What led me to the Oxford MBA - my career journey so far

4 minute read

We are excited to welcome the Oxford MBA Class of 2021-22 to Oxford this September. Get to know our incoming students in this blog post series as they prepare to join Saïd Business School. Here, Nagadarsan Suresh tells us what led him to the Oxford MBA.

I’m from Kerala in India, where I spent the majority of my childhood and completed an engineering degree in Computer Science. In common with many Indian students of my generation, I ended up taking a two-year postgraduate degree in management (from IIM Ahmedabad) right after my bachelor’s. Having a techno-commercial education is considered ideal before entering the workforce in India.

I had a slightly twisty trajectory at the beginning of my career – I had started off with an M&A internship with Goldman Sachs before realising that financial services was not my cup of tea. I pivoted to Philips Electronics, where I worked in strategy and product management roles. Subsequently, I joined Kohler as a product manager in the firm’s India office and worked there until 2016. That year, I had the opportunity to move to Johannesburg on an expat assignment, managing products for the newly set up Kohler entity in Africa. I’ve always wanted to test myself in as many diverse markets as possible, and that move turned out to be the best decision of my career.

In Africa, I learned just how incredibly diverse that continent is (my work spanned eight countries), and how much more one has to learn to master management in truly multicultural environments, especially in companies venturing out into new geographies. I was promoted to lead the Marketing department of Kohler Africa two years later, and completed the assignment in late 2020. During these enriching four years in Africa, two specific thoughts dominated my plans for the next career move.

One: I wanted to work in an organisation that allowed me the opportunity to impact the world in a much more significant way. I was in an extremely comfortable space in my organisation – doing what I had been doing for eight years, with a rapidly flattening learning curve. I constantly felt the need to inject some purpose into my career and to take on impactful challenges – rather than simply continue doing what I was good at.

Two: I wanted to get a business education from a fresh perspective. I was incredibly young with no work experience when I did my postgraduate studies. The more I worked in diverse teams in different countries, the more I wished I could go back to school with the wisdom I didn’t have a decade ago.

I pursued these two avenues and zeroed in on climate change mitigation as the area in which I wanted to build my skills, credibility and future career. This wasn’t entirely by chance, as the ‘day zero drought’ in Cape Town – where I travelled for work quite frequently – made dystopian fictional scenarios seem much closer to my own reality. 

And back home in Kerala, there were two straight years of unseasonal floods which threatened to submerge entire towns; close relatives trapped in their own homes had to be rescued and evacuated. If there was ever a challenging problem to be solved which impacted the world on a large scale, it was climate change.

To ‘re-launch’ my career in a completely different industry, I chose the Oxford MBA after lots of research. The pedagogical focus on solving wicked problems and the integration of social impact into the very core of the programme made it stand out for my purposes. The idea of spending a year in Oxford surrounded by the rich history and timeless architecture was incredibly attractive to me. (I had once spent a day in Oxford, and barely had time to move beyond the gargoyles at Magdalen College.) If I hadn’t liked studying business, I would have certainly become a historian. 

One final thought here is that it’s never too late to do a career pivot. Considering the prolonged careers that many in our generation will experience, it’s humanly impossible to stay motivated and interested in one field forever. Constant learning, through one’s 30s, 40s, and beyond is going to be essential for an enriching career in the years ahead.

Read part two of Nagardsan's journey.