A University of Oxford education has always been the envy of many, not only due to its prestige and storied tradition but also the level of academic rigour involved. My experience with Oxford began earlier when I applied to read Law as an undergraduate, but that’s a story for another time.
Having worked non-stop for almost a decade since graduation, in 2019, I had a realisation that it was time for me to break the monotony of my day job with a post-graduate education. By then, I was well into my third year in my current role of advising the Group Chairman, who is a key decision maker.
From a professional perspective, I was personally struggling to find credible solutions to the seemingly insurmountable corporate strategy problems of my group of companies. This led me to research several training and further education options (preferably with minimal disruptions to my day job), and I came across the Oxford Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation. I was subsequently on a brief phone call with Mr Joe Nicholson, the programme’s recruitment manager (who has been thoroughly helpful) and less than a fortnight later, I found myself on campus to finalise my decision on pursuing this course. And the rest, as they say, is history.
For a busy professional, the comprehensive syllabus content on strategy has been truly enriching. I can now say that after having completed the course, the gaps I previously had in business strategy have been closed and I have developed a more rounded understanding of what and how a complete business strategy should be. Of particular interest to me is the content on non-market strategy, which is immediately applicable to my organisation as we are a group with a regional and global presence, across several key industries.
In today’s hyper-volatile and decoupling world order, the ability to develop robust non-market strategies is paramount and a key differentiator for corporate strategists. While many corporates have now expanded beyond their national boundaries, there are stories of failed ventures going global, involving even the largest and the biggest companies.
My personal observation is that there is a definite indifference amongst managers to develop an acute understanding of the intersection of geopolitics and strategy and how this affects value creation. Oftentimes, they are left as an afterthought, only appearing in risk management registers, when ideally, they should inform strategy. The experience of my own organisation, given our group’s regional footprint, has also shown that such a lack of comprehensive strategy and foresight has cost us significant value.
On the innovation front, the programme also gives students a disciplined approach to pursuing innovation, to ensure that various types of innovation can be translated into value. It also debunks the false dichotomy facing executives (known as the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma’), whether to focus on existing businesses or to pursue riskier new ventures. Executives attending this programme will also learn that successful innovation takes more than just a new technology, as it requires a re-thinking of markets as two-sided platforms and value re-engineering, through the interfacing of the elements technology, markets and organisation. All in all, the diploma brings a clear structure for executives when grappling with these difficult questions on strategy and innovation, which are immediately applicable.
On the softer side, I found that the global cohort of experienced professionals from across the world (Asia, Europe, Middle East and the Americas) to be a very key element to the whole experience, as I had the opportunity to network with high-performing professionals who are very successful in their respective fields. The strong camaraderie developed during the diploma made the Oxford experience even more enjoyable as we also arranged various socials and extra-curriculars to keep in touch with each other. Our cohort’s class representatives (Pavel and Jose) were also instrumental in making our classes even more engaging and value-adding, through various coaching and informal sessions with business leaders across our professional network. In fact, in one such session, I found myself resonating with a piece of advice from a business leader: 'In finding your true calling in your professional life, find a job that meets your value system as it will reward you with the truest sense of accomplishment, beyond mere financial returns.'
In conclusion, the Oxford diploma experience has been nothing short of enriching, challenging us professionals to dive deep into real business challenges through the application of cutting-edge thought. Admittedly, juggling the voluminous course content with the never-ending demand of our day job was not easy, but it was definitely worth our time. The lifelong connection is also very inspiring as you graduate from the course with an active network of established business professionals, who are always eager to exchange their global perspectives.