Jim Sheppard




United States





By Jim Sheppard

Start-up alums belong in an MBA

It’s hard to believe I have been in Oxford for nearly 6 months and that we are nearing the programme’s halfway point. There was a point when the programme first started that I wondered if the admissions team made a mistake. My career was mostly spent in tech start-ups; I did not have the traditional finance or consulting background that I expected most of my cohort to have. Going back to school after working for 11 years, especially to Oxford, can be terrifying.

After completing the first term, I now realise the programme is a great fit for me because I spent most of my career in start-up and growth companies.

An MBA programme – especially an accelerated one-year program like Oxford’s – is quite similar to working at a small growth-stage tech company. Walking into a new classroom is very reminiscent of my first days at a new job. As I was introduced to my new coworkers I realised that everyone had their own areas of expertise, and every one of us were perfectly capable of quickly adapting to and complementing each other’s strengths. An MBA cohort is no different.

Whilst plenty of my cohort has experience in the more traditional fields of consulting and finance, I was happy to find that there was a fairly large portion that came from a similar growth and start-up background.

There are perks of being a generalist, especially in the tech world. As I was working in a rapid growth fintech company, I was required to take on many roles within the company while providing wildly different areas of expertise to our clients. Since we were such a young company, we simply did not have the headcount available to hire specialists – I was expected to do a little bit of everything. Internally, teams required product feedback, data, legal and accounting documentation, and general engagement from our clients – again, it was my team’s responsibility to work with internal stakeholders and procure requirements from the clients. To further complicate all of this, most of our clients were unique and did not follow predictable verticals.

That kind of adaptability is perfect for an MBA programme!

On any given day you may have a Marketing lecture followed by a Business Finance lecture. After classes finish up, you might find yourself at a Technology OBN (Oxford Business Network) talk. The next day may be a Strategy course, and if you are involved with an extracurricular such as the Creative Destruction Lab, you may find yourself heading into London to discuss pricing strategy with an exciting video streaming company. While you wonder how you’re going to get through the day to day of a given week, you also have to make sure your ongoing group project focused on climate change is making progress. Maybe to cope with the grey days of January you start the day with pre-dawn rowing at your college. (Most of my cohort probably wouldn’t endorse that last point.)

Coming from a hectic, generalist environment such as tech companies can be hugely advantageous. The cohort needs entrepreneurial students who aren’t afraid to take leadership roles. Don’t be afraid if you don’t come from “traditional” finance or consulting backgrounds and want to pursue an MBA. There is a place for everyone here, especially generalists who aren’t afraid of being uncomfortable.

Back to top of article

Share this post:

follow us in feedly