Sainsbury
Management
Fellows
Search

How the MBA Changed my Life

Annual Dinner 2014, London

From LBS to Schlumberger

I began my MBA experience at London Business School as a Chartered Civil Engineer and graduated as a Management Consultant in the upstream Oil and Gas industry, following two diverse internships and some studying in Hong Kong.

Prior to submitting my hopeful application to LBS I was living in Malawi, Africa, securing key contracts with major international donors for the construction of industrial warehouses and various smaller housing developments. I managed the full operation of my business and successfully grew the company to over 200 employees. The entrepreneurial skills I obtained during this period were favourably looked upon by LBS and successfully led to me securing a position on its  high ranking MBA programme.

I entered the programme with both trepidation and excitement. I was instantly surrounded by so many successful and highly qualified individuals; it was quite overwhelming at times. However I immersed myself in the student body and quickly realised I had so much to learn from my peers. I was lucky with my placement in my allocated study group. We were six very diverse individuals who all had so much to offer. We worked well as a team bringing our experience from different sectors and cultures together. That’s not to say we didn’t have our trying times, as we overcame personal challenges and weaknesses within the set tasks, but on the whole we worked together towards success – winning more team events that any other study group. I am proud to now call these people friends, who I wouldn’t hesitate in contacting for advice long after my MBA has come to an end. The MBA has no doubt enabled me to expand my global network on both a personal and professional level, which, thanks to the Sainsbury Management Fellows Award, may not otherwise have been possible.

When I began the MBA, I was unsure exactly what direction I wanted my career path to take, so I used the programme as an opportunity to experience the various industries that might be open to me. I knew that in particular I needed to develop my finance and strategy knowledge and I set about choosing the relevant courses in order to do this.

I was fortunate to land two excellent internships in very different industries during the MBA. The first was a very structured banking role at Nomura, followed by a venture capital position at Octopus Investments. The variety in the three months I spent during each internship was extensive; an experience that I would be hard-pushed to obtain otherwise.  Both internships allowed me to gain hands-on experience of what I could expect from a role in each industry and again allowed me to build-up a varied network of prominent contacts.

In my second year of study I had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong to develop my understanding of the venture capital industry in China. I jumped at the chance and relished the learning opportunities I was offered from attending various presentations of high profile organisations and individuals that were set up for me and fellow MBA students to attend.

On the successful completion of the MBA I had to make the tough decision of joining GE on its Experienced Commercial Leadership Programme or Schlumberger in the Management Consulting Division operating solely in upstream oil and gas.   After much deliberation I accepted the latter role and I believe it was the right decision for both my career and my family life. Just a year into my role at Schlumberger, I was offered the role of Head of Production Forecasting and Performance Management for Talisman Sinopec.  I find it a challenging yet rewarding environment where I am continuously having to apply much of my learnings from London Business School on a daily basis.

 

Searching for the Right Post-MBA Job

In August 2011, when I walked in London Business School for the first time, I had no idea what to expect.

Until then, my career path had been very simple: five years as a civil engineer in the same UK engineering consultancy.  Unlike many of my classmates, I was not sure I would like a career switch. When I was surrounded by bankers, strategy consultants, marketers and entrepreneurs, my mind went completely blank.  I had no idea what M&A, customer acquisition or global business leaders mean; not to mention what kind of job I could do after the MBA.

What should I do?

Shock and fear drove me to take immediate actions.  I decided to use the two years at LBS to explore. An MBA provided the best platform for me to step out of the engineering design world, to try out different industries and roles, to experience different cultures and to exchange ideas with similar minded people.  I did not want to waste a single minute of it.

I worked seven days a week and used every possible opportunity to learn, to research and to network. Besides classes and exams, I completed one project and two internships in three industries in three countries.  I spent one exchange term in the US and travelled to many more countries.  I participated in every major school event and many business competitions. Some say an MBA is a journey to find yourself.  It was exactly through these experiences I started to realise my strengths and weaknesses, my interests and my career options.

