“At London Business School, nothing is handed to you on a plate. You have to take the initiative”
Olly Nguyen was already living in London, working at Deloitte, when he took the decision to apply for the MBA programme at London Business School (LBS). “I wanted to move outside the finance niche,” he says. “Being a US-UK dual national, I had a cultural understanding of what an MBA was for. And here was this international business school right on my doorstep. No other business school had the confluence of prestige and diversity.”
Olly knew that LBS had a brilliant reputation. What he didn’t anticipate were the other advantages. “It’s easy to take for granted what peer group, culture and community mean. On some campuses the atmosphere is cut-throat. LBS is different: it’s genuinely communal and collaborative. There’s a warmth. I’ve realised that I want to work among people I can have a relationship with, people I’d choose to spend time with.”
He also appreciates the spirit of diversity at LBS. Olly says that while lots of institutions claim to be diverse, they also have to be well-equipped to deal with what it means. “As an organisation you have to be curious and open-minded.” At a recent conference in Dubai, the LBS group consisted of 16 people from 14 different nationalities, who between them spoke eight languages. “That’s why I’m at this School.”
As the elected President of LBS’s Student Association, Olly found himself having a say in the appointment of the new Dean, François Ortalo-Magné. “I was asked to be part of the interviewing process – it’s testament to LBS’s leadership that the Student Association is given such a high level of access. That’s unique to LBS and it’s been a lucky opportunity that I've made the most of. The thing about LBS is, nothing is handed to you on a plate. You have to take the initiative.”
Fortunately Olly has tons of initiative. At Deloitte he had jumped at the chance to take part in an innovation challenge and found himself advising a social enterprise client that wanted to move into a new market. “I was thinking about what decisions I’d need to make if I were CEO… that’s when I realised I wanted a career in general management.”
He recalls his disappointment when, just after he graduated from Durham University, the job he had been offered by an international bank fell through due to the 2008/9 financial crisis. That’s why he ended up going into finance consulting at Deloitte – a forced change of plan that worked out really well.
LBS has given him everything he wanted, including the chance to meet leading faculty whose work he was familiar with, such as Costas Markides (“You find yourself applying his concepts right away”) and Lynda Gratton (“I’d read The Shift and I’ve just had the privilege of being on her elective”).
He looks up to far-sighted, socially conscious business leaders such as Paul Polman at Unilever who are taking a strong stance on sustainability. Olly sees an international approach as crucial at a time when populism is on the rise – and this is where LBS holds a clear advantage: “I don’t think any other business school offers the true internationalism of LBS in combination with the collaborative spirit. LBS is the right environment to develop yourself to become a leader of the future.”