Category Archives: case studies

From MBA to Psychotherapy

Philippa Dickenson, from MBA to Psychotherapy

Philippa Dickenson

Philippa became one of the early Sainsbury Management Fellows after gaining her MBA at INSEAD in 1988.  Here Philippa   shares her thoughts the MBA and her career.


What career aspirations did you have as a youngster?
I’m not sure that I had career aspirations as such in the mid to late 1970s.  I was much more interested in feminist politics, social science and going to parties than I was in thinking about a career track. I enjoyed creative writing and travelling whenever I had the chance and could afford it. I suppose the continuing theme is an interest in ideas and how they apply in the real world.

Why did you choose to study engineering?
I really liked physics and maths at school and wanted first of all to study physics.  With two older brothers and a father who’d studied engineering or were qualified engineers, the influence was very strong to do something more vocational that would lead to a job after university.  Although, my father wasn’t keen for me to study engineering – not quite the thing he thought suited a girl which was a red rag to a bull to me!  I think studying engineering was a form of teenage rebellion if I’m honest.

What roles and responsibilities did you have before your MBA?
After university, I joined Mars – of Mars Bars fame – as an engineering graduate trainee. I remember looking across the vast open plan office at Justin King (a fellow graduate trainee), little thinking that he would one day be CEO of Sainsbury’s.

After my training, I became a Zone VI Project Engineer. My area of responsibility was the engineering elements of producing chocolate – lots of it.  I managed a range of projects, from small production improvements to a major upgrade and factory rebuild for the chocolate production facility. Huge fun and huge responsibility for a 25-year old to be responsible for what would now be about $30m of capital spend, a team of 5 and a vast range of contractors. And all to be done within a working production environment. It taught me such a lot about getting things done with and through people, about listening to others as part of making decisions, about organisational politics and about the vagaries of real life and contractors.  ‘So my cheque is in the post then, is it?’

Mars gave me great experience as I had to produce the business case for any engineering spend I wanted to make and see projects all the way through from concept to commissioning and then handover to production and regular maintenance crews. I left after 4.5 years to take up my SMF at INSEAD.

What was your motivation for doing an MBA?
The final part of my engineering degree was in Manufacturing Systems which covered a wide range of business topics as well as technical subjects: economics, industrial relations, employment law, finance and statistics as well as design for manufacture. The course director suggested doing a full-time MBA after getting a few years’ experience. Although I wasn’t consciously seeking to do an MBA, I guess the idea stuck in the back of my mind so when I heard of the SMF scheme to support an MBA, it struck a chord.

What was the greatest benefit of your MBA?
Starting to think like a business person rather than an engineer. Broadening my horizons in terms of international exposure and to exposure to different types of thinking.

How has the SMF network helped you?
There’s a strong entrepreneurial group within the SMF and that has inspired me to think more entrepreneurially. Whether the product is about psychological assessment and talent development or much more technical, any entrepreneur needs the same disciplines and thought processes about product development, market feedback and testing, marketing and sales etc.

What’s been the greatest benefit of being an SMF?
The opening up of new avenues to me through going to INSEAD.

What are your hopes for SMF for the next 25 years?
That it can help raise the profile of engineers, particularly entrepreneurial engineers. They might not need an MBA to do their job, strictly speaking, but it does attract a ‘can do’ group of people interested in doing different things.

What is the biggest challenge in your business sector today? 
How to develop a strong presence quickly in a crowded marketplace without having your intellectual property stolen before you’ve had the chance to grow your product.

How can engineers help to grow the UK’s modern manufacturing industry?
The kinds of skills I learnt in managing technology projects stand me in as good a stead as any business training. Having more broad-minded and business-savvy engineers at a senior level in business can only help to strengthen manufacturing industry. And engineers tend to be passionate about what they do. We’re fantastic at high-level, sophisticated engineering work – we need to reinforce this and draw on our engineering intelligence to see how we expand that knowledge and skills base in industry.  And engineering skills apply in wildly different contexts too – who would think of putting engineering and psychology together to develop a product for managers to develop their talent? Yet it’s happening.

How has technology transformed the way business is done in your sector?
IT and cloud-based computing are changing the world of psychological insight and development. Reviewing the talent of your team used to involve highly trained experts, with at least 200 hours of training under their belt, and could cost you up to £750K.  Using SaaS-based technology, managers can learn to assess teams for themselves at a tenth of the cost. And it helps each manager learn how they think about their own as well as other people’s potential, rather than leaving it to the outside experts.

