2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Ruth Hopkins, University of Oxford (Saïd)

Ruth Hopkins

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

Age: 38

Musical, entrepreneurial, creative, strategic, tenacious, commercial, collaborative, optimistic, analytical, empathetic, organized, dynamic, open-minded, versatile, quick-thinking.”

Hometown: Virginia Water, UK

Family Members: Mum, Dad, Sister, Brother-in-Law and two year old Nephew

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve played the panpipes for Queen Elizabeth II.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Somerville College, University of Oxford: BMus (Hons) – Musicology

Royal Holloway, University of London: MMus – Historical Musicology & Analysis

University of Roehampton: PG Diploma – Music and Children with Special Needs

Where are you currently working?

K’antu Ensemble: Founder & Director

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games/Spirit of 2012 “All Roads Lead to Alexander” Outreach Programme

National Trust: Lead Artist at ‘The Firs’

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I am passionate about the important role music has for society, not just as a form of entertainment but for its educational and therapeutic values. I provide training for staff in a range of neurodiverse settings such as care homes and SEND schools in how to use music to support communication and mental health. I particularly enjoy using singing activities to give non-verbal children with Autism Spectrum Disorder an outlet for their communication.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? So far, the Firms and Markets module has been a real highlight. I wanted to write about the Early Music sector in my assignment. Several friends in commercial roles warned me against doing this as they thought I would do badly writing about such a niche sub-genre of classical music in a business school setting because it “wouldn’t fit the models”. However, applying such principles to my sector was the exact reason I decided to embark on this EMBA journey. I ignored their well-intentioned advice and wrote my favourite assignment so far, exploring how many micro-economic principles could be applied to the arts and cultural sectors. I was thrilled with the mark I got and have started applying many of the concepts to my company already.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was invited by the National Trust to lead a strategic outreach programme at their property, The Firs, which is the birthplace of one of England’s greatest composers Edward Elgar. Working with over 200 participants from a SEND school, refugee choir, children in care, the probation service, primary school, specialist secondary music school, church choir, music conservatoire, and a theatre school, I am exploring innovative ways to bring the museum’s story to life. I am creating a blueprint for the National Trust’s future engagement work to inspire the next generation of musicians.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Having already studied at Oxford as an undergraduate, I was initially quite tempted to study elsewhere for a different experience.  However, Said Business School’s approach to dealing with the evolving pandemic convinced me I should return. Oxford stood out as being far more innovative in their approach to moving to digital and hybrid delivery, despite having less experience of working in this way compared with other institutions.

Oxford made it clear that they recognized the importance of a wider take up of EMBA education across society and encouraged applications from non-typical sectors. The programme itself has been carefully structured so that professors facilitate discussions through a diverse range of case studies. Likewise, assignments are structured so that there is ample opportunity to apply concepts to our specific areas of interest. This has enabled me to apply frameworks to orchestras, museums and other cultural organizations.

There were also all the things that drew me to Oxford the first time round: world-class teaching, the extensive alumni network, links with commerce, and the wider matrix of professors and students in departments outside of the business school with whom I could collaborate.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The EMBA has equipped me with a whole new toolkit of business concepts and frameworks that I am now applying to my work in the cultural sector. From empirical analytical approaches and micro economic principles to the softer skills of managing complex relationships and creating equity for diverse audiences, I am better equipped to confront the complexities of the post-COVID world. It has already had a strong impact on my own business and I look forward to strengthening the wider cultural industries through my portfolio of consultancy work.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education?This year has been extremely challenging for the cultural sector. I have been very fortunate to be able to keep growing my company through the lockdown. As we emerge from lockdown, we are busier than ever. As the pressures of the course increased, it has really highlighted the relevance of the Eisenhower Principle:

“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

Undertaking an MBA forces you to analyse how you spend your time and make sure that the things you focus your efforts on are those that really count.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Undertaking an MBA is about so much more than the modules themselves. As the course progresses, you are inundated with a wide range of great opportunities to attend networking events and explore new avenues. Two years goes incredibly quickly, and it is important to factor in the additional time you will want to dedicate to the wide range of extra- and super-curricular activities available to maximize the experience.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Several of my peers were puzzled about why I, as a professional in the cultural sector, would want to enroll at a business school. Whilst the cultural sector works very differently to commercial industries, business administration principles are equally applicable. Indeed, I would say it is even more important for cultural professionals to undertake such training as they can often be shielded from the realities of capitalism through a history of patronage and funding-based models.

I hope that my advocacy of the importance of such training and more structured application of such models in the cultural sector inspires my peers to follow suit. Now, more than ever, it is important to increase the impact of our work to secure the viability of the cultural sector for future generations.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret is unavoidable and bittersweet in that we haven’t been able to study in Oxford yet.  When I applied for the course, I was well aware that COVID-19 would impact the delivery of our modules. Whilst it has been sad not to have the full Oxford experience and meet my cohort face to face yet, the postponement of all my national and international touring work, due to COVID-19, is the only reason I was able to dedicate time to these studies.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is an impossible question to answer, as everyone on the course has extensive experience and has contributed significantly to the class experience in their own way. What I admire most is those men and women in the cohort who have young families and managing to combine their EMBA studies with both their careers and home schooling.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I chose the EMBA because it is such a comprehensive course, enabling you to take a macro view of where you are professionally and where you want to go.  Learning from your peers is such a rich element of the experience and this intensive course facilitates deeper connections with your cohort.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I am passionate about promoting the crucial role of live music in society for education, social engagement, and psychological well-being. My vision is simultaneously to democratize and strengthen the classical music sector so it remains relevant for future generations of music lovers.

My aims are the following:

  1. Develop K’antu Ensemble into the UK’s leading historical music and engagement organisation working in collaboration with a variety of arts organisations and heritage sites.
  2. Reinvigorate the sector through adventurous cross-genre programming which always keeps audience engagement at its heart for both adult and family audience programming.
  3. Pilot a more commercial approach to financing our work and become an example to other organisations.
  4. Create a model where artists are actively encouraged to employ business principles in their own work, honing their business and administrative skills parallel to their creative outputs so that the sector as a whole is more resilient.
  5. Provide consultancy to propagate this knowledge throughout the sector.

What made Ruth such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

‘Ruth is a force in her own way. With a background in the arts & heritage sector and being trained as a classical singer, combined with her entrepreneurial and creative spirit, she is bringing a unique approach and perspective to the class. It’s clear to all of us at Oxford that her determination and her contagious passion for music have contributed to her professional success. This is not only reflected in her award-winning venture, but also in the many ways she is sharing her passion, like the interactive performances and workshops she is designing for bringing music to new audiences, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, dementia care homes, and working with refugees.”

Bettina Kosiel
Executive MBA Programme Director

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