2023 MBA To Watch: Charlie Oliver, IESE Business School

Charlie Oliver

IESE Business School

“Someone whose professional interests lie at the intersection of business, society and the environment.”’

Hometown: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Fun fact about yourself: I rediscovered my love of playing rugby while at IESE thanks to the IESE Rugby Club. The club is a great microcosm of our school: it’s well organized, welcoming, supportive and inclusive of all backgrounds and skillsets.
Undergraduate School and Degree:

Master of Science, International Business and Emerging Markets, University of Edinburgh, UK, Recipient of Robertson-Ness Research Scholarship

Bachelors with Honours, Politics and History, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?

Principal Strategy Consultant at Anthesis Group in London, UK.

Anthesis is a UK-headquartered sustainability consultancy with B Corp certification.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Boston Consulting Group, London, UK

Where will you be working after graduation? Consultant at Boston Consulting Group, London, UK

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

IESE Social Impact Scholarship 

VP of Strategic Development, Member of the Leadership Team, Consulting Club (second- Year): Responsible for communications, engagement with members and alumni, collaborations with other IESE professional clubs, and ad hoc work to support the Club President. 

Mentoring: Exchange students, consulting applicants and 1st year section team. 

Director, Responsible Business Club (1st Year) 

Responsible for impact investing vertical at annual “Doing Good Doing Well Conference”, as well as managing keynote speakers including Paul Polman, co-author of “Net Positive” and former CEO of Unilever, and Nick O’Donohoe, CEO of British International Investment (previously known as CDC). 

Director, IESE Impact Fund (1st Year) 

Co-ownership of fundraising and fund re-brand. 

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Booking and interviewing Paul Polman to speak at the Responsible Business Club’s annual conference, “Doing Good, Doing Well.” Paul was the CEO of Unilever from 2009-2019 and is a blue-flame thinker on business model innovation that promotes responsibility and sustainable performance. During his tenure, Paul grew shareholder returns by 290%, while the company consistently ranked first in the world for sustainability.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the work I did on nutrition, food security and consume behavior change with one of the world’s biggest CPGs. Here, my work, along with my colleagues, was centered on finding methods to promote healthier cooking and eating at scale, in markets which had a high incidence of the “triple burden” of malnutrition: overweight, undernutrition and micro-nutrient deficiency.

The solution we developed encompassed both drivers of supply and demand, resulting in NPD and reformulations, along with work in the supply chain to ensure availability of new ingredients and advocacy to make the behavior change we sought aspirational.

Why did you choose this business school?  I chose IESE because I believed it offered a compelling learning experience. Namely, the beautiful campus and classrooms, case teaching method, warm and supportive culture, and the opportunity to study Spanish as a foreign language. Ultimately, I was confident that I could strengthen my skillset in a place that felt like home.

Who was your favourite MBA professor? This is a very difficult question to answer because there are truly several excellent professors at IESE.

Owing to the fact that he has only recently joined the faculty, I will give a shoutout to Professor David Teeters, who teaches Corporate Finance. Professor Teeters is an IESE alumnus, who spent 20+years working in capital markets. He is a great communicator of complex material, where even those without a finance background like me felt comfortable. Further, he brings a lot of energy and dedication to his classes and teaching materials respectively, and as such, is highly regarded amongst my peer group.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? In January of this year, I did the “Doing Business in Africa” intensive module, held at Strathmore University Business School in Nairobi, Kenya. The course was a brilliant mix of cases (including on M-Pesa/Safaricom, Sanergy and Equity Bank), panels with local investors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. It also included site visits, negotiation exercises, and dinners with students from Strathmore, all facilitated by a mix of faculty from the two schools.

The combination of all these experiences made for a rewarding and distinct learning experience that has grown my interest in working in Kenya and other African nations in my post-MBA career.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The best events that I have attended at IESE tended to be where students from one nation celebrate their traditions through recognizing a holiday or national pastime and invite all other students to join them.

Two events this year really stood out in this regard. First, the Indian Business Club hosted a Diwali party in November, which was an incredible evening of great food and music, coupled with the supreme dancing skills of my Indian classmates. The other was an event simply called “Asado” hosted by our Argentinian and Uruguayan classmates. As the name would suggest, amazing food played a prominent role here too, as approximately 20 of our classmates and their partners spent multiple days preparing and then cooking food for 300+ guests (no caterers!), coupled with a mix of activities, dancing, and drinks.

