Tag Archives: Business School

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Engineer to Entrepreneur: How an MBA Helped Change My Career Trajectory – SMF Chris Hughes, Founder of Wilfred’s Aperitif

SMF Chris Hughes has always been an engineer at heart. As a child he spent many happy hours in his parents’ basement workshop designing and building things – he enjoyed the process of creating solutions to problems. At just 11 years old, he built a ping pong pick-up device from wood and a levy system to avoid having to manually pick up the ping pong balls himself. One of his creative inspirations was Leonardo da Vinci (he was an avid reader of comics featuring da Vinci), which gave him an early understanding that engineers are innovators, people who create rather than fix things. Chris said, “The idea of innovation excited me. Looking back, I guess engineering was always a natural path for me.” Chris takes up his story…

Becoming a student of engineering
“I did Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London with an Erasmus year in Lyon, France. After graduation, I wasn’t sure how I was going to use my engineering degree because there are many different routes you can pursue with an engineering degree. My third-year project at Imperial was designing an artificial heart valve, but my internship in France was working in R&D on high-speed trains. These are such different aspects of engineering, yet both interested me greatly. When I graduated, I took a year out and travelled to Argentina where I worked for a charity and learned to speak Spanish. It was a great time to reflect and think about my future and I decided that I would like to do a job that allowed me to travel and to build on my experience in the rail industry. I started applying for engineering jobs in the UK and abroad and a golden opportunity presented itself at the Japanese company, Hitachi, inventors of the high-speed bullet train. I couldn’t pass up the chance to work for such an innovative company and, possibly, the chance to work in Japan.

Starting a career as an engineer
“The Japan dream would have to wait for a little while. When I started my 5-year stint at Hitachi, the company had just expanded into the UK and had a 30-strong team in Ashford in the UK. This provided excellent experience and knowledge of how Hitachi was run. Because the UK team was small at the time, I shared an office with key decision-makers including the MD and even brushed shoulders with the CEO. I was entrusted with assignments that would normally be out of reach for someone of my level of experience at that time. I always had a hankering to work where the trains were being built and persuaded my superiors to post me to Hitachi in Japan. I was the first UK engineer to move to the Japanese business on a semi-permanent basis and it was fantastic.

“In just under a year, I was back in the UK managing the coordination between Hitachi Japan and Hitachi UK. It was around this time I started to take a keen interest in the business operation, rather than focusing purely on the engineering side of things. Being so close to the team in the UK, and then mediating between the UK and Japan while helping to handle customers, gave me a real insight into how to nurture and develop a business. I started to think about whether I could I have a bigger impact in an engineering company if I had a stronger business background to help make big decisions. This is when the prospect of doing an MBA entered my mind.

The Move to an MBA
“By that time, I had also become a Chartered Engineer, an important career milestone for me. I felt like I had achieved so much, and it would be a good a time to explore other possibilities. I first heard about MBA courses through some of my friends who were studying MBAs at the time. It sounded like something that could open doors for me and get me more involved in the world of business. Hitachi kindly offered to support me through a part-time MBA, but I wanted to make a huge leap, transitioning from a pure engineering role into a management one. I felt it was best to get a formal business school education, so I started researching schools and the application process. The only real concern I had was how to fund the MBA. I couldn’t believe my luck when I got speaking to a stranger on a train who also happened to be an engineer. She worked for the Royal Academy of Engineering and mentioned the SMF scholarship and the generous MBA grant. Getting the scholarship wasn’t a given, but if I could get the grant it would remove the financial worry of doing an MBA. I got through the scholarship application process and not long after that, in 2015, I was awarded a £30,000 SMF scholarship and I was on my way to INSEAD.

Doing an MBA at INSEAD
“My time at INSEAD was enlightening. I learned the basics of good business acumen, from marketing and strategy right through to finance and accounting. It gave me real insight into how business works, how people think and how organisations behave as a collective enterprise. I learned that business is about more than numbers; it’s very much about people.

“As an engineer, you tend to want to fix every individual problem you encounter. But business is different and managing people can be unpredictable. There’s a discipline I learned about at INSEAD called ‘Design Thinking’ which takes a human-centred approach to business. You start with a human problem, and then you work back to find a solution to fix it. This approach works well with engineering, once you identify the human need and establish problems and barriers, you can apply an engineering solution.

