Tag Archives: MBA

A personal board of directors

8 Sep

Well, it’s finally here. The end of the MBA. Now we have to go out in the world and do our thing, be great ambassadors, be fabulous, seize the moment, build our personal brands, our networks, our work-life-balance, and ourselves. You get the idea.

So it was with great appreciation that one of the discussions I attended today during our Capstone week to end the course provided some great, thoughtful advice on exactly how to BE amazing.

Build your own personal board of directors.

There. Now you know.

This might sound simple (or maybe it doesn’t; that’s OK too). The main focus was on thinking about how a good board of directors in a company challenges the leadership, brings different perspectives to the forefront, and shares their collective experience, networks and expertise to improve the business. Similarly, in your personal and professional life, having a good board of directors can help you better run “You, Inc.”, by doing pretty much those same things, but with you as the focus and CEO.

Some of the tips to building your board:

  1. Choose the most talented, not the most accessible. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the person you think can best fill a board member role, figure out who they are and use your existing network to get you there.
  2. A balanced board gives better advice. Aim for diversity of perspective and experience, so that you can gain insight for personal and professional issues.
  3. All board members have terms. Upgrade your board over the course of your career and life, to make sure they stay relevant for you.
  4. Your board isn’t there to make decisions for you. A good board gives support, input and direction but shouldn’t tell you what to do. Let them help you think through the consequences of different courses of action, and the risks and rewards they may bring. Acting, and facing the consequences, is your job.
  5. Be the board member you’d like to have. Remember that you may also be able to be a competent board member to someone else. Helping someone else grow will help you grow as well.

It’s incredibly exciting to be at this particular stage in my professional and life journey – post-MBA I think we are only just beginning to grasp the potential and the opportunities we’ll be faced with in the weeks, months and years ahead. But even if you aren’t on the threshold of a big event, I think this idea has great merit. Life is going to be challenging, and you shouldn’t tackle it alone.


Backwards and forwards

16 Apr

That first line is always the hardest. It’s like that chore you just don’t want to do – your mind looks at it, and then invariably skitters away to something easier to tackle, or simply as an alternative thing to do (like checking Facebook for the umpteenth time!). But, dear reader, you will be pleased to note that I have made it – made it back into the blogosphere!

So what’s been happening? Let’s indulge in a quick catch-up – studied super-hard all term,worked to develop a marketing plan for a social enterprise to combine education, financial literacy and football, wrapped up exams, watched Oxford dominate in the Boat Race, and did some quality traveling. I totally get that I’ve condensed 3 months into a short paragraph, but more on those things in later posts. After all, that’s the looking backwards part.

Looking forward is actually way more fun. With a just under 2 weeks before the new term starts, it’s interesting to think about what happens next, now that we’ve passed the half-way point in the program. The big thing on many people’s minds is finding that perfect post-MBA job opportunity. Some are already enjoying the pleasure of having offers in hand, while others are going through interviews and preparations in order to land that perfect spot.  Still others are gearing up to launch their own ventures, supported by investors hoping to get in on the next big thing. In one way or another, people are getting ready for the next phase.

In the spirit of looking ahead, it’s also impossible to ignore the metaphor provided by nature – spring has sprung! Cherry blossoms, tulips, casting off winter layers and warming temperatures are just some of the signs.

Oh wait, one more sign of spring – federal elections in Canada! The third in just over 5 years, maybe this time it will actually be about something? One sure way to make elections matter is to vote in them. Lots of people have been doing all kinds of things to encourage people to vote, so here’s my two pence – VOTE!

On that note, I’ll take my leave. Here’s looking forward to you!

A structured rant

2 Feb

About two month ago I attended my first Ignite session.  Well, it was loosely based on the Ignite concept, which is now a global event where hundreds of people in several cities pitch ideas to thousands of their neighbours.  We were doing it on a much smaller scale, getting together with about 50 classmates to share entrepreneurial ideas or concepts they were interested in working on as part of an entrepreneurship project this term.

One of the organizers suggested that a great idea might arise from something that you were passionate about, or better yet, that makes you mad. Something that just bugs you, and might for example, cause you to start a somewhat obscure WordPress blog, as an alternative to yelling at the radio!

