2017 Best EMBAs: Oliver Jarrett, Northwestern (Kellogg)-HKUST

Oliver Jarrett

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management-HKUST

Age: 38

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Scientist turned business guy keen help people live longer and better.

Hometown: That’s a tough one to answer. I was born in Hong Kong but grew up between Adelaide, South Australia and Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Family Members: My wife Caroline and soon to arrive daughter. My wife will kill me if I don’t mention our cat called Beaver here as well. Yes that’s the cat’s name.

Fun fact about yourself: I once auditioned for a role in The New Adventures of Black Beauty. I was only successful in securing a role as an extra though.

Undergraduate School and Degree: I completed my Bachelor of Science and my Honors in Science at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Where are you currently working?  I am currently working as a Business Unit Director at Roche Products Ltd in Hong Kong.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Between developing and maintaining an international relationship (now married), work, an EMBA and moving countries every couple of years, I haven’t managed to achieve much on this front in the last five years.  However, now that my studies are over, I am looking to do more in this area and am keen to join the board of a hospital or charity.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Finishing it! Just over 2 years ago, I had brain surgery. I woke after a two-and-a-half week coma as a hemiplegic mute. It was a long road to recovery learning to walk, talk, read and write.  I lost a lot of confidence in my own abilities during that period and initially I wasn’t sure if I would be capable of doing such intense study. However, I saw this as part of my rehab and as it turns out my brain is still firing on all cylinders. I now have my confidence back and need to pinch myself every day when I realize my life is no different to before surgery except I have an MBA now.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The achievement that I am most proud of is working together with the leadership team in PT Roche Indonesia, we refocused the field force, more than doubled the size of it, built capability and turned a -6% annual growth rate into +24% annual growth rate in 15 months. This was a huge achievement for the team in Indonesia. However, impact that translated into for patients was even greater.  In a country like Indonesia with around 240 million people (most of whom don’t have access to quality healthcare), it was very rewarding to know that there was 24% more patients who were getting access to the best treatments in the world, even in the distant, hard-to-reach islands.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was Professor Schmedders. The reason I thought he was great is that he was teaching statistics and not only was it not boring (yes you heard right) it was even entertaining. I’ve studied statistics three times now and this was a different league of professorship for this subject. Further to this he also socialized with the students, which I know a lot of people really respected as it demonstrated that he thought of us as peers rather than students. I also really respect a good bow tie.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA because of its reputation, the quality of the students that the reputation attracts, and also the schedule.  Because the course was mostly impacting my personal time, it allowed me to settle into my new role, build credibility and deliver results. If the course wasn’t scheduled mostly on weekends, I couldn’t have achieved this.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The thing that I enjoyed most was expanding my network of friends. They are all really fun people that are absolute experts at what they do and they work hard but play harder. No matter what life throws at me, I know I have a large network of people I can call on personally or professionally. I’m lucky to be able to call them my friends.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? My wife’s support was critical here. Without her understanding and support it would not have been possible. She was very supportive of the challenges I was facing, particularly so soon after some pretty drastic surgery. I try to focus in my life so my aim was to be 100% focused work when I was at work; 100% focused on my studies when studying; 100% engaged with my wife when with her; and 100% with my friends when with them. Scheduling enough time for each was the key as well as making sure that priorities were always maintained.

An example of this is the afternoons after an MBA weekend. The Kellogg-HKUST program has us on campus two weekends a month from Friday lunch time through to Sunday afternoon. We usually ended up with around 32 hours of study and assignments on those weekends before the necessary wind-down and socializing. When I got home on those Sunday afternoons my wife always wanted to go for a 12km walk. It was the last thing I felt like going but it was probably one of the most important things I could do to ensure that I was allocating time for her.

One tip here is to delegate more to your team at work. Not only does it free some more time for you, it also empowers your team more and that pays off way more in the long run.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s executive MBA program? Get your partner’s support up front. The first few months are not easy and eventually your partner will get frustrated with not seeing you so much. It’s hard for you but for them it’s hard too. Manage expectations early and make sure you allocate time to them as well.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I think the biggest myth is that it is really hard. It is, but it’s absolutely doable. It just takes effort. If there’s one thing an EMBA teaches you, it is really good time management. It’s amazing how much you can achieve and still have spare time once you are in the swing of it.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not doing more electives.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? That’s a tough question. I admire every single one for different reasons. I have to name two people here. James “First Class” Eyton and Claire Olivier. They committed more than most in terms of time and expense to attend this course.  James flew from San Francisco or London and Claire from Paris two weekends every month. I don’t know how they dealt with the jet-lag, but I’m glad they did. The course was stronger for it.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…a very senior leader in my organization said that I would get a lot out of the finance and HR topics that would make me a better senior leader. He was right.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…less prepared as a leader.”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? I can honestly say that I’m pretty impressed by the company I work for, Roche. That’s why I’m working for them. I think they are doing some amazing things, particularly on the molecular information front at the moment. It’s a big topic and one that I’m pretty passionate about.  There’s so much that we, as a society, have yet to learn about our bodies and our heath and I believe that we are on the verge of a boom in health information. Roche has, I believe, a pretty strong vision of how to help unlock some of the mysteries. Roche’s level of commitment in R&D (about USD$9 billion a year) and how that translates into better lives for patients is a pretty strong message to get behind.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? I’d ensure there was better food and more wine. You can’t spend that amount of time away from good food and good wine.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? CEO for a biotech company.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My wife. She gave me the motivation and the reason to recover and get back to full speed. I wouldn’t be who I am today without her.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Driven but fun.

Favorite book: I’ll resist the temptation to sound learned and say Shantaram. Not the best literary piece but a great story.

Favorite movie or television show: I quote Anchor Man far too often to not put that here.

Favorite musical performer: James Brown

Favorite vacation spot: My favorite vacation spot so far is Hokkaido. Fantastic snow, food, booze and great people.

Hobbies?  What are hobbies? I’m looking forward to having those again.  My top three are surfing, snowboarding and sailing.

What made Oliver such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Oliver is exactly the type of student that I love to have in the classroom. My course, New Venture Discovery, is all about the fuzzy front end of starting a new venture. The way it is taught pushes students outside of their typical comfort zones right from day one. Some respond to this challenge more…well…adventurously than others. Oliver is certainly the adventurous type! He has no hesitations about trying new methods, challenging his worldview, and taking creative leaps both in the classroom and in the market. He comes to class with an open mind, a desire to experiment and also a point of view, which helps push classroom dialogues to interesting and highly practical new places.

One of the things that makes EMBA programs so valuable is the blend of knowledge and network building that takes place in these intense programs. Oliver totally gets this twin-benefit and really invests himself in both sides of the EMBA experience. In my class, not only did Oliver embrace the ambiguity and rigor of the venture-building process, he contributed a wonderful layer of support and enthusiasm for the ideas of his classmates. In so doing, Oliver helped create a learning environment in which he and his fellow classmates were willing to take risks they would not otherwise take — which is the key to the class, and I believe, MBA education in general.

Oliver’s smarts will be a huge asset for him in his professional future, but more valuable will be his natural and support of others.”

Professor David Schonthal
Kellogg School of Management