“During my MBA, my passion for innovation was reinforced. I went into my studies thinking I would do a management role in an engineering business when I graduated, but I met so many amazing people and saw so many different perspectives. It felt like another world of opportunity was opening up to me. Instead of going back to engineering after graduation, I went to work with an innovation company called What If, something I might never have had the confidence to do without the MBA.

How Wilfred’s Non-Alcohol Aperitif was Founded

“I worked at What If for two and a half years following my MBA, which allowed me to hone my innovation, prototype testing and business skills. Armed with this knowledge and my MBA skills, I had the confidence to branch out on my own and create Wilfred’s Non-Alcoholic Aperitif, my first business venture.

“Like most young people, I enjoyed the occasional alcoholic drink with friends. But as I got older, I became less interested in alcohol, to the point where I barely drank and would rather have alcohol-free drinks. It frustrated me that, aside from one or two instances of clever branding, no interesting non-alcoholic drinks had really made it into the mainstream. I decided to try and change that, which began with prototype testing.

“I started making drinks from scratch for my friends to try using ingredients from all over the world, such as English Rose, Japanese Hibiscus, Mate from Argentina. Increasingly though, I ended up using ingredients that were closer to home – rosemary, strawberries, raspberries – many from my mother’s garden. I had a formula to describe how I wanted the drink to taste, which is typical of an engineer or mathematician – that’s the way my mind works now. I would say making a drink is part science and part art; I’ve taken a very scientific approach to making Wilfred’s. Without a doubt, engineering has helped in ways you would not expect. Just three and a half months into the launch, Wilfred’s won the award for Britain’s Number One Non-Alcoholic Drink, as judged by the 2020 Great British Food Awards.

“There are many ways in which my business education, the innovation courses and experience have helped me in developing and launching Wilfred’s, ranging from understanding the intricacies of finance to marketing and scaling-up the business. Like most entrepreneurial ventures we had challenges along the way, for example, scaling from home batch to production batch involved trial and error to find the right production partner, and many months of work went into creating exactly the right brand. Even though I had adopted a “bootstrapping” strategy to finance the business in the early stages ultimately I decided to engage a branding specialist to perfect the design. The drinks industry is complex and highly competitive and getting the branding wrong would have set me back months. Understanding when to make these big decisions is vital and having a business education helps.

“Likewise, deciding on the channels to market is critical to success. Before the COVID-19 pandemic I had ambitious plans to sell to restaurants, bars and pubs and had some success, for example, Wilfred’s is available at the Hilton Lexington Rooftop Bar, but once lockdown came, I had to completely pivot to online sales via the website. Because I now have a good grasp of sales and marketing planning, I had already established a strong network of partners, for example, a reputable and cost-effective distribution centre which ensures that everything from the packaging to the delivery are perfect. I had also implemented a communications strategy, including traditional advertising and social media, to build a brand reputation, long before the product hit the market.

“I am at the start of an exciting journey. I am already looking at selling the product via channels like Not on the High Street and Yumbles, and the long-term goal is to get Wilfred’s into major supermarket chains, a goal that requires considerable work and relationship building with buyers. In a year or so, I will be looking at fundraising, something I would not have embarked on without the knowledge I gained through the MBA and working for What If. External investment will enable me to start bringing team members on board.

Value of the MBA
“The MBA has given me a much more strategic and structured approach to launching my business and has helped me make critical decisions at the right time, for example, changing from the original production company to a new one. Likewise, my engineering background helped me to deal with production issues we encountered with the first company. Having this knowledge allowed me to understand what the problems were, probably better than the people who were bulk producing the drink! I have been able to speak with people on an equal footing when it comes to technical areas such as pasteurisation and sterile filtration. In this respect having an engineering background has been so helpful.

Advice for Young Engineers Considering an MBA
“Doing an MBA was one of the best decisions I ever made, but it’s not necessarily the route for everyone. Think long and hard before making this decision, as MBAs are expensive. That said, even the process of considering it (or applying) can be extremely helpful in terms of thinking about your career. Just exploring the benefits of an MBA will focus your mind on what you want to do with your future, as well as the things you might want to steer clear of. If you really do want to open doors and take a sideways, upwards or altogether different step, an MBA is definitely worth doing. If I had not been awarded the SMF scholarship and done the MBA, I would not be where I am now – with my own business, winning awards and looking forward to a strong future for Wilfred’s.”

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

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

SMF Busola Banjo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you need an MBA to be an Entrepreneur?

