All posts by Althea Taylor-Salmon

How My MBA Changed My Career Journey – SMF Davina Patel

SMF Davina PatelDavina Patel is one of 385 professional engineers who have been awarded our prestigious Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship to study an MBA at a top tier business school.   After gaining her MBA at London Business School, Davina has used her newly acquired business skills and insights as a catalyst towards an exciting new career.  Davina has taken time out to talk to us about her early passion for engineering, her MBA experience, her career and lessons learnt along the way.

What inspired you to become an engineer?
From a young age I was curious about the world around me, and I found science gave me answers to help satisfy that curiosity. I had an aptitude for maths and physics and some great teachers, it was only natural for me to gravitate towards these subjects at school. When it was time to pick university courses, I knew I wanted to stick with maths and physics, but I wanted a course that covered a variety of interesting subjects and one that was practical in nature to allow me to build skills that would help me explore and start my professional career. After many years of academic success, applying to university was my first real lesson that sometimes life doesn’t always go to plan as I didn’t get into my first-choice university.

Nevertheless you gained an excellent BEng in Mechanical Engineering & Aeronautics degree at Brunel University. Give us a snapshot of your university experience and first jobs.   
I decided to pick a ‘thick sandwich’ engineering degree which allowed me to spend one year on a work placement between my second and final year. I worked at Hawtal Whiting an automotive design and engineering services company where I gained experience in a very specialised area (finite element analysis), the best part of the experience was my direct interaction with customers working with BMW on some very cool product development projects.

I returned to university for my final year which specialised in Aeronautics, my favourite part of the course. I was flattered to be offered a PHD opportunity in flight mechanics, but after my year working, I had more clarity that I didn’t want to specialise in one area but wanted a broader experience across all of product development and manufacturing at aerospace companies – so I politely declined the offer. I remember stuffing envelopes with CV and cover letters applying to nearly every major aerospace engineering company. It was overwhelming to face rejection after rejection. I decided to take a ‘gap year’ after university to travel and take some time to think about what I wanted given maybe working in aerospace wasn’t going to happen.

I stumbled across a role at ebm-papst, a company that manufactured fans and motor products, it didn’t scream out dream job, but I liked the company culture and its people.

My first role was as an application engineer focused on driving sales of its standard products. Then I progressed to a project engineer working more intimately with customers managing a portfolio of product development projects. Being in such a small and informal company I was able to participate in other projects relating to quality and operations. In hindsight, it was a great first job; I was around some incredibly supportive and fun people and given the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of experiences.

Why did you decide to do an MBA?
Working at such a small company I was limited, as career progression went from application engineer, project engineer to business development manager, I had done two out of three and the third was purely an ‘on the road’ sales role which was not for me.

It was time for a change, I started applying for engineering consulting jobs and then it dawned on me I didn’t want to specialise in any engineering discipline. My exposure to broader aspects of operating a business excited me, I knew I wanted to learn more and have the time to explore other possibilities. My journey took me to London Business School, as soon as I walked through its doors, I knew it was the right place for me.

What are the stand-out learnings from your MBA?
It’s almost a given, but the MBA provided a phenomenal learning experience. It was great to look back on my time at ebm-papst and connect the dots on what worked well at the company (and why) and what could have been done better: how it managed its products, its operations and its people.

My London Business School experience gave me so much more:

First, finding my tribe. Nearly 15 years on and my closest and most cherished friendships are with those who I met because of the MBA. Not only are they great friends, they’re the best cheerleaders!

The MBA unleashed a newfound confidence in me. We all doubt our abilities and I was no exception. Being at one of the top business schools in the world I was surrounded by some of the best and brightest minds and the experience made me believe that with hard work and a learning mindset I could aspire to and be good at so many different things.

Finally, the exposure to a new world of possibilities. The MBA provided me with skills that could be applied to a variety of different industries and allowing (once closed) doors to open for me.

How has your MBA changed your career?
I had experienced very small engineering companies, post-MBA I wanted to experience a large and diverse engineering company where I could directly impact change.

I had 10 amazing years at Honeywell, performing mainly strategy and marketing roles of increasing responsibility working across various businesses. My experiences were so varied and exciting, and I got to do what I love; travel the world! Most importantly, I was around some incredibly supportive people who provided me with some great learning opportunities.

From day one I was pushed beyond anything I thought I was capable of prior to the MBA. Within a month I was sent to spend a week with a partner company to build a joint business plan. Within three months, I was asked to create and deliver a pricing presentation to 500+ internal audience with less than 24 hours’ notice.

My first roles were at Honeywell Process Solutions (automation control solutions to process industries), performing strategic marketing roles covering different geographies – strategic planning, go to market execution, pricing focus, joint venture business plans and then progressing to building and managing high performing teams in some high growth countries.

The most significant role and learning experience in my career to date was a broader role leading the transformation of a marketing organisation, it was a significant contribution to the turnaround of Honeywell’s Safety Products (personal protective equipment) business. I was given the opportunity to lead the organisation as I wanted to; I created a vision to inspire, a clear strategy to align, processes and tools to execute, I placed a strong focus on people and their development to drive the culture and deliver results.

In the process I was able to really understand the type of leader I am and the type of joy that work could bring. What we were able to achieve within two years was incredible, it was powerful to know I could affect positive and impactful change in people to do extraordinary things. Hearing the words from a team member “you changed my life” were humbling yet self-affirming words that will remain with me for life.

In my final Honeywell role, I was fortunate to get even broader business experience where I acted as a general manager leading the integration of two acquisitions in parallel. The measure of success was hitting the acquisition model targets and ultimately working myself out of a job by integrating each acquisition and transferring ownership into Honeywell’s Security and Fire business – nine months later, the integrations were complete.

After 10 years, it was time for a change and I was fortunate that a former Honeywell boss introduced me to Trimble. From the moment I met its most senior leaders and learnt about its culture I knew it was a place for me. I get to do what I really enjoy and am empowered to get it done. I led the inception, creation and launch of a new Trimble Marketing Framework for the company which provides a common language and approach through easy-to-use content to help people build valuable skills and capabilities to deliver customer value and exceptional business results.

How has the MBA influenced your thinking about business and leadership?
The MBA gave me exposure and a thirst to learn more about how a business operates and the skills required to do so. At Honeywell, I was given a tremendous playground to learn, apply and build these skills, as well as exposure to successful (and not so successful) leadership qualities and the opportunity to develop my own personal style.

An MBA was the perfect complement to an engineering background. At the very core of engineering people are finding solutions to problems, this principle can be applied universally to running a business. In engineering and business (from strategy/marketing to operations) you need to follow a structured, analytical approach to break a problem down into logical steps to solve it. And people are always at the very centre of everything to get things done.

You are now part of the SMF Alumni.  How do you benefit from being part of this network? 
My decision to do an MBA came first, I was fortunate to learn about and grateful to benefit from the SMF scholarship after I had started the course. Being part of the SMF network, it’s comforting to know there’s a vast group of people you can reach out to if you ever need advice or guidance. It provides lots of opportunities to support a variety of activities and initiatives. I was fortunate to spend a couple of years as a Visiting Teaching Fellow working with the engineering department of a college in London, through a series of introductory talks and coaching sessions with the students, I tried to share the possibilities that a career in engineering could bring to them.

As an engineer who took stock and went to business school to further your career, what advice would you give a young engineer at a similar crossroads in their career?    
As I think through my experiences, career and what I’ve learnt along the way, I would like to share these thoughts with anyone at a career crossroad or bump in the road:

  1. Don’t get too fixated on big brand companies and job titles. Think about the experiences you want in any next challenge in terms of building upon existing experiences as well as thinking about new ones you want (or need) to be exposed to. Then see which companies and roles can tick your experience boxes.
  1. Look at company culture and the quality of its leaders and people, the variety and depth of experiences and level of empowerment you will be afforded. As much as you focus on identifying industries and types of companies you’re interested in, be clear on what you’re not interested in. Make sure you’re in an environment doing work with people you can enjoy every day.
  1. Always have a learning and continuous improvement mindset. As you invest (time and money) developing your skill set, don’t forget to invest in developing your mindset. Make sure you take on challenges that make you sweat a little as they tend to provide the greatest learning and development opportunities.
  1. Be clear on your own personal brand and what you want to be known for, and make sure every interaction and piece of work delivers on your brand promise. Think about how to differentiate yourself from the crowd (skills and talents you possess vs. what you need to acquire). Be the person who gets things done to a high standard; think about what work, results and behaviours you want your name attached to.
  1. Find your tribe/s and your own cheerleaders because there are many times you will have a lack of self-belief. Mentors and great teachers are important, but sponsors are key; those people who recognise your potential (even beyond what you think you’re capable of), who advocate for you, expose you to growth opportunities and give you the space to achieve great things. And never forget, you need to be your own greatest cheerleader!

