MBA and former Intelligence Officer Christopher Schildt led 14 students on a trek to Silicon Valley to explore the most revered tech companies.
Each year, MBA students at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford organise treks across the globe with support from the Careers team. The students form into groups with a shared interest in a particular region, and the careers team help connect them with companies to visit, and alumni who can help them on their journey.
‘Treks are important for MBAs because of the insights they get, ranging from real and tangible business perspectives to personal stories,’ explained Tom Lawrance, Head of Global Industries. ‘As well as networking with alumni in those regions, students get to hear about current employer requirements directly from the companies themselves, and they also get a flavour of work life balance in each country and city they visit.’
For Christopher Schildt, a former CIA operative with a passion for tech who enrolled at Oxford to improve his knowledge of the private sector, the choice of destination was obvious: California’s legendary Silicon Valley, an expanse of the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California made famous by its high concentration of tech companies.
The MBA’s itinerary included visits to Tesla, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Facebook, Cisco, and Amazon. ‘Exploring the Facebook campus in a tour led by alumnus Hunter Sheetz was one of the highlights of the trek,’ said Schildt. ‘Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s COO) sat on the board of Disney, so when she was hired she brought in Disney imagineers to create the campus. Our guide pointed out that as you walk down the sidewalks it has what you could describe as a “Magic Kingdom” feel to it, which makes it unlike any other work environment I’ve experienced.’
After a couple of free days in which the team explored San Francisco’s iconic centre, they moved on to the offices of Airbnb, where Srin Madipalli, former CEO of Accomable (recently bought by Airbnb in a deal that made global headlines) and now Airbnb product manager, took them on a rare tour of the offices. ‘Srin was so humble and welcoming,’ said Schildt. ‘He stressed to us that we should not hesitate to contact him if he could be of any help. In fact, this was the reception we received from every SBS alum we met on the trek – it showed what a strong and supportive alumni community we have here.’
For Schildt, it was inspiring getting a first-hand look at these tech companies. ‘Facebook has more than 2 billion unique active users each month—almost one-third of the world’s population—which makes Facebook’s reach far greater than any other company in history,’ he said. ‘Cisco develops some of the underlying infrastructure that will connect the smart cities of the future. And Tesla’s employees truly believe their mission is to help save the environment by reducing our consumption of fossil fuels. For these companies, technology is a means to a better future.’
Having spent all of his working life since University within the public sector, Schildt enrolled at Oxford Saïd with the intention of making a career shift into the technology space, and chose Oxford for its global perspective. ‘I wanted to move into the private sector, but I didn’t know the lingo, and I didn’t know how what I did was valued in the market. The MBA has helped me realise that my time at the CIA gave me a huge amount of transferable skills – but it was the language of business that I needed to learn.’
Although Schildt is leaving the public sector behind, he has no regrets about his distinguished CIA career. ‘I joined right after 9/11,’ he said. ‘That was my motivation for joining and I am proud to have served my country. I worked across the whole Agency, and had an amazing 15 year career. But I got to the point where it was either leave now and pursue my passion for technology and the future of transportation, or stay another twenty years until retirement. It was now or never, and I saw the Oxford MBA as providing a perfect runway to what I want to do next.’