Although I highly recommend the cathartic effect of blogging, it might be argued that doing something to pound on, um… I mean work on, the thing that makes you mad might be somewhat more rewarding.  And since I’ve been practicing structured approaches to problem solving, I thought it would be appropriate to make a list of some of those things that have really been getting on my nerves:

  1. Mis-pricing – blame it on my first brush with economics last term. As the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! But it really bugs me that chronic mis-pricing of resources, and therefore the things those resources are used for, means that we have ended up not valuing things appropriately.  We need better ways of measuring those so-called “externalities” that traditional accounting systems have been unable to tackle.  We won’t have any incentive to manage resources differently until we are paying our way.
  2. Using old ways to solve new problems – enough of this! Doesn’t it make the tiniest bit of sense that new problems need new ways of thinking and responding? I am happy to acknowledge that there are lots of people in the world who get this. Sadly, it sometimes seems that only a few of them are actually in a position to do something about it.
  3. Climate change nay-sayers – I know, I know, I have a bias – but this is my list! Get off this bandwagon, seriously! Do you honestly believe that 7 billion people, and all the development that about a third of them are doing, will have no impact on our planet’s climate and ecosystems? Ever?

So these are my top three. It’s been really helpful to think about these things, particularly at this point in time, when I’m thinking about the rest of the MBA program still to come, and mapping out what I’d like to do post-MBA.

One final note. There is one more thing that made me mad (and not a little sad) as I’ve watched the ever-changing news coming out of the Middle East recently. I don’t know much about the history of the situations that have led to the events of the past several weeks, but it completely floored me to think that one young man thought his only option was to take himself out of the game by setting himself on fire on a street in Tunisia. It makes you wonder how many more people are on the brink of such desperation, whether in the Middle East, or somewhere much closer to home.

So, what makes you mad? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

The storm before the storm

6 Oct

No, that’s not a typo. That’s really what Freshers Week at Oxford feels like.  It’s a whirlwind of activities – social events, networking events, college induction, degree program orientation, examinations rules sessions, college formal dinners, and some plain old pub-crawling.  Brand new students, the “freshers”, are sucked into this cyclone of activity from the very first moments of Week 0.

Last night I attended my Newcomers Dinner at Linacre College.  In true Oxford tradition, we dressed up in our formal robes, and entered the dining hall.  Five long tables, with a mix of students, staff and faculty, all dressed up and eager to get to know each other. The 5 people who sat at my end of the table for 20 included a History of Science Major from Vancouver of all places, a DPhil (PhD) candidate in Archeological Science from New York City and one in Classical Archeology from Greece, along with a professor in Organic Chemistry, a Master of Financial Economics major and another DPhil student in Chemistry. And that was just my corner of the table!  Imagine the conversations happening at the other 4 tables, among about 100 people!

Walking home after post-dinner drinks and socializing in the Common Room, the student run bar and gathering place at the centre of college life, it was amazing to feel the energy in the streets.  Literally hundreds of people, some dressed to the nines in black-tie and gowns, others in jeans and T-shirts, all excited to be here, and ready to start a new term. I swear the air even smelled like anticipation!

Next week, Week 1 of the Michaelmas Term, is when classes officially begin.  That’s likely to be the second “storm”, and one that will no doubt consume a great deal of our time.  In the meantime, it’s Freshers Week! Pubs and friends await!

So this is what diversity looks like

26 Sep

240 students, 48 countries of origin.  These were the stats for last year’s MBA class, and from the looks of it, our class is poised to match them.

Over the past few days, we’ve been accumulating in Oxford in ever-increasing numbers, from just about every part of the world.  This week, we spent an intensive 2 days together at a career “bootcamp” designed to introduce us to some of the possible career options post-MBA.  This was our first chance to meet a significant portion of the class, and it seemed that all we did was ask and answer the “four questions” – what is your name, where do you come from, what were you doing before the MBA, and what do you plan to do after the MBA.

