Solving a challenging business problem using the Diploma in Financial Strategy

4 minute read

I became the Managing Director of Cargill Edible Oil Asia in 2018. As I started to understand the industry, the more eager I became to answer this strategic question: ’How can I devise a strategy to grow my company in the rapidly growing food and agriculture sector of the Asia-Pacific region?’ Upon completing the programme in January 2022, I was able to answer this question whilst having simultaneously revised and broadened my career objectives.

Having graduated from university as a mechanical engineer, my first role as a merchandiser was followed by moves across multiple functions, companies, and geographic locations before taking on a business leadership role. My unusual career path brought understanding and experience across the complete value chain. However, my limited knowledge of financial strategy was insufficient to participate comfortably in the boardroom when seeking and competing for funding in a large global organisation. Playing a leading role in a multi-billion-dollar merger and acquisition deal for the company further highlighted an urgent need to advance my knowledge in this area. 

To address these gaps in my competencies, I selected the Oxford Executive Diploma in Financial Strategy. I felt that the programme would provide me with the knowledge and tools to answer my business strategy question, and to understand portfolio and project valuations from both business unit and corporate finance perspectives. Importantly, the modular programme design permitted stimulating study whilst working in an intense professional role, as well as providing the opportunity to pursue my personal dream of studying in a globally leading university – something which I couldn’t previously afford upon completing my education in China.

Part of the application process involved sharing some professional references. I asked a senior colleague to be one of my references and he was delighted to help. He also emphasised that, in his view, I would contribute to the class more than may be expected from a female business leader. I did not fully appreciate his comments until a month later when the class started.

The programme started in January 2021 when COVID-19 restrictions unfortunately led to a virtual classroom set-up. The programme management team and faculty did their best to accommodate the learning and networking needs of the cohort.

The cohort diversity was another highlight. Classmates from Africa, Central Asia, Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific added differing social and business perspectives from those obtained from the global business I was working within. Some of my classmates were not involved in financial decision-making and their questioning helped the whole class to more easily understand the programme content. The diploma also seeks to address the challenge of low female representation in the finance sector which links to my colleague’s earlier point about my contribution. One of my classmates told me in person that she is happy to see an Asian female business leader in the class.

The quality of the teaching exceeded my expectations. The mix of theoretical teaching with practical real-world examples effectively illustrated the challenging reality of the business world. In particular, the impact of human error and flaws in any financial decisions should never be overlooked. Olivier Sibony, one of the authors of the book Noise, taught us directly about the flaws in human judgement. This component of the programme was my major takeaway. Pure financial strategy is an enabler in strategic business decision-making. Smart business leaders must be able to de-bias the decision process, with tools and processes, as we cannot just rely on a gut feeling alone. Bias in decision making has been highlighted not just in financial strategy scenarios, but also in corporate governance practices.   

Peer learning throughout the executive diploma also took the faculty teachings even further. The experts in our cohort taught us insightful skills from their day-to-day work. Similarly, sharing best practices from globally leading companies, as represented by our classmates’ professional network, added significant value to my learnings.

Upon completing the Executive Diploma in Financial Strategy, I found myself reflecting on how both the Oxford knowledge network and alumni network have opened doors to further lifelong learning opportunities. As a proud Oxonian, I have been able to expand my career interests not just as a leader but as a confident investor, with a focus on incubating sustainability-focused food system start-ups. This confidence and expertise could not have been achieved without my participation in this programme.

Executive Diploma in Financial Strategy