Finally, remember that things don’t always go to plan; you will face challenges, obstacles and undoubtedly fail at things. While plan A might not work out, there’s always plan B (and plan C).  Focus on the possibilities surrounding you in any given situation, always invest in the process and not the outcome.

The SMF MBA Scholarship
If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as a stepping-stone towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could be awarded a £50,000 scholarship.

An Engineer with a Head for Finance: How an MBA Paved the Way for a Billion-Dollar Dealmaker – SMF Simon Duncan, CFO & Entrepreneur


As an A level student, Simon Duncan wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for a career.  His mother would ask him what he wanted to do, and he would reply with vague ambitions of becoming a pilot or a nuclear scientist, never quite settling on anything permanently.

With his three A levels in maths, physics and chemistry almost complete, Simon decided to visit the careers room in his school for inspiration.  It was 1979, and the careers room consisted of little more than a shoebox containing cards with different job titles written on each.  There were holes in the box, and students would write each of their subjects onto a piece of paper and attach it to a knitting needle and push them through a hole and then pull them out  to reveal career suggestions!  A single card was pierced by all of Simon’s needles and it said Chemical Engineer.  

At the time, Simon didn’t know what a Chemical Engineer was, but, given that he was interested in chemistry, he thought it sounded like a good idea – and, believe it or not, that’s how his career started.  Here he reflects on that journey …

Making a start in chemical engineering
“There must have been more than one hundred cards in that box, so my three needles piercing the card that read Chemical Engineering seemed like fate.  I was already interested in nuclear reactors and particle physics and had written essays on the subject at school, so I was happy when that career option came out of the box.

I set about researching universities and decided that, if I was going to commit to being a chemical engineer, I wanted to do my degree at one of the best institutions in the world, so I applied to Imperial College of Science and Technology in London and was accepted.  I graduated from Imperial College in 1983, but, when I stepped out into the world of work, I was met with very few job opportunities, thanks to a severe economic recession.  Despite that, I managed to join a London-based graduate scheme at Davy McKee, a multinational chemical engineering contractor.

From graduate to lead chemical engineer
One memory sticks out in my mind during my early days at Davy McKee.  We were designing an ammonia plant for ICI and among the team was a man who stood out.  He would sit in the middle of the working area surrounded by technical documents and whenever anybody on the team wanted to know something about the project, they sought this person’s advice.  Eager to find out more about his role, I asked him why everyone turned to him for decisions and he told me that he was the lead chemical engineer.  Here was an engineer who seemed to know everything about chemical engineering, and also took full responsibility for the big decisions. I knew straightaway that I wanted to work towards becoming a lead chemical engineer as well.

My chance at being the lead chemical engineer came sooner than I expected, at age 25.   Four years on from joining Davy McKee, the head of process engineering called me into his office to brief me on an English China Clay project, a mineral plant at Indian Queens in Cornwall that had to be completed and commissioned.  The assignment was due to last six weeks, then we would hand over the plant to English China Clay to produce kaolinite, the chemical used to make paper white.  At the meeting was an important-looking man who I assumed was the lead chemical engineer and that I would be working alongside him, learning on this important project.  Not so – he was the graduate trainee, and my boss was now entrusting me to run the show and commission the new plant. It was so unexpected; I was now the lead chemical engineer.

Developing a thirst for business
During our initial meeting with the engineers at the English China Clay site, we learned that half of the plant was actually ready to go live, and, in addition, that the plant was designed to work half on/half off.   Yet the plant had not been started, despite the company needing it to be operational as soon as possible.  All that was needed was for the lead chemical engineer to sign things off and give the green light.

I had a discussion with the decision-makers of the new plant and explained that half the plant was ready and asked them if they wanted that half to be commissioned immediately, and the whole plant once the other half had been completed, and they agreed emphatically.  To their surprise and delight, the following morning half the plant was up and running.  The delay in commissioning that half of the plant was due entirely to the fact that a lead chemical engineer was needed to evaluate the plant and ensure that everything was in perfect working order before it could be started – none of the other engineers on the project had the authority to do that.  This was a milestone in my career, one I had been working towards for four years.

The other half of the plant was completed in the next three weeks, so the project took half the contracted time.  That was a significant success for Davy McKee and the company earned a bonus.  That experience got me thinking about the economics of projects: how do contracts come together and how does a company make money and profit?  I began asking questions about how we cost proposals, for example, how does a business know how many labour hours to allocate to a given project and that the quotes given turn out to be accurate?  When you do your chemical engineering education, you are taught some economics, so you get a basic understanding of supply and demand and company finance, but it doesn’t delve further.  I became extremely interested in learning more about how businesses work.

Unlocking career options with an MBA
At this point, I started talking to other people about my interest in learning about the intricacies of business.  It was my current girlfriend who suggested an MBA; at that time, I knew next to nothing about MBAs.  After doing research on what an MBA is and how they help to expand your knowledge and opportunities, I realised that the career potential following an MBA would be incredible – some graduates were receiving five or six job offers and doubling their salaries after graduating.  It was during this research phase that I discovered the Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) scholarship which, if successful in making an application, would pay for tuition and accommodation for my MBA programme.  This would be transformative – I could do an MBA straightway and not have to get a loan or save up for several years.

I contacted the  Institution of Chemical Engineers which promoted the SMF scholarship to find out how to apply, only to learn that I had missed the application deadline by two days.  However, I must have said something convincing during the conversation because I was asked to apply despite the missed deadline.

I really enjoyed the whole process.  In addition to the application form, I had a three-hour panel interview which covered everything from my education and career experience, to what I had accomplished in engineering, why I wanted to do an MBA and how I planned to use the new skills after graduating.  I talked about my experience at Imperial College London, my work at Davy McKee including my progression to lead chemical engineer and gaining chartered status.  I also gave a presentation on a unique project that I had worked on: the first ever plant to encapsulate nuclear waste in concrete and store it, which the panel found fascinating. When they asked what I wanted to do when I got my MBA, I said I wanted to become a strategic planner at Davy McKee and be more involved in the future of the business.

I received a conditional SMF scholarship offer.  After successfully completing the GMAT, I was offered a place at my first-choice business school, INSEAD. Then my SMF scholarship was confirmed and I was on my MBA journey.

The ‘golden ticket’ effect
When I graduated from INSEAD in 1991, having learned a great deal about finance, business, and strategy, I was raring to go.  We used to call an MBA a ‘golden ticket’ because, career-wise, one could go anywhere with it – the possibilities were limitless.  Sadly, my graduation coincided with another global recession, and the job market wasn’t as ripe and fertile as it should have been. In fact, when I left INSEAD, fifty per cent of its graduates did not have one job offer, let alone the typical five or six.

Despite the downturn, I was fortunate to get a job offer from the chemical company Eli Lilly to work on its European inventory and was considering it before fate intervened.  A friend I hadn’t seen for a while invited me to a birthday party and I dithered about going, but then decided why not, nothing ventured, nothing gained!   During the party, my friend told me that he was working for a  large American company called GE Capital, financing big infrastructure projects.  It sounded fascinating and, despite the recession, they were looking for six new hires. Before I knew it, I was in an interview with the director, with him talking about how much he valued experienced engineers with an MBA. He explained that finance was easy to teach, but engineering skills and acumen were not, and that having an engineer overlooking business decisions gave them a unique and informed perspective.

The next day I was offered the job and went on to work for the company in London, where I stayed for seven years before being transferred to the USA. I worked for a decade in the US before being lured back to the UK by another interesting and lucrative offer, to be a chief credit officer within the European arm of GE Capital.

As a chief credit officer, I was responsible for reviewing the team that analysed the performance and financial status of 800 companies in order to tailor-make financial solutions for them.  This involved looking at the businesses holistically – marketplaces, supply chains, purchasers and finances – and then developing innovative financial solutions beyond conventional bank loans, for example equipment finance, leverage finance, equity, etc.  By analysing these companies in depth, we were able to pitch solutions and work with them on alternative routes to develop and create partnership opportunities for GE Capital.

