Real Estate and Finance
Jan 2019 - Sept 2020
So it all started in January 2019 with excitement, uncertainty, apprehension, doubt, and…expectations. When I started the Oxford EMBA J-19, life was going through a transition as my firm divested its assets in the USA and I was concluding affairs in New York and moving home to Canada (#GoRaptors). Looking back I would like to reflect on 5 things from the first 5 modules, and how quickly time flies…tik tok:
1) St Hugh’s College: during module 1 we had a wonderful free evening on the Wednesday which is becoming more and more scarce as the modules go by. The idea was for the cohort to get inducted into their respective colleges. From Balliol, Brasenose, and Hertford the list was substantial and it was hard to miss the spires and domes that inspire curiosity of thousands each year as you walk along High street. However, my college assignment was a bit obscure, tucked away, a whopping 30 minutes walk from Said Business School and didn’t have as many spires punctuating the skyline as the aforementioned establishments. So in all honesty I was dubious of my choice. Well to be exact it was either St Hugh’s or Green Templeton since I had applied in the later rounds of the admissions process. We received a heartfelt welcome at St Hugh’s from the senior tutor and the principal, Elish Angiolini, of the college who reminded the EMBA St Hugh’s members that as an EMBA “you are as much part of Oxford as everyone else…” and that struck a chord. I decided to spend a fair amount of time of Trinity term at St Hugh’s by taking a sabbatical and immersing in life at Oxford. At first I planned on renting a modern condominium given I resided on 5th Avenue with a view of the Empire State Building. But I decided to give St Hugh’s residence halls a try and the very friendly and resourceful accommodations manager sorted me out with a room. Upon check-in I realized quickly that my view didn’t have the glitter of high-rise buildings, but it was comfortable, quiet, and provided a daily maid service. Plus I got free breakfast every morning – porridge with honey became my go-to. For me staying at St Hughs was big because it allowed me to partake in activities around Oxford starting with the MCR socials, MCR formals, and accessing the facilities at the college, including the library. The MCR formals were particularly enjoyable because as an EMBA it’s a rare chance to engage with students from different disciplines over dinner and you get to rock dapper outfits with bow ties. I engaged in many discussions that included ‘life beyond earth’ with physics majors, ‘tax deference’ with D.Phil Econ students which led to heated exchanges, and on a lighter note: all the things that make Oxford better than Cambridge ☺.
The charm of St Hugh’s saw a perpetual ascent in my heart. The sound of leaves fluttering over tall trees with the breeze, and how the silence that followed engulfed its pristine grounds. The grounds at St. Hugh’s are remarkably calm and zen – worlds away from the strobe and sirens of New York City. The Dickinson Pool building offers a second library at the college overlooking an Asian inspired courtyard that screams tranquility. It’s an ideal setting for a ponder or two and self-reflection. So my advice? Don’t underestimate your college and use every opportunity to engage with students and the staff of the college; they will make you feel welcome and very much part of Oxford. I hands down vote for St Hugh’s for all upcoming EMBA’s. It is a magical place!
2) India module: this one I missed because even though I am Canadian I was born in Pakistan. If you don’t know already, India and Pakistan share the love for Bollywood but their governments never liked each other. As class representative I realized that nearly 10% of the class in my cohort were of Pakistani descent so a few of us faced visa issues and I was informed by the Indian embassy that it could take months for approval, if not rejection. My fellow class rep Steve McIntosh who is probably the most pragmatic person I have met in our class got the program committee involved and we explored options for students who were unable to attend and the possibility of offering an alternative module at Oxford during the week. The trip went ahead and I had to sit this one out which was tough especially since I suffer from serious FOMO. I learned though from the many photos and videos the cohort shared on WhatsApp that it was a rare chance for everyone to come together socially under one roof and really get to know each other. I lived vicariously through the many moments shared by the group including their trip to the Taj Mahal and it was nice to see everyone break out of their shell. We will have another chance like this during the China core module and I look forward to it (pending no visa issues – albeit China maintains a friendlier relationship with Pakistan, more so than Canada I think). And guess what? I did get my Indian visa in the end: the week during which the EMBA were in India! It only exacerbated the FOMO but on a brighter note I will be attending in November. I think being able to audit the module with another cohort will serve as a good opportunity to get to know more people.
