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Should I choose a new career path or return to my employer after my MBA?

The answer to this question very much depends on your MBA starting point.  If you are studying an Executive MBA and it is part of your firm’s career plan for you, then naturally you will be aiming to stay with your employer on graduation, especially if they are financing or sponsoring part of your MBA.  However, professionals who do full-time MBAs have to think about whether to seek a new role or return to their employer after graduation. Often this decision is made at the start of their MBA journey, not the end, although occasionally the answer changes.

Studying for an MBA unquestionably widens a graduate’s business knowledge and worldview which opens new career opportunities.  Typically, MBAs are taken by professionals who have already been working for several years, with many opting to study at a top international business school.  The prestige associated with an institution’s brand adds considerable value to the graduates’ credibility, giving them an additional asset when they are looking for a new position.

Once a full-time MBA course is completed, some graduates may return to their former employer with the new skills they have learnt but it is more likely that graduates will seek very different work experiences.  For most, a change in career direction was the driving force behind studying for an MBA in the first place.  Even if that was not the case,  the MBA is such a transformative experience that graduates come out fundamentally different people and this brings about a shift in thinking about their future career.

After the MBA experience, graduates tend to have different hopes, aspirations and, perhaps most importantly, different expectations about the next part of their lives and careers.  It could be that their previous jobs are no longer compatible with these expectations and that could be as simple as where they work in the world.  Many people study overseas, and a new environment opens their eyes to different opportunities.  Or it could be that the familiarity with their former job or industry sector no longer holds the same fascination as it did before their MBA.

MBAs change the way you think
Why is there such a dramatic change in career aspirations?  One reason is that MBAs expose students to many areas of business in an intensive and immersive way that challenges and stretches their perspectives and thinking.  It gives them tools to go out and explore a diverse range of subjects and to tackle any business challenge.  This, plus the glow of the prestigious international business school brand, creates amazing prospects and earning potential for the graduates.

Another way of looking at it is that the MBA experience rewires students’ brains, giving them improved capabilities such as thinking far more critically than before, quickly structuring and analysing information, filtering out what is important from the irrelevant. These new capabilities enable graduates to read, assess and plan rapidly so they can find innovative solutions to big problems.

Returning to a former employer is of course a valid choice. However, you need to first consider whether the job you want is available at your former employer – can you achieve the leap forward that you desire?  Second, will your former employer have a full appreciation of just how much you have changed and be able to meet your current aspirations and expectations?  A former manager may not understand the way you think and your needs today unless of course, they have undergone a similar MBA experience.

The ‘market’ drives MBAs into new roles
Business schools offer extensive career development and recruitment services, and all this is at the feet of the graduates.  There are so many new and exciting avenues for them to consider and this is stiff competition compared with their previous employer.  Their old sectors and jobs may no longer have the same allure.

There is a strong, efficient market for MBA talent, so going back to the company you left goes against the market mechanism. For example, major international firms engage proactively with business schools to ensure they attract the talent they need for their businesses to keep growing.  The market is a ‘matching mechanism’ between MBA individuals with certain traits and skills and employers that need them.

After a one to two-year transformative MBA experience, not using the market mechanism to find the very best opportunity would be a great shame, especially as you may never get the chance again.  Tapping into the huge, liquid job market to secure a role that you find truly fulfilling and exciting is a very important step.  Of course, it could be that your last employer can offer that, and if so, returning to your old firm is an obvious choice.

Our own experience shows that most MBA graduates move to pastures new.   Based on the experiences of 375 Sainsbury Management Fellows, who have all received a generous scholarship to help finance their MBA, the vast majority of them have chosen very different career paths after they graduated – most have pivoted into different types of job roles, industry sectors and even entrepreneurship.

Returning to a former employer post-MBA is certainly an option if the organisation can offer a position that makes the most of the graduate’s new skills and experience and something worth examining closely before you embark on your MBA.  Alternatively, and this is happening on a large scale, freshly qualified MBA graduates from the top schools use their newly acquired skills to widen their horizons by choosing challenging new careers where they can make a difference within their organisations and in wider society.

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.

How to Fund My MBA?

MBA Scholarship photo

The decision to embark on an MBA is one of the most important of your career. The experience will sharpen your business skills and will open the door to new and exciting career opportunities in the future, but at what cost?

An MBA is a big investment, with tuition fees varying considerably (depending on the business school’s pedigrees) from £7,500 at the University of Wales Trinity St David to £87,900 at London Business School.  Of course, there are also living expenses to consider as well.

With these costs in mind, most people looking to study for an MBA will be faced with two crucial questions:  ‘How do I fund it?’ and ‘am I willing to take on the risk of doing an MBA given the financial commitments?’

The funding dilemma
This is one of the most important parts of the whole MBA process. The consideration of these questions and then coming up with the answer, ‘Yes, I can find a way’, and ‘Yes I am willing to take the risk’, is all part of the self-development process of getting into a business school and having a successful outcome.