My first project came through the discussion board on the LBS intranet, three months into my MBA. It was to help a LBS alumnus, a managing director of the UK arm of a large international construction group, to analyse M&A pipeline targets in the UK construction industry.  I secured the job by partnering with a classmate with an M&A background. The successful completion of this project boosted my confidence that I was able pursue a non-engineering career.

When the summer recruiting season began, I was determined to try something totally outside my comfort zone. After numerous mock and real interviews, I won my first internship with the Boston Consulting Group in its Melbourne office.  This internship exposed me to the fascinating world of strategy consulting as well as to the magical land and waters of Australia. The challenges to transform from a frontline civil engineer in the UK to the advisor of the top management of a major Australian retailer were beyond my imagination.  However, I was equipped with the excellent BCG database and toolkit and supported by extremely intelligent and warm colleagues.

During and after the internship, I also travelled along the south and east coasts of Australia.  Interacting with local people furthered my understanding of the country and culture.  Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, riding the waves around Tasmania, night climbing of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and watching whales, koalas and kangaroos along the Great Ocean Road have become unforgettable memories of my life.

Fang Fang, Sydney Harbour Bridge.jpg

Fang Fang at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge doing the night climb.

Fang Fang, Sydney Harbour Bridge 2.jpg

Fang Fang at the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Shortly after my return from Australia, I headed to the Netherlands for my second internship at Shell headquarters in the Hague. Life in the country of windmills, bicycles and tulips was not always rosy. I had to deal with the language barrier while taking up a challenging project at work. My project was to develop a market strategy for the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) business.  My background as a civil engineer helped me to understand many aspects of LNG projects and the  value chain. Shell was a very international company with a strong networking culture.  People in my team were mostly Masters and PhDs in mathematics or economics with international field sales and strategy experience.  I benefited enormously by learning from them and became friends with many. In addition, I spent a considerable amount of time meeting people in different divisions who offered me valuable insights on Shell and their career experience.  Working at Shell headquarters was a great opportunity for me to see the workings of the largest company in the world and to learn how incredibly bright and successful corporate leaders think and operate.

The classroom knowledge at LBS laid a very good foundation for me to pursue a management career. My projects and internships taught me the real world, real people and real challenges. Together they transformed me, from a technical design engineer into a commercial and people- minded manager.  They also helped me to confirm my passion for the engineering industry and to realise my interest in strategy and operations management.

Soon a perfect opportunity came up. In autumn 2012, the CEO* Program (Chief Executive Opportunity Program) at Siemens came to recruit at LBS. The Siemens CEO* Program is a recently founded and unique leadership program for MBA graduates.  Each year, the program recruits six associates globally.  The associates have both engineering and business backgrounds and aspire to become general managers in a global company.  Top global leaders at Siemens are heavily involved in selecting and mentoring the CEO* Associates.  Over the two year program, each CEO* Associate is usually tasked with three international assignments, completely personalised to suit his/her development needs.

To get the job, I went through four rounds of interviews, with the CEO* Program team, with the head of Strategic Projects at Siemens, with a division CEO and finally, with then global CEO of Siemens Peter Löscher.  My learning from these interviews is very simple: be yourself, know what you want and be clear about what you can bring to the company.  To me, interview skills help you to tell your stories more effectively, but who you are and what skills you have acquired through the years determine how far you can go in the recruiting process.

Siemens is a great company that cares about the development and welfare of its employees. My on-boarding included management training, intercultural training and German language training.  The CEO* Program team took great care of all my relocation issues and assignment search. In October 2013, I started my first assignment in the Strategy and Business Development team of Siemens’ train business in Berlin, mentored by the division CEO of this multi-billion euro business.  Currently I am leading a project that aims to optimise the sales organisation and approaches in some 20 countries.  It is a great opportunity for me to gain an overview of the train business, to gain an appreciation of the business planning, development and sales at Siemens and to understand the highest level strategic topics of a global business.

