2023 MBA To Watch: Katherine Dellar, University of Oxford (Saïd)

Katherine Dellar

Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford

“Optimistic, empathetic and joke-cracking former diplomat who believes capitalism can change for the better.”

Hometown: Perth, Australia

Fun fact about yourself: I love writing puns – at the moment, I’m coming up with punny names for the business proposals my classmates are forming for the Entrepreneurship Project part of our MBA curriculum. I call this free offering Pund’it.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy), University of Western Australia

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked as a diplomat, trade negotiator and lawyer at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Not applicable, as I’m doing a one-year MBA. For the 2023 summer, I’m still weighing up my options.

Where will you be working after graduation? To be determined, but somewhere where I’ll be able to contribute to tackling social and environmental challenges, and where I’ll be surrounded by people who inspire me.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I’m a Co-Executive Producer of the Future of Business Podcast created by my MBA cohort, and a Director of the Government Relations Club. I’m also participating in the Skoll Centre Impact Lab, Skoll Centre Map the System competition, the Oxford Character Project Global Leadership Initiative, and the MIINT Impact Investing competition.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of participating in the co-curricular course taught by the fantastic author and “renegade economist” Kate Raworth, based around her book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways To Think Like A 21st Century Economist. The course is jointly run by the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, the Rethinking Economics Oxford movement and the student-led Climate Oxford Business Network and has attracted hundreds of attendees ranging from undergraduates to PhDs. It’s been an incredibly enriching academic experience, but what I’m most proud of is the contribution we’re making to demonstrating the demand for alternative economics teaching, as part of a movement to change the economics curriculum at the university.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I had an incredible experience as a diplomat in Geneva, representing Australia in global negotiations in the World Trade Organization and World Intellectual Property Organization. I am most proud of my contributions to resolving deadlocks in the fisheries subsidies negotiations, which concluded last year after 21 years of negotiations, delivering on one of the specific targets of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, ‘Life Below Water’.

Why did you choose this business school? It was the focus on social impact, through both the curriculum and the extra-curricular options. I hoped this would allow me to explore different ways of creating positive change, and introduce me to a community of like-minded people, and both have been true so far!

Who was your favorite MBA professor? James Taylor, who took us for Analytics and somehow made it fun, even for those like me who had barely used Excel before coming to business school. He also annotated his slides with amazing, pertinent quotes – who knew quotes by Lady Gaga, Marx and Shakespeare could be relevant to statistics and regression?

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Capitalism in Debate, because I think it is essential that business schools challenge the prevailing discourse of short-term profit maximization and perpetual growth. If MBAs are going to be future leaders, we had better be future leaders who think about the impact of business on broader society.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Celebrating different national and cultural events! Diwali, Thanksgiving, Lunar New Year – there are so many and each comes with its own fun traditions, usually food and dancing related (I mean, what else is there?)

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have taken some time off beforehand to arrive fully rested, because it’s a whirlwind once it begins. I don’t recommend working until the Friday before the MBA starts!

What is the biggest myth about your school? That here in Oxford we have to wear full academic dress, with gowns and mortar boards (called “sub fusc”), during in-person exams. This is only partly true. The mortar boards go on the floor under your exam desk.  

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Oxford is the perfect size and a beautiful town to cycle around. Being able to bike to school, friends’ places, and gorgeous old pubs – all within a 10 minute radius – is idyllic.

What surprised you the most about business school? Everyone tells you the cohort will be diverse, but I was still awed by how diverse our cohort is, in terms of geographies, professional backgrounds, personal philosophies and hidden talents (We have a breakdancer, a concert pianist and a cookie chef, to name a few).

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I listened to the podcast produced by the MBA cohort, the Future of Business Podcast, to get a better idea of the profiles of past students, some insights into the course, and the culture of the school. This really helped me reflect on why I wanted to do an MBA and why I wanted to come to Oxford Saïd. And now I’m producing that podcast!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Nitya Nangalia. Before coming to Oxford, she worked for India’s largest women’s organisation, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Bharat, and just has incredible knowledge and experience on empowering women entrepreneurs, not matter how rural and how small the business. Nitya has fantastic ideas and such a strong devotion to advancing women. I’m so excited to see what she does next.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Contribute to a systemic shift away from short-term profit maximization towards a reformed version of capitalism that puts people and planet first. Also, serving on an all-women board at some stage would be pretty amazing.

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

“Katherine came to the Oxford MBA with not only a stellar academic record, but demonstrating foremost EQ skills. As a diplomat in Australia’s foreign service, Katherine’s work has led to her becoming a big thinker, not afraid to challenge the status quo, with a very strong understanding of the responsibility of business in society, demonstrated so very well in the keynote Katherine was selected for as part of Oxford Saïd’s well established Economics of Mutuality Forum. It is without doubt that Katherine has a very bright future whether in government or business, and no doubt at the heart of world changing conversations.”

Amy Major
Associate Director, MBA Programme Delivery


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