Meet the Oxford MBA Class of 2021-22: Alex Henderson

8 minute read

We are excited to welcome the Oxford MBA Class of 2021-2022 to Oxford this September. Get to know our incoming students in this blog post series as they prepare to join Saïd Business School.

Tell us about yourself:

  • Sector/Industry you worked in pre-MBA: international education
  • Sector/Industry you are hoping to work in post-MBA: Social impact and/or technology
  • Country of residence before coming to Oxford: Brazil
  • College: Lincoln

In one word, how would your best friend describe you and how would your manager describe you?

  • Best friend: Adventurous
  • Manager: Diplomatic

Tell us about where you have come from and what has led you to Oxford and, more specifically, the Oxford MBA.

As a kid, I always had a vague itch to see the world. Sure, travelling would be nice, but moving somewhere to truly experience a new culture was the dream. However, it felt equally unrealistic. This wasn’t conceivable in my little corner of Michigan.

Years later, I was looking for my first job, having graduated from Michigan State University. I was sending out all kinds of applications, so I thought I might take a chance and apply to some jobs in far-flung locations. 'There’s no way it will work,' I thought, 'but it won’t hurt to try.'

Luckily, I was wrong. I had a surprise phone call from a small school in Dakar, Senegal. A month later, I started my new job as a teacher and school administrator. Living and working in Dakar wasn’t easy, but it was fascinating. Day by day, I learned how to navigate my way around the city and the new cultural mores. At work, I navigated a multi-lingual, multicultural, and fast-paced environment. It’s something I could never have predicted for myself.

My experience in Dakar kickstarted my career in education. I enjoyed the thrill of finding solutions to complex challenges. Moreover, I loved working with young, ambitious students to help them achieve their goals.

I applied to the Oxford MBA because it was a way for me to learn and grow beyond my current role. I felt comfortable as a leader in my school, but I recognised I could learn more about analysis, organisational behaviour, and project management. Not only could the Oxford MBA address these goals, but it was also clear that the School valued social impact. It attracts people from all different backgrounds, not just bankers and consultants. I felt confident that the School could appreciate my experiences and help me in my career search, where I’m considering my impact on business and society, and not just my pay cheque.

In short, join the Oxford MBA if you want a diverse, well-rounded experience.

What have you done to prepare yourself for the MBA?

I reflected. A lot.

So much of applying for an MBA and preparing for the programme has to do with knowing yourself. This was especially true for me since I’m planning a career pivot. I spent a lot of time thinking about what was important to me, what I wanted to achieve, if making a change was worth it, if it was the right time, and much, much more. I asked friends, family, and trusted colleagues. Then I reflected some more on my own.

Since I spent this time reflecting, it helped me to articulate my goals on the Oxford application. The School’s prompts and interview questions are very specific. They require detailed, coherent responses in return.

After I was accepted, I thought perhaps I was done reflecting. I was wrong. Even now, future classmates ask me thought-provoking questions. Career coaches ask me to plot out my personal priorities and future goals. I dive into suggested reading, which challenges my thinking. It never seems to end. Frankly, I love it.

What do you hope to gain from completing your MBA?

I hope to gain better analytical skills and to grow my professional network. I’m proud of my years working in international education. I led multicultural teams and launched a number of innovative, impactful projects. However, I realised that, if I wanted to progress in my career, and make a positive difference on a larger scale, then I would need to improve my planning, financial analysis, and other analytical skills. With an Oxford MBA, I hope to upskill while also putting these ideas into practice through co-curricular projects.

What is the best advice you received before commencing your MBA?

I’ll have a better answer to this by the time I graduate, I’m sure. At the moment, though, one piece of advice stands out: 'Choose three things.'

The senior student explained this advice by saying, 'You’ll want to do so many things. You’ll see projects, clubs, job openings, social events, college events (truly an Oxford thing), sports teams, volunteering, etc. And you can’t do all of them. It’s just impossible. And you can’t do too many if you want to do them well. So pick three things…just three things that are important to you and that you want to do well. Prioritise these over all else'.

By the way, if you have family joining you in Oxford, be sure to think about where they fit within this equation.

Do you have any advice about the Oxford MBA application process for candidates thinking of applying?

You’ll come across a lot of advice about making sure you have the best test scores possible and practising multiple times for your interviews (and these are valid). However, many fail to see that most of your ‘application profile’ is already set. Your skills, experiences, and accomplishments make up the most lasting and impactful parts of who you are.

Take some time to think about your story. What experiences make you unique? This sounds simple, but many people struggle to identify them. After all, it’s human nature to take things for granted over time. Nevertheless, you’ll have a much easier time applying if you’ve reflected on your unique experiences. Your application will also sound more authentic. To quote Oscar Wilde, 'Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.'

What part of the programme are you most looking forward to?

The MBA programme attracts an international cohort, many of whom have a strong interest in social impact. I’ve loved this aspect of Oxford’s programme since I first started my research. I’m looking forward to learning within this diverse, passionate group. I’m looking forward to being challenged, learning about new opportunities, understanding diverse points of view, and much more. After all, where else can you find a large international group full of experts who are willing to share their knowledge? It’s a truly special opportunity.

What do you think will be the most challenging part of the programme?

I haven’t started class yet, and it’s already clear that time management will be a major challenge. For example, we have a Telegram group with incoming students, and even some senior students who are just now graduating. If I ignore my phone for a day or so, I might come back to see 100 or more missed notifications. When I read through them, I see people sharing career advice, organising interest groups, planning trips, and strategising class schedules. As I mentioned before, it’s impossible to do everything, so you have to choose. This is one of my weaknesses. I’m like a kid tasting free samples. I want to try everything without missing out on anything. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way, and I’ll have to make some tough decisions.

How do you plan to take the learnings from the MBA to influence positive change?

I want to leave Oxford as a better problem-solver than when I arrived. In my experience, most people are either data-focused or people-focused. Traditionally, I align more with the latter. I realised early on that, if you want to feel comfortable around others, and especially if you want them to respect you, then it’s imperative you learn a little about them. 

Whenever I moved to a new place, I was always asking questions. I wanted to learn more about my colleagues’ habits, culture, and language. It was fascinating, but it also made me better at my job.

However, I also recognised an opportunity. If I could strengthen my analytical skills then I could have a more holistic view of the challenges in front of me. I saw the MBA as a way for me to round out my experience. I could add management and analytical skills to my people-centred focus. 

I aim to be an impactful leader who can incorporate data while also acknowledging the human side of the equation. This could position me well to make meaningful, systematic change, whether in education or elsewhere.

Are there any sports teams, societies or clubs you’re hoping to become a member of?

There are so many activities that it’s ridiculously hard to decide. I wish I could be a student for ten years to take advantage of everything Oxford has to offer.

I knew I wanted to stay active at Oxford. The University has a healthy sports scene. At the moment, I’m torn between joining the rugby team or the baseball team. While I love both sports, I’ll likely only have time for one.

The dilemma illustrates the range of experiences at Oxford. On one hand, rugby is an old, well-respected sport at the University. They’ve had a team at Oxford for more than 100 years. Not surprisingly, they have no shortage of people coming out to participate (including on the college teams). It would be a great way to stay fit while meeting people from all over the University and networking with alumni from the team.

On the other hand, the baseball team only started several years ago. They’re building a great reputation (including a stellar win-loss record) and focusing on growing the sport within Oxford and the UK. To join would be a great chance to build a new culture, which, like many other things at Oxford, could last for hundreds (or even thousands) of years. It’s a humbling thought.