Category Archives: Blog

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.

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

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.

How to tackle the MBA Admissions Essay

By Víctor Manzanares Bonilla, (MEng Polytechnic University of Madrid [UPM]), IESE Business School

“For those aiming to start a successful career in business, there is no better springboard than the MBA. Since its inception at the Harvard Business School more than a century ago, it’s become an incredibly prestigious qualification, sought after by many employers in the world of business. The MBA provides a unique opportunity for flexible, intensive learning that alters thinking and challenges perspectives across a number of key areas. Put simply, if you’re looking for a transformational experience, a change in your career or to take a few steps up the ladder to get noticed in the world of business, an MBA is for you.

“Through a combination of hard work and good fortune, I was humbled to receive a scholarship from SMF to pursue an MBA with the IESE Business School. As a civil engineer, finance and business have never been my strong suit, so I’m very much looking forward to filling these knowledge gaps and complete my profile as I think about progressing my career.  However, gaining an MBA placement is about more than scholarships. The MBA admissions essay is a key part of the on-boarding process, and for many institutions will make or break your application. Having been through this process and tackled the MBA admissions essay myself, I thought it might be good to share some thoughts with aspiring MBA candidates.

Honing your message
“First, it’s important to understand that almost everybody applying for an MBA will have a stellar CV and a solid GMAT score, so these aren’t necessarily things that are going to set you apart.  Make the assumption that every other applicant is as qualified as you are – if not more so – so you’re going to need to look beyond academia and professional career to make an impression. For the MBA Admissions Committee, this is their first ‘handshake’ with you. They’re going to be interested in what makes you who you are, how you’ve progressed in your career and what your ambitions are for the future. What are you hoping to learn? How will an MBA further your goals? What motivates and drives you?

“These are all great questions to think about and require some time for self-reflection. I’d also recommend thinking not only about what the course can do for you, but what you can do for it. What can you bring to the table? How will you be an asset to the particular school you’re applying to?

“The admissions essay is a great time to open up and reveal a little more about your thoughts, values and aspirations beyond the academic grades.

Setting aside the time
“Quite often, the admissions essay will in fact be admissions essays, if you’re applying to more than one school or course. I had to write four essays for IESE, and before starting each, I’d spend at least one day ruminating about what I wanted to say.  I’d think about the title of the essay and how it aligned with my experience and career objectives.  I’d check the business school’s website again to remind myself of their mission and values, and how I might be able to contribute.  An entire day may seem like a long-time to plan a short essay, but if you put in the hours, you’ll find the writing process that much easier.

“That said, I think you also need to know when to call it quits. Having two or three drafts is fine, but if you constantly tweak and modify your final draft into something you think the committee wants to hear (as opposed to what you actually want to say), you run the risk of sounding very generic and impersonal. Remember, the committee wants to get to know you – not a version of you.

Structuring your essay
“Structuring your essay is something very personal, but I would say that all good essays have an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.  However, with something like an admissions essay there’s a little more to think about. First, you need to make sure your introduction is very short and to the point. It should consist of one or two sentences that directly relate to the title of the essay. If your essay title is a question, the first sentence or two should answer it as concisely as possible. As for the body, this is where you show your ‘working out’.  Expand on the introduction, drawing on your past experiences and your own personal values and judgements to support the essay’s core message. Your conclusion should be as concise as the introduction – a quick summary of the main message and the thinking behind it.

“If you’re struggling to get started, do what I did.  Sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down what you want to convey in very simple bullet points.  Then assign relevant milestones and achievements in your life to those bullet points. This will give you a neat structure with a unique personal angle.

Keeping things relevant and in context
“It’s very tempting to fall into the trap of simply listing achievements and qualifications throughout your essay to make up the word count.  Remember, the committee already has your CV and knows how capable you are. This isn’t the time to prove what you can do, it’s the time to prove who you are.

“While this might sound contrary, you should also avoid making the essay all about you. Yes, the committee wants to get to know you, but they also want to gain a deeper understanding of what kind of student you’d be and how you’d fit into their school.  So, talk about yourself, but do so in context.  Each time you mention one of your experiences, traits or values, think about how that might resonate with the school or course you’re applying for.