Ironically, recession has played a pivotal part in the forks in my career path.  Come 2008, the financial markets crashed, and, like many other companies, there were cutbacks and reorganisation at GE Capital, and this led to a change in my role.  I was handling leverage finance doing management buy-outs.  At that time GE Capital did not have a retail bank in England (as it did in other major cities), so the company decided to set one up, and I was tasked with establishing the credit and risk side of the bank, ensuring that it was completed properly and gained FSA approval.  Despite the responsibility, my transition from project finance to retail banking was difficult because I didn’t find the new role as stimulating, so eventually I felt I wanted to move onto something new.

A Shade Greener and becoming Chief Financial Officer
A company called A Shade Greener, which generates electricity through solar panels, was looking for funding.  It had secured £20 million from RBS, which was at the limit of what it could lend to the company, and that’s when it crossed my desk at GE Capital.  It seemed like a great business.  At the time, it was doing 40 installations a week, but I thought it could manage three times that amount.  Long story short, I ended up taking a 92% pay cut to join A Shade Greener as its chief financial officer in 2011.

To move from a steady corporate job with the largest company in the world to becoming an entrepreneur was, to put it mildly, a calculated risk. However, this job move was an exciting challenge, much more in line with my aspirations at that time.  Overnight I went from approving loans to trying to borrow money. My initial expectation was to work three days per week to raise money for the business, but it quickly became a full-time job. Within four years, we had raised £500 million in equity, debt and sales acquisitions and were doing close to 500 installations per day. The business has flourished and today it is what is known as a cash-cow.

Lessons from the MBA
One of the most important things I learned at INSEAD was how companies make money.  If you are in business and you don’t understand how a business makes money, you won’t understand how it will continue to make money and survive.  Engineers with MBAs help because we’re not bamboozled by financial terms and we tend to look at risks in a critical way.  Running a business and making decisions is surprisingly similar to working on a chemical plant where you are constantly doing ‘what if’ analyses.  The combination of engineering experience and an MBA puts you in a unique position to do this analysis.

Today I’m an entrepreneur working with several innovative UK tech and engineering companies. I’m passionate about helping new businesses raise the funds they need to take off.  A huge part of that is helping entrepreneurs effectively communicate the unique selling points and benefits of their innovations so they can secure investors.  For me, this all started with A Shade Greener, but I consider myself a lilypad-hopper, jumping into exciting new opportunities as they arise, for example plastic recycling, an SME fund to cover the Covid impact, and assisted living accommodation.

For instance, through the SMF network I was recently introduced to a company called Plastecowood which manufactures plastic lumber and outdoor garden furniture from recycled plastic waste, and I’ve since become its CFO.  I’m also trying to set up a ‘Back to Normal Fund’ to invest in British businesses with the aim of delivering more innovative and flexible funding solutions than traditional banks allow.  The aim is to support companies that have a strong offering and future but have suffered the ravages of the COVID pandemic lockdown.

I have always felt that I owe British engineering something because of my SMF MBA scholarship; that’s how I got my big break and ended up where I am today.  If I can get this fund off the ground, that will be the epitome of what Lord Sainsbury wanted us to do!

Advice for those thinking about an MBA
My number one piece of advice to anybody considering doing an MBA is: do it now!  We are about to experience another recession, this time driven by the pandemic.  So, going to business school now is, I think, a good time.  Do it now and come out of business school with your ‘golden ticket’ when we are bit further along this difficult route.  My other bit of advice would be to keep an open mind about job roles and go and see anybody who expresses an interest in interviewing you. My unexpected turn of luck was getting an interview at GE Capital that led to me doing deals of $1.5 million to $27 billion. That opportunity would not have come my way had I not taken a punt and gone to a party that I really wasn’t in the mood for at the time!

If you are an engineer seeking an SMF scholarship to help finance your MBA, always be yourself, be thorough and well-prepared if you want to impress the panel.  Be three questions deep on every topic and back up everything you put into a presentation, with facts and examples of your achievements.  Make sure you know what you’re presenting and what’s behind it, and never wing it as inevitably you will be caught out and will lose your credibility.

Simon has had an incredible career and, most importantly, he has had fun along the way.  Today, as an entrepreneur, he can decide which projects he wants to support, and is helping a diversity of businesses become financially sound.  Like many Sainsbury Management Fellows, Simon is involved in community and voluntary work.  He is one of the country’s many volunteers on the COVID frontline, in his case, as ambulance crew for St John Ambulance doing 999 calls.

The SMF MBA Scholarship
If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as a stepping-stone towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could be awarded a £50,000 scholarship.

IoD Appoints Sainsbury Mangement Fellow, Patrick Macdonald as New Chair

SMF and Chair of IoD, Patrick Macdonald

The Institute of Directors has appointed Sainsbury Management Fellow, Patrick Macdonald as its new Chair after a comprehensive search process.

Patrick, who takes on the role on from 22 March, brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the organisation. He replaces John Watson who has been interim Chair of the IoD since September 2020.

The process was overseen by the IoD’s Nomination Committee. The Chair of the committee and Senior Independent Council Member, Jean Church, MBE said Mr Macdonald was an outstanding choice to take over as Chair.

“We had a number of excellent candidates to choose from and after a rigorous selection process, we were delighted to appoint Patrick. I would like to thank John Watson for stepping in as interim Chair last year and helping to lead the IoD during the last seven months.”

Mr Watson, who led the Board’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and will remain as part of the IoD Board when the new chair starts, also welcomed Mr Macdonald.

“I am delighted that we’ve been able to bring someone with Patrick’s experience and broad range of skills on board for the next stage of the IoD’s development. Our drive to make the IoD membership more reflective of the country as a whole is progressing well. I’m looking forward to Patrick’s leadership of the Institute at a crucial time for our members and the country.

“Finally, as I step down, I’d like to pay tribute to the IoD teams, our members and volunteers everywhere who have done a magnificent job in helping us get into the right shape to grow after what has been a very challenging year.”

Patrick said: “I have been a member of the IoD since 2001 and am delighted and honoured to take over as Chair today. This is a hugely important and exciting time for the IoD.

“All businesses and business organisations have faced enormous challenges over the last year. It’s clear the IoD had already done a lot before the pandemic struck to get into shape for the long term.

“This excellent work, led by John Watson and the team, has brought us closer to our members in many important ways. The IoD will continue reinvigorating the value it delivers to existing and new members.

“The Institute is a true members’ organisation that represents the authentic voice of British business. Our members will be at the heart of the economic recovery. I am looking forward to working  with Director General Jonathan Geldart, his team and all our members across the UK and beyond to help them play their part in that recovery.”

Patrick has held both executive and non-executive roles across a wide range of businesses over the last 35 years.

He started his professional career as an engineer at the Ministry of Defence before joining Unilever. Patrick worked for Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Germany and the UK, then joined General Electric (GE) in the USA. Patrick became CEO of John Menzies plc, based in Scotland, and has subsequently worked in private equity-backed businesses including Reconomy, the waste management company. He  chairs Moneypenny, the call answering and live chat service and Arcus FM, the tech-based facilities management business. He is co-founder and Chair of the School for CEOs, the senior-level executive development business. He is a Non-Executive Director of NatureSpace, the environmental consultancy.

Patrick is also Vice Chair of the Scottish Advisory Committee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) and was until recently a Trustee of the Woodland Trust.

Director-General Jonathan Geldart also welcomed Mr Macdonald to the IoD.

“Patrick joins us at an important and exciting time for the Institute.  In a challenging external environment, John Watson has led the organisation through a successful internal restructure and established a much more efficient cost base. That has enabled us to be in a strong position to make the important changes we need to drive the future growth of the IoD.

I’m really looking forward to working closely with Patrick as we move onto the next stage of that programme.”

We would like to thank the IoD for permission to publish this article.

Coping through COVID: Less Obvious Strategies for Growth Businesses to Survive the Pandemic – SMF Chirag Shah, Executive Chairman, Simfoni

To say the COVID-19 pandemic has been a test for businesses would be an understatement. Throughout the course of the past 12 months, businesses have been forced to make serious adjustments to their day-to-day operations.  Digital-savvy companies might have found this easier than most, but even those at the cutting edge will have found themselves scrambling to re-assess their expectations just to stay in business. There will no doubt be start-ups out there that have actually benefited from the crisis, but for every success story there will be countless start-ups and young businesses still struggling to adapt to the so-called ‘new normal’ in which we find ourselves.