What skills do engineers bring to business?
An engineering mindset is useful in all sorts of settings, including in the psychotherapist’s consulting room. Handling ambiguity, working with a wide range of different kinds of information, thinking systemically and dealing in the art of the possible are all things I learnt in my first job as an engineer. These are as much life and leadership skills as they are engineering skills.  More engineers at senior levels in business who can bring a broad as well as a practical perspective can only help industry to succeed.

Which engineering pioneer do you admire and why?
Dyson – for his persistence, his enthusiasm for technology and ideas and for his commitment to educating others about what engineering and education can do.

Which engineering endeavour do you most admire? Getting the Olympics working so successfully – a huge engineering challenge of many different kinds and on different levels.  How about inspiring a generation of engineers as well as athletes? We could make so much more of what went on behind the scenes to make the sport tick.

Case studies correct at the time of publication.  SMFs may have moved to new posts since publication.  For the latest career information on our Fellows visit our SMF Profile Page.

School for CEOs

Patrick Macdonald, Partner, School for CEOs

There Patrick Macdonaldhas never been a greater need to prepare businessmen and women to become CEOs. The biggest recession in 80 years, intense media scrutiny and investor nervousness all combine to make the top job tougher than ever.

When I was CEO of John Menzies – a £1.5 billion quoted plc with a substantial family shareholding – it struck me that, as in any position, CEOs get better as they learn. I certainly did. But the old dictum “leaders are born and not made” still holds sway in many quarters. We still expect CEOs to take on the toughest job in business without any specific preparation.

This seems a little strange!

We have in the past teamed up with David Sole, the well known international rugby captain and business coach, to launch the School for CEOs. David has coached main Board directors and senior executives from a wide variety of functions including finance, human resources, sales and marketing, IT, property, legal and company secretariat.

Experienced businessmen and women teach the next generation of business leaders using a carefully structured curriculum. A highly accomplished Advisory Board works with us, including Sir David Reid (Chairman of Intertek plc and ex-Chairman of Tesco plc), Jonathan Warburton (Chairman of Warburtons) and Alex Wilson (ex-Group HR Director at BT plc).

The two-day Vital Few residential programme covers the complexities of:

  • managing up – forming a relationship with the Chairman and Board
  • managing down – leading the team
  • managing out – handling investors and the media and
  • managing in – staying centred and grounded

Future leaders explore what really happens in the boardroom, rather than academic theories and frameworks. There is follow on coaching to help embed the learnings, insight and wisdom gained on the programme. And delegates join a fantastic network which will grow as the School grows.

The Vital Few is a standalone programme. It also forms the first module of the comprehensive Alchemy of Leadership programme which lasts eight days spread over several months.

The course is aimed at anyone three years or less from becoming a CEO, as well as those already in the job. For future programme dates, visit

Case studies correct at the time of publication.  SMFs may have moved to new posts since publication.  For the latest career information on our Fellows visit our SMF Profile Page.

SMF Case Studies – In Brief

 Adam Bazire, Vice President, Business Development, AMETEK
Serge Taborin Andrew Jones and Adam Bazire on the right
Adam Bazire (right) with Fellows at an SMF Networking Dinner

AMETEK Inc is a leading global manufacturer of electronic instruments and electromechanical devices with annualised sales of $2.5 billion. The company has over 11,000 staff working at more than 80 manufacturing facilities and more than 80 sales and service centres in the USA and around the world.

Expertise: Power, instrumentation, process control, motors, aerospace, industrial.

Michael Astell is a Chartered Professional Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Mike Astell 2

Mike’s business achievements and MBA have led him to become one of 300 SMFs who provide support to boards of UK and international businesses.

Michael most recently worked for Centrica as Director of the East Irish Sea business. This included the Morecambe gas fields with 9 platforms plus the Barrow terminals and Heysham base. Michael’s career includes:

  • Managing Director Designate, Dounreay for the UK Atomic Energy Authority
  • EMS Project Leader and Corporate Strategist for Shell, which supplies transport fuel to 900 service stations in the UK, as well as meeting the demands of businesses – construction industry, aviation, chemicals and shipping
  • Operations Manager for Shell, responsible for an area in the North Sea with a budget of £120 million, producing 40,000 barrels a day
  • Non Executive Directorship at Acrobot, a spin-out company from Imperial College London specialising in surgical navigation systems and robotic devices

Michael is a keynote speaker at oil industry seminars and a lecturer on various university business and engineering programmes as well as a mentor for junior engineers and professionals.  Michael’s business knowledge and experience allow him to provide insight on:
•   Risk analysis and strategic planning
•   Developing effective marketing strategies
•   Finance
•   Problem solving
•   Project Management

Sam Cockerill, Founder and Managing Director, Libertine FPE
sam-cockerillSam is the founder and Managing Director of Libertine FPE, a low-cost, high-efficiency engine start-up. Sam is an independent management consultant and entrepreneur. He consults in the renewable energy sector for a range of industrial, academic and public sector clients. He is also the non-executive director of Providence Holdings, one of the UK’s major agricultural supply chain management companies.