There are risks involved but finding a way around these challenges is an excellent introduction to what you will be doing for the next 20 to 30 years of your career.  People who take on personal debt to do the MBA are indeed taking a big risk.  For example, one never knows what the economic climate and job market will be like at the end of their MBA – COVID being a prime example of how things can change dramatically.  Yet the ability to take on and manage big risks is one of the attributes that top business schools, future employers and indeed Engineers in Business Fellowship, is looking for in candidates.

To cover the cost of an MBA – particularly in the absence of full-time employment, savings or help from family members – it is critical that prospective students thoroughly research the potential sources of funding available.

Research what help is available
The key to resolving the question, ‘can I fund an MBA?’, relies on extensive research.  There are many different options and opportunities, so it is essential to find out which is best for you.  Unearthing this information involves intensive desk research, not a one-hour Google search.  The process could take as much as eight hours of exploration over several days, weeks or even months. 

What can you offer?
Competition is stiff for MBA scholarships so you will need to demonstrate in your application that you have the skills and experience needed to succeed on a demanding MBA programme, that you have clear goals post-graduation and how you intend to contribute to society. 

As part of your research and planning, you should go through a period of introspection and ask yourself the questions that a grant-giving or financial institution will want to know.  The typical questions you could ask yourself are ‘who am I?’ and ‘what do I have to offer?’, ‘What makes me special?’, ‘What traits, attributes and experiences do I have that make me different or stand out?’,  ‘What have I done in the past that makes me special?’,   ‘What will I do in the future that will make a difference in society?’.  In essence, what will impress and convince a grant or loan giving body that you are worthy of the investment?

Some of the main characteristics that universities and funding bodies will be looking out for when assessing scholarship applicants include leadership potential, evidence of entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship, track record of innovation and a proven commitment to a particular sector.

Once you have an idea of what differentiates you from others, you can start thinking about who can help you achieve your potential.  There are many grant-giving bodies, so it is essential to research them all and understand their perspectives.  However, there is no point tracking down these funds unless you can answer the questions about why they should award you a grant (or a loan from a financial institution).  You must match what they are looking for with what makes you stand out.

Choose the right funding or mix of funding
The funding options have different terms, conditions and requirements and they can be quite complex.  Below are a few categories of funding sources; for more information, these articles are a good starting point – Findamasters and Figmat.

Part-time study while working
Part-time study is a relatively common option for MBA degrees.  Many programmes are intended to be completed by practising management professionals and some courses set tasks for students to apply within their workplace.  A part-time MBA could therefore be a great way to study while continuing to earn a salary. The UK Government’s postgraduate loans are available for part-time masters.  The amount you borrow will be divided evenly across the duration of your MBA programme.

Banks
Before the 2008 financial crisis, several banks in Europe and the US offered loans tailored to MBA students.  Following the withdrawal of many banks from the MBA lending market, choice has been limited, particularly for international students.  In the UK, there are few tailored MBA study loans offered by high street banks, leaving higher interest personal loans as the predominant option for bank borrowing (see Figmat).

Employer sponsorship
An MBA could represent an attractive investment for your employer. After all, these programmes are aimed at enhancing the skills of experienced business professionals and developing advanced leadership skills that could prove invaluable in a current employer.  You will need to persuade your employer that sponsoring your MBA would be worthwhile for the company as well as your continuing professional development. Some employers may contribute towards the cost of an MBA, providing that you are willing to commit to returning after graduation. 

Scholarships and bursaries
There are many different scholarships and bursaries aimed at helping talented prospective MBA students get their dream qualifications.  Most universities and business schools run funding schemes to attract the brightest and best applicants from all backgrounds.  According to the Financial Times, 54% of students who graduated from a ranked USA MBA programme in 2010 received some form of financial assistance from their school or an external source.  Among their peers who studied in Europe, 31% received such assistance.

Scholarships are also offered by various organisations and institutions from across the world. For example, Chevening scholarships are offered by the UK Government to help talented international postgraduates study in the UK and our own Sainsbury Management Fellows £50,000 scholarships are available for engineering graduates from the UK, EU, and EEA to study an MBA at 14 of the top international business schools.

It is worth noting that institutions that offer money only have a limited pot each year.  Some of these schemes waive a portion of the fees, while others are cash positive, helping with living expenses as well.  Some schools have specific grants for certain demographics, for example, widening participation schemes.   You will need to know which demographic you fit into, whether you are part of a minority that can gain additional support. So, you need to look at both the macro and micro levels when researching. Remember that it is possible to apply for multiple grants from different institutions.  Some grant authorities may well be inclined to support an applicant because having one grant already shows that their decision to support a candidate is a good one because another body is already investing in that person.

Thankfully, there are many grants, loan schemes, fee waivers and other forms of assistance to help people to fund their MBA. The most important thing is to find what is right for you.  Once you have done your research, look at the big picture, consider how you fit into the offerings by defining your special qualities and then leverage that to come up with what works best for you. Most of all, invest as much time as you possibly can to track down the many sources of funding.  The time may pay off in the end and help you to achieve your ultimate goal.

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.

