Sep 2018 - May 2020
“A diplomat goes to Oxford”…? Perhaps not the most surprising byline for a blog, but “Australian diplomat goes to Saïd Business School” is slightly more unusual. What’s in a career for a diplomat? Cocktail parties, tuxedoes and high intrigue? Rarer than we might like! Grinding through minute details of trade deals, seeking to understand the ins and outs of local politics and networking with business to promote investment in Australia? Much more common. Undertaking the Oxford Executive MBA is an opportunity to both apply and diversify those skillsets in an increasingly complex global environment.
So what do you get, then, when you place 70 successful, motivated and often “A-type” personalities in a room at Oxford to talk about business and leadership? Aside from the ever-so-slightly delicate dance of who gets to speak first, you get thoughtful, articulate and even forceful views from a variety of backgrounds. I was struck by the sheer diversity of the cohort – from a huge range of professions and nationalities. For a foreign policy hand, these are difficult times for “globalists”, but courses like this reinforce the enduring value in cultural cross-pollination (they also remind you that the last time you did statistics and sampling was high school, but I digress…). With insular nationalism on the rise internationally, shared education remains one of the best means of breaking down cultural barriers – which has both political and economic benefits. Based in Iran, as I currently am whilst on study leave, the impacts of a lack of cross-cultural understanding and disrupted linkages with the global economy are evident every day.
The broader impact of technological and economic changes on diplomacy over the past decade are a topic I’ll return to in future blogs, but for someone in my field, focusing more on innovation, how entrepreneurship works and how start-ups have application to the way I do business, is important. And equally, a career of working with but not for business has left me with the recognition that to do my job better – whether it’s this one, or in a different field in the future – understanding both sides of the coin in the public and private sectors is essential.
One of the reasons I chose Oxford was the investment in themes around global complexity, and the Global Rules of the Game module in the first week provided a perfect example of where public and private sector intersect. Foreign policy and business are more intertwined than ever – for good and ill – and exploring how this happens, and how to approach it better, will be an important theme as the course progresses. Watching different professions dissect the Deepwater Horizon disaster and unpick the different interests and priorities at play was instructive from the get go – something I look forward to expanding on as the programme progresses.
In the end, one thing that quickly became evident in our first week is that we’re also not just at a business school – we’re in the dreaming spires, one of the most revered centres of learning and thought leadership in the world. Although that means occasionally waking up people still dreaming of Keble College’s Harry Potter-esque dining hall, it also means we have access to engage with a wider set of thinkers than those just of the business school, and that’s one of the best opportunities of all.
And to end on a lighter note, the first week was also a reminder that, no matter how talented, successful and diverse a cohort we have, when adults return to school there appears to be a certain “reversion to the mean” (sorry, Siddharth!) and it’s like a bunch of teenage freshers all over again. Perhaps some things never change!
Author’s note: The views expressed in this blog are my own and not as a representative of the Australian Government.Back to top of article