Sipha Ndawonde




South Africa


Venture Capital & Private Equity


Jan 2019 - Sept 2020

By Sipha Ndawonde

Why it’s never too early or too late: The Executive MBA for Leaders from all environments

I decided to apply to Oxford’s Executive MBA programme in early 2018. At the time, the business I co-founded had just turned three. In our short history, we had been through the roller-coaster of start-up life, experiencing highs and lows.

Our business had grown from a team of two people to >150. We had raised venture capital and institutional funding, hired a team, developed products and built-up a network of clients in my home country (South Africa) and abroad. It was at this stage that I began to experience the challenges of managing and leading a growing team, serving clients, implementing a growth strategy and coping with the complexity of scaling a global business.

This is the path that led me to seek out an MBA programme that I hoped would give me the tools and networks I needed if I was to grow as a leader and develop as an entrepreneur.

I had always dreamt of studying at Oxford, so there was only really one MBA program that I seriously considered. The tough part was trying to figure out whether to study an Executive MBA or a full-time MBA.

In working through this decision, I spoke to family, friends, and colleagues who had wrestled with the same decision. I sampled from people I knew working in the corporate environment, public sector, large corporates, and fellow entrepreneurs. In the end, the necessity of needing to continue running the business made the decision for me. If I was going to study an MBA, it would need to be a flexible programme.

I am now more than a year into our Executive MBA programme and it’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed. My diverse classmates represent 30 nationalities and more than 20 industries. These are some of the most talented and remarkable people I have come across and it’s a real honour to now call them my friends.

Getting to the one-year mark in our Executive MBA programme is what triggered my decision to write this blog. It reminded me of that time in early 2018 when I knew that I wanted to study an Executive MBA but had been wrestling with the question of whether it was the right time in my career.

It was the call with the Oxford Executive MBA Africa recruitment manager that put me at ease. In that conversation, we spoke about my background, experience, and future aspirations. After listening carefully, he encouraged me to take the step to apply for the programme, emphasising that I had the necessary experience to add value to the class and benefit from those around me. A view which was confirmed after I went through the rigorous admissions process.

My Executive MBA classmates are CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, Directors, Managers and Entrepreneurs. Although our environments are different, we are all leaders, and are all faced with making daily strategic decisions in the face of rapid change and complexity.

And this brings me back to the title of this blog. I’ve come to learn that it’s never too early or too late to take on the challenge of an Executive MBA. What qualifies you is your experience, your ambition and the leader you are in your environment.

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