I am very grateful for every opportunity I was given.  Without financial support from the Sainsbury Management Fellowship and the LBS Annual Fund Award, pursuing an MBA would only have been a dream.  I sincerely appreciate the job opportunities from the great people and companies mentioned above.  My post-MBA journey has just started. I am excited about the new challenges ahead.

My first assignment ends in May 2014. In my next blog, I will look back on the assignment and share my challenges and learning.  See you in summer!

 

To learn more and make an application for an MBA bursary, click here.

Reflections on the Start of my MBA Journey by Julia Nammuni, SMF Candidate, LBS

It is more than 15 months since I began my fulltime MBA at London Business School. Time seems to fly by and the end of my degree is approaching fast.

I recently attended some MBA fairs and met new prospective MBA students to share my experience and to help answer their questions. They reminded me of myself not so long ago, making me reflect on my experience to date:

I started my engineering career in an international engineering consultancy in the ports and maritime division after completing my undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering at Imperial College. My employer kindly sponsored me to complete a post-graduate degree in ports at the TU Delft and subsequently I worked on large scale infrastructure projects in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. The work experience I gained was very rewarding and allowed me to achieve chartership.

Nevertheless, I was becoming more and more interested in strategy and commercial aspects which led, after some soul-searching, to an MBA at London Business School. I was fortunate to receive assistance from Sainsbury Management Fellowship that helped me realise my idea. I am very grateful for the support, without it my MBA journey would have been difficult.

After my first year of courses, I had the opportunity to work during my summer break as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group in London. The project work was challenging, interesting and created a positive impact for the business. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience and I am pleased to be returning to the company fulltime upon graduation.

I love travelling and in the second year of my MBA, I did an exchange term at CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) in Shanghai to improve my Mandarin and to explore the region.

Two questions seem to come up repeatedly by prospective MBA students. I hope that by sharing my response to these I may be able to help other engineers thinking about an MBA:

How difficult is the transition to study an MBA, especially for an engineer?

I remember that I was myself very worried about this issue. In my experience to date, engineers do well at business school. What is important to realise is that in a MBA programme there will be professionals from many backgrounds who will have different strength and weaknesses that compensate each other. Thus you learn as much from each other as with each other on the course.

In my study group we had a doctor, an accountant, two consultants and another engineer. The professions in my year group included many different backgrounds such as a professional athlete, lawyers, diplomats, bankers and many more. In addition, almost 90% of the MBA student population is international with experience gained in many different countries. However, all students had at least one thing in common: a unique perspective and insight that enhanced my understanding.

Learning business language was an important part of my MBA journey as an engineer. There were acronyms like “PE”, “VC” and words like “portfolio theory” that were used in discussions that did not mean very much to me at the outset. However, like any language once I learnt what these terms meant, it was no longer difficult to understand.

During the MBA I was never far from an expert in any given topic who was happy to explain terms and concepts or to share their point of view!  And then, there are advantages that engineers have such as strong mathematical and problem solving skills that are useful in most courses.  Thus it seemed to me that I needed to master the language and then to apply my problem solving skills in a different context.

An important difference in the problem solving approach to me was that as an engineer, I used to try to come up in my mind with hypothetical scenarios to destroy my designs and solutions to problems.  Only if I could no longer destroy them or render them “useless” in my mind, I would consider them further.  In the MBA, it seems to me there is much more emphasis about possibilities and adapting solutions as needed.  Ultimately, in civil engineering a design life of 50 years is not unusual and failure can lead to loss of life, necessitating a very careful evaluation of possible design scenarios.  Yet many business problems do not have such a long time horizon, do not include risk of loss of life but require solutions quickly that can be adapted as needed.  Therefore, my approach needed to change to be focused more on potential solutions and likely key issues rather than all the potential problems that could exist.

Thus in conclusion, for me the transition to study for an MBA required me to adapt to a new language and to change my approach in problem solving.

 

And what are your greatest challenges in the MBA?

My greatest challenge in the MBA was and still is time management and prioritisation. There are many different events going on all the time and real choices have to be made. FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, is the term that describes this phenomenon at London Business School and many other business schools.

