Meet the Oxford MBA Class of 2021-22: Stephen Robinson

7 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.

Tell us about yourself:

  • Sector/Industry you worked in pre-MBA: Strategy and tech consulting 
  • Sector/Industry you are hoping to work in post-MBA: Strategy and tech consulting
  • Country of residence before coming to Oxford: United States
  • College: Hertford

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

  • Best friend: Genuine
  • Manager: Passionate

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

My mom would say, 'you’re never fully dressed without a smile' every time I left the house growing up. Never wanting to be scantily clad, I smiled more than any kid in history, and was genuinely happy. Wherever I went, I wanted everyone around me to feel that same joy. I always see the bright side of situations, and that’s carried over to my career – I avoid adding risks and issues to a risk log in a project, and most of my emails contain at least one exclamation point (emojis where appropriate, too).

As I’ve progressed from being an entry-level consultant to managing teams and larger programmes, my view of 'making people happy' has matured. It’s less about making people laugh and smile, but more about building a fulfilling career for anyone that I work with. We spend at least 25% of our lives doing our jobs, and I’ve taken it upon myself to make the 25% of my co-workers’ lives as fulfilling as possible. Optimising the 25% improves our outlook for the other 75%, meaning we’re more present and happier with our family and friends. I consider career fulfilment in three areas:

  1. Emotional health – being able to be your true self at work, and trusting that your co-workers have your back.
  2. Mental stimulation – using your brain every day, and thinking critically to produce great solutions.
  3. Financial wellbeing – being able to support you and your family because of the success of your company.

As my career progresses, I plan to strengthen my ability to optimise each of these areas for everyone I work with. The Oxford MBA uniquely equips me to deliver on all three in my career.

The other top MBA programmes will help with the second and third items, as does Oxford. The first topic, emotional health, is often overlooked. But this is where Oxford’s MBA programme differentiates itself.

To create an environment where your co-workers can be their true selves, you need to be extremely empathetic. The path to empathy comes through listening to others and learning their stories and perspectives.

Oxford’s MBA programme emphasises its diversity ubiquitously via the class ethnicities, nationalities, and past work experiences. Oxford created a culture of extreme empathy in its MBA programme. This year I’m excited to learn as many stories as I can, so I can carry these with me as I lead teams and businesses throughout my career to promote emotional health.

The year at Oxford will fly by. However, the stories I hear and the connections I make will last much longer. I’m going to Oxford for the chance to learn as much as I can, in and out of the classroom. By learning about my classmates, I’ll be more understanding and empathetic throughout my career. These grade-less lessons that Saïd Business School provides will allow me to make that 25% of life for me and my colleagues fulfilling and keep us smiling!

What have you done to prepare yourself for the MBA?

My past few years at PwC have given me the opportunity to work with a British company and focus on global product and tech strategy. This has allowed me to develop a global perspective on tech, media, and entertainment products (and to grow accustomed to the ways of working across cultures!)

Outside of work, I’ve prepared for the MBA by preparing for life after the MBA. I got engaged in December 2020 and I’m getting married in August 2022. Knowing that I’d be in England from September through June, my fiancée and I have prioritised our wedding planning during the past few months. We’ve made the most of being together during our engagement so far – travelling to venues, wedding showcases, and even department stores. 

Knowing that our engagement wouldn’t be traditional, we got all the big planning out of the way before the MBA so that we could make the most of our time abroad throughout the months leading up to our big day.

What do you hope to gain from completing your MBA?

I plan to be a lifelong learner, and the academic lessons I’ll soak in via the MBA will be valuable, especially to deepen my knowledge of the media and entertainment industry. However, the opportunity to collaborate with people from around the world is priceless. I want to learn all my classmates’ stories, values, and motivations. Oxford is a unique programme that brings together people from all walks of life, and I want to take advantage of this true melting pot experience.

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

To get out of my comfort zone. In a programme, a school, a country as historic and diverse as Saïd Business School at Oxford in England, I would be doing myself a disservice to stick to what I know. While I’m sure I’ll crave Long Island bagels, Penn State football games, and Thanksgiving food, I have a whole new world waiting for me in Oxford. I will challenge myself to say ‘yes’ to opportunities that put me out of my comfort zone. Through this, I’m optimistic I’ll come away with some great memories and friendships.

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

Think about your ‘why’. Oxford is unique – it’s a one-year programme and is arguably the most progressive, impact-driven MBA programme in the world. That combination is not for everyone. Prospective students should spend time meditating, journaling, or doing any self-reflective exercises, to understand their goals in their lives and careers. Oxford is perfect for students who have a strong sense of who they are and where they want to go. If you know those answers, then you should definitely pursue the programme!

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

I can’t wait to learn the stories that have led my classmates to Oxford. I can’t wait to learn the history of Oxford and dive headfirst into the clubs, societies, sports, and libraries that make the University what it is. I can’t wait for the business stories we’ll explore in class – through case studies and other lessons I’ll learn from the successes and failures of business leaders. All the stories I learn throughout the year will help me prepare for my future.

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

My wedding is next August – my fiancée and I are counting down the days! It’s easy to get trapped in a ‘countdown mentality’, where I think about how many days until the next assignment is due, how many days until my flight back to the US, and how many days until our wedding. I’ll continually challenge myself to get out of the countdown mentality and be present in everything I do. It’s a year of exploration and learning for me, and I don’t want to miss out on experiences while I’m there because I’m too caught up in thinking about ‘what’s next?’

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

PwC is sponsoring my MBA. It is doing so with the expectation that I’ll return to be an inclusive leader within the firm. This applies to client engagements, industry research and thought leadership, and DE&I (diversity, equality, and inclusion) efforts. The academic rigour of the programme will bolster my ability to deliver quality work for PwC; the writing-intensive assessments will improve my communication ability; and my peers will broaden my perspective and add to my empathy. 

To be a great leader, you need to be able to relate to others and consider the implications of your decisions on others. By learning about my peers, I’ll be able to make decisions at PwC that are respectful to as many people as possible, thereby minimising my blind spots. The combination of my empathy and platform will allow me to make a real impact on society at PwC.

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

I want to find a balance of activities that promote my mental and physical wellbeing. I can’t wait to nerd out in the Media and Entertainment Club. I’ll spend as much time as possible in the Oxford Union, whether in the snooker room or behind the podium. 

However, I can’t let my tennis doubles partner (aka, my fiancée) down while I’m at school, so I’ll practise with the team whenever I can. And if that’s not enough, I’ll try out Hertford’s rowing team for a new challenge.