What these events and others like them show about IESE is, firstly, its diversity (we have 50+ nationalities represented amongst our cohort). Secondly, it shows again the strength of IESE’s culture. These often-intimate events are a great way to learn more about each other’s culture, and are always well-attended by our classmates. For my part, during first year, though there were only 4 Scots across the classes of ’22 and ‘23, we organized a whisky tasting for 50 classmates, to share a little of our culture too. Lastly, it also shows my classmates commitment to developing the uniqueness of the IESE experience. For example, second- year organisers always ensure that compatriots from the 1st year are involved in the organization, to ensure that these events become traditions in themselves, that endure year after year.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have applied in an earlier round. It took me a while to get started with the GMAT and I hadn’t anticipated the preparation that it required, along with the other materials that we also needed to submit. As I only applied in Round 3 and had a three-month notice period, I couldn’t take a proper vacation before beginning the MBA. The first term of our first year at IESE is pretty busy, so in hindsight, I’d ideally like to have been better rested before starting it.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I wasn’t aware of any myths before enrolling at IESE. However, I know that some people doubted the efficacy of the case-method. For me, it generally provided a useful basis for learning, as it allowed me to apply the materials we covered. It’s probably also useful to realize that we don’t only use the case method at IESE. There are simulations in both first- and second-year, along with some lectures where the professors feel it is more useful.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Barcelona is a phenomenal place to live and somewhere I will surely miss. It is located in the region of Catalunya, where within two hours you can be in the mountains hiking, skiing or cycling, depending on your preference and time of year. Barcelona also has a beach, and indeed Catalunya’s Costa Brava has many beautiful beach towns to visit within easy reach.

Within the city itself, there is a myriad of things to do. Barcelona is the home of Picasso, Gaudí and Miró, among others. As such, we are surrounded by beautiful buildings and museums to visit.

One of my favourite things to do is to go for a jog at the beach (there is about a 10km boardwalk beginning in Barceloneta).

What surprised you the most about business school? Probably the secondary benefits that came from taking a break from my career. Academics has been my focus. However, being around a group of people who are looking to develop themselves in multiple facets, not just academically, has meant that I have been inspired to develop in other ways too. This ranges from preparing for interviews more effectively, to exercising more frequently, to discovering new hobbies.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I did a campus visit in January 2020, just before the COVID pandemic. It gave me an “edge” because the experience I had that day made it clear that I wanted to come to IESE. This meant I could, first, be confident in my decision to do an MBA, and second that I had a school to focus my efforts.

In terms of giving me an edge with the admissions process, I think there would have also been benefits for the Admissions team too, as I was able to do additional informal “interviews” during the visit. For example, after attending a class by Iñigo Gallo, he invited me to have a coffee, and we spoke for close to an hour about my background and experience, and any questions I had about IESE. I was then also invited to have lunch with a second- year student from the UK, who was very generous with his time in sharing more about his experience, but also listening to mine.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Another impossible question!

I think as a group, all the parents in my section are people I admire, especially those who became parents for the first time during or just before the first year started. Lais Bernardes, Pedro Lecaros and Naoki Wagatsuma are the ones I know of (apologies to anyone that I have missed). I see them all as role models as they were able to manage all the new challenges of parenting, as well as continuing to keep up with the demanding academics of IESE. Further, all three of them have brought their kids to our section events, which has been really cool. Lais, Pedro and Naoki have all given me confidence that I can pursue a demanding work schedule and family life in the future.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? First, the generational challenges that our planetary society faces – including climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity and income inequality – present an uncertain future that requires disruptive thinking and dedicated leadership. As such, I would like to lead a team, and later an organization in delivering impact at scale for private, public and/or third sector clients to address some of these challenges.

Second, as I mentioned earlier, I would like to work in Africa. The elective I did in Kenya was an amazing experience. From the local students and guest speakers we encountered in Nairobi, it was clear that working in Kenya or another African nation could offer a rewarding experience, and the potential to create a high degree of impact.

What made Charlie such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“I have had the pleasure to interact with Charlie over the past 18 months in my capacity as mentor of his MBA team, and as professor in the elective Corporate Restructuring course. During this time, I have been consistently impressed with Charlie’s passion for learning and dedication to the IESE community.

Charlie was one of the best students in the Corporate Restructuring class: his insightful questions and thought-provoking ideas challenged his peers to think critically and approach problems from new perspectives. Outside class, Charlie proved to be a natural leader and dedicated servant to IESE’s community. Last year, as Director of the Responsible Business Club, he helped organize the highly successful Doing Good Doing Well Conference, bringing together business leaders to discuss socially responsible management practices. Charlie’s commitment to responsible business extended to his role as Director of IESE’s Impact Fund, an investment fund fully managed by IESE students with the purpose of identifying and investing in companies that have a positive social and environmental impact. Charlie continues to show his engagement in the IESE community by generously offering his time and expertise to mentor and coach first-year students, supporting them in their consulting preparation.

Overall, Charlie stands out as one of the sharpest and most actively involved MBA participants I have met during my seven years at IESE. I am sure his leadership skills and dedication to others will carry forward into a bright professional career.”

Stefano Sacchetto
Associate Professor of Financial Management, IESE Business School


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