Phil Houghton






Jan 2018 - Sep 2019

By Phil Houghton

My four initial impressions of the Oxford EMBA

I was waiting to board my flight at Verona airport and I can’t deny that I was a little apprehensive. I would soon be starting an Executive MBA at the University of Oxford. While it sounds exciting, I still had cold feet. All kinds of thoughts were racing through my head. Was I doing the right thing? Would I get on well with the other students? Would the university be a good fit for me?

Keble College

Since I was young, I never pictured myself as an “Oxonian”, or a student at the University of Oxford. So many famous people had graduated from there, ranging from world leaders to Nobel Prize winners and Olympic medallists. I thought it was out of my league, and yet, I was awarded a place on the EMBA 2018 programme. I guess I must’ve done something right all along!

I was as ready as I would ever be to embark on my new journey. But nothing could’ve prepared me for what I was about to experience at Oxford…

First impression: Antiquity and modernity collide

When you say Oxford, you probably think of beautiful historic buildings dating back all the way to the 11th century. Our class had the opportunity to visit some of these buildings in our first week. We dined in the Ashmolean Museum and Divinity Hall. We were introduced to our colleges—Keble College in my case, which has incredible gothic architecture from the 1800s. We saw the famous Bridge of Sighs and Sheldonian Theatre, to name a few.

Adorned in “sub fusc” at Divinity Hall

While Oxford certainly has rich historic architecture, the university offers modern facilities too. The Saïd Business School has fully kitted out conference rooms and state-of-the-art lecture theatres. The school offers virtual classrooms via their “HIVE” facility—the second of its kind in the world. The synergy between antiquity and modernity at Oxford is truly unique.

Second impression: Rooted in tradition

The University of Oxford takes traditions very seriously. University staff say grace in Latin before formal university meals. Students must adorn “sub fusc” attire to these events and also sat examinations. For men, this means a black robe, mortarboard, white bow tie and a dark suit. (Think Harry Potter minus the wand). We had to wear one to our welcome ceremony and dinner, for example.

Third impression: VIP treatment? Yes please.

Mornings started with a warm and friendly greeting from university reception staff, followed by coffee and pastries “upstairs, to the right” in the executive lounge.

Each day we were briefed on what our schedule looked like. Coaches arranged to take us to our various dinners where we were served wine and extremely tasty meals. We were made to feel like VIPs! I could get used to this…

VIP dinner at Divinity Hall


Fourth impression: My new [class]mates

I am privileged to be part of such an incredible cohort of students. Our EMBA class consists of 65 students from 40 countries around the world. Students come from as far as Australia, China, Brazil, the USA and Canada. They will be commuting from these countries each month to Oxford for the course. I think we’ll therefore let them jump the coffee queue on the Monday morning!

The wealth of experience and knowledge of the class makes for engaging debates and stimulating dinner conversations, especially as we come from diverse sectors ranging from finance and law to medicine, communications and Formula 1 in my case.

It’s clear to me that we will learn just as much, if not more, from each other as we will from our lecturers. I’m surprised by how quickly we bonded as a group after being together for just one week. We started the week as strangers, but left as friends.

The class of EMBA-J18!


Final thought

After some initial doubts at the start of the week, I returned to Italy with absolute certainty that I had made the right choice. The Oxford EMBA has so far surpassed my expectations. I have come away feeling more inspired, optimistic and excited about the journey ahead. I can hardly wait to get back and see everyone in February!

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