Answering the ‘big question’
“One of the questions that makes us all secretly want to run to the hills is, “Why do you want to study an MBA?”  It’s a very reasonable question, but it’s intimidating because it’s so vague and there are so many wonderful answers you could give.  While there isn’t necessarily a wrong answer to this question, there are right ways to go about answering it. You should start by talking a little about your career and experience and what led you to discovering the MBA as a qualification. Talk about your deepest motivations and why an MBA in particular appealed to you.

“The key here is context – you need to demonstrate how your own personal experiences and world view led you – as an individual – to consider an MBA. However, do remember that you’re not just applying for an MBA. You’re applying for an MBA at a particular school, and you should include your school of choice in your thinking. Don’t just talk about why you want to study an MBA; talk about why you want to study an MBA at your chosen business school.

“At its heart, the MBA admissions essay is an exercise in self-reflection. If you take the time to uncover your true motivations and articulate them in a concise, relevant and meaningful way, you’ll easily make the shortlist for your chosen school.”

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.

Jack Welch: The Best Boss by SMF Patrick Macdonald

Sainsbury Management Fellow, Patrick Macdonald,Chairman, School for CEOs
Sainsbury Management Fellow, Patrick Macdonald,Chairman, School for CEOs

Patrick Macdonald, a Chartered Engineer, won a Sainsbury Management Fellowship to support his MBA at INSEAD in 1992. While at business school, several of his professors cited General Electric (GE) as the exemplar of US, and indeed global, business leadership. Patrick seized the opportunity to move to the USA and work at GE a few years later. Jack Welch, GE’s legendary boss, put a huge emphasis on developing business leaders. Jack, who has just died, had a profound impact on Patrick’s career. Amongst other roles, he’s now Chairman of the School for CEOs, a business dedicated to help the next generation of leaders succeed.

In this blog article, Patrick reflects on Jack’s exceptional leadership and legacy.

I was lucky enough to work for Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, at the height of his powers. Sadly, Jack died this week. Thousands of words were written about him during his 20 years at the head of General Electric and thousands have been written since. He has gone through a familiar cycle of huge admiration and praise at first – ‘Manager of the Century’ according to Fortune magazine – followed by a slow trashing of his reputation since. GE’s performance and profile suffered badly under his successor, Jeff Immelt. Jack recently gave himself an A for his leadership of GE and an F for his choice of successor, Jeff Immelt. I’d agree with that assessment. Indeed, I’d give Jack an A++ for his leadership. He was the most complete boss I’ve worked for, a fantastic leader. Like most of his team, I would have run through walls for him.

Let’s take his leadership first. Sure, Jack could be incredibly tough. Sure, he took some potentially good ideas beyond the point where they made sense (such as ‘rank and yank’, firing your lowest 10% performers every year, year after year). But he took the slow, unwieldy, bureaucratic GE he inherited – already the most admired company in America – and turned into a nimble, agile, exciting business whose value he grew by 29x to $410bn. Many of the concepts he espoused – be #1 or #2, fix/close/sell, 6 sigma – have been widely copied and are now part of the business lexicon. He ruled GE like a tidal wave. It was astonishing how much he knew about the most obscure corner of the business, and equally astonishing how quickly he got a 300,000-person organisation to respond to his ideas. GE was built around the idea that Jack was right, and the only issue was how quickly you got it. Fortunately, Jack usually was right – and was good at course corrections when he was wrong – and life was good.

But the weakness in this model, of course, was its reliance on that one exceptional leader. It was vulnerable to a successor who wasn’t right as often as Jack. The enormous resources of GE would follow the boss in the wrong direction just as readily as the right one, and that vulnerability came home to roost under Immelt’s leadership. Unfortunately, Jeff’s judgement turned out not to be as sound as Jack’s. He churned through GE’s multifarious businesses, becoming the first person in history to buy and sell $100bn of assets, paying nearly $1.7bn in fees along the way. The businesses he bought often did not endure. Pricing discipline was lost and execution lacked focus. Disaster loomed, with GE’s valuation dropping 90% from its 2000 peak. Jeff left in 2017.