Initially, FOMO was almost overwhelming as there were so many opportunities.  Every evening there seemed to be at least seven equally interesting but conflicting events requiring a choice to be made: do I go to one of the career events, one the corporate events, one of the club events, a party or the pub to meet friends? With time passing, my priorities started to emerge.

Nevertheless, every now and again a bout of FOMO does kick in. Thus, I constantly re-evaluate what is important to me. Further, I am learning to accept that I will miss interesting events as it is impossible to attend them all!

Click here to find out how to apply for an SMF MBA scholarship.


A Two Year Transition - My MBA Journey

It’s almost two years to the day, when after 6.5 years as a loyal employee, climbing up the ranks of the corporate hierarchy, through manufacturing, operations and project management roles – I resigned, to pursue my MBA at London Business School (LBS). Looking back now, I can recall the anxiety of not only losing my steady income but also the unease I had about ‘jumping ship.’ After all, this was my first and only full-time job after graduating from Imperial College as a chemical engineer back in 2004. I quickly realised that the ship I had seemingly jumped was far more resilient to my departure than I had previously felt.

I had considered making a career switch to a commercial direction for some time and eventually decided that I wanted to achieve that by learning best practices, cross-functionally from all over the business world: Understanding corporate strategy in addition to how to finance start-up ventures, appreciating macroeconomic growth trends as well as improving negotiating and other communication skills. I felt that an MBA would be the best way to combine what I had learnt ‘on the shop-floor’ and build a broader sense of perspective on those foundations. Furthermore, studying at a top-quality international business school, would provide a globally recognised qualification, a valuable lifelong network and not least, enable a better return on the heavy investment expected.

The research, preparation and significant application process took me over a year, particularly as I had little down-time at work, with one project after another requiring my time and attention. With GMAT scores in place, essays written and references gathered I was determined to make my application successful first time, as the window of opportunity for completing a full-time programme was closing steadily. Engineer that I am, I systematically considered my choice of school and concluded that with my desire to study in an internationally focused school with a mature student body that encompassed a range of experiences and crucially, my plans to work in London immediately after the programme – the best school for my purposes was right here in Europe. Ultimately, I chose London Business School as it offered everything I was looking for and moreover, was close to home making it easier on my personal life and expense outlay.

The two years at LBS have gone by like a flash. No sooner had I begun to take in the mass of new information from coursework and academic life, was it time to make the career switch and in particular, find an internship for the summer - my number one priority. Nevertheless, I tried to remind myself throughout, that the enormous wealth of opportunity to learn and try new things as well as a vibrant network of new friends and contacts was not going to last long – all of which resulted in a busy schedule full of activities, some 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I attended a plethora of interesting talks, conferences and seminars, apart from my required studies which I found by and large, to be truly eye-opening and thought-provoking, particularly the electives I took.

I spent my summer after the first year gaining experience in strategy consulting, through an internship at The Boston Consulting Group, in its London office. In addition to developing my ‘consultant toolkit’ of analysis and presentation skills, I also had the opportunity to learn about the activities which the firm and office are involved with, in more depth and how they are impacting business thinking at the most senior levels. I was delighted to receive a full-time offer at the end of the internship and intend to commence my full-time post-MBA career at BCG London.

Whilst at LBS, I also became heavily involved in student leadership roles, becoming the president of the Running Club as well as the Industry Club. This not only gave me fantastic experience to try out, in a fairly ‘risk-free’ manner, some of the tactics and ideas I had picked-up in the classroom and from previous experience, but also widened my circle of friends and professional contacts even further. I even achieved a few unique firsts, including a triathlon and organising a conference.

Additionally, the flexibility of student life and in particular the second year at LBS, offered the chance to pursue some personal priorities, which would be more challenging in full-time employment. The first was taking quite a few trips abroad including sailing in Antigua, hiking in the Indian Himalayas and wine-tasting in South Africa.Gil Rabbi in India 2013

Holi - festival of colours, experienced with the locals at The Gateway of India - Mumbai

The second and most important of all, was deciding with my wife to become parents for the first time and our daughter was born at the end of my first year of studies (in fact, on the day of my final exam!). That transition has been my most momentous and fulfilling of all.