Sam has co-authored several published scientific papers underpinning the sustainability of grain biorefining, and published scientific papers on the sustainability of biofuels and biofuel feedstocks, and is a named inventor on several patents.

Expertise: Global ethanol market and pricing dynamics, biofuel/biomass supply chains and sustainability, renewable energy policy, new vehicle technologies; as well as business related topics – growth strategy development, international business development, creative career development.

Tom Delay, Chief Executive, Carbon Trust
Tom Delay 2013_DSC5769

Previously an engineer with Shell for 16 years, Tom worked for five years in consulting before joining the low carbon sector as founding chief executive of the Carbon Trust. Tom was the first SMF President and one of the first two Fellows to receive an MBA through the scholarship scheme.

Expertise: International business development, creative career development.

Simon Duncan, Chief Executive Officer, A Shade Greener:
A Shade Greener is a renewable electricity generator. The company promotes solar energy that is accessible to everyone. Up until now only the wealthy could afford solar panels, however, new legislation that came into effect from April 2010, provides the company with guaranteed income for the electricity its panels generate, enabling A Shade Greener to fit free solar panels onto any roof that is suitable. Now nearly everyone can have access to free electricity all year round.  Expertise: Solar PV, installations, solar power, renewable energy.

David Falzani, CEO, Polaris Associates / President of SMF
David Falzani President SMF MCP_3834 (landscape)
Polaris offers strategic perspective and analysis, linking activity to drivers of success; revealing buyer decision-making process. Polaris works in a variety of sectors including energy, technology, software and charities; helping clients with business and financial development, technology projects, marketing and strategic planning, and general commercial management.
Expertise: Business development, finance, operations, marketing.

George Fowkes, Owner, The Clear AlternativeGeorge Fowkes Cropped

The Clear Alternative performs critical business development work for young clean technology companies. Services include market study and research, business planning and fund/grant raising, sales and project management, supplier selection and contracting.
Specialist topics: Market analysis and opportunity evaluation, supplier/partner/client development, project and interim management, market entry, ‘first deal’, product launch.

Graham Hastie, Managing Director, Bellfield Consulting: .

Bellfield consulting provides strategy, operations and rankings advice for the Higher Education sector.

Expertise: Higher education, strategy, operations, rankings.




David Hardy, Operations and Technical Director, Envirowales
David Hardy SMFEnvirowales is a recycler of lead-acid batteries and lead scrap materials.  Expertise: recycling.






Nick Laird, Chief Commercial Officer, Ceridian Corporation:
A business services company that helps customers maximise the power of their people, lower their costs and focus on what they do best. Ceridian’s suite of innovative managed HR solutions includes payroll and compensation, employee benefits administration, staffing, compliance, HR outsourcing and employee assistance programmes, work life, health & wellness and productivity management solutions.

Expertise: HR, business process outsourcing, payroll, compensation, employee benefits administration, staffing, compliance, tax filing, HR administration, HRO, employee assistance programs (EAP), work-life, health & wellness, productivity.

Chris Martin, CEO Spirogen Ltd and Chairman Crescent Diagnostics
Chris MartinA Chartered Director and highly qualified chemical engineer, Chris Martin took an MBA as the basis for a successful entrepreneurial career in the clean tech, high tech and biotech fields. He is Chief Executive of Spirogen, a clinical stage cancer drug development company and non- executive Chairman of Sciona inc and Crescent Diagnostics.

Chris is veteran of high tech start- ups and spinning out technological advances made by academic institutions into successful commercial companies. He started his career at the Atomic Research Establishment but his business mind led him into more commercial roles. After his MBA at the Swiss business school IMD, Chris led a management buy-out of consultancy Marex, setting up Paras Ltd as a consultancy to assist companies in the oil industry make sound technology decisions.

Chris set up Xenva as an early stage feed capital company to work with embryonic companies based on campus research as they grew. Spin-out companies he has worked with include Solcom, which develops web-enabled systems monitoring and management systems and Sciona a genetic personalised nutrition.

His interests in corporate finance and fund management include board membership of the RCM Technology Investment Trust PLC. He also holds the ICAEW Corporate Finance Qualification.

Expertise: startup experience, business funding / venture capital, e-commerce, international business development, creative career development, women in business.