It’s fashionable now to lay the blame for GE’s subsequent problems at Jack’s door. As I said above, Jack took full responsibility for picking his successor. But it seems unfair to hammer him for mistakes made more than a decade later. With that logic, the successes you’re racking up today are not down to you at all – they’re down to your predecessor and whoever picked you. I don’t think life works that way. Jack built the most valuable company on the planet and changed the way we all do business. That’s enough for me.

 

What is an MBA? – by EIBF President David Falzani MBE     

Benefits of Studying for an MBA

The MBA has been around since 1908 when the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration was established in the USA. Across the world today, the MBA is the watchword for business career success, and prospective students are spoilt for choice as to where and how they study – from the world-leading schools like Harvard and London Business School (which was the first UK business school) to virtual online schools, from full-time courses to part time study.

MBA programmes prepare professionals for senior management roles in business.  Typically, MBAs are taken by those who have already been working for several years, but that’s not always the case.  Some people go straight from their first university degree to study for an MBA degree and this is the beauty of the business school offering; there are options to suit everyone.  This includes MBAs at premium business schools, like LBS or Harvard, and, for want of a better term, ‘mainstream’ business schools.  Courses are available either full-time (30-60 hours per week) or part-time (one or two days per week) and there are Executive MBA programmes for senior corporate executives and managers who study whilst working, and sometimes their study is partially or fully funded by the employer.

Requirements to Study an MBA
To study for an MBA, you will usually require an undergraduate degree.  Most MBAs require a 2:1 or above, but there are some that will accept 2:2 degrees so long as they are paired with an exceptional application and a set of relevant skills and experiences.  Some work experience is generally required; this being the case most MBA students are between the ages of 27 and 30. One important entry criterion to meet, particularly for top schools, is the GMAT exam score. The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, is designed to test your abilities across a wide range of areas. A good score will often facilitate entry into leading schools, and each school’s GMAT averages are widely published.

Benefits of an MBA
MBAs expose students to many areas of business including accounting, finance, marketing, people management and leadership skills, and full-time courses do so in an intensive, immersive way that challenges and stretches students’ perspectives and thinking.  The MBA experience often pushes candidates hard – the speed and sheer amount of work faced is sometimes described as a re-wiring of candidates’ brains, such that they can think critically and quickly analyse information, filtering out what is important from the irrelevant. The skills taught in an MBA programme enable you to read, assess, structure and plan rapidly; skills that will enable you to find innovative ways of dealing with big problems.  An MBA graduate also gains an up to date and razor-sharp ‘tool kit’ to apply to any business challenge. These aspects are some of the reasons why the MBA has become so highly regarded by employers.

People from all walks of life want to gain an MBA qualification in order to improve their understanding of business and to accelerate their career.  Developing your business skills is not only good for your personal and career growth, but it is also good for companies and organisations and essential for the economy – enhanced knowledge and skills leads to better solutions to problems which can increase productivity, as well as transform products and services that affect people’s lives.

If you are at that pivotal point in your career where you want to learn more about business and the decision-making processes, it’s important to know that as valuable as the MBA is, the programme is not a final destination, it’s very much the start of a longer journey.  In an MBA you will be introduced to many facets of business and gain a foundation that enables you to confidently delve deeper into areas of interest across a range of subjects as you need to.  Because of this solid framework, when you are back in the world of work, it will be easier to go deeper into subjects that are needed in your job. You will be able to understand business issues and explore them at a level you were unable to do before your MBA.

A Wealth of Choice of Business Schools
Every year thousands of professionals start their search for the right business school for them.  At the top of the MBA tree are the premium schools – these are equivalent to Ivy League ranked universities, which often have long histories, coveted brands, outstanding facilities and attract the best staff and candidates.  The institution’s brand, the quality of faculty and quality of student admissions are all perpetuated by each other, creating an institution designed to offer the very best environment for business education.

Gaining a qualification from a top international business school will open new opportunities.  However, their prestige and resources mean they command high fees – some can be as much as 10 times more expensive than mainstream business schools.  On the upside, their brands add considerable value to the graduates’ own personal brand, giving them an additional asset when they go back into the job market.

