From the CIA to Uber via the Oxford MBA

3 minute read
West Wing

After proudly serving for 15 years at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), I decided I needed a change. I served across the CIA in different analytics, operations, and technical roles. It was that last experience that opened my eyes to the incredible technologies developed by the private sector to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.

I knew I had a lot of transferable skills and experiences, but with no previous private-sector experience. I had no idea how to market those skills to recruiters. I, therefore, decided to pursue the Oxford MBA.

I chose Oxford not only because of its global reputation but also because of Saïd Business School’s mission to tackle world-scale problems. I thought the Oxford MBA would be a great complement to my government and public policy background. At the age of 37, I was one of the older members of my cohort, but I opted for this route because I wanted a full-time, immersive experience and to finish the degree in one year.

I entered the programme knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in tech. With that in mind, I led the class trek to Silicon Valley and Seattle. Leveraging student and alumni connections and career centre contacts, I organised visits to Tesla, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Facebook, Cisco, and Amazon. This trek provided us, amongst other things, with better insight into the tech roles available to MBAs.

In terms of academics, I particularly enjoyed Professor Marc Ventresca’s ‘Strategy and Innovation’ class, where my group wrote our paper on the future of urban air transportation and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) jets – essentially ‘flying cars’. While seemingly the purview of science fiction, there is a robust effort to develop the technology, markets, and organisational capabilities to make eVTOLs a reality. And one of the biggest players in this exciting new field is Uber.

Fascinated by what I had learned in class, I used my Oxford academic status to secure an invitation to the annual Uber Elevate conference in Los Angeles. My college (Keble College) provided me with a grant to help fund the travel costs. 

Over two full days just before the MBAT (MBA Tournament), I heard from many Uber employees working to build this market, aircraft manufacturers building prototype vehicles meeting Uber specifications, and others designing the charging ports, 'Skyport' landing facilities and air traffic control systems required to make this future of transportation possible. 

I was impressed with how intelligent, passionate and visionary the Uber employees were and left LA knowing Uber was where I wanted to work.

Upon my return to Oxford, I met with my career counsellor, James Henton, Employer Engagement Manager in the Oxford Saïd Career Development Centre, who was incredibly helpful and supportive along my career journey. 

James connected me with the MBA recruiter from Uber. Five Zoom interviews later, and I had an offer to be the Safety Programme Lead for the UK and Ireland based in London.

I am now almost two years into my career at Uber and have already been promoted to Head of Safety, Risk and Compliance for Community Operations for the UK&I. I play a critical role, helping keep riders and partner drivers safe and have been closely involved with Uber’s attempt to regain our licence from Transport for London – two of Uber’s most pressing global issues.

I will be honest with you: transitioning from government to the private sector was not easy, and the flowing narrative above belies the difficult and, at times, soul-crushing journey I had to go through. But I’ve never known veterans to be afraid of a challenge.

My journey has absolutely been worth it and, ultimately, I accomplished everything I immediately set out to do when I left the CIA three years ago. And I could not have done that without the Oxford MBA.

Chris Schildt, Oxford MBA Class of 2017-2018.