However, despite all of the uncertainty, there are several things that young, innovative businesses can do to increase their resilience and weather the COVID storm.  Some of these ‘coping’ strategies are fairly obvious, such as securing financial support packages such as bounce back loans, future funds and innovation grants. Staffing policies such as hiring freezes and the furloughing of surplus staff will also have been a necessary measure taken by many businesses. Some may have even introduced pay cuts which, so long as they’re top-down and impact managers as much as – if not more than – those lower down the ranks, is a sensible but hopefully temporary move. The last tool in the arsenal of most young businesses will be the slashing of overheads to reduce costs – the elephant in the room during the pandemic being unused office space which can save significantly in rental fees.

Less obvious strategies for ensuring growth
The above techniques are  a good start, but what about less obvious strategies for navigating through the pandemic?  Faced with a downturn in business, the above ideas may not be sufficient to ensure business survival. And many business leaders won’t just be looking to survive but continue their growth throughout the crisis.  Forward looking business leaders should be looking at adopting a combination of light-handed and more aggressive tactics, in the right place and at the right time, to ensure their survival. These tactics fall into two categories – cost and revenue – which we look at in more detail below.

Tactics to ensure revenue growth
Revenue is like oxygen for businesses. Go too long without it, and your business will become weak and eventually fade away. Your first move as a business owner during a time of crisis should therefore be securing revenue and cashflow.  Start by removing all friction, making it easier for your customers and clients to engage with you however they wish.  For example, remove upfront fees or setup fees where possible to simplify customer acquisition, and curtail long-term commitments that might delay sign-off. Remember that your customers are most likely in the same boat you are and looking to make cost reductions, so treat them with care and double down on customer service offering whatever help you can to make their lives easier and make your services indispensable.  Finally, while trying to get money into the business might be your number one objective, the best way of achieving this might be to offer some flexibility to your customers – far better to wait for a late payment than lose the business altogether.

There are things outside of the day to day that could help businesses maintain or build revenue too. Consider diversifying your business and embracing new channels for marketing and distribution. Offer a unique service that responds directly to the events of the pandemic, such as additional customer support. Your messaging should also adapt to fit this new narrative, reminding customers and prospects that you’re very much open for business and willing to help and flex to help keep them on track too.

Tactics to effectively reduce costs
Top line revenue isn’t the only factor when it comes to business sustainability.  Businesses that don’t keep a close eye on their expenses and take advantage of every possible reduction are both increasing their viability risk as well as limiting their potential to re-invest in growth. Your first course of action should be to start the clock on all notice periods for any suppliers or facilities irrespective of whether you know you’re going to need the service or not during the pandemic period. These contracts can have 3-6 months’ notice periods, so starting the clock should be number one on your list of priorities.   Of course, if things shift positively and you want to re-engage these firms, it only takes a minute to reverse the decision.

For any suppliers or facilities that you know you’re going to need, take the opportunity to renegotiate terms, particularly if the contract period is nearly up.  Remember, commercial landlords and countless suppliers are going to be worried about their revenue too and will want to gain some security about your future business.  For instance, if you know you’re going to be using a particular service in the long term, offer a contract extension in lieu of a reduction in current pricing. Far better for a service provider to keep you at a reduced rate than to try and attract a new customer in the current economic environment.

Staffing is another area where cost reductions can be made. It’s never easy, but with the changing work environment and rapid fluctuations in customer demand for services, you may find that you have to let some non-core staff go. The job market has also been flooded with candidates, particularly those with digital skills so if you are hiring staffyou may be able to enlist the help of interns and remote workers at a reduced rate.

Risk management
As well as controlling revenue and costs, now is a very pertinent time for businesses to review their risk management strategy. With the working landscaping changing so rapidly, businesses are vulnerable to all manner of threats, from cyberattacks and supply-chain disruption, to force majeure clauses or flaky contracts that could leave your business exposed.  Carry out thorough risk assessments and learn your business’ vulnerabilities inside out so you can start building toward a stronger, more resilient future.

With vaccines now being rolled out at a rapid rate, the COVID-19 pandemic will hopefully soon be behind us.  By taking some of the steps outlined above, businesses can not only ensure their survival throughout the crisis but build for a more profitable future.  One thing’s for sure, businesses that make it through the pandemic will be stronger and wiser as a result – make sure you’re one of them.

Chirag is the Founder and Chairman of Simfoni a leader in spend management. The global company has offices in USA, Europe, Australia and Middle East. Its AI-powered intelligence solution and on-demand platform empowers procurement and finance teams to achieve rapid savings and support supply-chain sustainability with automated procurement.

How Will the Pandemic Change Business Education?

Paul Kirkham, Researcher at Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of Nottingham

“How will the pandemic change business education?”

It already has done and continues to do so. Other disciplines may long for a return to normal but the pandemic has changed our subject itself.  Business schools need to reflect on what I assure you will become ‘textbook examples’ to equip our students for a new reality.

Milton Friedmann held that only a crisis produces real change, and that those who manage that change best will be those who have viable alternatives to the status quo ‘lying around’ waiting for their moment.  We have seen this in the way that we’ve all been forced to adopt technologies and behaviours that have been around for a while but that we have resisted because they were difficult.

There’s a paradox at the heart of business. Good judgement comes from experience: experience comes from bad judgement. The way to resolve this is through deliberate practice in a space where all you spend is time. Experiential learning is all about imparting tacit knowledge – the soft skills that contrast with the hard facts that make up much of business education.

For around twelve years I’ve been involved with teaching modules that do this, emphasising teamwork, problem-solving and communication.  A pedagogical model that supports this is RASE.  We supply our students with resources – usually in the form of hard facts and theory; then we challenge them with an activity – often to work as a team to present a solution to a business problem; provide support through mentoring; then give feedback through evaluation.

Traditionally this sort of thing is delivered in the lecture theatre and the seminar room.

Then the pandemic came, and everything moved online.  For many universities this was done in a matter of days, largely because unlike schools the infrastructure was already in place – students have been submitting work electronically for years.  Extremely hard work and a bit frantic but a stopgap until the cavalry comes.

But maybe those of us who have been developing our teaching online for some years have found that our time has come.  Because it is possible to deliver experiential learning remotely. It doesn’t have to look like a TED talk, in fact it’s better if it doesn’t look like a TED talk.  Our resources – lectures, links, texts etc – are made available in advance (asynchronously); the activity happens in virtual breakout rooms; support comes from synchronous lecture engagement sessions and mentors visiting teams in their breakouts; evaluation takes the form of live online presentation, or increasingly a short video and one page document, sometimes with live Q&A.  We have found that given clear instructions and expectations students are able to engage effectively.  This year has seen such modules delivered to all our freshers, in two cohorts of over 150 at a time, to our international postgraduates and to MBA classes logging in from as far away as India, China and Australia . And to our delight we are finding that the standard of submissions is every bit as good if not better than ‘normal’. It’s too early to be certain why this should be, but some provisional conclusions are emerging:

There is a downside: it’s resource intensive, you can’t just cut and paste material or draft in extra bodies, and we miss the casual interactions of face-to-face and the excitement in the room so we look forward to resuming them in some form or other, but the benefits are enormous – for one it’s so convenient! We have been able to engage in numbers that we could never physically put together in one space at one time. This is especially true of ExecEd – so much easier to organise a half-day workshop when parking and lunch is taken out of the equation.

Moreover, there are some unique advantages:

  • Collaborating online allows every voice to be heard, not just the loudest
  • It’s genuinely global – if you’ve got a phone, you’re in
  • There is no hiding place online – every contact leaves a trace – students raise their game

Crucially, the realisation that this is the future – being able to work and collaborate online is going to be a key skill for businesspeople; the confidence that comes with having done it and the knowledge that you can do it better next time is the essence of experiential learning. And that goes for the teachers just as much as the students!

Our thanks and appreciation to Paul Kirkham, Researcher at Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of Nottingham, for contributing this article.

