All posts by Althea Taylor-Salmon

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.

About the Author: SMF 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.

How My MBA Helped Me Transform Management Consultancy Services: SMF Will Jones, Director UK & Ireland, COMATCH

Walking in his father’s footsteps, former management consultant and SMF Will Jones studied for his Sainsbury Management Fellows-sponsored MBA at INSEAD, an experience he describes as transformative.  “The year completely changed my life.  I was saturated with knowledge and exciting experiences.  Both the good and the tough times shaped me and enabled me to forge an amazing new career at COMATCH,” said Will.

Like all Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMFs), Will is an engineer (MEng), an area he was drawn to from an early age.  “My strength has always been around structured thinking and being very comfortable ‘playing’ with numbers and analysis,” said Will.   After graduating from Warwick University, he worked in China for four year as a Manufacturing Engineer before becoming a management consultant with PA Consulting Group and then, to develop his career, studying for a Masters’ in Business Administration with a focus on international business.

Will explained: “I wanted to become comfortable with the business landscape.  There is a steep learning curve when you enter commercial roles; if you go in totally cold it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  I saw the MBA as an opportunity to familiarise myself with business concepts prior to stepping into a more senior role where I would be expected to know about areas such as marketing and finance.

“I saw what the MBA did for my father’s career.  He worked across the globe in consultancy and was responsible for opening offices throughout Asia for one firm.  His international career enabled him to travel extensively and he speaks several languages.  From a personal perspective, 45 years after studying at INSEAD, he is still hanging out with people he shared experiences and bonded with at business school.  This definitely inspired me but, of course, there were other reasons for doing an MBA.

“In engineering education, you are taught structure and process which is invaluable for any profession. But to be successful in the most senior positions, you also need to communicate well and be able to build relationships and networks. The MBA teaches you these skills along with business skills which makes you very credible in the business world.  The MBA prepares you to deal with any situation or project that lands on you,” said Will.

After graduating from INSEAD, Will returned to management consultancy at Accenture Strategy Group. At that point, he was intending to work his way up the corporate ladder using his newly acquired business skills and acumen. But fate took a hand in his career trajectory when he was headhunted by COMATCH to build its UK office.  This position steered Will away from the traditional career path in consultancy into a cutting-edge business that combines his passion for consultancy with the fun of building a team, a client base, and a business.

A New Kind of Consultancy Venture
Will takes up the story: “COMATCH is a marketplace that aggregates both consulting talent and clients from across the world.  There are 10,000 consultants with diverse experience and background on the platform already, including some Sainsbury Management Fellows and friends I made whilst studying at INSEAD.

“COMATCH takes successful independent consultants who realise the strength of their abilities and connections – who want to work for themselves – and matches them with clients in need of this specific expertise. This enables consultants to work on projects they are passionate about and shape a lifestyle that suits them.

“On the client side, our consultants provide services that help to accelerate and transform established businesses and scale-ups alike. For example, if an SME wants to expand across Europe, COMATCH provides access to vetted top-tier consultants that they could not obtain directly through traditional routes.

“The scale of the platform is staggering, it enables us to work with clients globally whilst providing consulting support locally; it’s about matching the right skillset and work-style, combined with the best background, be it local expertise or global understanding. Even more interesting in these current times is that the consultants did not miss a beat, they are used to remote working already and that the clients are now less fixated on location. With the geographic shackles removed, clients can really benefit from receiving the best talent globally!

“What really excites me about COMATCH is the diversity and strength of the consultant network, the clients we get to work with, and that I feel I can bring significant benefit both sides. I frequently don’t have the answer to the client problem, but I know how to find it” said Will.

Will is responsible for building the UK team as well as developing client relationships and the independent consultant pool.  The latter involves a two-step vetting process, whereby applicants are screened and then approximately 40% go onto interview stage, where Will can get a deeper understanding of their career focus and working style. The relationship building process also includes regular new joiner events where consultants get to network.Director UK & Ireland

Will continued, “Building the UK office from scratch has involved many exciting challenges, from creating the goals, establishing the office and hiring a team of spirited people who share a vision for the success of the business and bring novel ideas to the table. I’m relatively good with people, I draw on what I learned at INSEAD to take a more holistic view, to feel comfortable in client conversations, and when I have to talk to our CFO about the P&L.”