The “where do you come from” answers are my favourite. So far I’ve met people from Belgium, Canada, Nigeria, United States, England, Scotland, Norway, Costa Rica, Spain, Russia, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Chile and India.  And lots of us come from more than one place, having worked and lived and attended school in different countries from those where we were born.

What’s even more interesting is looking at our various backgrounds against the landscape of media coverage, political and popular opinion about who our countries’ “friends and enemies” are at any given point in time.  The backgrounds are extraordinarily diverse – the person who flew helicopters for the US military, the investment banker from Saudi Arabia, the clean-tech entrepreneur from India, the UN agency staffer most recently back from Africa.    We’ve been connecting online and in person, socialising and finding common interests, and already planning how to grow this energy into productive study groups, student clubs and other activities.

It’s tempting to wonder whether things will evolve over time into less aggregated groups, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. As one classmate said to me yesterday “When you get to know someone one-on-one, you can’t help but find the similarities between you.”  So far there are a few things that stand out that we all seem to have in common – we are excited about being here, we are determined to do well, and we are ready to change the world.

Oh, and we all like English pubs.

Me and Gran go back to school

26 Jul

My grandmother was born in Barbados in 1913.  At the age of 10, unlike many girls her age, she got the opportunity to enter the prep year for high school.  Two years later, her father passed away.  Facing tighter financial circumstances as a result, her mother opted to take her out of school to save school fees.

Two generations later, I’ve had the benefits of attending high school, attending university and achieving a first degree in engineering.  And now I’m heading to Oxford to do my MBA at the Said Business School. Said is an amazing institution with an ethos closely aligned with my own interests, backed by the incredible legacy of the University of Oxford.  I’m excited beyond words, and very proud of having been accepted to a program that I’m sure is going to exceed my expectations and challenge my boundaries. 

It’s a bit mind-blowing to be honest. One personal concern? That I’ll live up to my grandmother’s legacy. Despite not finishing high school, she was accepted to train as a nurse in her early 20s, and went on to become the first female pharmacist qualified in Barbados.  She raised 5 children and helped many more in the neighbourhood, in the very tough post-World War II economic conditions in Barbados.  She never learned to drive a car, but she was full of other knowledge that helped her touch many lives. She left some big shoes to fill.

 My grandmother and I were both born in the summer, me in August and her in July.  Today, she would have been 97 years old. Looking back on her life, I can’t help but wonder what she would have done with my opportunities. More importantly, what will I do?  Wherever she is, I hope she’s looking out for me.

Happy Birthday Gran.

Crowdsourcing a dream

16 Jun

Sometimes, the thing we don’t say out loud enough is thank you. And here’s the thing, each of us probably has more to be thankful for than we realise, because there are very few things in life we do totally alone. Many businesses are discovering what people with good friends have always known – the crowd does better than the individual.

Take me, for example. Just over a year ago, a friend invited me to attend her Ph.D. graduation ceremony. I remember sitting in the auditorium, listening to all these people being recognized for their achievements. It was the first hint for me that I wanted to go back to school. Next I talked to another friend about her MBA experiences, and got some advice about program choices and schools. My uncle’s advice was simple – stop talking and go do it. Colleagues at work, friends and family read countless versions of my application essays, and helped keep me sane through 3 intense months of GMAT preparation. Family and friends found a place for me to stay when I flew from Vancouver to London for 4 days to interview with the University of Oxford’s Said Business School and the Cranfield School of Management. And everyone joined in the party when I was accepted at both!  The real story? There’s no way I could have done it without my “crowd”.

This September, I’ll take off for an intense year at Oxford, along with about 240 other students from all over the world. Already, we are connecting through the many social networks that abound, with folks weighing in from just about every time zone on the planet.  There’s talk of partnership opportunities, new ways of doing business, social entrepreneurship and generally tapping into our collective knowledge to change the world. This crowd is on the move!

So what can the crowd do for you? Are you pondering an idea and feel like some extra brain-power would help? Are you interested in participating in a crowd-driven solution? There are some great examples out there. Here’s an oldie but goodie – the National Audubon Society held their 110th “crowdsourced” bird count this past winter!  So get out there, join the crowd. Maybe we’ll work together on something.