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Maria Rotilu

Degree:

MBA

Location:

Nigeria

Industry:

Finance

Year:

2020-21

By Maria Rotilu

Get to know Maria Rotilu, Class of 2020-21

Tell us about yourself: I’m a former management consultant turned venture builder who helped startups like Uber and Branch.co scale in Sub-Saharan Africa. I enjoy helping technology businesses reach global scale.

On a lazy day, you’ll find me writing, reading or watching a TV show. I am a little obsessed with cyberpunk dystopian movies or TVShows.

Sector/Industry you worked in pre-MBA: Fintech
Sector/Industry you are hoping to work in post-MBA: Venture Capital
Country of residence before coming to Oxford: Nigeria
College: Wolfson

Social Media:
Twitter:  @mariarotilu
Instagram: @mariarotilu
LinkedIn: @mariarotilu

 

Q1. In one word, how would your best friend describe you, and how would your manager describe you? 

Best friend: Unconventional
Manager: Bright

Q2. Tell us about where you have come from and what has led you to Oxford, and more specifically, the Oxford MBA.
I was born and grew up in the energetic suburbs of Lagos, Nigeria. I’m the first child out of five, and loved computers from an early age and as a result, computer science was the logical choice for my undergraduate degree. Afterwards, I almost became a software engineer, but realized quickly it wasn’t the career path for me. I went into consulting at Deloitte and advised financial services providers on their strategy amongst other operational improvement projects for three years. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Over time, I realized and accepted that I love building skills across varying fields to a significant level of depth. This meant I could unlock value in the intersection of multiple skills. I self-studied to be a Chartered Accountant with the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants in the UK and that gave me financial knowledge. After Deloitte, I transitioned into entrepreneurship and spent the next four years scaling tech start-ups like Uber and Branch.co in Sub-Saharan Africa in General Management roles. I realized I loved building and scaling businesses and I was also very good at it. However, I had only scaled businesses on the shores of Sub-Saharan Africa. I wanted a more global perspective as a leader.

The purpose of the MBA in my journey is a space for informed exploration. As I transition from the world of being a venture builder into the world of helping businesses scale as a venture capitalist, or perhaps a founder myself, the MBA is a great choice. The MBA gives me the right environment and knowledge to help me chart a deliberate next step in my professional journey. It also offers me a global perspective on business. This is an existing gap in my skill set and will be important for the next phase of my career.

Why Oxford? I mean, why not? It is one of the leading institutions in the world, Number 1 according to the Times World University Rankings 2020. I was so excited and humbled when I found out I was a recipient of the Eni-Oxford Africa full scholarship. I remember being shocked and I kept refreshing the page to be sure it was for real, and it was for real. The scholarship definitely removed the financial burden of the business school and I am grateful to both Oxford and Eni for the amazing opportunity.

But perhaps my journey to Oxford is a bit more serendipitous than I admit. My boyfriend (now husband), and I visited Oxford, Grove Auditorium at Magdalen College sometime in 2015 for a televised lecture on the “How do Genetic and Environmental Factors Influence our Wellbeing” by Professor Elaine Fox, author of Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain. I loved the lecture, the energy of the school, the old iconic buildings, and I loved Oxford’s deliberate inclusion of Africa in global conversations. Little did I know at the time, five years after, my now husband and I would be back, both as students studying together for an MBA at Said Business School, as scholars. What are the odds?

 

Q3. What have you done to prepare yourself for the MBA?

I think Oxford’s application essays force you to do the much-needed reflection that help you prepare yourself for the MBA experience. For me, I spoke with quite a few folks in Venture Capital and I found those conversations insightful as they gave good advice on what to focus on during the MBA and how best to make the most of the experience. I also did a bit of research on the school’s co-curricular leadership roles, and noted those I needed to apply early for.

Finally, especially as an intense planner personality type, I had to mentally prepare myself to be okay with having it all not figured out. I know this might be an odd one, but this meant me actively trying not to make any elaborate plans, and to immerse myself in the experience of learning and planning as i go. To create the mental space to allow me enjoy pleasant surprises along the way.


Q4. What do you hope to gain from completing your MBA?
Asides from the access to world-class business knowledge, case studies, and learnings, at the end of my MBA I hope to have had a diverse range of experiences that make me a more rounded leader. In the end, I want to have gained new knowledge from new industries, met new people and interacted with diverse cultures. I hope that through this experience, I am introduced to new parts of myself, and through questioning and exploration, I can refine my world view towards a more global, deliberate, knowledgeable and wholesome perspective that ultimately makes me a balanced leader.