Benefts of the MBA
The emphasis on leadership and communication skills during the MBA made Will realise it was one of his key attributes.  He explained: “My meandering childhood with my parents meant that I developed an ability to quickly build networks; connecting people and ideas was something that felt natural to me, but I never saw the value in it. It took comments and nudges from people at business school for me to see communication as a key strength in my character and something I should maximise.”

Asked to cite the greatest benefits of doing an MBA, it was not the ‘tool kit’ of technical business skills that Will highlighted, instead he talked about how he can deliver results and networking: “I realised that there is a lot of value that I can personally deliver and that I should not settle until I feel I am achieving these goals. Secondly, I value highly the diverse network of truly inspirational people who are only too happy to help if asked in the right way.

“INSEAD was an incredible learning and growing experience. No matter what the day, what the module, or how intensively I had to work, I always ended the day knowing that in some way I had developed as an individual.”

“Leaving business school is actually the start of an amazing journey, not only because I moved onto an unexpected new career, but also because I am now part of the Sainsbury Management Fellows network; a large group of interesting individuals who work across a breadth of industries.  We come together for organised events, can connect individually if we need help, and we also have the opportunity to meet young engineers as they look to advance their careers.  Many of these are mentored by SMFs.”

Inspring Engineers on an MBA Journey
Asked for any words of advice for a young engineer considering taking an MBA, Will said: “In a world that values marginal gains, this is one of the strongest gains you can add to your skills set; it will develop you on a professional and personal level. Anecdotally, every INSEAD Alumni who came to present on campus said something along the lines of ‘this will be one of the best years of your life’ and I couldn’t agree more!”

The SMF MBA Scholarship
If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, you could become be awarded a £50,000 scholarship.

 

When to do your MBA?

By David Falzani MBE, President EIBFProfessional engineer

An MBA is a highly regarded and sought-after qualification for employers around the world. Not only can it leave you standing head and shoulders above your peers, it can transform the opportunities that open up to you as you progress in your career.  One of the questions we are asked by prospective MBA candidates is when to take an MBA. Is there an ideal time? Will I get more out of my MBA depending on when I take it?  The optimal time depends on several factors, but more often than not the answer is a resounding yes.

First, you need to consider your personal circumstances and what stage of life you are at.  Do you have the flexibility to take time out to study? Will your finances hold up? Second, you need to consider your career and how you will really benefit from an MBA. Those with several years’ experience in a business or specialised role such as an accountant, technician or scientist, will have a lot to gain from an MBA. Those with very little experience may still benefit from an MBA – but without the ability to contrast what they are learning with knowledge and experience gleaned from work experience – they will not be getting the most out of it. Or certainly not the same benefits as students who have been in the workplace.

In other words, timing is important.  Let’s take a look at the three MBA categories people can choose depending on their life stage: The Executive MBA, Full-time MBA and MBA straight from university.

The Executive MBA
The Executive MBA is a popular route because it enables you to gain the qualification whilst working, so there is no dramatic change to your personal lifestyle. The Executive MBA allows you to study part-time while actively engaged in employment. It’s very much an educational experience which requires you to link your learning to your ongoing work projects and vice versa. For that reason, it’s essential to take the MBA while you are employed in a role that allows you to make those linkages and reap the benefits.

In order to make the most of an MBA you need to be in a role that will give you the latitude to develop and apply what you are learning. If in doubt, explore each business school’s entry requirements as these will help you to determine whether or not you have the right level of experience and are working in an industry sector/role that will ensure you benefit from studying with the school. A good business school doesn’t just want your fees; they want you to thrive and succeed and therefore help build their brand.

