Embracing a new journey with the Executive MBA

7 minute read
Jeongmi Dozono-Kim and fellow students

Is there ever a perfect time to take an Executive MBA? That’s the question I’d been toying with for some time.

But, as soon as I walked through the doors of Saïd Business School in September 2023, I knew I’d made the right decision. It has been a somewhat unusual journey to get to this point. So, let me tell you a little about that journey…

As a woman in finance and a working mother, I’ve enjoyed a rewarding career navigating the corporate world in New York and Tokyo over the past 20 years. You may be wondering what led me to apply for the program at this point in my career.

Working in the banking sector can be all-consuming – it takes 100% commitment and focus. My career has opened up fantastic opportunities for me but, at times, I’ve felt like I’ve been running a 1000m race every day without a break. All my life, my number one priority has been my career and providing for my daughter. I’ve not had the time to step back and truly think about what I wanted from the next stage of my life.

Time to reflect

Working in various banking roles, I’ve specialised in corporate governance and risk. The work has been demanding and interesting but, for some time, I’ve wanted to explore new opportunities.

During the pandemic, I had time to reflect on the future. My daughter was growing up and moving to the UK for the next stage of her education. For the first time in my career, I had more time to focus on my personal development.

I’d always wanted to study for an Executive MBA. I considered different universities but Oxford just stood out for me. I love the mix of old and new – a contemporary business school situated in one of the world’s oldest universities – with all the history and traditions that this brings.

So, with a little trepidation, I put together and submitted my application. Following an intensive selection process, I was delighted to receive an offer of a place in 2020. It’s hard to put into words how I felt about this offer. I still can’t quite believe it even now.

I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Forté Fellowship for Women to help fund my studies. As a working mother, this fellowship has been hugely important in enabling me to pursue my studies.

I knew this was a fantastic chance to study at Oxford but, nonetheless, I still had moments of self-doubt. Was I too old to study for an MBA? Had I left it too late in my career? Should I be investing so much in my own personal development?

I asked my husband, daughter, friends and family what I should do and their response was unanimous: “You’ve got the offer. You’ve got to go for it. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

With their full support, I had the encouragement I needed to embrace the Oxford experience.

A change of plan

Originally, I was due to start the program in September 2020. But, around this time, I was asked to take on new Board responsibilities at work. Plus, Japan still had stringent travel restrictions in place due to the pandemic. So, ultimately, I delayed my start date for three years. It was worth the wait.

The modules have been challenging and interesting – with insightful case studies covering everything from ethical decision-making to the global rules of the game.

The learning experience is truly interactive. It’s not a conventional lecture-style format. Instead, you’re constantly engaged in debates with your peers and the faculty team, based around case studies and real-life examples.

Everyone from my cohort and the teaching and support team has been so friendly and supportive. 

Jeongmi Dozono-Kim

Feeling valued

Our cohort is very diverse so you’re learning how people from many different backgrounds and cultures approach different situations. Fellow students and the teaching team have shown a real interest in my culture and background as a Japanese-Korean woman – which has made me feel valued and given me the confidence to express my views and share my ideas.

It's important to be very organized when you’re studying. Good time management is key. The weeks in Oxford are intensive but you just have to stay focused. Everyone is in the same boat as you and peer-group support has been so helpful.

I truly feel at home in Oxford. The surroundings, the architecture and the atmosphere in Oxford – there’s nothing quite like it. This whole experience has reset everything for me.

The program is modular. So, you complete study weeks in Oxford every five to six weeks. The majority of your studies can be completed alongside an employed role – provided you can take time off to study.

During my weeks in Oxford, I stay in university accommodation with my cohort. This accommodation is affiliated with our college (Keble). It’s great to socialise with fellow students who share the same passions and goals as you. I truly feel at home in Oxford. The surroundings, the architecture and the atmosphere in Oxford – there’s nothing quite like it. This whole experience has reset everything for me.

The program has not been without its challenges. Late last year, I was going through a few family issues back home in Japan. This meant that I wasn’t able to attend certain study weeks in Oxford. It’s been a tough few months but I’ve had great support from the School and my fellow students. Thanks to their support and guidance, I’ve been able to catch up, submit all my assignments and continue with the program.

Studying at Oxford has already opened doors in terms of creating new opportunities and introducing me to new people and collaborations

Starting my entrepreneurial journey

With my family issues now resolved, I’m looking forward to returning to Oxford towards the end of April. There are very exciting things on the horizon. Our Entrepreneurship Project (EP) is just getting underway, and this will involve setting up my own startup business.

As a working mother living in Japan, I feel very strongly about the challenges faced by women there. I’m concerned about the huge gender pay gap in Japan and work-life balance – there’s an urgent need for reform spanning educational, economic and political domains. More needs to be done to empower women and foster greater gender equality.

So, for the EP, I’ll be applying the insights from the program to set up a new business to support female executives and their families. The business will provide lifestyle management, career development, family support services, financial planning, education, and peer support/networking.

This project is in its very early stages currently – we’re focusing on brainstorming ideas and forming our strategy. But I hope that, through this startup, I’ll be able to play a small part in supporting female empowerment in Japan. During my career, I’ve been fortunate to have received lots of support as a working mother. But I know not every female executive is so fortunate in Japan. I’d like to help fix these issues.

Taking my studies to Vietnam

Later this year, I’ll be visiting Vietnam to learn more about business in emerging markets in the Asia Pacific region. I chose Vietnam because the country has climbed 11 places on the 2023 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index, rising to 72rd place out of 146 countries. Japan has slipped to 125th place. So, we have a lot to learn from the emerging markets.

Ultimately, this is an area I’d like to pursue in my career and, hopefully, another way I can give back in the future.

Taking the Executive MBA has helped me crystallise what I want to do with my future career and structure my thoughts into a concrete plan.

Studying at Oxford has already opened doors in terms of creating new opportunities and introducing me to new people and collaborations. As an example, I’ve just been invited to take on a Board role in professional services – which is a new area for me.

A new chapter in my career

Once I’ve completed the program, I’d like to continue with my studies, possibly with a PhD and through volunteering, perhaps to support younger generations in Japan.

It’s no exaggeration to say that studying at Oxford has been a dream come true for me – showing that anything is possible, regardless of your age, background or profession.

My advice to anyone considering the Executive MBA is to go for it. Sometimes, you just have to push yourself and do something that is just a little bit scary. Often, these opportunities turn out to be the best ones in life.

Oxford Executive MBA