What I Learned at…Oxford University’s Said Business School, Part 1

In our “What I Learned at…” series, MBAs discuss the tools and skills their business schools provided as they launched their careers.

Paul Watson is the co-founder and COO of Ledbury, a producer of high-quality menswear created in response to a simple problem: the difficulty of finding a great-fitting shirt. In Part 1 of this four-part series, Paul reflects on how graduating from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School during the economic collapse of 2008 allowed him to focus on his passion for shirtmaking and use the tools he learned in business school to turn it into something more.

I entered the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School in the fall of 2007 with the aim of making a career change from the public to the private sector; I just didn’t realize how big a change I was in store for.

While studying at Oxford, I became close friends with another American from the South (I’m originally from New Orleans). During the course of our studies, we chatted a lot about the great quality of clothing offered in the United Kingdom that was borne from the traditional tailors on Savile Row and Jermyn Street in central London. We agreed that finding such great quality and fit was difficult for us growing up, and there appeared to be a market opportunity in the United States for clothing of similar quality at an attainable price point. However, like most business students in 2007, we were headed into the financial industry, so we merely shelved our clothing idea and carried on with our studies.

We graduated from school in mid-September 2008, mere days after Lehman Brothers collapsed and sent the whole financial industry reeling. Next thing we knew, we were searching for jobs in an industry that was undergoing a severe disruption. As the landscape worsened, we found ourselves chatting less and less about job opportunities and more about the market opportunity we saw in the men’s apparel market in the United States. From this conversation, Ledbury was created.

Saïd Business School had given us a great environment in which to collaboratively explore ideas such as Ledbury—lots of small group projects, start-up competitions, entrepreneurial focused electives. Additionally, in our classmates we found an extremely strong network on which we relied for consultations, advice and even funding. So, in the fall of 2008, we set about dusting off out shirtmaker idea and building a business plan, much as we had a number of times before for various projects at business school.

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