How Mark Sawyer ended up with an MBS MBA - and a husband
Amid their pursuit of professional growth and new business networks, alumni Mark Sawyer and Gavin Cao developed an unlikely bond.
Gavin Cao (pictured, left) clearly remembers his first day on the Part-time MBA program at Melbourne Business School, because it was the day he met his future husband Mark Sawyer.
But it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“When I first met Mark... I did not like Mark whatsoever,” Gavin said.
“At the time I remember we were doing some kind of assignment. I remember Mark just taking charge of that whole scene and saying: ‘This is what we will do.’
“And I was like, who the hell are you to tell me what to do? This is weird. We’re just here at the beginning of the assignment and you’re telling me this is what we should be doing. Maybe we should be doing completely the opposite.”
Despite the rocky start, the pair maintained a respectful relationship as they ran into each other frequently in class and met in the same syndicate group.
But what helped break the ice was an offer from Gavin to drive Mark home after evening classes — something that Gavin also did for his other classmates who lived nearby.
"Mark was living in St Kilda, and I remember he had to catch the tram from Melbourne Business School at 10 o'clock at night or whatever – really late – and I said: 'Mark, for me it's a five-minute detour to get you home. I can just go back to South Yarra anyway, right?'
“So then, because we're in class all the time, I'd drop him off. We started talking, getting to know each other, and I started liking this person.
“He's a good person, very caring… Because we were talking to each other, getting to know each other a lot, then we started catching up outside of the university.”
Recalling the first time he met Gavin, Mark said: “I’m very action-orientated, so that might not work with people like Gavin. But like Gav said, we were fortunate to be in that first class and first syndicate.
“It wasn't love at first sight, but we developed a friendship over time and that friendship blossomed into a relationship.”
Networking and learning in business school
Mark wouldn’t have met Gavin if not for the MBA, which Mark enrolled in to improve his business skills as a banker.
“I always felt the desire to study a master’s program... The MBA just seemed right for me given you have such a broad scope of disciplines to study. That really interested me.”
Given his extensive exposure to finance, economics and statistics as a commerce and science undergrad at the University of Auckland, Mark thought studying a Part-time MBA at Melbourne Business School would be a good chance to round that out with knowledge from other fields such as marketing, strategy and people-related subjects.
The opportunity to expand his professional network in Melbourne also proved to be a strong draw.
“I was keen to meet new people or develop networks in Melbourne,” said Mark, who grew up in New Zealand.
“That was a key reason for me choosing Melbourne Business School. It was just so well known in the business community here. That to me felt right.”
As for Gavin, he enrolled in the MBA to earn a qualification and learn new skills that would help him advance in his career in accounting and finance. At the time, Gavin reported to a manager who also had an MBA.
“She told me: ‘Gavin, you’re very ambitious, you can be a very successful finance executive, why not look to do an MBA and be able to round out your experience?’”
After considering his options, Gavin said he chose the Melbourne Business School Part-time MBA program.
“I decided to come to Melbourne Business School because it’s a good school. It has a comprehensive program. The part-time schedule really fits me. It’s in Melbourne so I don’t have to put my career on hold.
“All these things together made a very obvious choice.”
The decision paid off for Gavin, who moved into various senior positions after graduation, including as a Finance Director for L'Oréal Australia.
After a few years working for L'Oréal, he is now studying to become a qualified financial planner with the goal of owning his own planning practice and helping people achieve financial well-being.
Weddings and babies out of cohorts
On the first day of class, Gavin recalls Associate Professor Carol Gill saying: “You guys are sitting here now, but you don’t know what relationship you’re developing today. Because in the past we have had weddings and babies come out of these cohorts.”
At the time, Gavin remembered looking around the class and thinking: “Who? Who? No way, not for me.”
But on the eve of their MBA capstone subject in 2017, as Mark and Gavin found themselves sipping cocktails over sweeping views of the city lights at a bar high above Melbourne, Mark asked if Gavin if he would like to get married.
The pair wedded in New Zealand two years later at a close-knit ceremony with families, friends, and a couple of classmates from their MBA.
“I must say it’s worked out well,” Mark said.
“I mean, not only meeting a future husband – probably an expensive way to find a husband – but the friends that we’ve developed through the program has been really valuable and we’ve kept in touch with quite a few of our cohort.
“An MBA is going to be hard and it’s going to challenge you… Enjoy as much as you can because it will come to an end and you’ll look back and go ‘I’ve achieved something’.”