How an MBA Helped my Transition from Chemical Engineer to CEO of Ceres Power


At a  young age Phil Caldwell’s passion for engineering was sparked by his sister who is a mechanical engineer and his brother who was studying physics at the time.  He then met a group of chemical engineers and was fascinated by the versatility of the discipline and his destiny was cast – he would study to become a chemical engineer and get a job that would enable him to work on interesting projects that would make a difference in the world.  But it wasn’t only the chemistry that fascinated Phil; from an early stage, he was drawn to business; how technology-based companies are grown into great businesses.   Now a Sainsbury Management Fellow, Phil Caldwell shares his journey from chemical engineer to CEO of Ceres Power, one of the UK’s leading clean energy  technology companies…

Early Education to Chartered Engineer
My interest in engineering as a potential career was sparked through family and friends in engineering during my teens, however, even at that stage I was more interested in the business side of engineering rather than a purely technical role.  At 18 I was fortunate to secure a scholarship from Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and worked for year in industry before university.  Being onsite at chemical plants was an eye opener for me and a great way to start my career, especially as I returned to ICI during my university summer breaks and had the opportunity to work overseas in the USA and Holland.

I went to Imperial College London to earn my degree in chemical engineering.  Studying at Imperial was great because they injected a lot of business into the course and we had access to Imperial College Business School as part of the curriculum.  I also had the opportunity to learn more about business by handling the management and business side of several student group projects.

After graduating, I was offered a fantastic opportunity to join ICI’s graduate scheme and work anywhere in the world that had a chemical plant – that was irresistible.   Initially I went into conventional engineering, but I was interested in getting into something that had a business focus and I learned about a small business unit within ICI which was selling electrochemical technology to companies outside of ICI.  I was successful at securing a position in this unit, so I deviated from an engineering path onto a commercial path.  I went from a technical service engineer, helping customers onsite, into business development, working on new sales for chemical plants globally.   That was my transition from traditional engineering into my first commercial role.  I travelled extensively working in China, Indonesia, Korea and India – and I was still only in my mid-twenties.  It was brilliant experience as I was expanding  my business knowledge and developing an understanding of different cultures, all whilst working to gain chartered status.

Pursuing a Business Interest
Back then, switching from engineering to commercial at ICI was not a natural process.  I recall a conversation with the head of engineering, expressing my desire to work in the commercial side of the business.  He explained that, as a rule, they hired engineering graduates from the likes of Oxbridge and Imperial to be engineers and looked to humanities graduates for commercial roles and if I deviated from the traditional engineering path it would have a negative impact on my progression.  This made no sense to me, surely it would be beneficial to have engineers who understand technology working in commercial roles.  It spurred me on in my goal to combine business with engineering, but at the time I wasn’t sure how to go about it.

Discovering the MBA
As I got more involved in the commercial side of the small business unit at ICI, I started to feel that certain tools were missing.  For example, I did not fully understand the financial aspects of the business and felt that, if I wanted to continue down this path, I needed to add a business qualification to my toolkit. During this time ICI was undergoing significant change as it split into different parts divesting several businesses and was no longer the blue-chip company I joined.  After eight successful years it felt the right time to make a change and pursue my passion for business.  I decided the best way to do this was to get back into education and, specifically, do an MBA.  Fast forward a few months and I had secured a Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA scholarship and was on my way to IESE  Barcelona.

Spring-boarding to a New Career
There was a huge emphasis on entrepreneurship in the MBA at IESE. I found the best courses for me were Entrepreneurship,  Finance and Strategy, which really resonated with my passion for business and filled significant gaps in my knowledge.  The MBA as a whole was a time of reflection for me and I had to think hard about whether I went back into a major corporation.  The MBA qualification made me very marketable as an employee and I had brilliant offers to work for big companies, but one of the things I learned about myself while studying the MBA is that I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial.  This was inspired by the courses taught, the exposure to business cases and learning how to finance start-ups.

So, I turned down the safer job offers from the major corporations and took on a position in a small fuel cell company, Intelligent Energy, where I felt I could make a real difference.   At that time not many people knew about fuel cells, but because of my previous electrochemical technology experience at ICI, I understood the potential of this technology and felt that this experience combined with my newly acquired business skills, would enable me to make a valuable contribution at Intelligent Energy, an exciting new venture.

The Journey to Directorship
Intelligent Energy was a spin-out from Loughborough University.  I remember being at one of the Sainsbury Management Fellows alumni dinners and mentioning the opportunity at Intelligent Energy and the other Fellow said to me, “It’s certainly not a safe option, but there will  never be a dull moment.”  He was right!  Like many tech start-ups, managerially it was quite disorganised at times with huge ambition and high growth along with significant downsides and the usual challenges of a tech start-up.

It was challenging but having the MBA behind me was a great help.  I had the theoretical knowledge of how a company should be financed and run and this enabled me to help with financial management and investment strategies.  From a blank slate, I set about establishing joint ventures with partners including Suzuki in Japan and Scottish South Energy.  I progressed to the role of Commercial Director, grew the team and increased the top-line revenue.  I enjoyed the 10 years I spent at Intelligent Energy, but it was not for the faint hearted as it went through significant highs and lows.  Having said that,  I wouldn’t change a thing about my time there;  the exposure you get to tough business challenges in a smaller venture is invaluable.

The Move to Ceres Power
Throughout my career, I had been aware of Ceres Power, another fuel cell company that had spun out of Imperial College London, which had started well but later fell on hard times. It ran out of money and the technology wasn’t working at that point.  While I was at Intelligent Energy, we had considered a possible acquisition, but the timing wasn’t right for various reasons.

Seven years ago, I was contacted by Engineers in Business Fellowship (which awards the SMF MBA scholarship) and informed about the CEO vacancy at Ceres Power.   The company was under new ownership and I was curious about the change in direction.  Was it a serious bid to turnaround the business for good, or a quick flip for profit?  I decided to apply for the position and meet with the new owners and was encouraged with what I learned.  They wanted to get the right management in, build the board, support teams, and finance the company to long-term growth and profitability.  I came away thinking here was an exciting opportunity – a chance to become a chief executive, run a business in its entirety, with a supportive board and shareholder base that would allow me to rebuild the company.

First Steps as a CEO
The turnaround at Ceres Power wasn’t easy.  At that point, it had reputational and morale issues, but underneath all of that it had exceptionally good people and great technology.  Right from day one, I could see the passion from the staff, and I thought that if I could set a clear vision and lead, people would follow.  Step by step, we changed the strategy towards partnering with large international organisations, just as I had done at Intelligent Energy.

The first thing I did was open a Japanese office because that is the biggest market for fuel cells.  We invested in the core technology, worked hard to secure partners and as we started to build business with commercial partners, rather than just internally focusing on technology development, people started to believe.  Once we secured our first major partnership, it was easier to get the second and the third and it grew from there.  Our first partner was Honda, followed by Nissan, Bosch, Cummins and more. Today Ceres is working with world-leading partners to embed its SteelCell® technology in mass-market energy products for the commercial, residential and transportation markets, bringing cleaner and cheaper energy to society to address climate change.  That purpose of applying cutting edge technology to address climate change is an incredibly powerful motivator for our people!

I have been CEO at Ceres for seven years and, in that time, we have grown from 50 to 350 people, increased the value of the company from £50 million to more than £2 billion and recently secured Bosch and Weichai Power as strategic investors in the company each with approximately 20% shareholdings.

Value of an SMF Scholarship
Engineering is like a language, it’s a skillset and disciplined approach that is used consistently by our partners globally no matter which region or culture they operate in. It gives you an understanding of what it takes to develop products, run projects, deal with technology and understand complex issues.  These skills never leave you. If I didn’t have an engineering degree, I could not run an organisation of 350 scientists and engineers.  What I felt was missing all those years ago at ICI, where the gap between the engineering and commercial areas of the business is not the case at Ceres. The engineering and commercial and business side at Ceres are all closely linked.

That’s what makes Engineers in Business Fellowship (EIBF) so special – it’s getting engineers into business.  I strongly believe that, like myself, most engineers need rounding out with business skills.  We are so tuned into critical thinking that we need exposure to business, risk, finance and entrepreneurial skills, otherwise we will tend to play it safe.  The SMF MBA scholarship helps to get engineers into boardrooms, running businesses, generating income and creating jobs – that’s powerful.

The MBA scholarship made a huge difference to my life and career.  Being able to leave my job at ICI and go to business school, without having to worry about financial support or debt, was invaluable.  Winning the scholarship was also a huge confidence boost; it was validation that I was doing the right thing.  Being able to draw on the SMF network post-graduation was also useful.  I may have found out about the Ceres CEO position separately, but it was the contact at EIBF who first alerted me.  One could say that I wouldn’t be where I am now without the SMF scholarship and the connections in the network.