3) The Oxford Union: this is an establishment that lures notable speakers from around the world and is not afraid to bring controversial topics to light, and relentlessly upholds freedom of expression. When I started at Saïd Business School I was particularly excited about getting involved in debating. The Union hosts 19:30 ‘AM debate’ sessions (for beginners) every Sunday of each term so come February for Module 2 I was there in full spirit before the start of the module. My first learning was to show up with A4 paper, not a 3-inch notepad. The A4 size helps scribble notes from thoughts pacing frantically through your mind as you conjure up arguments in the mere 15 minutes you are allotted with your teammate to debate the never-heard-before topic. During my very first debate the desk trembled as my teammate jabbed the A4 sheets with his ideas in block letters. While my 3 inch notepad was dwarfed by his A4 sheets I think I did ok up there – we came in second.
The union attracts students from different colleges and disciplines so it is also a good place to meet people with different backgrounds and expand your ideas and thinking. I stayed in Oxford for the weekend on the Saturday and got a chance to attend a debate workshop which proved quite helpful not just for the Union debates, but also during the first term paper on leadership. Debating puts you on your toes, pushes you to think critically, form arguments and rebuttals quickly, defend your point of view, and convince the audience of your position. During the Trinity term I got a rare chance to attend most Sunday AM debates and loved the inclusiveness of the members. I also got to attend formal debates that generally take place on the Thursday of each week. The topics included “It is immoral to be a billionaire” … seriously! And “Porn has a place in sex education”. These unusual topics drew academics, thinkers, and student debaters alike; observing them spar with each other beat the season finale of Game of Thrones. I was shy to partake at the time being new to Oxford but if I could offer advice: don’t hold back and go for it. I mean for the billionaire debate I formed such good arguments in my head (biased) that I didn’t get a chance to share. And no I do not think its immoral to be a billionaire, most of the world wouldn’t mind being one! It’s all about what you do with your wealth isn’t it?
4) GOTO: so we are in the midst of this project and there is some confusion within our cohort about why we’re doing this? and how will it be relevant if, let’s say, you are in Finance at a Bank? It is sure to leave you flummoxed. But I employ a different perspective: I believe it’s a chance to learn about energy consumption and the crisis that looms. I’m of the belief that our educational institutions are not doing enough to teach us about the gravity of global issues such as climate change and if I can be candid I knew very little about the energy crisis. I did see a clip of Leonardo DiCaprio with President Obama once but then Donald came along and quashed the Paris agreement but even that didn’t spark enough interest in me to sit down and research the topic. That’s where GOTO came in and the assigned readings which gave me the opportunity to learn about the topic and highlighted some mind blowing data. So as much as students will complain about it, business is about being responsible and more importantly, a responsible human being – GOTO aims to achieve just that by immersing us in this module to critically analyze the many issues the world faces and how people of influence like us can shape the future. Sorry if this sounds like jargon but being from the real estate industry I can appreciate how important this is since buildings output nearly 40% of energy consumption. Influential fund managers like ADIA and Blackrock have all expressed their goal to implement ESG more proactively and so it actually is quite relevant if you think about it…even for Finance.
5) What this all means so far: I believe professional life at times inhibits curiosity and learning can be neglected once people specialize in their area of expertise. School offers perspective and offers a chance to expand our thinking. More importantly, it is never too late for learning. You might be surprised how much you can learn from a neurosurgeon, a star lawyer, a diligent accountant, and a leader from the aviation industry as your classmate. That is the promise that the Oxford EMBA offers. And who needs therapy when you have the chance to gather with 70 like-minded, driven, optimistic and positive group of people every 4 – 5 weeks. We build each other, share ideas, provide feedback and we are not here with an agenda; at least that is the feeling I get so far.
I’m already over 1,900 words here so Thank you for making it this far! And I’m en-route a KLM flight right now for module 6 (clearly bored). Tik Tok
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