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 2 of this four-part series, Paul talks about how team building and business creation projects at Saïd helped him understand how to use his personal strengths and weaknesses to turn an idea into a successful business.
The Said Business School at Oxford University is an entrepreneurially focused program. Not only was there the traditional business school focus on the case study method, utilizing small groups for collaboration and problem solving, but there were also two key projects over the course of the year that focused on team building and business creation. These projects gave us important insight into the process of taking an idea and building it into a functioning business.
The first was the Entrepreneurship Project. In the third term, all students were required to take part in this project, in which students teamed up in groups of four to five to develop, write and present a business plan. All aspects of the project were assessed and graded—including the final presentation, which was given to an outside panel of venture capitalists and industry experts. The result was a deeper understanding of the keys to success in business plan writing and techniques for raising capital from outside investors.
The second was the Strategic Consulting Project (SCP). The SCP was an external consulting project done by a small group of students for a private company or non-governmental organization. The group of students would spend two to three months tackling a specific issue or problem for the company/organization and present their findings at the end of the term. The project provided us with a chance to work in new industries, continue our group-oriented learning and work in a setting outside campus.
Both projects offered valuable insight into new industries and the importance of teamwork in the start-up environment. My experience with the Entrepreneurship Project offered me an invaluable opportunity to explore the retail sector—in which I now work. Additionally, it was an early proving ground for my relationship with my now business partner. It offered us a chance to see our compatible and complimentary working styles and was key in our decision to start Ledbury, as we had a solid understanding of one another’s strengths and weaknesses.