Advice to Engineers Considering Business Education
Whether or not you do an MBA, it is important to develop commercial and business skills no matter what job you are doing.  Choosing a high growth sector is likely to provide more future opportunities than a conventional industry path with little or no growth and gaining exposure to the business side of the organisation at an early stage will open doors to new ways of thinking and new opportunities.  The MBA is a personal decision because it is a big investment, but it has incredible rewards too.  It may sound like a cliché, but you literally step off the treadmill and do a big assessment of your life and career and go into a whole new chapter.  It takes you to new places and you meet amazing people many of whom you stay in touch with for life.  It really is a life-changing experience.

The SMF MBA Scholarship
If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as a stepping-stone towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could be awarded a £50,000 scholarship.

Why MBAs aren’t the only route to a good business education

MBAs v MScs

An MBA is one of the most highly respected and sought-after qualifications in the business world, and deservedly so. However, it’s important not to let the success of the MBA overshadow the incredible diversity of options available to you if you want to boost your career. The MBA has brand power on its side, and the title itself carries a great deal of weight, but as with all great brands there are always alternatives available that can be just as effective. A Master of Science (MSc) degree in business or management, for example, can be almost identical in all but name, and in some cases might even prove to be a better choice depending on your goals.

If you are torn about which route to take, or you are just beginning to explore your options for career-shaping further education, this article should help. We will take a look at MBAs and MScs in business, compare the two, and hopefully help with your decision-making process.

The difference between an MBA and MSc
The MBA badge is instantly recognisable on courses and programmes around the world, attracting candidates to some of the top universities and business schools. For most education providers, the MBA is a flagship programme due to its ability to attract excellent talent and command relatively high prices. These high prices are not usually too much of a barrier-to-entry for potential candidates, given that the ideal time to do an MBA is when you have already got a few years of industry experience under your belt. Some of you may even qualify for funding, scholarships or have an employer willing to invest in your future.

MBAs get a lot of glory, and with good reason, but that does not mean MSc options can’t be just as viable. MScs come in a variety of forms and might have different names in different places. Some education providers may refer to them as MAs or diplomas, but all business degrees will have a suffix, such as MSc in International Management or MSc in Business Management. Speaking from personal experience, when I did part of my MBA at SDA Bocconi, there was a course called MSc in Economics and Management, which was strikingly similar to an MBA but shorter in length. It was also cheaper and had a much younger candidate pool. All told, there are probably three times as many MScs in business than there are MBAs, providing younger candidates with more choice and flexibility in where – and what – they study.

In terms of scholarly output and benefits, there’s surprisingly little difference between an MSc and an MBA. MScs might not enjoy the ‘catch-all’ popular title of an MBA, and are often overlooked because of their diverse titles, but they often have remarkably similar content and leverage the same educational resources. For some of you, the MSc may even prove to be a superior choice. We’ll come onto that in the sections below.

The engineering management MSc
There are also specific options for those that wish to pursue an engineering career. Engineers are often the biggest single group participating in an MBA – which is testament to how good the combination of engineering and business is – but there are other options for those who don’t wish to pursue a broader career in business. After all, much of the content of an MBA is incidental to a career managing technical teams or processes.

Engineering management MScs tend to cover operations management, project management, leadership, and technical management. These convey skills on how to optimise operational environments, sometimes including manufacturing, and whilst they will also include a general business element, they tend to focus more on the technical and people management aspects of an engineering division of a company.

The question of affordability
As I mentioned earlier, the MBA is often pitched as a flagship programme at business schools. That’s because they are extremely lucrative and command high tuition fees, and they are in high demand. With an MBA, not only are you paying for a fantastic learning experience, you are also paying for a brand that has been cultivated over many decades. This is certainly worthwhile if you have already got some career experience and can afford it, but if you are at the very beginning of your career journey, it’s probably not the best move.

In fact, you could argue that an MSc is better value for money if you are just starting out in your career or want to start a business. After all, you are gaining access to the same faculty and business school brand for less money. MScs also tend to run over a slightly shorter period of time which is helpful if you want to get your business career going quickly. If you put in the work, MScs will not leave you any less prepared for the world of business. In some cases, an MSc might even be more advantageous, for example, if you are looking to pursue a specific area of business, because the subject matter will be covered in great depth.

Let’s take a look at the difference in costs between MBAs and MScs in business. Currently, an MBA at Oxford University would set you back £63,000, Cambridge charges £59,000 and at Manchester University it would cost £44,000. To study an MSc in business at these universities would cost you £46,800, £38,400, and £14,500, respectively. These are significant price differences!

Which should you choose?
This obviously depends on your personal circumstances and goals, but there are a few key things to bear in mind. Remember, an MBA is designed for people who have already had some industry experience. If you take an MBA, you will be expected to draw on this experience and share it with classmates, using it as a springboard to develop your understanding of business. MBAs are usually longer than MScs and, as we have discussed, are more expensive. This makes an MBA a solid choice for someone with industry experience and the financial resources be that personal financing, a scholarship, or a supportive employer. In exceptional circumstances, a fresh university graduate might be able to leap straight onto an MBA, but it’s rare and not usually recommended.

MScs may not have the same awareness as an MBA, but what they lack in branding they more than make up for in the diversity of subjects and affordability. If you’re in your early twenties or at an early stage in your career, an MSc in business can set you up for a career in business, whether you want to work for a blue-chip or become an entrepreneur.

To summarise, an MBA is not the only route to success in business and management. Don’t discount a variety of MScs in business from excellent schools and universities just because they don’t carry the MBA brand, or you’ll miss out on some terrific opportunities to study at some of the best educational establishments. MScs in business and administration topics are usually shorter, more affordable and, crucially, more suitable for those at an early stage in their career. If that sounds like you, consider an MSc to develop your business skills and acumen.

David Falzani MBE is President of Engineers in Business Fellowship and a Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at Nottingham University.

Photo credit: Delmaine Donson

How an MBA Helped me become A Business Leader in the Energy Sector: SMF Busola Banjo, Business Development Manager at Siemens

SMF Busola Banjo

SMF Busola Banjo was born with an intensely curious mind.  At a young age, while her peers were playing with their toys, Busola would take hers apart piece by piece – much to her mother’s dismay – only to reassemble them.  It’s as if her path to becoming an engineer was being written from that tender age, even though she says her passion for engineering was not instant.

At school Busola’s gift for mathematics and science related subjects was recognised early.  She said, “In Nigeria, schoolgirls are actively encouraged to take an interest in engineering.  If you’re good at maths and science subjects you are nudged towards engineering regardless of gender.  Engineering was presented to me as an option more than other subjects because of my educational ability.  I didn’t fall in love with it right away, but I certainly grew into the role. So much so that I went on to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering at university, with more of a focus on the electrical element which helped guide my early career choices.”

Five Year ‘Itch’ Led to an MBA
After graduating from the University of Nottingham with a degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Busola spent six years at Arup, a multinational professional services firm headquartered in London that specialises in engineering, architecture, and design.  Once again, her talents were recognised early on and she was on track to becoming a manager when she started to wonder what other options could be open to her.

“I started to get a bit of an itch and wondered if being in a purely technical role was right for me long term. I wanted to do more than just engineering and project management, so I started looking at different paths,” she said.

By this point, Busola was close to achieving Chartered Engineer status – a big milestone in her career – but then what?  She continued, “Do I go back to school to study?  Maybe take a course or two and see where it takes me?  At that point, I was lucky that friends started discussing MBAs.  I didn’t know anybody personally who had done one, but the more I learned about it, the more I was drawn to the idea.”

After attending a few business school fairs and events to learn more, Busola’s mind was made up; an MBA was the next logical step in her career.  She approached her employer at the time, Arup, and explained her life plan.  In a bid to retain her, they offered to put her on an accelerated path to management.  “I was delighted they wanted me to stay, but I also wanted to excel outside of a purely technical environment, make a move away from construction, and learn more about the managerial and administrative side of business, so I felt it was best to do an MBA.”

Busola set her sights on doing her MBA at INSEAD, a top international business school in Europe, to balance her technical expertise with career-advancing business administrative skills and was successful getting into her first and only choice business school!

