The University of Oxford is a study in contrasts. It is old vs. new, high brow vs. high tech, a sense of the timeless mixed with the velocity of the ever-changing. Imagine a university whose lineage stretches back to the Tower of London and the First Crusade. Home to 69 Nobel Laureates, the university is part of the “sweet city of dreaming spires.” Here, Gothic and Neoclassic towers shadow cobblestone roads and wide courtyards, the Isis hosting regattas no different than during the reign of King George II.
Yes, Oxford has cataloged the English language and shaped minds ranging from John Locke to Margaret Thatcher. However, the genius of Oxford is in its ability to evolve. It is not a place exclusive to “philosophers, poets, and novelists,” in the words of 2019 MBA graduate Vaughan Bagley – a posh pad replete with ornate dinners, gowns, and ritual for the aristocrats. Instead, Oxford is a realization of an ideal, one where you can do everything, meet anyone, and become anything. The same is true of the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.
A STARTUP SUPPORTED BY A TOP GLOBAL UNIVERSITY
You won’t find Saïd amid Oxford’s lore. After all, it was founded just in 1996. That has freed the business school to establish its own identity: an innovative startup wrapped in one of the world’s top universities. That brings expertise, resources, and renown – with Silicon Fen and London both just a 90-minute drive away. It is a mission-driven MBA program, one not content to churn out high-paid consultants and financiers. Rather, their mandate is quite clear: Transform the World!
“Oxford Saïd is a unique community of people committed to using their business acumen to solve complex, pressing, global challenges,” writes Bagley. “From our core finance and accounting courses to our electives and extracurriculars, the school constantly encourages us to think outside the box about what responsibility businesses have to social and environmental sustainability, and what it means to be an entrepreneurial business leader in the 21st century.”
Entrepreneurship. Social Impact. Innovation. Interdisciplinary Learning. Global Scale.
These are the hallmarks of the Saïd MBA. However, they are hardly new concepts across Oxford’s rolling hills. Despite its contemporary mindset, Saïd is rooted in the same sense of creativity, purpose, and fellowship that has fueled the university since its inception. It is this difference that drew the Class of 2020 to pursue their MBAs at Saïd.
95% INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
“As a young business manager, I feel comfortable to optimize micro-systems,” writes Pascal Riederer, a marketer from Germany. “For example, when I’m tasked to build up a marketing and sales platform, I can forget the world around me and focus solely to set up this particular micro-system. At Oxford, however, we are reminded every day about the interconnectivity of business and the environment on a macro-level. Our professors challenge us to think big picture first, accept the messiness of the world, understand interconnectivities and then leverage them so we can build business applications mutually benefitting the environment and business. For me this thought journey started in the application process with the question “Consider a trend that shocks you. What would you do to change it for the better?”. This question was an invitation, to start breaking out of my “marketing and sales funnel” and start thinking about the interconnectivity of my function, my skills, and real-world impact.”
Oxford may be British to the public, but it is deeply international in spirit. Call it the crossroads of the world, a school whose ranks include former prime ministers from Australia, India, Canada, Pakistan, and Ghana – not to mention a Jordanian King and a Japanese emperor. That doesn’t even count eight British prime ministers over the past century! You’ll find this cosmopolitan dynamic embedded even deeper at Saïd, says Michael Philbin, a 2020 P&Q MBA To Watch.
“As part of the University of Oxford, there’s an expectation that the Business School will be a uniquely British experience, but in fact, it’s a truly global experience with 95% international students from over 60 countries. The diversity in backgrounds of students creates unparalleled learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom.”
GROWING TECH STARTUPS…IN HAITI
Embracing this takes a certain kind of audacious talent. At Saïd, MBAs burrow into the scrum, with a humility to learn, a curiosity to test, and a courage to act. Here, you’ll find students who arrive from all corners, be it geography or background. Take Aileen Brown. At the Mexican Ministry of Finance, she served as the director of macroeconomic research, where she focused on enhancing transparency and communication around data. These efforts came in handy during market-rattling events in recent years.
