Get to know Osemhen Okenyi: MBA Class of 2020-21

5 minute read
Osemhen Okenyi

Tell us about yourself.

Wife to one, mother to two, innovating as an engineer by day and writing by night. You can also catch me reading novels, baking pastries or hanging out with Blazers & Baby, the community I founded for career women to support one another in achieving work-life balance.

Sector/Industry you worked in pre-MBA: Energy
Sector/Industry you are hoping to work in post-MBA: Energy, infrastructure development and impact investing
Country of residence before coming to Oxford: Nigeria
College: Green Templeton College, because of its proximity to Saïd Business School and the family accommodation.

Social media:

Instagram: @OsemhenofLagos

In one word, how would your best friend describe you and how would your manager describe you?

Best friend: Quirky
Manager: Outspoken

Tell us about where you have come from and what has led you to Oxford and, more specifically, the Oxford MBA.

I’m Nigerian; Lagos born and bred. I grew up surrounded by books (my father worked as a librarian at some point) and this singular privilege has defined me, like nothing else because it exposed me to worlds beyond our small bungalow. 

I was a voracious reader as a child and I remember losing myself within the pages of the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings. If anyone had told me I would someday find my way to Oxford, I would not have believed it.

I trained as an electrical/electronics engineer at the University of Lagos and then started my career as a production maintenance engineer with Shell; ensuring the integrity of instrumentation, control and automation equipment. In the past eight years, I’ve managed operational excellence and project delivery across multiple petroleum facilities in the Niger Delta and deep-water offshore.

Osemhen Okenyi with her child

Working in the most remote corners of the Niger Delta, far from urban development, I saw first-hand the impact business/government collaborations had in providing infrastructure, developing human capital and funding scholarships and small businesses. 

This convinced me that businesses must catalyse progress in host communities; businesses cannot succeed in societies that fail. The Oxford MBA, with its themes of sustainability, responsible enterprise and doing business in Africa, seemed to me to be a natural next step in growing as a business leader.

But I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get in, or it would be impossible to complete an MBA as a mother (for context, I prepped for my Graduate Management Admission Test bouncing a three-month-old on my lap). 

In January 2019, I read Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Her story about getting into Princeton and Harvard gave me hope that perhaps I might have a shot at a school like Oxford. In Nigerian slang, the people who get in don’t have two heads! 

In September 2019, a few days before my birthday, I started and completed my Oxford application as a birthday present to myself. I’m especially thankful to my family, friends and mentors who supported me every step of the way. I might’ve chickened out otherwise.

What have you done to prepare yourself for the MBA?

I took up the role of Senior Business Analyst at work, to gain a front-seat perspective on how a business is run, and how data-driven decisions are made by senior leadership. I also attended the Forte Women’s Leadership Conference, to get a head-start on networking, building soft skills and career strategies.

What do you hope to gain from completing your MBA?

It provides me the opportunity to complement my technical background with business acumen, reflect on my career journey so far and gives me the mental space to decide on the next steps of my vocation. It also exposes me to multiple cultures and industries via my cohort mates. That global perspective is a priceless privilege.

What is the best advice you received before commencing your MBA?

Pick quality over quantity in building your networks at Oxford.

Do you have any advice about the Oxford MBA application process for candidates thinking of applying?

Be authentic. It might sound trite but honestly in writing your essays, recording your videos and during your interview, the best answers you can give are the ones that most resonate with you. Why do you want to do an MBA in Oxford? Read about the programme, speak to alumni, and decide if it’s really for you. Once you’re convinced, it’ll be easier to convince the Admission Committee.

What part of the programme are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to Global Opportunities and Threats: Oxford (the theme for this year’s cohort is so apt, ‘Building Back Better’). It feels like we have a unique, privileged opportunity to directly influence what our ‘next normal’ is like. I can’t wait to see the ideas and solutions we generate.

What do you think will be the most challenging part of the programme?

There are so many great things (labs, events, courses, workshops, seminars, talks and projects) to choose from, and only 24 hours in a day! 

I think my biggest challenge would be suppressing FOMO, and saying ‘no’ to many good experiences so I can give a more committed ‘yes’ to the priorities I choose. This sort of ruthless prioritisation and time management is especially crucial for me as I want to also enjoy time with my husband and two sons (aged 5 and 3) who are here with me.

How do you plan to take the learnings from the MBA to influence positive change?

I would consider it a win for me to be able to make the business case for sustainable and responsible capitalism. For instance, the energy industry plays a big role in slowing/reversing climate change and has to balance that with its responsibility to catalyse development, especially in developing regions. These sorts of trade-offs require sound judgement, and the MBA equips me with the mental models I need to contribute to such decisions.

Are there any sports teams, societies, or clubs you’re hoping to become a member of?

I’m looking forward to participating in the Oxford Women in Leadership Alliance and the Oxford-Africa Business Alliance. I hear I should try rowing and punting, so I plan to do those at least once too! I’m also keen to oil my rusty creative writing skills, so I’m looking out for a writing circle.