MBA: Expectation Vs Reality
Figuring out your main reasons for doing an MBA and how it fits into your career plan is a huge part of the application process so Busola had to consolidate her thoughts on why she was pursuing an MBA and what she wanted to get out of it.  She continued, “During the application process I had to do a lot of thinking about why I wanted to do an MBA.  At the time, I was looking for a trifecta of change – different location, a new industry, and completely new role.  I wanted to pivot into real estate finance with a corporate developer, and thought my technical background combined with the MBA could get me there.”

In many ways, Busola got more than she bargained for at business school. For the first six months of her MBA, she focused on real estate finance with a firm view of what she was working towards.  However, speaking with her network of friends and colleagues at INSEAD, she began to realise that there were many different career options to explore.  “Gradually, I realised that I was limiting myself by being so focused on the original plan.  Throughout the MBA, my mind was opened to new opportunities – suddenly I could see myself working for the likes of Google or Facebook, or even moving into a completely different industry.” Despite never having considered retail as an option, Busola did a summer internship at Amazon which reinforced the idea that she could think more broadly about ‘what next.’

Into the Corporate World
Even before graduation from INSEAD, Busola was recruited to join Siemens, the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe, with branches worldwide.  She joined the prestigious CEO* Program which provides a unique opportunity for potential future leaders to work on top level strategic projects and to learn what it takes to lead a global enterprise.  Busola said “The CEO* Program was the ideal launching pad for a successful career in general management in Siemens.  There was continuous exposure to top leadership as well as the opportunity to work on impactful business growth projects.”

By the time Busola completed the Siemens CEO* Program, with three job rotations in Zurich, Berlin, and Newcastle under her belt, she had switched to Siemens’ Energy business.  It was around this time that the company announced that the energy business would carve out and become an independent company. Busola was then given the opportunity to play a vital role in the carve out.  Three years into her career, she is a Business Development Manager, and today she is a key member in the carve out Project Management Office and currently runs the Post- Formation Office which handles legal requirements for a carved out German entity.  Every day, she works with colleagues all over the world (albeit remotely at the moment because of the COVID-19 pandemic), drawing from the business and leadership skills gained through both her past roles and her MBA to drive vital collaborations amongst diverse teams across the globe.

She said, “This was an opportunity of a lifetime. I will probably never again be in a position to have such in-depth understanding of the inner workings of a company as I have gained from working on probably the largest carve out in German industrial history.”

Biggest Takeaway from the MBA
Busola’s goal was always to complement her background in engineering with business administration skills.  At the time she was destined for real estate finance, but now that she is at Siemens, does she think she achieved what she wanted from an MBA?

“My engineering background definitely provided the right foundation for me to be where I am at Siemens right now and the MBA made all the difference.  When I look back to where I was in terms of my business knowledge before the MBA and where I am today, I’m amazed.  Previously, I knew so little about the commercial side of running a company because I was so technically driven.  Apart from understanding and being able to interpret company reports, I had also wanted to learn about strategy execution in management.  Now I have both these skills – educationally and professionally, they were the two biggest take-aways from my MBA. The gain was 100%,” she said.

Becoming Part of the SMF Network
Every engineer who receives a Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship to do an MBA automatically becomes an SMF on graduation, with access to the SMF network and all the benefits it brings. What did Busola make of the scholarship?

“The SMF scholarship, which at that time was £30,000, was a tremendous help.   I had a reduced amount of debt after my MBA, which many of my colleagues weren’t fortunate enough to have.  Since graduating I’ve attended an SMF Annual Dinner and, along with other SMFs, was a mentor at an Engineering Leaders’ Scholarship training weekendThere’s always a lot going on and I try to contribute when I can.  I feel very reassured that if I ever need to draw on the network it’s there for me to tap into,” she said.

Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Engineers
There is still a lot of work to do to inspire girls to consider engineering as a career path, so to wrap up our interview we asked Busola for a few thoughts on women in engineering.  She said, “I would tell any female student wondering about studying engineering, not to be put off by what they may have heard about engineering.  It’s not that it isn’t difficult, but the rewards are great, in terms of the knowledge you acquire, job satisfaction and the impact you can make on society through your work.   For example, for two years I worked on projects to further develop Siemens’ large gas turbines services.  That work is helping to improve the reliability and efficiency of gas turbines that, eventually, will enable towns and cities to have more reliable power, thus supporting people in their homes and workplaces.”

Busola concluded, “Engineering is so broad it is easy to become overwhelmed, so narrow down your areas of interest.  If you like gadgets and electronics, consider Electronic Engineering; if you like to see how things can be dynamic and changed, maybe Process Engineering is for you. Break it down, look at your interests and link it to the relevant type of engineering.  Never be discouraged because engineering seems more difficult than it is.  And don’t let people dissuade you – even if you do not seem like someone who would naturally lean towards engineering, if it’s your dream, you can make it work!”
The SMF MBA Scholarship
If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could become one of our successful awardees – today the individual scholarship is £50,000.

Do you need an MBA to be an Entrepreneur?

Do I need an MBA to be an entrepreneur

By EIBF President, David Falzani MBE

Since the MBA first materialised more than a century ago it’s been intrinsically linked to business career success.  After all, the programme is designed to prepare professionals for senior management positions within business, so it’s little wonder that many of those with MBAs have gone on to have wonderful business careers. You would therefore be forgiven for thinking that an MBA would be an invaluable – and even necessary – tool for launching your own business.  However, the answer to the questions ‘do you need an MBA to be an entrepreneur’ is a little more nuanced than you might initially think.

In today’s fast-paced digital business landscape, starting a business is easier than it’s ever been.  Start-ups are everywhere, and guess what? The vast majority are not led by people with MBAs.  Most people with that entrepreneurial fire tend to ‘learn by doing’, usually picking up useful advice from mentors and role models along the way.  Depending on their type of business, some of them may even enrol in educational accelerator programmes such as the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub which is aimed at engineers.  If these entrepreneurs do take on an MBA, it’s usually after they’ve completed their first foray into the world of business. That’s not to say an MBA can’t be hugely advantageous, but it certainly isn’t a requirement.

When MBAs were first established, they were not really geared toward entrepreneurship. They were, and still are, a primer for business. They were designed to whet the appetites of candidates and equip them with the basic tools and knowledge needed to go on and thrive in their business careers, in whatever role they chose. However, like business itself, the MBA is always evolving. The past 15 years in particular have seen the MBA change considerably, now offering lots of entrepreneurial options that could easily set somebody on the path to launch their own enterprise.

Twenty years ago when I did my MBA, which spanned Europe and the USA, things looked quite different.  The European portion of my MBA had no exposure to entrepreneurship as a subject at all, whereas the USA portion not only recognised entrepreneurship, but dedicated a separate branch of teaching to it that covered specialised techniques and approaches to business.  Of course, things have changed today.  So, if you are considering an MBA and have that entrepreneurial fire within you, know that there are MBAs out there that will fully support it and arrange their teaching around it.  In fact, most MBAs will have a leaning one way or another depending on the schools that are providing them, and the electives that are available – that’s why it’s crucial to pick the right course at the right institution, and entrepreneurship is no exception.

While it probably doesn’t hurt to have an MBA, with the wealth of knowledge it brings, don’t let the fact that you don’t have one (or don’t have the time/resources to get one) hold you back. There are countless ways to quench that entrepreneurial thirst, from entrepreneurship programmes at universities to local business groups that let you liaise with successful business leaders.  An MBA is a valuable asset, but it’s far more focused on the bigger picture.  You might even find that you learn more from an MBA once you’ve tried your hands at business. Whether you win or lose, the experience alone will be enough to prepare you for an MBA, in the same way we recommend a few years in industry first for those thinking about an MBA as part of their career development.

An MBA is a fantastic educational experience that can provide a great career boost, but if your sole objective is to start your own business there’s probably a better route you can take in 2020.  For example, I’m a trainer on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business UK programme that runs out of Oxford University.  Each year it attracts 140 brilliant small business CEOs and very few of them have MBAs.  What they do have, however, is a huge amount of support and business advice from mentor figures and people taking part in the programme.  Similarly, there are many regional programmes specifically for start-ups, often run by local universities or business schools.

For example, at the University of Nottingham, where I’m a professor, we have a start-up Lab for new businesses, and more than 50 entrepreneurs in residence who are available to mentor, support and run workshops for young aspiring business leaders. While higher education qualifications are still very much valued, there seems to be an increasing appetite in entrepreneurial circles for raw, ‘learn by doing’ experience and the kind of knowledge that can really only be passed down from one successful business person to the next.

