2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Reilly Dowd, University of Oxford (Saïd)

Reilly Dowd

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

Stay curious.”

Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Fun fact about yourself: I received 84 rejection letters to fund my first film…and kept going. Now it’s going to have a national broadcast!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service, Bachelor’s Degree.
  • Stanford University, Graduate School of Business, 2013 SIGM Summer Program
  • University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, Peter Stark Producing Program, MFA Candidate

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was running my production company in Los Angeles and attending USC, where I directed THE LAST RIDE, a scripted short film that was selected for the Peter Stark Filmmaker Award.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018?  N/A-One year-MBA

Where will you be working after graduation? TBD

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: The Oxford Union

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My ability to balance the day-to-day demands of business school while directing and producing a feature film has been my proudest achievement during my time at Oxford.

I have spent the last four years making DREAMS OF DARAA, a partly-animated documentary that follows the journey of a young Syrian mother named Hanadi and her three daughters. In bringing this project to life, I’ve raised and managed a budget of over a half-million dollars, hired more than 40 people, and put together a team of top talent, including a veteran war cinematographer, an Emmy-award-winning editor, an Oscar-nominated executive producer, a Grammy-winning music composer and an animator whose work has been shown in over 100 festivals.

Just before coming to Oxford, my film was selected by iTVS, the leading provider of independently produced programs for PBS, which annually reaches more than 200 million American television households.

With this new partner came a series of added responsibilities in order to prepare the film for national broadcast and submit to festivals. So a typical day goes like this: read case studies in the early morning, attend class from 9:00 to 12:15, answer emails and submit applications during lunch break, attend more class from 1:30 to 4:45, then race back to my dorm to begin my film workday. With the 8-hour time difference, it’s only morning in California, where my producer is based. We are in constant communication with our editor and animator, and more recently, our music composer, sound designer, and color correctionist. I’m also regularly checking in with our bookkeeper, archival researcher, lawyer, and supervising producer.

So, my days are often split between very left-brain and right-brain thinking—one moment I’m learning to calculate profit maximization for a competitive firm. In the next, I’m discussing minute details of a scene transition from watercolor animation into live-action footage.

Almost nobody on my film team gets what I’m doing in business school, and almost nobody in business school gets what’s needed to produce a feature documentary. So, pursuing an MBA while managing a team on two different continents has been a true balancing act. But knowing Hanadi’s story will be shared with millions of people makes the commitment well worth it.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I coordinated the nighttime escape of my film’s main subject, Hanadi, and her three young daughters from Syria. As a result, Hanadi had the opportunity to testify about the war crimes of the Assad Regime before experts at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. Since then, Hanadi and her girls have begun a new life in Germany, where they are currently in school and seeking asylum. This was by far the greatest achievement of my professional career—and perhaps also for me personally.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was Daniel Snow, who teaches Technology and Operations. He managed to bring our case studies to life through very engaging class discussions. You know you have to be a good communicator to make a lecture about assembly line processes in a potato chip factory fun and interesting.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? This isn’t exclusive to the business school, but Oxford really knows how to throw a formal ball. My favorite one was at the world-famous Oxford Union, which has been around since 1823. In the debate hall, where the likes of Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, Dave Chappelle, and John le Carré, have spoken, the furniture was moved to make room for a truly epic silent disco.

Why did you choose this business school? I applied to Saïd Business School because of its leadership in the social impact space, which I first learned about through the Skoll Foundation. I was looking for a program that recognized the importance of storytelling and wanted to learn more about how businesses of the future might create their own content. I also wanted to build on the work I had started in the Fledgling Engagement Lab, a year-long program that supports the social impact campaigns of documentaries focused on issues affecting vulnerable populations.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Before starting my MBA, I had a lot of different work experiences ranging from the Obama White House, to CNN, to ABC News, to the Norman Lear Center in Hollywood.

Diversity of experience and a willingness to share lessons learned is what makes for a rich classroom environment. Not everyone at Oxford Saïd comes from finance or consulting background. I have a friend who is on sabbatical from being a brain surgeon, one who produced almonds and another who worked on a nuclear submarine. They all bring so much to the table. Lean into the thing that sets you apart.

What is the biggest myth about your school? People say it rains here all the time. They weren’t lying.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? One of my best experiences during my time in the MBA was a trip to Switzerland with three other classmates. Looking back, I would have attended more of the student-led treks, which included places like Israel, Russia, Slovenia, and South Africa. These trips offer great opportunities to bond with classmates outside of the school environment and to get to know them on a much more personal level.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Andy Baxter and I disagree on a lot of things, mainly U.S. politics. But I admire him because he really stands up for what he believes in and backs up his beliefs with facts. Andy is proud of his Texas roots and deeply committed to his faith. He studies history, reads constantly, and maintains his sense of curiosity even when he knows he’s right. I find that really refreshing in a time when our politics are so divisive.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My dad. I wouldn’t be at Oxford if it wasn’t for him. He always encouraged me to go after the thing that’s hard and never to settle. He saw more in me than the creative side of being a filmmaker/storyteller. He saw a business leader and wanted me to have the skills set to really run something big someday.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Screen my film at the White House and the Vatican.
  • Lead a movie studio.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Someone who gave more than she took, listened more than she talked, and laughed – a lot.

Hobbies? Traveling to new places, interior decorating, news-junkie, yoga, scriptwriting.

What made Reilly such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Reilly’s journalism background brings an investigative nature to the classroom that allows her to view traditional business principles from a different, yet critical, angle. In her work looking into the effects on refugee families that have been displaced by war, she’s stumbled across a larger story that has given her experience across global borders in politically-charged regions and organisations. When considering the diversity of thought, and the role it plays in creating an effective MBA cohort, Reilly stands out amongst her peers.”

Liz Starbuck Greer
MBA Programme Director


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