An Executive MBA is a great route for someone who is employed in a role that will allow them to maximise the content of the course, develop/grow and add further value to their company. The Executive MBA is often the number one choice for people looking to balance learning with earning.

Full-time MBA
This is the MBA sweet spot and the most popular route to earning the qualification – candidates usually have between two to six years’ professional work experience.  Typically, full time MBA candidates are in their mid to late twenties.  Business schools are particularly interested in this group for two main reasons.  First, this group has professional experience which they can draw upon and link to the course, and then use it in the classroom to benefit themselves and their classmates. Being collaborative and using your previous experience in the classroom is essential – non-participation is not an option.   Previous experience is crucial to maximise the benefits of a full time MBA. If your work experience is the touch paper on a grill, the MBA is the match that ignites it and really gets things cooking. One without the other generally does not work.

Picture a young graduate with no work experience tackling an MBA. They’ll be able to read, absorb and learn, but without being able to apply those ‘learnings’ to practical experience of work, it’s all theoretical for them. It’s worth bearing in mind that around 25% of what you learn in an MBA is through discussion and collaboration with peers. If a student doesn’t have work experience to bring to the table, he or she may find it hard to relate to some of the concepts that will inevitably emerge, as well as hard to contribute to peer discussions.

Second, business schools are interested in candidates with this level of work experience because they are not so locked into their careers that they cannot make dramatic changes in their thinking and future careers.  Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, by the time people reach their early to mid thirties, they are often very invested in their existing careers, and may have young families and financial commitments such as a mortgage.  Although an MBA is a catalyst for growth and change, helping students to build even more stellar careers, these personal and financial factors make the decision to step out of a secure job and into an expensive and demanding full-time MBA too high risk for people who have been working longer than six years.

So, there is a peak time to take a full-time MBA. That peak may vary slightly from person to person, but you need to demonstrate that you have not only drive and ambition but relevant industry experience and are still able to evolve your career; that you are ready to explore new opportunities that will open up.

From university graduation to business school
This is a bit of a wildcard but it’s worth including because, although it’s rare, it does happen. There are business schools that will take a graduate straight from university, without any or little work experience.  Usually, these candidates have already proven themselves to be academic high-fliers who will benefit from the insights that only an MBA can offer and allow them to go even further in their careers. Furthermore, these students (like all MBA candidates) will meet a diverse group of people and these connections may be useful when entering the workforce.

So, is there a good time to do an MBA?
In order to get the most out of your MBA there most certainly is a good time to apply, but that time will vary from person to person depending on their circumstances and life stage.  You should choose to take on an MBA at a time in your life when you are confident that it will enhance your career opportunities. It’s a huge commitment that requires an investment of time, money and effort and you want to make absolutely sure that it’s going to have a tangible and positive impact on your career prospects.

How to Apply for the Sainsbury Management Fellows 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 –the individual scholarship is £50,000 and we award ten of these every year.

Mastering the MBA Admissions Essay

Wharton MBA Candidate Nic Renard

By Nic Renard, (CEng MEng Hons, Imperial College London), The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

For some people, an MBA is something that was always going to be a part of their career – a rung in the ladder that they would plan for years in advance.  My journey was a little different. I’ve always loved being an engineer, but after working for eight plus years in the same company I felt the need to make a change. Society needs to evolve, and I want to play a part in driving that evolution. To achieve that, I knew I would need to develop my entrepreneurial skills, deepen my understanding of digital technologies and equip myself with the business know-how to kickstart the next chapter of my career.  That’s when I decided to apply for an MBA.  Having gone through the application process, I thought I would share my experience of tackling the MBA admissions essay as this may help aspiring applicants.

Being true to yourself
“The MBA admissions essay is important for lots of reasons, but ultimately, it’s about getting to know the candidates and their motivations for wanting to do an MBA. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing what you think the admissions team wants to hear – if you catch yourself doing that, take a step back and do some more thinking.

