New year beginnings are commonly misused to prepare a summary of the year that has just ended, plan the upcoming one, reflect on one’s improvement needs and define actions. Looking back at 2023 with gratitude, joy and a sense of accomplishment, my first thoughts go to my experience of the Executive Diploma in Financial Strategy at Saïd Business School.
How would I summarise it? Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
Months before coming to Oxford, I was asked to postpone my participation in the programme by a year due to some professional constraints. It was a time of doubt: am I prepared to join this ambitious programme, and can I perform at the pace required, along with meeting the other requirements I am expected to live up to?
The months that followed put myself and my cohort members to the test, both professionally and personally. However, they gave us strength to believe in ourselves even more and what we could accomplish by ‘being in the same boat’ and supporting each other.
When first arriving in Oxford, many of us faced the same mixture of disbelief that we were finally there and excitement about what was to come. Module one, that started in January, was a perfect opening for us as a cohort – we intuitively knew what to do in terms of networking and were using every minute to connect with our new colleagues – greatly facilitated by Ken Okamura and Matthew Wallen. We discovered that we are a very diverse group, both professionally and geographically. And due to logistical constraints, we most probably would never come together if not in Oxford. Yet we share the same values and standards that make us more alike that we could ever have imagined. Moreover, we can relate so much to each other’s life experiences that very soon the acquaintances became friendships that grew over time. Many thanks to Marta Scholfield who supported the recruitment process!
Module one: ‘Strategy is the Swiss knife of a company’
We had a great time with Professor Richard Whittington and Olivier Sibony, learning and re-learning concepts and beliefs about what a strategy is, what it should look like and how our view can be biased. It was a great lesson of humbleness too: to be aware of our own, and our companies’, limitations when making business decisions.
Alongside the four-day academic schedule, we were invited to attend various social events and every module brought a new Oxford experience to enjoy. As we visited our ‘home away from home’ – Pembroke College, our associate college, it became clear that we not only get to learn from the very best at Oxford, but we get to call it home forever too!
In between the modules, there was time to create learning groups, meeting virtually once a week, be active in our group chat and bond individually with the cohort members. Some of us also reached out to the School’s Entrepreneurship Centre or Creative Destruction Lab and to develop a new, or scale an existing, venture. Shortly before module two, we were due to submit our first assignment based on the strategy module. Many of us have not written papers for a long time so it was a good preparation for the Final Integrative Assignment!
Module two: Business finance
Ken Okamura presented us with concepts about Capital Budgeting, Capital Structure and Corporate Finance, among others. Additional events, like debating at the Oxford Union and attending a college dinner, helped us to intensify our network and grow into the diploma experience. While staying in Oxford, many of us chose to stay at the colleges instead of choosing a hotel. I thoroughly recommend exploring college life and getting acquainted with the history and culture of these extraordinary places during your time at Saïd Business School!
Module two ended for us on the first day of module three. Wearing ‘subfusc’ (traditional Oxford academic dress) we sat the Business Finance exam in person – an experience you wouldn’t want to miss!
Module three: Valuation
Right after the exam, the Valuation module began. Our lecturer Jiri Kneissl invited interesting speakers that brought practitioners view on the subject matter. We also learned from each other, as very intense discussion in the classroom brought new insights on methods and concepts. Summer in Oxford also saw a particular highlight of our extracurricular activities programme - punting!
Module four: Strategies for growth and mixed emotions
Heading to Oxford for the final module in September brought a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I was excited to learn about strategies for growth, on the other, I didn’t want this great adventure to end. The fourth module was a great summary of what we have learned so far. But it was so much more: bringing new views on M&As and organic growth and making clear that ‘the best strategy is the one you can implement’ at ‘prudent speed’. Guest speakers from various backgrounds added great value to the lectures. Tim Galpin made sure that we were all equipped with as many takeaways as possible, that would resonate with us long after class was over.
The last college dinner of the year was a special black-tie event. It was the perfect opportunity to reflect, say goodbye and prepare for the future. Our in-person experience in Oxford ended and we left knowing that we will see each other next summer for graduation ceremony.
The right place at the right time
Poland’s recently elected Minister of Foreign Affairs, an Oxford Pembrokian, once said: ‘If, by God’s infinite mercy, I were to qualify for heaven, I would want it to be an eternity of study at Oxford.’ I think many of us left Oxford with the wish that the experience never had to end!
Many of us would tell you that this year had to be the best Diploma in Financial Strategy cohort. But I am convinced, quoting C.S. Lewis, that 'every chapter is better than the one before'.
Knowing that I was in the right place, right time, with the right people has shaped, and will continue to shape, me both personally and professionally. The diploma has helped me to prepare for the next step in my career and I am looking forward to 2024 to put my learnings into practice. I would like to thank my cohort for assisting me on that journey, that is just about to begin! This post is dedicated to you all.