Truth is, we never truly completely know ourselves and the MBA for me is a rare opportunity to deepen my self-awareness and knowledge. It is a great time to question my views. I am mentally preparing myself that it might indeed be uncomfortable sometimes, and other times it may shake strong perspectives I hold.

But, it is important that I stay open-minded, and ruthlessly question, because it is rare to get the opportunity to iteratively examine my viewpoints and refine them towards a more complete perspective. I am incredibly excited and looking forward to that growth, knowing that this experience will ultimately make me a better person, and shape my future business decisions that will influence some good in the world.


Q5. What is the best advice you received before commencing your MBA?
As I got ready to head to Oxford, while on a call with My mentor, i recall she said,

One year goes by really fast, Maria. Truly immerse yourself in the MBA experience and be intentional. It is a once in a lifetime experience, make the most of it”.

I think about this a lot, and it has guided my decisions so far. When you speak with MBA grads, they tend to talk about how the time goes by so quickly. There is constant feedback on the barrage of activities and events and how it is super important to be selective. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a real thing, but to me, essentialism becomes super important. I’m conscious of the fact that I cannot do it all, and my energy and attention are finite and I’m okay with this. Now, it comes down to selection.

I’m deliberate about where my attention goes to, while also leaving room for unscheduled serendipitous fun. I have a feeling the principle of being targeted and selective will guide me throughout the program.


Q6. Do you have any advice about the Oxford MBA application process for candidates thinking of applying?
 I would say take some time before the application process to know who you are and what you want. Sometimes this might even take longer than you expect. What are the unique life experiences that make you, you, and what burning desire culminates in your experiences and skills towards giving unique insight to an issue? How does the MBA fit right into that, and why now? Discover your story, then share it in an honest and compelling way. This does not mean you have to have it all figured out, i mean if you did then why the MBA?

But that self-awareness and congruence in your identity will shine through your application and interviews. It will also make it easy to figure out what might interest you during the MBA. Finally, it will help you interact with your colleagues from an authentic place.  That might seem like some vague response, but the MBA experience is in the context of your life experience. It is not a separate thing. So really take time to think about how an MBA fits into your journey, not the other way around.


Q7. What part of the programme are you most looking forward to?
I am excited about being part of the Oxford Seed Fund (OSF). Quite naturally, since I have an interest in VC post-MBA the OSF is the perfect place to transfer my skills scaling and supporting tech start-ups in the context of Venture Capital. Being selected as the Managing Director of the OSF for this year is exciting, and I can’t wait to make magic with the OSF Team.

I also am so psyched about meeting and interacting with my colleagues; who are incredibly smart and talented people, and there is so much to learn from their experiences. I look forward to experiencing the diversity of our cohort, with over 90% international students from such a wide variety of industries, cultures and experiences, surely it will be exciting!


Q8. What do you think will be the most challenging part of the programme?
I think for most of the cohort it will be fear of missing out. So many exciting things are happening, and it is now more than ever important to be deliberate. To build the discipline of not being involved in too many things and as a result, spread too thin. There is also the fact that you will be continuously introduced to new experiences, being flexible and open to learning even in uncomfortable situations will be something to adjust to.

Also, with COVID in context, it will force many of us to be deliberate and targeted about our interactions since now they have to be in smaller groups. I think this could be a blessing in disguise and might help us focus on the quality of our relationships over quantity.


Q9. How do you plan to take the learnings from the MBA to influence positive change?
Once you can immerse yourself in the experience that is the MBA and use it to learn about yourself, others, and your world, it is more likely that you will go ahead to influence positive change. Through this first-hand experience, the importance and value of diversity becomes apparent and after this experience, as a leader, I can make sure to be the person who advocates for diversity in whatever group I find myself.

I also intend to write about my experiences during the MBA to gain clarity and document my learnings. I write on GlossyWhitePumps (www.glossywhitepumps.com), a place where I write, and feature articles for young African women leaders like myself where we share our professional and entrepreneurial experiences and learnings.

I have a feeling these written reflections will serve me for a long time to come. I find writing is a great way to build self-awareness through reflection and I look forward to the undoubtedly amazing experiences that the MBA will bring.


Q10. Are there any sport teams, societies, or clubs you’re hoping to become a member of?
I look forward to becoming a member of the Oxford Women In Business Society. I was thinking about being a part of Wolfson College Choir, but it looks like it will likely only resume in person next term.
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