on the role and impact of business. We also run a series of talks where classmates share their most interesting prior experiences working at the intersection of business and government, and the lessons they learned. Our latest featured a classmate who was in charge of delivering Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy, and the one before that showcased a cohort member who had negotiated an unprecedented public-private partnership with Myanmar’s government to fund South-East Asia’s largest solar power plant. With classmates like this, who needs external speakers?

I have also pursued my interest in the interaction between business and government beyond school – I was a 2017 Geneva Challenge global finalist for my team’s proposal to harness the power of sharing economy tourism to drive economic growth in the Pacific Islands, and represented Oxford at the 2018 World Government Summit in Dubai, presenting a strategic plan to develop the UAE’s knowledge economy.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? For me, an MBA is about turning theory into action. I am passionate about ensuring pathways for all into high growth jobs, particularly as automation threatens an increasing number of industries and role types. When I discovered that the Business Council of Australia (the peak body for Australia’s largest companies) is also very focused on addressing this issue, I saw an opportunity to take the cutting-edge research happening in Oxford and apply it in the real world. I offered my support, and am now working with a team of MBA colleagues to build a fact base on likely structural employment shifts in Australia and what other countries and companies have done to address the issue, to help the Business Council decide where to focus its efforts.

If business isn’t a force that is actively working to strengthen the society in which it operates, what is it good for?

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Making big, daunting things happen has always been an exciting prospect to me.

In the year between leaving McKinsey and heading to grad school, I worked with Australia’s oldest women’s non-profit organisation – the YWCA – to redesign their national strategy. What started as a small six week project fast became much bigger, as we recommended that they amalgamate all branches (each a separate entity) in what was an unprecedented eleven-way merger, never-before seen in the Australian non-profit sector. Miraculously, we gained approval, and I signed on to take the merger from idea to reality. I spent months flying around Australia, negotiating directly with all eleven Boards and Executive teams and facilitating discussion between them to build a shared vision for what a national organisation could do.

I am proud because this was the hardest project I’d ever taken on. The YWCA is a vast and disparate organisation, involving women from the high-powered boardrooms of Sydney controlling millions in assets, all the way through to the ~20-woman branch out in Broken Hill in remote rural Australia. It was a real education in seeing organisational purpose from all angles, and it pushed my thinking on who it is that organisations exist to serve.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I like professors who aren’t there just to teach content, but to instil in students a new way of thinking about the world. Professor Marc Ventresca – an economic sociologist by training – is one of the SBS professors I respect most because he does just that. His classes don’t often stick to the slides or schedule, but I walk out with a totally different perspective on the centrality of networks to the creation of new ideas and markets.

Why did you choose this business school? I was wary of business school, as I’d heard the MBA could be a very transactional and money-focused degree. I deliberately searched for a business school that had a reputation for thinking differently, with a particular focus on reimagining business and social responsibility – Saïd Business School fit the bill. I was also keen to study courses outside of business, so the fact that I could combine a one year MBA with a one year MPP at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford was another big drawcard.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program?

Think through what it is that makes you most different from others, and focus on presenting that in your application. Oxford especially is a place that revels in different stories and perspectives, so if you don’t think you’re the ‘typical’ candidate for business school, then you’re exactly what Oxford is looking for!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is an especially difficult question, as I admire so many classmates in different ways.

If I had to pick one person, it would be Shruthi Vijayakumar, a woman who is comfortable in her own skin, and lives what she preaches. I know many people who are keen to make a positive contribution to society, but far fewer who start by sharing such warmth and energy with those around them each day.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? To be honest, I kind of fell into business – I was pursuing a liberal arts degree in undergrad, and had never heard of management consulting as a potential career path until a friend suggested I apply to McKinsey a week before the deadline. Once in consulting, I immediately saw the value that a more grounded and thorough business education could bring.

 If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…travelling, taking on projects in different countries. I love moving around, and working in a local environment is one of the best ways of understanding another culture in my eyes.”

 What are the top two items on your bucket list? Taking a full year off, and spending 2-3 months living in a totally different place across each continent until I’ve covered them all.

I’d also love to buy an old-school campervan and drive around the coast of Australia.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Sharp, funny, and someone who goes their own way

What is your favorite movie about business? I love Up In The Air with George Clooney – I can relate to a lot of the humour from my consulting days, and its ultimate message that the road is no substitute for home and strong, grounded relationships strikes a chord.

What would your theme song be?Land Down Under” – Men at Work

Favorite vacation spot: Great Ocean Road, Australia – can’t beat those beaches!

Hobbies? Does brunching count as a hobby?!

What made Eleanor such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Elly Brown’s passion and zeal has been self-evident throughout her career, which has included positions at the United Nations, a parliamentary role in her home state of Victoria, Australia, as well a highly successful career at McKinsey, which granted her Fellowship study leave to enroll at Oxford Saïd. She has applied that same grit and determination to her 1+1 MBA, and the events she has organised as co-Chair of the Global Business, Government & Politics Student Network have made a positive impact on student life here. Her sense of purpose and commitment to improving outcomes of public and private sector partnerships made her a natural choice to represent Oxford University at the recent World Government Summit in Dubai.”

Ian Rogan

MBA Programme Director


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.