 

Personalised, Digitally-enhanced Student Experiences at Imperial College Business School

Joёl McConnell, Executive Director of Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions at Imperial College Business School explains how they are enhancing student learning
Joёl McConnell, Executive Director, Imperial College Business School

Engineers in Business Fellowship has been awarding Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA scholarships to talented engineers with leadership potential for more than 35 years.  Our awardees attend the top international business schools in the world where they acquire a first-class business education.  Fourteen business schools are partners of the Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) scholarship scheme and we are delighted to be starting a series of articles contributed by these schools.  We are commencing with Imperial College Business School in London, the most recent to join the SMF scheme.  Joel McConnell, Executive Director at Imperial explains how the school is using digital technology to enhance student experiences.

What an unusual year it has been for students, staff and faculty at Imperial College Business School! Resilience has been key, but Imperial College Business School has made important investments under the broader context of COVID-19 that will benefit MBA students for years to come, and particularly in the area of digitally-enhanced student experiences that align with the broader benefit of studying at the business school of leading STEM-focused university, based here, in London.

Imperial College Business School aims to be at the forefront of personalised, digitally-enhanced student experiences
Today Imperial College Business School is firmly focused on the broader disruption happening in the graduate management education (GME) landscape and the various sectors where our graduates go on to work after they complete their degree with us.  We know that recruiters are demanding new and different leadership skills, which has only been accelerated by a change in processes and how people and organisations interact – especially under the extreme circumstances of a global pandemic.  Finally, we aim to amplify the student transformation and leadership journey as well as capitalise on digital innovations led by the Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions teams, our Careers and Student Life teams, and our award-winning Educational Technology (EdTech) teams as well.

Imperial College: An End-to-End Candidate Experience from Day One
The Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions (MRA) teams at Imperial College Business School provide an integrated candidate experience, from the moment a potential applicant registers their interest with the school, right through to when they step into our classrooms. Once a candidate has decided they want to study on one of the school’s programmes, they will have a highly interactive experience as they work to complete their application, the admissions process, and then enrol with us as well.  Under the pandemic, the MRA teams have made big investments in marketing automation platforms and CRM systems, with leading technology partners, that allow the teams to provide more personalised support, and we’re actively piloting new tools that will allow these teams to have the most effective technology stack in place so that candidates can complete their onboarding process as seamlessly as possible. 

A Full Support Package to Complement MBA Programme Delivery
For those candidates who obtain an offer to study the MBA programme at Imperial College Business School, joining the programme is just the first step.  This past year our Careers and Student Life teams have focused increasingly on integrating Digital and smart tools, virtual experiences, and technology that directly supports candidates as they prepare to return to the workplace upon graduation. We now make LinkedIn Learning available to all MBA students, so our students can top up their programme content with additional training in more technological skills such as C++ or Python for example.  Another great example is how we work with a company that leverages AI and Machine Learning to help candidates evaluate how their career profile matches their target job characteristics, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of their profile, and then we complement this tool with 1-1 appointments with dedicated career consultants to ensure our MBA students develop an action plan to reinforcing their profile and better meet their expected career outcomes.

EdTech and Learning Analytics for Optimal Student Outcomes and Programme Delivery
Imperial College Business School is working to better understand how MBA students are learning, and how the institution can make continued, neuroscience-based investments in the most impactful EdTech possible, which will help the programme delivery teams deliver optimal outcomes for our students. Under COVID-19, our EdTech teams have led key investment programmes that have seen our lecture theatres become more interactive, in a way that has allowed for the delivery of the MBA programme in multi-modal format – something that has been crucial to manage the uncertain environment this past year, but that will also allow for a more dynamic student experience in the future, that allows students to pursue multiple interests at once.  Finally, the EdTech Lab at Imperial College Business School works closely with our parent university infrastructure dedicated to instructional design and delivery, and other areas of the college such as the Department of Mathematics on a pilot project related to unsupervised machine learning to learning data.  Imperial College takes a research-based approach to EdTech, and MBA students benefit directly from this.

The Sainsbury Management Fellows Opportunity
Imperial College Business School is one of the newest partners to the Sainsbury Management Fellows programme, which is managed by the Engineers in Business Fellowship (EIBF).  As the business school of Imperial College London – a leading STEM university in the UK and top-ranked internationally as well, we actively welcome engineering graduates who wish to complement their previous studies and professional experience with an MBA from Imperial.  The fellowship is a unique opportunity as graduates not only become part of a national network aimed at connecting top engineers in the United Kingdom – which includes career and entrepreneur mentoring, but by completing the MBA degree at Imperial College Business School, you also become part of the business school’s alumni network of some 19,500 professionals, but also of the broader university that has 200,000 graduates located in some 190 countries. So, if you think you might qualify for a Sainsbury Management Fellowship, don’t wait, and apply for one of the fellowships, and the MBA degree at Imperial College Business School. 

Joël McConnell leads the Programme Marketing, Student Recruitment, Admissions as well as CRM, Data, and Insights teams at Imperial College Business School.  A graduate of the MBA and several other postgraduate degrees and certifications from leading business schools such as Saïd Business School (University of Oxford), IE Business School, IMD, and the Booth School of Business (University of Chicago), today Joël is also actively engaged in cross-college initiatives related to technology programmes and equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).  He has also been an active participant and leader in IEEE events and activities across Europe as well.

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. 

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.

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

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.