“First, it’s very difficult to persuade somebody that you’re something you’re not, and sooner or later you’ll get caught (probably during the interview). The admissions team is very thorough, and reviews thousands of applications each year, so are adept at spotting lack of authenticity; people that present themselves in a way they think will please the admissions team. Second, the essays are a fantastic opportunity for you to reflect on your career journey and your next steps.  Approach the essay as a ‘thinking tool’ – use it to dig deep and reflect on what you have achieved so far and where you want to go next in your career. If you don’t figure out where you want the MBA to take you, you’ll end up trying to recruit for consulting, banking and big tech all at the same time!

“For me, the admissions essay was a chance to sharpen my career plan. It also helped me focus my time and attention on the right activities at Wharton. When you start at your chosen school, you will find so many opportunities at your feet that you will need a clearly defined set of goals to choose the right ones and make the most of your time at b-school. 

Putting pen to paper
“The admissions essay will force you to think seriously about yourself and your career. I found it an interesting exercise, and I learned a few things about myself that might otherwise have slipped under the radar. For weeks, I discussed what I was going to write with my wife, parents and friends, and this helped me to cut through the noise and get to the heart of what I wanted to say. I did find the actual writing of the essays and staying within the word limit a challenge, but it was made immeasurably easier by first figuring out my story and what I wanted to say.

“Coming from an engineering background there were very few people in my network that had gone through the MBA applications process to whom I could go for advice. At the time I was concerned about this, but it was a blessing in disguise as it forced me to focus entirely on what I wanted to say rather than what the admissions team might want to hear. By all means look to others for advice before putting pen to paper, but make sure your essay is yours and yours alone. 

Structuring your essays
“Essays traditionally have a set layout with an introduction, body and conclusion.  This is important, but the format your MBA admissions essays take will largely depend on your chosen topic and your individual story. There is no fixed format or ‘top ten things that need to be included in your essay’.

“That said, the admissions team will be looking for certain traits in your essay. They will want to see examples of leadership, particularly in extra-curricular environments. They will also want to see evidence of proactive contributions in team settings, as well as any industry skills you may have picked up on that might not be explicitly referenced on your resume. Different programmes will have different criteria by which they assess your application, so this will impact the layout and weighting of topics.

“Take care how you express your accomplishments. You need to balance a fine line between singing your own praises and conveying the uniqueness of your application. Be wary of superlative language or anything that feels boastful but do bear in mind that it is a competitive application and the admissions team does want to hear about your accomplishments in the right way.

Making it relevant
“One of the most important aspects of writing an MBA admissions essay is tailoring it to each business school you are applying to. Different schools have different requirements, preferences and weightings, and programmes can vary widely too. Some schools might be looking for academics, others might be more interested in entrepreneurs, some might want natural leaders or industry professionals etc.

“It’s also a good idea to get a sense of where each school’s programme is trying to go, for example, is it trying to develop a new type of major? Does it want to improve its finance rankings? Has it recently opened a new environmental research centre? All of this should be easy to research online and will help you understand what your chosen business schools might be looking for in candidates. Going back to the essay structure, this research could hugely influence the weighting of your essays and how you write them. 

Backing achievements up
“One of the unwritten rules for admissions essays is back up everything you say with real-world examples. No MBA administrator is going to be impressed with a well-written essay that doesn’t demonstrate the talents and skills you claim to have. For example, instead of writing “I’m a passionate team player who leverages everyone’s skills in every project I undertake,” you should write something along these lines: “While working on project X, I personally sought to bring people from departments Y and Z into the team because their skills in A, B and C complemented mine and enabled us to tackle aspect D of the project and complete it X months early.” I think you will agree that the latter example is a more persuasive way of highlighting a relevant skill.

“On the whole, I think the key to unlocking your MBA future and submitting a brilliant admissions essay is simply figuring out why you want to do an MBA and what you bring to your business school of choice. If you take nothing else away from this article, this alone should be enough to set you up for success.”

How to Apply for the Sainsbury Management Fellows 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 –the individual scholarship is £50,000 and we award ten of these every year.