With this in mind, it’s safe to say that an MBA is most certainly not a requirement if you’re looking to start up your own business. By all means view it as an option, but know that there’s a wealth of support, advice and mentorship out there that could get you to where you need to be far more effectively and faster than an MBA.

If and when the time is right for you to do an MBA and you are a professional engineer considering an MBA, you can apply for a scholarship towards your study. Visit our MBA scholarship application page to learn about our £500,000 annual Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarships.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

How an MBA Helped an Engineer ‘Fly’ Higher: SMF Kyle Henderson, Senior Director, Licensing at Honeywell Aerospace

Kyle Henderson, Senior Director, Licensing at Honeywell Aerospace

Kyle Henderson’s passion for aeroplanes began as a youngster and it has travelled with him throughout his life.  This love of planes inspired him to become an engineer and subsequently to take an MBA at a top international business school, INSEAD, in order to take his career to new heights at Honeywell Aerospace, where he is now the Senior Director of Licensing.

In this profile, we learn a little about Kyle’s career and why he believed an MBA would be pivotal to his international career progression even though he was already on a great trajectory in the aerospace industry.  What did he gain from the experience?  How has the combination of engineering and business skills enhanced his work and career?

“When I was growing-up I felt the ‘wow-factor’ associated with aircraft, whether it be the huge, majestic air transport aircraft or the sleek and sexy military fighters.  I wanted to become an engineer so that I could be involved with aerospace and all those cool aircraft,” explained Kyle.

Early Career
Confident about his career path, Kyle began working in the aerospace sector before and during university and gained excellent grounding in a large blue-chip company, Bombardier.  Then, after graduating from Oxford University with an Honours Degree in Engineering, he joined the Airbus Graduate Development Programme, where he enjoyed rapid progression to a Project Engineering role, and later went on to lead a Customer Support Team as Project Team Leader and was responsible for 40 projects in Landing Gear Systems.  Another major project involved steering a partnership with a key overseas supplier to pioneer a thermoplastic composite aircraft structure that delivered significant weight saving, reduced parts count by 75%, saved EUR 10 million programme cost.

Kyle’s next blue-chip company landing was Fokker Aerospace in The Netherlands where he was Outsourcing Manager leading a cross functional team of eight.  Amongst his achievements were the creation of a EUR 18 million business-winning proposal and the outsourcing of an 8,000-man hour engineering work package with a previously untried Russian company that paved the way for substantial future cooperation.

At this point, eight years into his career, Kyle had worked in both pure engineering and programme management positions and had developed a keen interest in more strategic/corporate roles, and he wanted to steer his career in that direction. To achieve this, he knew that he needed additional skills and that an MBA would give him the formal business education to secure a senior management position and accelerate his career progression.

The Difference an MBA Scholarship Makes
 Kyle chose INSEAD for his MBA because he felt that its international footprint and culture were a perfect fit for the career he wanted to build.  He was so sure that it was the school for him that it was the only one he applied to, and despite the rigorous entry and language requirements, he was successful.  We all know that taking an MBA at an internationally renowned biz-school comes at a premium price, so Kyle was fortunate to get a scholarship to offset some of the costs.  He was invited to a Sainsbury Management Fellows’ (SMF) networking event by an old friend from his Oxford days and now an SMF, Chris Gifford, where he met other high-flying engineers who had gained an MBA with the help of an SMF scholarship.  Kyle got through the stringent application process and was awarded a £30,000 scholarship.

Kyle said: “Having the SMF scholarship was a massive safety net and allowed me to take the bold step of leaving a job with no return path on the table, as well as moving to a different country/continent and trusting that I would be equipped to find the next exciting step in my career without any unwelcome gap.”

From MBA to Senior Management
The MBA has had a transformative effect on Kyle’s career – straight out of INSEAD Kyle landed his first role at Honeywell Aerospace, in Prague in the Czech Republic, as Senior Strategic Marketing Manager responsible for setting the strategic direction and growing Honeywell’s business in Europe, Middle East, Africa and India (EMEAI). Three years later he moved to Honeywell Aerospace’s regional headquarters in Switzerland as Honeywell’s Global Business Manager and led the execution of aftermarket strategies for the entire Mechanical Product portfolio within the EMEAI region.

Leapfrog to the present and Kyle is based in Arizona in the US and is Senior Director of Licensing, responsible for driving Honeywell Aerospace’s global licensing strategy.  He leads a 15-strong outbound licensing team that licenses third parties/partners who require access to Honeywell Intellectual Property (IP), so delivering millions of dollars in revenue.

Kyle’s decision to gain key skills in strategy, marketing, finance and leadership, have enabled him to shine at Honeywell and springboard from one great opportunity to the next.  Asked how the MBA has helped him tackle business challenges, he said “As far as professional skills go, the marketing and strategy techniques I learned were the biggest pieces of ‘book knowledge’ I absorbed in my MBA.

“When negotiating a licensing deal – or any type of deal for that matter – the better informed you are, the better the outcome. One of the most important things to understand for any of my team’s licensing deals is how much value the technology or intellectual property we are providing will bring to the licensee. This typically involves understanding the market size and how the license will help them win more business than they otherwise would.  This market sizing and determination of value against a real-world ‘next-best-alternative’ is key Strategic Marketing 101 and is one of the technical skills my SMF-enabled MBA brought me.

“Whilst an MBA cannot deal with specific trends in an industry, the business framework afforded by an MBA helps one to understand and react to some of the key macro drivers in the aerospace sector, be that industry consolidation through M&A of the larger players or vertical integration by the large OEMs.”

Asked for an example of how his engineering experience helps in licensing deal-making, Kyle said, “Engineering is fundamental to our work.  Like most business transactions, a licensing deal is truly successful when both parties realise a real benefit from the activity.  As a technology company, the Intellectual Property that is the subject of Honeywell’s licenses is by its nature going to be technical.  As such, having a good grasp of how the IP will be used and the value it will bring to the licensee – something that my engineering background enables me to assess – is key to striking the optimum licensing deal.”

Apart from the technical knowledge gained through his MBA, Kyle also mentioned the importance of leadership skills.  Interestingly, in pursuing his passion to work in aerospace, being a leader had not dominated Kyle’s ambition, but leading teams has been an integral part of many of his roles, and he has thrived in this area.

Leadership Skills
He said, “There are many different types of leadership styles and all can be successful.  The softer, people skills are every bit as important a factor in being a successful leader as the technical management skillset.  As such, personality is important, and good leaders should not feel inhibited about letting their personality shine through at work.

“While I still like being close to the deals my team run, I have a strong team and can see how much more I can deliver with all of their industry knowledge and hard work.  I would be hesitant to go back into an individual-contributor role that could have less of a top or bottom-line impact.”

The SMF Network
The engineers who receive an SMF scholarship become Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMFs) on graduation and become part of the SMF network of successful business leaders who work in blue-chip and entrepreneurial organisations.  The SMFs use their combined engineering and business skills to help companies and the UK economy grow, as well as mentoring the next generation of engineers.  One of the key benefits of being part of the SMF network is the support that the alumni give each other – this ranges from advice on tackling business issues to discussing entrepreneurial investment strategies.

Kyle said that the SMF network has been a tremendous asset and a link to the UK: “Aside from the huge benefit of the scholarship, the SMF network has kept me close to my engineering roots as my career has developed.  Having lived internationally for the last 15 years, including all the time during and since my MBA, SMF has also provided a strong link back to the UK and home, and I hope to be able to maintain and grow that in the future, whether that is with a role back in the UK, or whilst staying International.”

Considering doing an MBA?
What advice would Kyle give to a young engineer considering doing an MBA, “Just do it!  It might seem like a big step to leave a secure job for the intense world of a full-time MBA – and it is – but if you’re ambitious and don’t mind the hard work, it’s a great way to take the next big step in your career, and possibly your life!

“I have always been motivated by wanting to achieve as much as I’m able to; never wanting to look back with regret and think ‘if only I’d taken that opportunity, or made the leap from something safe and secure to something new and exciting, then I could have done more’.  I am enjoying a fantastic international career whilst staying close to my passion for all that cool aerospace stuff!  I would definitely encourage other engineers looking to move into a more corporate role to take an MBA,” said Kyle.

The SMF MBA Scholarship
If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could become one of our successful awardees – today the individual scholarship is £50,000.