Diploma in Strategy and Innovation
It’s Sunday and the bus leaves from Gloucester Green (Oxford’s main bus station) towards the airport and I have mixed emotions after I had to say goodbye to an intense week of studying at Saïd Business School. It was the last module of the Diploma in Strategy and Innovation. Back in February, I arrived here full of enthusiasm, curiosity and willingness to learn from the best.
As the bus departs I see the Lighthouse Pub where I met most of my colleagues for the first time in February at an informal meeting, prior to our first day of class. We went in as strangers and came out with a sense of belonging, a tribe was starting to form – “the best cohort ever”.
This tribe has strong values and each of our colleagues tried to surprise us positively by supporting the group. While preparing for the first exam, several of my colleagues shared their notes and made sure that none of the frameworks and concepts that we have studied, was left out. It would have been hard to miss something considering that over 100 eyes were watching carefully.
Benjamin Franklin said: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”. I noticed while reviewing my notes and slides from the first module that after a few weeks I forgot details, but also relevant things, so learning for an exam was extremely useful. The brain mobilises very well when it is given a task and a deadline. Many of us have practised some of the concepts and frameworks that we have studied and it was extremely useful to learn from each other, basically we taught each other during our prep sessions and eliminated our doubts and misinterpretations. I felt involved, and we were learning great things from each other’s practice, and at the same time creating strong bonds.
When the exam came, we were prepared to face it and nobody failed, that was a great result! So we had to celebrate!
Straight after the second module I had to catch a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal, where I support the COM’s (Christian East Mission) economic development programme that helps entrepreneurs develop their businesses through training and mentoring so they can create jobs for their communities. The difference between Kathmandu and Oxford was considerable, and it provided a clear sense of reflection, allowing me to acknowledge exactly how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to study at Oxford and to benefit from this world-class education, which many do not have access to.
At the same time, I feel well prepared to put my experience and skills to practice in the service of others, not only for profit but for the common good. Growing up in communist Romania, and what remained of it after the fall of communism, I always admired the people that visited us from abroad and supported in development, motivating us to see further than our narrow perspective, created by the darkness that had befallen us for over 40 years during communism. The ability to study abroad has also allowed me to bring back a new knowledge, perspective and ideas back home to influence change.
While flying to Nepal, I had time to reflect on the Innovation Strategy module that Marc Ventresca and Victor Seidel taught us. I would describe this module similar to a triathlon. Firstly we had to read 2 great books and many interesting articles, and to subsequently participate in challenging and thought-provoking lectures that revolved around cases from developing the Indian art market to solving problems related to kidney donations in the US and building the Olympic Swimming stadium in Beijing. The final discipline was learning for the exam, which helped us to consolidate and solidify our knowledge. Looking back, this was my favourite module. Mark and Victor are world-class academics and practitioners, but most importantly wonderful human beings. When we started this module, many of us were new to the many frameworks and concepts of Innovation Strategy that were presented, but the study material was very hands-on and I was able to immediately apply and implement them to practice in start-ups that I advise. I now feel well equipped to face innovation challenges.
The globalisation and strategy module that we took in June was eye-opening, although I went through the experience of growing a company to over 10 markets and had some experience with international business, the insights about South America, India and China were extremely useful and applicable in today’s world. Marc Szepan, Akshay Mangla and Matthew Amengual were able to successfully transfer their valuable knowledge to us. It was invaluable to put together over 50 people with diverse backgrounds, where everyone shared hands-on international experience. The knowledge I acquired will support me in developing businesses worldwide and provide me with tools to overcome ignorance and cultural differences.
We were also fortunate to experience the famous punting, during our third module. Sitting together on a small boat provided a great opportunity to bond and learn from each other, all whilst having a lot of fun.
Another great experience was staying at St. Hugh’s College, which benefits from a beautiful garden, ideal place to reflect and relax after a full day of intense learning. It reminded me of the time when I was an undergraduate student and I felt grateful about the gifts life offered me and the path I followed in becoming the person I am today. Staying at St. Hugh’s was 80% cheaper than at a hotel and I decided to donate the money I saved for a cause I believe in called Oxford for Romania. Each year they select a group of 25 teenagers from underprivileged families from Romania to attend a summer camp in Oxford organised by Oxford Alumni’s from Romania. The experience provides them an opportunity to explore their full potential and gives them wings to become the best version of themselves.
So I thought that living frugally for a good cause is a creative strategy to live a life of purpose in which we support others to make this world a better place for us and our children. “Dominus iluminatio mea – the Lord is my light” is the motto of the University and we have the responsibility to live up to it. This is what a good education should be, not only knowledge but also wisdom and as we are progressing in life, we need more and more of the latter than the former.
As the bus passes by the Oxford Town Hall, it brings back memories of the last module where we were debating in the council chamber and engaging with our colleagues in a different setting, where we were invited to engage in a debate format discussion, construct a structured argument, think on our feet, simulating a real-life scenarios. It’s an event that I will never forget and I would like to thank my team for choosing me as their speaker!
I also would like to praise Tom Lawrence for putting together the Strategy in Action module. Very practice-oriented and with many exercises that helped us acknowledge how to do well when turning a company, making layoffs and implementing change. It was relevant, full of insights and extremely fun. Just how learning should be!
On my last Sunday of module four, I was also fortunate enough to attend mass at the Christ Church Cathedral while Sir John Henry Newman was being canonised by the Pope in Rome. I have never attended mass before in an Anglican cathedral and found the sermon touching and eye-opening. The fact that Saint Newman became a priest in the same Cathedral in 1825, made it a unique experience. In addition, the mass was performed by Robin Gibbons, the first Catholic priest to be installed in the Cathedral since the Reformation. This is an example of unity and tolerance, all the values we so desperately need in today’s world.
According to his hagiography, Saint Newman was a fellow at Oriel College in Oxford, became a cardinal and now he was canonised. He lived a life full of meaning and his memorial stone is decorated with the motto “Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem – Out of shadows and phantasms into the truth”. This motto is like encouragement for posterity to see below the shadows of materialism and the phantasms of our ego and live a life of virtue. “Lead, Kindly light”!
Overall, the experience over the last year at Saïd Business School furthered my entrepreneurial career as well as personal development. When I started the Diploma I was in a phase of transition after selling one of my businesses. I have now made several investments during the last months and started a new business. I feel I am now much better prepared to compete through innovation, tackle market and nonmarket issues, make important strategic decisions and execute all the above day by day, as impeccable execution is paramount to success.
When I started the Diploma we had one beautiful daughter and I’d like to thank my wife Laura for the great support she offered me during all this time and for also blessing our family with a second daughter.
At the same time, I would like to thank all my wonderful colleagues who are now part of the DIPSI tribe and who made this experience unique. We started off as “strangers in the night” and parted on a Saturday afternoon just to meet again and speak from heart to heart. (Cor ad cor loquitur)
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