So all in all, I have had two hectic and intense years during which time I learned an enormous amount: completely repositioning my career in a commercial trajectory whilst at the same time developing myself immensely and building a significant network of contacts and close friendships. Having just had my graduation and with work restarting imminently - the future seems full of promise and opportunity from where I am sitting. I also know there will continue to be plenty of challenges, but I doubt I would have gone down this path, if I did not highly relish those...

Finally, my advice for those who may be considering the MBA may be somewhat surprising having read the above. I believe it’s not a benefit to everyone and is a need for few. That is to say, the course and learning that comes around it, are only as good as what you make of the experience and the same goes for graduates returning to the workplace: there will be those that revert to what they feel comfortable with and there will be those that seek to continue to learn and push the boundaries of what is possible. I intend to be the latter and much of that desire has been driven by the fundamentals and the flames of ambition that have been further fuelled by the MBA. I am in no doubt that this was the right decision for me and I know that, without the help of the Sainsbury Management Fellowship my experience would have been very different, perhaps even non-existent and for all this - I am immensely grateful.

How the MBA Changed My Life

Sainsbury Management Fellow, James Dunbar is an Analyst, Refining & Logistics Technology on the Future Leaders Programme at BP.

Has an MBA has changed my life?  Back in 2006, I was in a Middle Eastern desert with the Royal Air Force, reviewing whether we had enough PGMs for combat operations.  Here I am in 2012, looking at the capital portfolio for BP, reviewing whether we have enough PGMs for business operations.

In 6 years, I've gone from worrying about Precision-Guided Munitions, to Project General Managers.  Anyone who has ever changed companies or industries will talk about wrestling with a new business dialect.  But it's not just the language that I needed to make this change; it's the knowledge to lead at both a tactical and strategic level.  That's what the MBA gave me.

Commissioning into the Royal Air Force in 2002 was my first career-changing leap.  The military encourages officers to accept leadership responsibility very early in their career and I thrived in these circumstances, building on engineer training to successfully deploy military aircraft to trouble spots around the world and manage projects across the Tornado fleet.  Leading 110 technicians on operations, mentoring junior officers and managing discipline challenges are experiences that will stay with me forever - and not easily explained to some of my more sheltered colleagues!  My RAF service also helped me complete my chartership and a second undergraduate degree (in engineering management).  After a hugely enjoyable six years, I felt that my future career in the RAF would re-tread familiar roles and I wanted a new challenge.

A stint as a project manager for Bombardier Transportation helped me quickly realise how much I didn't know about applying my experience to the commercial sector!  I needed to reorientate my leadership skills to managing in the business context - much as I had developed military knowledge for a successful career with the RAF.  An MBA seemed to provide the transition I was looking for.

After a lengthy application process, I was lucky enough to get a place on the full-time MBA at London Business School (LBS). This world-leading institution reflected environments I really enjoy: highly collaborative, very academically challenging and employing a global view.  Deciding to undertake an MBA is a big decision - it's a massive investment. Winning the funding of a Sainsbury Management Fellowship (SMF), awarded through the Royal Academy of Engineering, was the decisive factor in making this second career-changing leap.  I think an MBA should give you three real advantages: technical skills, commercial leadership skills, and a powerful peer network. That's exactly what I got from LBS, taking courses as diverse as advanced corporate finance, strategy, business communication, acquisition management, negotiating & bargaining, risk analysis, and accounting.

The scholarship not only enabled me to go to business school, but also gave me access to an invaluable network of nearly 300 SMF professionals with a vast range of experience and knowledge. This network led me to several academic studies during my MBA, my first consulting contracts after graduation and continues to be a source of professional advice - as well as a great advertisement for the benefits of engineers as industry leaders.