“My office played a key role in investor relations management during the oil price decline in 2014 and the Mexican peso depreciation in 2016,” Brown writes. “This challenging position required close interaction with foreign and domestic investors, creditors, analysts, rating agencies, and international institutions (IMF, OECD). As the first female Director in the Research Department, I coordinated strategic interventions to guide and promote women’s leadership and empowerment that resulted in a sharp increase in women in management positions.”
In Haiti, Florian Alvarez tackled a far different issue. He designed and the country’s first technology incubator and accelerator – Banj Labs. He was able to do this despite complications like limited investment capital and startup know-how in the country.
“In partnership with Google Launchpad, I led a pre-acceleration program which served as a prototype for the concept,” Alvarez explains. “This program helped achieve some key goals including building a pipeline of startups and creating a mentor network with over 40 high-profile local and diaspora executives and entrepreneurs. Our first incubation and acceleration programs launched in early 2019 with five startups in a variety of sectors including fintech and healthtech.”
BUILDING VENTURES TO SERVE OTHERS
Speaking of international startups you won’t get more ground up and global than Samuel Darko. He headed outreach and student recruitment at the African Leadership University. An entrepreneurial venture, Darko spearheaded efforts that attracted “more than 35,000 applications, 1,500 enrollments from 35 countries and tens of millions of dollars in revenue over five years.” It wasn’t an easy task either, Darko adds.
“For a new university with a limited number of majors, no graduates, and with fees significantly higher than the market average, this is an achievement I am very proud of.”
Those aren’t the only impressive numbers racked up by the Class of 2020. Rangan Srikhanta, a Sydney native, turned a volunteer effort into a social business – one that “raised over $25 million dollars to deliver 70,000 computers to disadvantaged children and trained thousands of teachers.” At 14, Pascal Riderer was already a news reporter on Germany’s second-largest television channel. Fast forward a decade later and he was heading up marketing and sales for a corporate experiences firm. Sure enough, this wunderkind was turning employee insights into operational improvements that boosted revenue by 900% over four years. At the same time, Anike Lawal – a boxer in her spare time – has been selected for grants by Google, Facebook, and the U.S. Department of State. Her fighting spirit was on display when she formed the Mamalette Champions program in 2017.
“We recruited and trained 70 experienced mothers from our online community to provide health information, support, and guidance to poor and marginalized pregnant women and young mothers in their communities. In 2019 we received a grant from Facebook which allowed us to run a well-structured project with 24 women providing home-visiting services to 488 urban poor pregnant women and new mothers. These home visits followed a defined curriculum on various maternal and infant health topics.”
BEATING CAMBRIDGE NEVER GETS OLD
The Class of 2020 has carried that momentum into Oxford proper. Natalia Elizabeth Espinola Lopez, for one, has sung in the Oxford student band at Jericho Tavern, the place where Radiohead played its first gig she writes. Amandine Roche, an audit analyst from Goldman Sachs, has joined the university’s Blind Wine Tasting Society – and plans to compete against Cambridge in this endeavour before she graduates. Speaking of Cambridge, Aileen Brown (along with teammate Ajay Gupta) has already bested Oxford’s long-time rival in the Amplify Trading Floor Simulation. Oh, and Brown’s Saïd team brought home the gold in the Houlihan Lokey Debt Restructuring Challenge too.
As students, Saïd MBAs can participate in all Oxford activities and traditions. For example, they can sing in the world-famous Magdalen College Chapel Choir or join one of Oxford’s 38 colleges. Amandine Roche chose Balliol College, whose alumni range from Adam Smith to Boris Johnson. Here, she participated in two of the university’s most hallowed activities.
“The most Oxford thing I’ve had done so far was spending a day first competing for Balliol College Women’s Boat Club in the Christ Church indoor rowing competition, also known fondly as an “Ergatta,” she writes. “Then, I ran to change into formalwear for the Merton Ball, a white-tie event that takes place once every three years. I ended up spending a magical evening dancing the night away at one of Oxford’s oldest colleges (established in 1264!).”
Go to Page 2 for an interview with the MBA Director.
Go to Page 3 for in-depth profiles of 10 members of the Class of 2020.