The end of the beginning: looking back at Orientation Week

Tom Martin, Head of Business Performance at Halifax, reflects on his eventful first week as a student on the Cambridge Executive MBA programme.

punting on the Cam in autumn

First step

I walked into the drinks reception on Saturday evening brimming with excited and nervous adrenaline. Within five minutes, the volume of conversations in the room forced half of us outside! Instantly at home in room of strangers.

Eclectic, brilliant, yet normal

Describing my fellow classmates is the only place to start. We’ve got leading doctors, not-for-profit executives, business owners, award winning IT directors, tech leaders, Hollywood film financiers etc… and even me. I’ve never found so many people so easy and just so damn interesting to talk to. We’ve even got people that can party into the early hours and then take stunning (and I mean postcard quality stuff!) sunrise Cambridge photos on their early morning run. I wish I could do that, but the 200+ WhatsApp messages the whole cohort share every day connects us all. If you’re reading this, then I reckon you’ll know the answer, but I’ll ask this question anyway: Do you think it’s sensible that someone who’s got a 4-month-old son (and hasn’t exercised since he was born) goes for a run with the former captain of a major international rugby team? I didn’t think that one through. If I’m being generous I lasted five minutes (and yes do we have one of those on the course too!).

Hard to get back into the swing of learning?

Despite being a pre-course worry this was surprisingly easy. Cambridge Judge Business School is very used to transitioning people like us, and their approach works. In the 12 years since I’ve graduated paper has disappeared; it’s a paper-less course. Eight days ago that would’ve been a scary thought as I’m a big scribbler… but part way through I was persuaded to go ‘cold turkey’ by one of my group members and boy does it work!

Location. Location. Location.

The only comparison that does the magical experience of stepping behind the doors of a Cambridge college (of which there are 31 in Cambridge) justice is to think of walking through C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe into Narnia. And I’ve even lived in Cambridge ‘on and off’ for about 10 years! Over our orientation week we’ve dined at over 10 colleges and each time has been special. We had a sumptuous talk from a former Special Forces sniper, who’s now running what must be one of the most important IT infrastructures in the world. I never knew it was the same Downing that paid for No.10 (the UK Prime Minister’s home), that funded the college where we were based all week. Walking down the stairs from the Fellows’ lounge at Christ’s College to dinner last night we passed a portrait of Charles Darwin, who studied there… food for thought indeed.

Lectures can actually be fun

Yep, that’s right. I’m not just saying this because the lecturers will be marking some of my work! Our week coincided with one of the hottest days of the year. No air conditioning, arriving at 8:30am and leaving at 10pm… but the lecturer had to curtail the conversations! The cocktail of the Professors’ subject mastery, a healthy dose of humour, and the room’s energy made all the lectures not only fascinating but highly engaging. After Management Science I’m even more averse to being average (google ‘Flaw of Averages’ to see why), and after Corporate Finance I can even talk sensibly about a ‘Collateral Debt Obligations’ and their role in the financial crisis. We even had a very senior banker in the room to weave in some colourful anecdotes. We all knew each others’ names after 60 mins of a group activity, and I certainly know economists can supply it on demand!

Feeling lucky. Remembering an unforgettable week. Energised by a special learning environment. Let’s see where it takes us.

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