Ian Peerless, Owner, Peerless Engineering Limited and Director IPKA Consultancy Limited

Ian has spent the majority of his career working for Shell and Corus in a range of positions including Operations Director, Strategy Director, Sales Manager and Logistics Manager. He is one of the founders of IPKA Consultancy Limited which spun out of Shell and which assists board members around the world to implement change. In parallel Peerless Engineering Limited pursues new product opportunities. A current project is the commercialisation of a robot designed for extreme oil and gas operations.

Expertise: Hydrocarbon project front end loading, subsurface engineering and operations, steel value chains and strategy, commercialisation of new products, mergers and acquisitions, driving change through large organisation

Andrew Phillipps, Successful Serial Entrepreneur
Andy PhillippsAndrew Phillipps is a entrepreneur whose professional engineering background and MBA has helped him to make his mark on a multitude of ambitious and innovative business ventures.  These include:

  • Co-founder of Active Hotels, the UK’s leading provider of technical solutions that enables hotels to sell rooms on 15,000 sites and through 84,000 travel agents
  • Chairman and founding investor of i20 water, a company set up to save the UK a fifth of the 3.5 billion litres of water it wastes a day
  • Chairman and part MBO of Toptable, the UK’s leading restaurant reservation, review and search site
  • Chairman of Greentraveller, a site that helps travellers reduce their carbon footprint
  • Director of Reevoo, a site that houses a collection of over one million customer reviews on electrical products.

Andrew lectures on entrepreneurship at INSEAD and London Business School.

Expertise: e-commerce, international business development, creative career development.

James Raby, SMF Treasurer and VC Specialist
James Raby, SMF Treasurer Opens the SMF Tax Debate 24 June 2015James Raby was formerly a Venture Capital Executive with the VC arm of Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) where he provided venture capital investment in early and middle stage media, wireless and technology companies.  SEB is one of northern Europe’s leading banks.

James has spent the majority of his career within the operations and general management functions of broadcast, media and wireless services companies including NTL Broadcast (now Arqiva) and VT Communications within Europe and Asia. James studied for his MBA at EAP in France in 1995 and was one of the first two Fellows to receive an MBA through the SMF scheme.

Expertise: New media, venture investment, restructuring, recovery & turnaround, privatisation & cultural change, innovation & due diligence, finance, banking, wholesale banking, retail banking, mutual funds, life insurance, pension.

Bill Sneyd, Founder and Chief Operating Officer, HomeSun:
Bill SneydHomeSun is the UK’s leading ‘Free Solar’ business – bringing the benefits of renewable energy to tens of thousands of households. HomeSun makes home renewable energy commonplace, starting with Solar PV. The company is breaking down barriers of price and complexity to make it easy for homes to generate their own energy.

Expertise: Solar PV, renewable energy, free solar PV.

Mark Spence, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of three businesses
Mark Spence SMFMark is a successful entrepreneur with diverse and successful businesses in engineering, chemicals and mobile communications. He is chief executive and founder of:

  • Telemetrics, which was set up to exploit the revolution in M2M technology, improving the service for engineers and other personnel ‘on the move’
  • Cosmetic Rheologies, an innovator in polymer technology for hair and skincare products.
  • Mass Measuring, which provides weighing, conveying and process control equipment and utilises the same expertise as Telemetrics
  • CRL and Telemetrics have won SMART awards for innovation.
    Specialist topics: International business development, creative career development.

Gordon Wylie, Director, Free Green Electricity Corporation: Free Green Electricity Corporation is focused on the free installation and free long-term maintenance of small-scale renewable energy generation systems for both domestic and commercial property owners in the UK, and on delivering an attractive sustainable financial return for investors. Expertise: Renewable energy, solar power.

Richard Robinson, MD, Heathrow Express
Richard RobinsonRichard describes himself as being the beneficiary of a “top-class engineering education”, first at Nottingham University, then during an eight-year spell with ICI Acrylics. Richard studied for an MBA in general management and venture finance in HEC, Paris where he won an exchange programme place at the Stern School of Business, New York. Today, Richard is Managing Director of Heathrow Express – a business unit of BAA Heathrow. He is a commercially driven executive with full P&L experience running a £100 million turnover, £1 billion asset base business.


  • Working as Operations Director for a subsidiary of Anglo American, charged with turning around the company’s manufacturing operations
  • Brand building and business development whilst leading a consumer-facing startup business
  • Modern sales and marketing techniques, coupled with an engineer’s natural understanding of the operational and technical side of business – providing ‘the perfect platform of skills for senior business leadership roles

Case studies correct at the time of publication.  SMFs may have moved to new posts since publication.  For the latest career information on our Fellows visit our SMF Profile Page.