Sean Boyd


Diploma in Financial Strategy


United Kingdom





By Sean Boyd

Module 1 – Strategy

Perhaps a few basics about my background can help set the scene, and explain my journey to this Diploma. I qualified as a corporate lawyer in 2003 and I remain qualified, although that’s largely academic now. I changed career 6 years ago, joining a client of mine to move away from practicing law at large law firms, to working as a developer investing equity in public infrastructure projects around the world. Or rather, competing intensively to win the right to invest equity in the first place – winning being no easy feat in our market at the moment. So I’m here to get some professional training in finance and to formally learn strategy. Being self-taught in both, I have plenty to learn.

On a personal side, I have a wife and a young family (my son is 5 and my daughter is 2). We moved from London to Washington DC around 9 months ago. It all adds up to one thing – like many others in this 2015 cohort, I’m juggling the diploma’s demands along with a fairly intensive day-job, plenty of jet-lag and some noisy family commitments.

I grew up here in Oxford – dad was a biochemistry professor at the University. This wasn’t a factor in selecting the course but it does mean that my accommodation during the diploma takes me back in time 20-years, to my childhood bedroom a few miles south of the city centre. Which compounds the slightly-disturbing-but-not-unenjoyable feeling of going “back-to-school.”

We’ve just completed the 4 days of Module 1 (strategy), led by Richard Whittington, who I think has been a hit with the class. We’ve had many laughs and it’s been a valuable few days.

Day 1 was a fast-moving introduction to strategy and exams, and to getting to know various peers in the group. The 2015 intake seems to be the interesting and experienced cohort I was hoping for. Within the first morning, I met colleagues working in similar sectors to my own fairly obscure line of business – among the class are individuals experienced in assessing PPPs in Pakistan for the World Bank, people wrestling with valuation of PFI loan pools as collateral for the Bank of England, and people working on bringing big new infrastructure projects forward at a huge international port. It’s going to be an impressive group to get to know, I can tell. Which is good because that’s partly why we’re here.
A few snapshots from Module 1: Task 1 on Day 1 forced me to articulate my own company’s strategy in 35 words…a pretty powerful and difficult task under time pressure. Horror of horrors we find out there is no Excel available in the finance exams – which also have to be taken in an intriguing traditional outfit but on the upside we can take notes into the strategy exams…

On Day 3 we were joined by a McKinsey strategist from Paris, for what was a stimulating debate about behavioral economics and the power of bias and not least (for me) was the conclusion around the compelling value of luck in every aspect of corporate life.

And talking of predictable behaviors…I don’t think I was alone in battling jet-lag with mild hangovers (socializing over dinners and drinks 3 nights out of 4!)…and carrying running kit across the world and back (not having used it)…We’ll see whether the next Module goes the same way. The challenge ahead being that social evenings in Oxford only get more attractive as Spring/Summer rolls in. Anyway, it’s been a good start. I have left with an extensive toolkit on strategy analysis which I’ll be applying directly to a large bid we’re putting together right now.

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