After the MBA, I wanted to work in a global engineering-related business that actually produced something tangible, where I could use the skills to make a strategic difference, but still benefit from my experience of managing in a safety-critical environment.  Whilst at LBS, I was lucky enough to attend the CBI conference, where I heard CEO Bob Dudley talk about the turnaround of BP.  I had not seriously considered the energy industry before, but the values he described directly matched what I was looking for.  Fortunately, the company was looking to start its Future Leaders Programme, to develop a more diverse leadership talent pool in the downstream business.  They recruit externally for individuals with post-graduate qualifications, relevant professional experience, international exposure and, most importantly, leadership potential.  The structured development plan also helps in getting up to speed on the breadth of different global business areas BP work in.

So here I am, working on BP's strategic plan.  I miss the camaraderie of the military, but professionally I haven't looked back.  Challenging, continual professional development has always been important to me, and without the MBA I certainly wouldn't be enjoying the career I am now.

 

How the MBA Changed my Life - David Falzani, SMF President

CEO of a consulting company Polaris Associates, David has extensive executive and strategic business development experience in various industries. David began his consultancy career with LEK Consulting which recruited him from the prestigious Wharton School in Pennsylvania.

David has worked with a wide variety of clients including IBM, British Bakeries, Kingfisher, BAE Systems, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, 3i and Cooperative Bank. Additionally, David is a Visiting Professor at Nottingham University Business School.

Let me start by saying that in my opinion an MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a beginning, not a destination in its own right. No MBA can hope to make you any kind of expert in one or even two years in as fluid and nebulous a field as business. It does however offer a good introduction.

In starting my MBA I think I had a well-researched set of objectives and intentions. I already knew that a top MBA would double my salary. I knew I would receive a useful network of contacts, a toolbox of functional business skills and have a call upon the school's all important brand name to supplement my own.

 

What did surprise me was the extensive rewiring of my brain that seems to have been an unintended but virtuous side effect of the crucible of learning environment. To illustrate this point, my first job after my MBA was a role with a leading strategy consulting house (yes I know, you may well call it "falling into the management consultancy trap", but I call it a good place to consolidate new skills).

 

These firms are quite notorious in the hours they can require you to spend. The economy was booming and it was busy: I averaged some 70 hours per week in my first year. But my point is that I recall this seeming like a bit of a holiday compared to the MBA.

 

The MBA really was an expansion process that, yes, increased my understanding of how business works, but it also quietly stretched my brain into something new and improved.

 

It was also one of the most rewarding periods of my life in all kinds of ways.

Spending 40, 50, 60 hours a week with the same group of people involved forming friendships and relationships that were quite different to the norm, and remain priceless. Also, the richness of the environment was astounding. Imagine being surrounded by world class faculty, interesting intelligent colleagues, being set continually stretching challenges; a learning machine wrapped all around you to whet your appetite and then satisfy it, and an addictive growing sense that anything was possible. If I could have stayed on for another year on my MBA, I would have jumped at the chance.

 

Post MBA, the fun continued. The opportunity to launch a start up business came via my classmates.  The confidence to raise venture capital funds came from the MBA. We may have missed the IPO window with that venture but the lessons learned were incorporated into the framework set down during the MBA. The next role was more demanding: a tech turnaround. The next: a service business. And so the fun continues today.

 

Fast forwarding a few years, I still marvel at how those lessons gave me an ability to immediately understand the larger business picture, and the sense of confidence that such insight brings.

 

That MBA was a set of starting blocks (if we'd made that IPO I would have said launch pad!) for a learning journey that continues to intrigue and challenge, and there's no sign of it getting boring or processional any time soon.

 

In answering how the MBA changed my life, I should also ask myself what would the last 15 years have been like if I hadn't done the MBA. Would I have been more successful? I honestly don't know. After all, the vast majority of the world's leading entrepreneurs and business persons don't have an MBA, and many haven't attended any university, let alone business school.

 

Would I be better informed? I think it's unlikely. As I say, as an introduction to business a good MBA is hard to beat.

 

But would I have had more fun? I seriously doubt it.

 

David Falzani