A wonderful Diploma reunion and graduation week back where it all began

5 minute read

This piece has been written by Liz Perkins, Diploma in Organisational Leadership alumna and member of the OBA London Chapter. The blog references the Diploma Reunion Week; a unique and special celebration for our 2021 cohorts who were impacted by the pandemic: 

It was like a scene straight out of the West Wing.

Only we were walking behind a prime minister and not a US president - believe me, I tried to bring the Obamas to Oxford for reunion week.

And I was delighted they sent their best wishes instead.

But in this moment, I strode alongside my friend and cohort colleague Marcie Chase behind Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda.

For more than a year we had talked about it, WhatsApped and dreamed that this would happen - I couldn’t help but smile that we had actually pulled it off.


I was determined after Covid plagued our year in Oxford that I had to do something special and that I would get at least one prime minister to speak to the cohorts.

When our Executive Diploma in Organisational Leadership officially ended at the start of last year, it had only just started for me.

Our reps Oliver Carr and Hayley Hucks handed the baton over to me to help with the planning of the week - I originally had thought I was only going to bring in speakers for our cohort, but I was glad it was for all of them.

It coincided with something of a whirlwind of a year, where one minute I would be in the same room as Margot Robbie at BAFTA, and the next I would be at a drinks reception with the President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and at Wimbledon, where I watched not only Novak Djokovic at Centre Court but Brad Pitt.

Working for the media is a completely different world.

I stopped the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska at the World Economic Forum in Davos, was in close contact with the office of The Queen and approached Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and asked them all to Oxford week.

At one stage, I thought we would have the line-up of Dalia Grybauskaite, the former President of Lithuania, whom I met in Iceland and Dr Craig Wright, the founder of Bitcoin, whom I spoke to in London also descending on Oxford.

Behind the scenes, I was furiously sending invites to prime ministers Rishi Sunak and Justin Trudeau, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, Monty Python star Michael Palin, human rights barrister Amal Clooney, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Hollywood actor Hugh Grant along with former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.

You name them - I asked. Whether they were there or not - they knew all about the week and I was glad to see Hedwige Nuyens, CEO of the International Banking Federation, made it.

And when Toto Wolff, the boss of the Mercedes F1 team, was beamed in via Zoom from LA to Saïd Business School last October he said he wanted to come to Oxford.

I remember asking Professor Sue Dopson can he please be there in July.

Of course, when he came to the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, I couldn’t just ask one question, I had to ask two.


It was an incredible start to the first day and was worth all the emails and calls - many with Willem Van Gulck and Sushil Singh, both fellow alumni of the diploma - throughout the day and night to ensure all the presentations were in place.

Determined that they would all touch on different themes, along with reflecting the global voice of the cohort and have a fair representation of people in keeping with the theme of responsible leadership.

I was grateful to all those who volunteered to showcase their final integrative assignments, with some doing so in the most imaginative way.

It was no surprise that the debating team that I helped to pull together rocked the Oxford Union and won, as leaders you can’t fail to be inspired when you are following in the famous footsteps of wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill, physicist Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa and Boris Johnson.

Churchill’s leadership is what led me to play host to a Global Leaders’ Drinks Reception at his birthplace of Blenheim Palace.

The doomsters and gloomsters, to quote Mr Johnson, told me there wasn’t enough time to plan such an event, it was too far away, and I would never be able to do it in six to eight weeks.

But with 200 tickets sold, auction prizes from the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica to a champagne tea at The Savoy, and sponsors from Saïd Business School to Planet Positive Lab, it was happening and was always going to.

Even though I had never single-handedly organised an event like it in my life.

Blenheim has the X factor and the BBC’s Last Choir Standing show gave us the wonderful Welsh choir Only Men Aloud!

Guests were speechless as they rolled in on the coaches into the Great Court and were wowed by the choir’s rendition of Take That’s Rule The World - in a nod to our leaders.

It was great to have Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, the sister of the Duke of Marlborough, whose family home is Blenheim along with Dr Isabella Bunn, a researcher in governance and ethics at Oxford, Kathy Harvey, Associate Dean of Oxford Saïd, and Kate Foley, the School's Director of Development and Alumni Relations, there on the night.

The week for me was all about coaches, photographers, sound technicians, and offering a glimpse into my rarefied world - I was honoured when some said it was one of the best weeks that Oxford had ever seen.

I was asked how one person did all this - one word. Determination. Simply that.

Oxford Executive Diploma in Organisational Leadership