Shaheryar Mian






Real Estate and Finance


Jan 2019 - Sept 2020

By Shaheryar Mian

You thought you knew it all

Oxford has to be one of the only few places in the world, aside from that ‘other place’, that requires you to wear a bow tie and academic gown to write an exam. Here I was on a chilly, foggy, and rather quintessential Oxford morning on December 2nd pacing toward St Hugh’s College dining hall for breakfast before heading to the examination hall. Frost disintegrated below my polished dress shoes as I nervously stepped through the grass – one of the many perks of living at St Hugh’s college is you can short cut your way through the grounds. My customary exam gear of pyjama, baseball hat and loose hoodie was a ‘no-no’ at Oxford.

A year ago I had wondered what more I could learn at school. I had worked for a few employers, started a business, worked in four global cities, travelled to over 70 countries, read some books and watched a lot of documentaries. I “kinda knew it all”, didn’t I? Answering that true or false question a year on, I would put a nice fat circle around False. For starters I was skimming through books, articles and the news a lot but I wasn’t retaining much of the content. In fact, my attention was blurred with the content overload we face presently, especially because of social media. And not all content is good content, you really have to search for it, just like all valuable things. When I spoke with industry professionals, nearly half of them balked at the idea of further education. Additionally, the millennial and more specifically, ‘the start-up revolution’ is centred around flexible working on laptops in Cafes or communal work spaces, getting C grades in school or dropping out altogether and then selling a $100 million+ business to Google or whoever a few years later. In addition, studies have found, Google included, that good grades do not constitute innovative employees (Psychology Today). So much for working 2 weeks on that Strategy term paper to get a distinction! But do all leaders have to be innovative? I don’t believe so.

As you can surmise there were a lot of red signals before enrolling into Saïd Business School and I will now express my reservations about some of the cautions. The problem with higher education or the stigma that exists is the missing link between academia and the practical world. And rightly so, a lot of students complain about the lack of practical application of concepts and theories. However, the unicorns created by founders without higher education by no means is the norm; it represents a small minority and though it is motivating to aspire to become like these successful leaders, it is also important to be realistic and mindful of expectations.

After spending 11 months at school my mind has changed about the relevance of higher education. My experience reading theory and case studies has helped me become more attentive in my comprehension of reading material and even conversations. It has also helped me better articulate a point of view. These skills make a world of difference in your presence during meetings or even at social events. Being present and the capacity to be noticed I believe are key to making a positive impression. I have also been exposed to plentiful research and business cases about companies and geographies I didn’t appreciate before because we often get siloed with work life.

I believe the greatest value of school though is learning beside highly driven people. It’s the energy you surround yourself with that makes the difference and is quite simply, invaluable. To be specific, being challenged on a point of view and hearing good ideas you hadn’t thought of goes a long way in challenging your mindset and thinking and gets you out of your comfort zone. In addition, a programme like Oxford’s EMBA is home to people from wide ranging industries – as an example one of my group members heads up the airline operations for a whole country, and another is a neurosurgeon. I don’t know where else in the world I would have the opportunity to work alongside these two individuals because my world is financial services and real estate. Changing your perspective and learning from people with different backgrounds must not be underestimated.

The Oxford EMBA needs to be re-branded (in my opinion) to ‘part-time MBA’. I believe this because we cover the same amount of content as the full-time MBA programme, write exams, lengthy term papers, and complete group project including GOTO. I had my reservations enrolling into the EMBA programme because of the connotation attached to the word ‘Executive’ which translated: “I have it figured out in my current role and am looking to get promoted to CEO”. That’s far from the reality in our cohort and the other cohorts I have acquainted myself with. It’s not the lack of CEOs or founders in the cohorts, it’s the lack of complacency and abundance of: “I want to be doing more or perhaps something different”. Higher education is changing at a global scale because we are living longer and work patterns and life choices are changing. For the Oxford EMBA programme it has been nothing short of ‘transformational’. I spoke at our formal dinner at Exeter College a couple of weeks ago and I shared with my class the transformational nature of the programme and how many of us had either switched jobs, changed industries, moved countries, started a business, closed a business, changed relationship statuses – all in a matter of 11 months.

Interestingly, the theme I had given 2019 in December 2018 was “transformation”. For me, new year resolutions are ineffective because they typically serve as a laundry list of items we don’t get around to achieving or simply procrastinate over. And as such I give each year a “theme” and every aspect of life surrounds that. 2019 was a year of transformation in that regard. At the Oxford Union I was put on the spot for 15 minute intervals to form arguments to defend or oppose a position I had little knowledge about – receiving critical feedback on such presentations helped improve my public speaking skills. Even sense of humour I think 😊 I have observed a noticeable difference in my interactions from a year ago. Case studies on leadership have made me question the techniques or methods I used in the past and what could be different. It’s served as a great mechanism for self- reflection.

So, in a rather long-winded fashion, the point I am trying to get across is that higher education is underrated and at times, misunderstood. It’s what you make of it and it’s never too late. We tend to focus on timelines and expectations set by others and the industry – we shouldn’t. We read articles and research about trends and apply that to our reality which might be far from the truth. Act on your own reality. Set your own timeline. Don’t fall for what is considered “the norm” or “cool and different”. As I look toward 2020 I am thinking, “year of clarity”. Happy New Year everyone!

Shaheryar Mian J19

To play the part you better look the part. My exam gear for Accounting


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