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Eric Sukumaran

Degree:

MBA

Location:

United Kingdom

Industry:

Entrepreneurship

Year:

2017-18

By Eric Sukumaran

6am to midnight: reflections on Hilary term

Johannesburg, April 7 2018


Hello to you all and greetings from Johannesburg, where I am sitting in my hotel room before the beginning of a week-long Saïd Business School international elective – Growth Prospects and Opportunities for Business in Africa. Fifty-three of us (16% of the class!) have given up a week of a short break between terms to take this elective, and once it is complete I shall write another post about how it went.

This post is a reflection on the previous term, Hilary. Hilary was tough, and challenging- in more ways than one and I cannot help but look back upon it with some emotion. No two days were at all the same, but for one constant. They were all jam packed. My days normally start between 5.30 and 6.00am, either in time for a below freezing row on the river, or to spend a few hours reading for class. Frequently the days do not end until midnight, or beyond. Sometimes this is due to work, but oftentimes because of more distracting engagements – such as formal hall at a College, a debate and drinks at the Oxford Union, a chill dinner, or a party.

I thought it would be most instructive for those trying to understand what life is like here to go through my diary and pick a day from Hilary that was suitably reflective of a typical day. I picked Wednesday, 7 March 2018. I struggle to believe this was just one month ago- so much has happened since! On Wednesdays we don’t have class. While the day I describe may seem busy, it was by no means rare or unusual. Many of my friends from Saïd, should they do me the honour of taking the time to read my ramblings, will recognise the kind of day that March 7 was for me.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018


6.00 – 11.00am

Although Torpids (the main rowing competition in Hilary) was over I wander down from Pembroke College where I live to the boathouse for about 6.30am. I wrap up, and take care to avoid the mud and giant puddles on Christchurch meadow- the shallower of which are frozen, the deeper trying to fool you into thinking they are frozen. I do about half an hour on the rowing machines (I haven’t yet figured out why everyone insists on calling them ERGs). It’s rather unpleasant at first, as the boathouse isn’t at all heated, but within a few minutes one even entertains the idea of opening the doors a little! Walking back just after 7.15am the river looks beautiful as dawn breaks- shimmering blue and silver, with all calm and untouched.

During a pitstop back at home for some breakfast, a shower and change of clothes, I take the opportunity to listen to the radio, read emails and news (I’m a horrid news-ophile). Then it’s off to Saïd for a 9.00am meeting with some friends to work through the macroeconomics paper due at the end of term. We half talk about the module firms and markets, and half eat breakfast. Though I’ve already had breakfast, I indulge in some hash browns, scrambled eggs, and coffee. You know, to be sociable.

From 10-10.30 I write my debate speech for a conference later in the day and at 10.30 (alright, I ran late, 10.40) and I meet with a prospective applicant for coffee in the School common room. She is an amazing candidate who will be rowing across the Pacific before applying. I imagine future cohorts will be just as fantastic and fascinating as the current one.


11.00am-5.00pm

At 11.15am (running a little late again…) I join my colleagues to do final preparations for the Oxford Energy Perspectives Conference. This is organised annually by the Energy, Environment and Resources Oxford Business Network, of which I am co-Chair with my friends Zeella and Lucy. With our fantastic team (shout out to Lionel, Bart, Nick, Tayo and Madeleine), we’d been preparing for 4 months and the big day was finally here! This year the conference concentrated on Transforming the Energy Mix. Vivienne Cox, who started the Alternative Energy Group at BP was our keynote. We debate about whether governments should switch concentration away from large scale energy production to small scale, numerous production centres. We also host several panels- on financing, careers and innovation.

During one of the conference panel sessions, I duck out for an hour to take an urgent call related to the company I founded, which concentrates on renewable energy. It’s a stressful call, not least so because I know I will be needed as soon as the panel session was over! As my team, located in different countries and speaking on a group skype call debate options, I keep an eye on the clock- 20 minutes left, 10 minutes left, 5 minutes left. Miraculously, we arrive at a resolution, and I duck back into the session just as it ends!


5.00pm- midnight

The conference is done by 5.00pm, and we have a networking session with the panelists, speakers and attendees scheduled to conclude at 7.00pm. I take part of that time to meet with a fellow MBA to discuss her about joining my team for the Trinity term entrepreneurship project. To my delight, after carefully hearing me out- she decided to join!

I can’t help chatting with the attendees and panelists, and it was 7.30pm by the time I leave. My fiancé and I then immediately head to the Oxford Union to meet Glenn Close. The Union hosts all sorts of leading individuals and my fiancé is a huge fan of Ms Close. We get to meet her, take a picture with her, and then attend her address and question and answer session. Glenn Close is magnificent. She speaks about her life, her motivations, and her favourite parts. I even get to ask her a question. The video will be on the Oxford Union youtube account soon, and I highly recommend watching it.

Finally done at 11.00pm, my fiancé and I get takeaway and spend a little bit of quiet time with each other at home, watching one of our favourite shows. I pass out hard at midnight.


The Oxford Union

The Union has played a large part in my life at Oxford too. Twice now my friends at Saïd have turned out in force to elect me to leadership positions within the Union. The last time was 2 March, and we held a social in the Union’s Member’s bar during voting. Seeing the bar full of people who had come to vote for me and fellow MBA Hadi was really moving for me – especially since everyone had trudged through the wind and snow to be there. A huge thank you to all 149 of you who came! I have been working on helping to invite prominent people, and run the events themselves. I even got the opportunity to speak at one of the debates on the partition of India. That will be a special memory for me because I got to invoke my grandfather’s memory, whose efforts in the UK starting in the late 60s, when he moved from India, make possible my MBA today.

So the days are long and hectic- full of learning and promise. You can see why I needed a few days by the sea in Ireland before jetting off to Johannesburg. Two things got me through Hilary. Firstly, my fiancée, who has been so immensely supportive and understanding during the MBA. Secondly, my fellow MBAs. We are going through this transformational experience together. Whether it’s facing 4 exams in a week, submitting seven papers due over seven days, being in the trenches together, creating fun memories together or talking candidly with each other over wine into the small hours, it has been all the MBAs bucking each other up that has got the class collectively through so far. This led me to an important realisation.

Time is running out for our cohort already. We only have a term left, then some summer sessions, and then in early September this immense experience is all over. Except one part- the most important part, in fact. The people. The amazing, crazy, diverse, wise, caring people. That part of the MBA never ends.

Some of my lucky friends have spent a few days on safari in a game reserve before our international elective here in Johannesburg. I initially did not want to miss out (FOMO is a big thing during the MBA). But then I remembered that I will know them all after the MBA – and that I will be in South Africa again. Because of our huge South African contingent, and even larger group who want to work in or near South Africa, there will definitely be people to go on safari with- probably multiple times over the decades to come. The MBA doesn’t actually end. This year is just the beginning.

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