Radiohead, the English rock band formed in the outskirts of Oxford released their third album, OK Computer, to public acclaim in May of 1997. At the same time, the very first class of MBA students at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School were completing their final exams and preparing for the next steps of their personal and professional journey.
“The future is inside us, it’s not somewhere else”, sings Radiohead’s lead singer Thom Yorke. And for the trailblazing MBA students at Saïd, the investment they made in themselves 25 years ago to pursue a world-class business education is a powerful reminder of how people create their own destiny.
The University of Oxford was established over 900 years ago, and the city of dreaming spires simultaneously looks forward to the future while never losing sight of its history. With the creation of Saïd Business School, Oxford expanded into business education in 1996 and for MBA graduate Vaughan Bagley, an American who spent her early life living in Portugal, the institution has outgrown being a place exclusively for “philosophers, poets, and novelists.”
OXFORD A PLACE FOR MBB CONSULTANTS, BLUE-CHIP BANKERS & BIG TECH ENGINEERS
The most recent MBA employment report confirms that its business school is equally a place for MBB consultants, blue-chip bankers, and big tech engineers, as well as those pursuing a post-MBA path in non-profit impact or global industry. And if business is not enough, the business school offers the Oxford 1+1 MBA program which allows students to pair the one-year MBA with one of a wide selection of one-year MSc programs offered by other University of Oxford departments.
Consistently ranked among the top European business schools, (the latest P&Q international ranking puts Oxford’s MBA in ninth place), Oxford Saïd has continued to expand from its first MBA class of 48 students with 29 nationalities represented, and 25 years on the latest class welcomed 355 students from 71 nationalities. It is also one of the most diverse and gender-balanced MBA programs in the world, with 156 women – the largest number of female students to date – that is a far cry from the five female students graduating back in 1997.
Cobblestone streets, boats on the river, and the swish of formal gowns are simply the trappings of an institution whose outlook has become ever more international and ever more diverse.
THE PAST 25 YEARS HAVE SEEN MBAS BECOME MORE GLOBAL, MORE DIVERSE & MORE FOCUSED ON SOCIETAL CHALLENGES
The 25-year anniversary at Oxford Saïd is a fascinating snapshot of how the world’s leading business schools and their flagship MBA programs have transformed in a quarter of a century – more global, more diverse, and more focused on tackling the biggest challenges of the future.
Reflecting the global community is integral to how Saïd defines itself – as an institution that offers MBAs that focus not simply on teaching students how to “get rich quick” but on solving worldwide problems. And it’s a challenge to enact far-reaching change if there are only a few groups represented at the table.
“Our focus is on tackling complex world-scale challenges as we prepare business leaders for the task of making the world a better and more equitable place,” says Sue Dopson, interim dean and professor of organisational behavior at Saïd. “The more diversity in gender, culture, and thought, we have in our classrooms, the greater our impact will be.
“As we mark our 25th anniversary, we’re delighted with the progress the School has made on representation. We are incredibly grateful to every student we welcome here. They help us push boundaries and strive to do better. But we are not complacent and remain focused on breaking down barriers for our current and future students.”
FOSTERING A CLIMATE OF RESPECT AND COMMITMENT
Fostering a climate where diverse voices could thrive has been on the Saïd agenda since its creation. Eran Peleg is an Israeli national who joined the original class of 1996 and now works as Chief Strategist at Clarity Capital.
“Despite being a small class of only around fifty students, we were a truly international group – from Japan and Korea, through Russia, South Africa, Middle East, and Europe, to Canada and The United States,” he says.
“You weren’t just studying business. We were getting to know business leaders from around the world. It’s great to see how much that global diversity has flourished at Saïd.”
Scholarships have been a cornerstone of the school’s plan to boost the number of applicants from a wide array of talent pools. The Eni-Oxford Africa Scholarships support two students each year who demonstrate potential to improve leadership and governance on the continent.
CLASS DIVERSITY HAS HELPED ENGAGEMENT WITH PEOPLE FROM ALL CORNERS OF THE WORLD
There are 45 African students studying in the most recent MBA class, representing 10 different countries and comprising 12% of the year group. Justice Senyo Kwaku Adu is one such student who benefits from the Eni-Oxford Africa Scholarship.
“The diversity of the Saïd Business School MBA class has been extremely helpful in shaping my approach to interacting with people from all corners of the world,” he says. “I have learnt to take deeper perspectives in my engagements with colleagues, students, and members of faculty, perspectives that are grounded on the principle of mutual respect.”
But diversity is not simply about nationality and race. Initiatives like the Laidlaw Scholarships support eight female students who have proven their commitment to reducing inequality. And the 2021 class is the year Saïd welcomes its first Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) fellows, who were awarded fellowships for their impactful work as LGBTQ+ community leaders.
Fisayo Adeleke is a current Laidlaw Scholar from Nigeria and an advocate of increasing women’s opportunities in education.
“The world needs a coalition of responsible business and political leaders now more than ever,” she says, “we are just about two months into the MBA, and from the quality of dialogue and collaboration I have experienced in my cohort, I am beyond convinced that we will influence real lasting change in the world.”
The total number of MBA candidates sponsored by the business school alone is 107, which counts for just under a third of the class. Of these scholars, 64% are female and 22% ordinarily reside in Africa.
A GLOBAL FUTURE
A diverse group of voices means a diverse range of ideas on how to solve global issues. From its quarter-century of educating future business leaders, Oxford Saïd has already generated a 50,000-strong community of alumni who are involved in the drive towards a more sustainable future.
This community is involved in initiatives such as Business Schools for Climate Leadership, a coalition of schools in which Saïd Business School stands alongside INSEAD, IESE, and IMD among others. The schools came together to announce their collaboration at COP26 in Glasgow last year, creating a united front in the field of thought leadership on the climate crisis.
The desire to promote worldwide positive change is also reflected in Oxford Saïd’s research strategy. As part of the 25th-anniversary celebrations, Oxford Saïd’s academics are using the opportunity to provide expert thought leadership on the future of business across the next 25 years, with themes including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the Future of Research and why inclusion and diversity are key to growth. These will all be available on the School’s Oxford Answers platform in the coming months.
Here’s hoping the next 25 years will bring answers to the complex world-scale challenges the school is committed to tackling.