Meet Oxford Saïd’s MBA Class Of 2019

West wing of the Saïd Business School

TACKLING WORLD SCALE PROBLEMS

Like most MBA programs, Saïd’s core curriculum revolves around traditional markers like finance, analytics, organizational behavior, operations, and marketing. The difference, however, stems from the three integrative themes that are infused across every course: Entrepreneurship, Global Rules of the Game, and Responsible Business. Such themes guide discussions and shape outcomes.

This is particularly true in Saïd’s flagship module: GOTO (aka Global Opportunities and Threats). Dr. Emma Karanja describes GOTO as an “action-oriented problem-solving community project that proves Oxford Saïd’s dedication to solving world-scale problems.” In a nutshell, students are assigned a different global problem each year. Together in teams, students work on an online tutorial platform to fully understand the issues before working with subject matter experts from across Oxford to identify potential strategies.

“What we really want to see from students is a focus on the diagnosis rather than the prescription, if you’ll excuse the medical metaphor,” writes Peter Drobac, director of the Skoll Center and co-lead of the 2019 GOTO module, in a recent blog post. “We are asking our students to focus their energies on understanding the system, understanding the problem and mapping it out to see where the leverage points for change are.”

CLASS LOOKS AT THE FUTURE OF ENERGY

In the past, GOTO has tackled issues such as water scarcity, demographic change, and the future of work. This year, the school has turned its attention to a new global challenge: The Future of Energy. This topic hit especially close to home for Khalida Abdulrahim, a veteran of the energy industry.

“Being from Africa (the continent most affected by energy poverty), I am passionate about contributing to tackling the global energy access challenge,” she explains. “I feel incredibly privileged to have access to leading academic research on the subject and to be able to engage with experts and my classmates on it. I also expect that the module will equip me with a toolkit of frameworks for approaching large-scale problems, which I believe will be invaluable.”

Saïd Business School at Oxford University

The GOTO module also leverages Saïd’s biggest strength: a cohort diverse in nationality and background who are committed to getting their hands dirty and making a difference. “I sought an MBA program that was both international and filled with students who would approach problems and conversations from many different perspectives,” adds Diana Kolar. “Oxford’s focus on social impact and experiential learning also captivated me – rather than only learning from historical case studies, we will have the opportunity in our Global Opportunities and Threats (GOTO) project to tackle current, global scale problems from a business perspective.”

CREATING RESPONSIBLE AND SOCIALLY AWARE LEADERS

Even more, adds Christian Nattiel, Saïd engages these global issues from an ethical level, one that explores how business can be used as a force to increase access and reduce barriers. “Their commitment is succinctly captured by their ‘Responsible Business’ integrative module, which explores both the philosophical underpinnings of the corporation in society and the ethical decision-making of business leaders,” he says. “If I was going to pursue an MBA, I wanted to be in a place where the ethical dimensions of business could be thoroughly examined. I do not imagine there is a better place to do that than here at Oxford, given its storied history in philosophy and its vibrant international culture.”

This mission is the very epitome of James Collins’ “big, hairy, audacious goals.” With the Saïd School now boasting 17,000 graduates in 140 countries – and supported by 300,000 Oxford alumni as a whole – the realization of these goals is well on its way.

“We need more responsible and socially aware leaders in the world,” adds Vivek Elluru, “and Oxford MBA is trying to create them.”

While they’re here, the Class of 2019 plans to make the most of their time. Dr. Emma Karanja, for one dreams of dining at all 38 colleges on college. In contrast, Diana Kolar imagines herself rowing for Queen’s College and “reliving my undergrad a cappella glory by joining a singing group on campus.” Julie Greene also intends to pick up an oar and edge out Cambridge’s reserves.

“Cliché,  but when in Oxford…,” she jokes.

A TICKET TO THE OXFORD UNION

However, the marquee attraction is undoubtedly the Oxford Union, where Saïd MBAs receive lifetime memberships. Nearly 200 years old, the Oxford Union is perhaps the world’s most famous and prestigious debating society, hosting the likes of Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, Mother Teresa…and Jon Bon Jovi.

A previous Oxford Cambridge Boat Race

“I competed in speech and debate throughout high school and college and am honestly brought to life through a public forum,” says Cassandra Sullivan. “I have coached several debate teams internationally and I believe examining a topic from both sides of an argument is one of the most mentally stimulating exercises.”

“I am really excited for the “Responsible Business” debate at the Oxford Union,” adds Christian Nattiel. If it is the same as previous years, our cohort will debate a proposition similar to: “This house believes that there is one and only one social responsibility of business…to increase its profits.” This debate gets right to the core of the amorality that I mentioned in my previous response, and for that reason, I am excited to be there and take notes!”

MAKING SOCIAL IMPACT “THE FABRIC OF EVERYTHING WE DO”

Where next for the Class of 2019? Some will be returning from where they came. Nattiel, for example, is committed to the U.S. Army until 2025, with the hope of using his leadership lessons to becoming a company commander. Sullivan also plans to head back to Deloitte’s Seattle branch, where she’ll balance client with work with her passion for anti-human trafficking and social enterprise work. At the same time, Weerawit Pipatwongkasem intends to launch a FinTech VC Fund to ease barriers for entry in his native Thailand.

That said, Julie Greene isn’t sure what the next five years for her career. In true Saïd fashion, she knows exactly where she’d like to the world to be – and expects to be a catalyst for making it happen.

“The possibilities are endless! But I plan to be found in the social impact space. And hopefully in five years’ time, social impact won’t just be a space, it will be integrated throughout the fabric of everything we do.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates. 

StudentHometownAlma MaterEmployer
Khalida AbdulrahimAbuja, NigeriaUniversity of LiverpoolBritish Petroleum
Maitha AlsuwaidiDubai, UAEAmerican University of SharjahEtisalat
Sultan Fahad AlotaibiDhahran, Saudi ArabiaUniversity of North Carolina-CharlotteSaudi Aramco
Laura Aristizábal BorreroBogota, ColombiaPontificia Universidad JaverianaMcKinsey & Company
Vivek ElluruHyderabad, IndiaManipal Institute of TechnologyMalabar Capital Advisors Private Limited
Julie GreeneAmherst, MAMacalester CollegeThe Women’s Bakery, Inc.
Dr. Emma KaranjaNairobi, KenyaUniversity of NairobiGertrude’s Children’s Hospital
Diana KolarKatonah, NYGeorgetown UniversityJ.P. Morgan
Tim KrupaEdmonton, AlbertaUniversity of British ColumbiaOffice of the Prime Minister of Canada
Christian NattielSt. Petersburg, FLUnited States Military AcademyU.S. Army
Onome OfomanLagos, NigeriaStanford UniversityGoogle
Weerawit (Zen) PipatwongkasemBangkok, ThailandThammasat University, Bangkok J.P. Morgan
Cassandra Sullivan Rydalch Idaho Falls, IDBoise State UniversityDeloitte COnsulting