My Story: From The CIA To An MBA

Christopher Schildt and members his Oxford cohort visited Tesla on their Silicon Valley trek earlier this year. Courtesy photo

You’ve said you wanted to do a European program, and you wanted to take just one year. That leaves several options, so what about Oxford appealed to you?

It came down to LBS and Oxford, and I know a lot of people based on rankings would have gone the other way, but I had a different perspective. I think Oxford is a strong brand. Everyone in the world has heard of Oxford.

The interview was really great, and I have nothing bad to say about LBS, but when I told people I was applying to London, at least in DC, LBS wasn’t as well known.

I also have a unique experience. I went to Yale when the School of Management did not have an MBA, and they were very particular — they wanted more of an academic degree. They didn’t want to play the MBA game. And they lost — they eventually had to get an MBA. And I remember hearing people criticize Yale the same way they are criticizing Oxford now, ‘Oh, it’s a mediocre business school relying on the name of the larger institution.’ And I can tell you, schools like Yale and Oxford are not going to rest on the name. They’re going to deliver a high-quality education.

Sure enough, almost 20 years later, Yale has one of the top programs, and I have no doubt that Oxford is only going to keep going up in the rankings. (Oxford is ranked 27th in the 2018 Financial Times ranking, up six places from last year, and 10th in Poets&Quants‘ 2017 international ranking.) For me, it was kind of like Warren Buffett — you look for good companies at a good price. Oxford is a fantastic brand that is only going to go up.

I know you’re interested in a tech career post-MBA. What can you tell me about the experiences you had with the CIA that prepared you most for a private-sector tech career?

I can’t go into a lot of detail, but it was building some hardware and software, and then some web and mobile applications. There were things that I did — especially in management — that I’ve come to find out were similar to a product management role. There were ways that we developed hardware that I’ve come to find out are similar to Agile development principles. We didn’t use the word, it was just the way we did fast-paced operations. I know people think government is slow; the agency can’t be slow. The threats that we face, you have to be fast, you have to be adaptable and have an Agile-like approach.

That’s what I can say about the actual experiences without talking specifics. I also worked closely with two directors, briefing them daily on technical and geopolitical developments.

How much of what you did with the agency informed your approach to business school and your experiences in business school?

I went to Princeton about 10 years ago. So having a strong policy background and seeing how governments, especially in the West, are just not able to solve problems anymore, I thought, “It’s the private sector that is going to provide a lot of these solutions.” So I’ve benign thinking for a while about shifting focus from public to private approaches to solving the big problems. My career was really largely defined by 9/11, but for a lot of my classmates who are 10 years younger than me, their views have all been shaped by the financial crisis (of 2008). It’s not strictly a private-sector approach, it’s the public-private partnerships, and especially as we build brand-new industries and technology is being used to innovate rapidly, there needs to be a blend of policy and business.

One of the great things about Oxford, being a young business school, it has a different approach to business. It definitely has a more social mission — several courses are on “rethinking business” and “how corporations can be forces for positive change” and that sort of thing. Its a different way of looking at business rather than being strictly about maximizing profits.

Has the experience changed your views in other ways — as pertains to global power structures and alliances and things like that?

It’s very complicated. I’m taking a course now that really ties together the two strands of policy and business: Business Strategy and Politics. Companies can’t just look at market forces, they have to consider all of the non-market forces. Its much harder than it was 20, 30 years ago.

For example, there’s Twitter. Say you created Twitter. You go from startup to a multibillion-dollar company. And now — without getting political — we can say Twitter is one of the key foreign policy tools in the United States. The company never could have foreseen that when it started. So if you are a corporation — especially if you are innovating way beyond and you are getting way ahead of government regulation — how do you build your strategy when you don’t know what the regulatory environment is gonna be like?

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