There is fierce competition to secure a place at the top business schools – because their brands are so revered.  Unsurprisingly, these schools are often 7 to 10 times over-subscribed for places, so getting-in requires some real work.  Candidates must be very driven and highly organised to maximise their chances. Having access to the necessary funds also helps – some will seek assistance with fees by applying for a scholarship (eg through charities) to supplement their private financing arrangements.  Many candidates have a risk profile that allows them to take on loans, confident that their future income growth will resolve any debt soon afterwards.

There are many fantastic mainstream business schools that do not cost the earth.  More and more, universities are developing high-quality MBA programmes.  Excellent business education is on offer but, being newer into the MBA market, these do not have the same historical pedigree and reputation enjoyed by their premium counterparts.

While those who attend the mainstream business schools may not come away with quite such a prestigious brand to append to their own, they receive a rounded business education (perhaps with less of the heightened level of induced stress that the premium schools engender into their programmes) and can use their new skills to further their career goals.

The Enduring Power of the Alumni
Apart from the new skills propelling your career prospects and salary (it’s not uncommon for business school graduates to double their pre-MBA salary), there is a huge ‘hidden’ benefit.  During the MBA, students develop a network of peers that become long-term associates and lifelong friends.  The business school Alumni is a powerful asset – because of their shared experience, members will reach out to each other when they need help or advice at any stage in their business career, whether that’s as a senior-level employee or as an entrepreneur.

MBA – A Cause for Celebration!
The tremendous success of the MBA is a cause for celebration: the diversity of schools (some offering campuses in several countries as part of the curriculum), programmes and study timetables allow many people to attain business education in a way that suits their ambitions and circumstances.  The timescale over which one can study an MBA has transformed access – there are full-time courses that run from nine to 21 months depending on the school, and part-time learning up to five years. Schools can be physical or virtual.  And, there are prices to fit almost all budgets.

It’s come a long way since its origins in 1908, adapting and evolving to meet the market needs. Accessible, flexible and current – today’s MBA is a truly wonderful platform to boost business education.

If you are an engineer considering an MBA, visit or scholarship page for details on how to apply for a £50,000 award.

 

A Decade of Achievements for EIBF

As we say goodbye to 2019 and welcome a new decade, we reflect on some of our milestones.  We would like to thank our Patron, Lord Sainsbury of Turville and his Gatsby Charitable Foundation, our Sainsbury Management Fellows, partners and associates, who have helped us achieve so much in the last 10 years.

2009/10: Published Re-engineering the Board to Manage Risk and Maximise Growth, promoting multi-skilled engineers as business leaders.

2011: The Sainsbury Management Fellowship becomes incorporated and a company limited by guarantee.  The legal name becomes Engineers in Business Fellowship.

2012: Engineers in Business Fellowship becomes a registered charity.

2013: Executive Fundraising Committee is formed and plans to raise an initial target of  £5 million.

2014: Launch of Engineers in Business Competition Prize Fund for university enterprise education.

2015:  Published Engineering New Horizons, promoting the exciting careers of 25  Sainsbury Management Fellows.

2016: EIBF and the Royal Academy of Engineering launch promotions to increase the diversity of SMF applicants.

2017: EIBF President David Falzani receives the MBE for services to the engineering industry.

2017: SMF Fundraising campaign raises £2.1m to help sustain the MBA scholarship scheme.

2017: SMFs’ 30 Years Anniversary commemorated with the launch of Mentor30Engineers university competition.

 2018: Our MBA scholarship is raised from £30,000 to £50,000 and applications extended to computer sciences and tech engineers.

2018:  Engineers in Business Competition expands support for university enterprise education from four to 32 universities – £135,000 awarded already, with a £700,000 pot available.

2019: EIBF President David Falzani MBE appointed Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at the University Nottingham.

2019: Our Hard Hat Index reveals a dramatic 37% fall in the publication of hard hats in the engineering media.

2019: Over £9 million in Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA scholarships awarded to talented young engineers to study at the top international business schools

 2019: Our first Engineers in Business Champion of Champions Grand final sees 10 university teams compete for £10,000 in prizes with innovations in surfing, prosthetics for children, medical cell counting services and personal safety devices coming out on top.

It’s been a very fruitful and rewarding 10 years –  here’s to the next 10 years!

If you have any questions about Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship, please get in touch.

 

Why Do Companies Prefer MBA Graduates?


In a business landscape that is becoming ever more complex and difficult to navigate, a company’s ability to hire assets is important. Although candidates with business degrees are becoming more and more common, the need for experience and specific training at a higher level is becoming very desirable.

If you are looking to climb the ladder, or indeed to become an integral asset within your given sector, then you might be considering the idea of an MBA. As you may know, the MBA is no small undertaking; it requires time, funding and energy. So, here’s the question; is it worth it?

Arguably, the answer is yes. Having MBA written next to your name on your CV is a huge advantage. That is not to say that having this qualification makes you a shoo-in, as companies are also more and more interested in the type of person you are; your attitude, ethics and personality. Having said that, to succeed in the quest for an MBA qualification, dedication and resilience are required.

Let’s look at what employers like about MBA graduates, what you stand to learn by undertaking one, and which desirable specialities you may want to develop.

Critical Thinking and Creative Problem Solving
The advantage of being a ‘box-fresh’ graduate of any high-level qualification is how up to date their references are, and a fresh perspective on the issues surrounding their industry or subject. Two of the key skills taught by most MBAs are both critical and strategic thinking. Throughout your training, you will have come up against various simulated scenarios, some common and some rare, ensuring that your ability to think in this way is limber and informed.

This is also true with the skill of creative problem-solving. Fresh MBA graduates are drilled in solving new and uncommon problems and are extremely aware of what is going on in their industry right now. When you have been in a business with a certain focus for some time, it can be difficult to see how to deal with issues that are far removed from the original remit of said business.

Financial Training
The MBA will equip you with a comprehensive knowledge of the intricacies of the financial sector; how it works, how to operate within it and how it relates to the wider business community. This is essential knowledge. In order to take calculated risks, an excellent understanding of finance is not only desired but required. It is an essential component of a business’ success.

Leadership and Communication Skills
Leadership and decision-making skills come naturally to some, but to be truly effective in leadership, training and refinement is required. Mid-level leadership is hard to be good at; it takes balance, patience and respect for a company’s values. This is also something that MBA graduates are great at. Even if leadership is not a specific focused skill in their training, the very nature of group projects, partners and general teamwork requires one to better their leadership and communication skills.

Marketing
We live in a world where marketing is more important and more complex than ever. The market is getting ever more crowded, the platforms we market on are growing and branching off, and marketing techniques are becoming more specific. Having a solid foundation in modern marketing is essential, and something that you are guaranteed to gain by gaining an MBA degree.

Collaboration
Collaboration is tricky. In order to collaborate effectively, you need to be able to hold on to and believe in your own values, but also be able to compromise for the good of the collective cause. It requires a lack of ego, equal respect for others and a light touch. Again, an MBA, by its very nature, fosters this skill naturally. Collaboration is a skill that is often underrated or forgotten, but one that is vital to the smooth running of a business and to make wise decisions.

Organisational Behaviours
You’d be surprised how hard it is to find employees with excellent organisational skills. This is perhaps down to the preconception that organisational nous is something you either do or do not have. However, this is not so, it can absolutely be taught; it is a skill that can be acquired and nurtured. An MBA fosters essential skills such as this to optimise both the quality and the efficiency of your work. This is another thing that employers find extremely attractive.

The MBA is as valuable for equipping you with technical skills and knowledge as it is for helping the individual become a good team player. The skills and behaviours covered above are just a handful of the assets acquired through the study of an MBA.

Gaining an MBA is worth the considerable financial investment because it opens new career opportunities, boosts your employability, significantly increases earning capacity and allows you to develop an international network of contacts that you can call on for years to come. As well as your management skills being a draw for global employers and exciting start-ups, employers will also be impressed by candidates’ ability to build and maintain influential networks.

If you are a professional ing engineer seeking a scholarship to assist with your MBA study, visit the applications page.