Do I need an MBA to be an entrepreneur

By EIBF President, David Falzani MBE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

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

Kyle Henderson, Senior Director, Licensing at Honeywell Aerospace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Imperial College Business School MBA Students Now Eligible for SMF Scholarship

The Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA scholarship, which enable engineers to gain the highest quality commercial and business education, has added Imperial College Business School in London to its roster.  Imperial joins 13 other top international business schools offering the scholarship.[1]

Imperial has been incorporated into the SMF scholarship scheme because there are strong links between its  faculty of engineering and Imperial College Business School, which will ultimately produce business leaders who understand both technology and how to manage businesses successfully in a digital-driven world.

Leila Guerra, Associate Dean of Programmes at Imperial College Business School said:  “We share a joint vision with Lord Sainsbury – to connect management, entrepreneurship and technology and drive business forward.  I’m delighted that this partnership will allow exceptional engineers to develop their management and leadership skills to increase their impact on business and society, something that is part of our DNA at Imperial College Business School.”

Building a community of engineers with business skills is the core remit of the SMF scholarship scheme, which was set up by Lord Sainsbury of Turville 32 years ago.  The scholarship is open to engineers via the Royal Academy of Engineering and was recently extended to embrace technology graduates including computer sciences.  Each year 10 scholarships are awarded, and each successful applicant receives £50,000 towards their MBA study at one of the 14 business schools on the roster.

SMF President, David Falzani MBE said, “We now have 365 graduated Sainsbury Management Fellows who are using their engineering, technology and business skills to help firms in a diversity of sectors to excel and grow UK and global economies.  Looking at just our entrepreneurial SMFs, 170 of them have founded businesses valued at nearly £5 billion and created over 19,000 jobs.  Adding Imperial College Business School to the scheme creates even more opportunity for SMFs to help business and economic growth.”

The apply for a scholarship, visit the Royal Academy of Engineering’s website.

Note
[1] The 14 SMF scholarship business schools are: Imperial College Business School, INSEAD, IMD, RSM, IESE, SDA and HEC in Europe.  And in the USA; Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia and Kellogg University of Chicago.

Engineers with Business Skills Transform UK Industry: SMF Ian Peerless

SMF Ian Peerless and ExRobotics Colleagues
Thirty years ago, engineer, Ian Peerless (pictured far right) was one of the first cohort of Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMFs) to join Lord Sainsbury in celebrating their graduation from leading international business schools.  Each of the eight engineers had received a £30,000 award to assist with the cost of their MBA study from the newly established SMF Scholarship scheme.  They would go on to become business leaders in major corporations, utilising both business and engineering skills to solve problems.

Today, there are 365 SMFs, ambitious engineers who collectively have been awarded £9 million in scholarships to enable them to acquire business skills that help UK businesses succeed.

Thirty years on, SMF Ian Peerless is at the cutting edge of technology and leading a dynamic business, ExRobotics, which specialises in developing rugged robots for harsh, hazardous or remote operations. More on this venture later, first, we delve into Ian’s past to see how his leap of faith into an engineering career has enabled him to work for major brands like Shell, travel the world working as a petroleum engineering consultant, to setting up several businesses. We also look at the role the SMF scholarship played in broadening his career options.

It’s no secret that the UK is acutely short of engineers and institutions and government are working hard to encourage more young people to study STEM subjects, in the hope that they choose associated careers.  In Ian’s school days this push to increase STEM numbers and to produce more engineers was not prevalent so Ian had vision when he opted for engineering.

He explained, “Like many teenagers I didn’t know what engineering was.  However, someone said that engineers are good at maths and physics, I liked making things, and I was compelled to understand how things work.  When my Headmaster asked, ‘what do you want to do?’ I said the only thing that came into my head, engineering.  I’ve never regretted that shot in the dark.  It suits my personality and abilities in a way that I could never have understood at the time.”

The Engineering Journey
Ian’s route to an engineering career began at the University of Southampton, where he graduated with a First in Civil Engineering, but despite this achievement, he knew that working on concrete and steel structures was not his passion.  Instead, he spent a year with the car manufacturer British Leyland in a mechanical engineering role. “I worked with some great people and learned a lot about industrial relations, but I wasn’t being stretched enough.  In the meantime, the hydrocarbon industry in the North Sea was booming and I was keen to work in that sector.

A one-year Petroleum Engineering Masters at Heriot-Watt University opened the door and shortly after graduating, I secured a position at Shell,” Ian explained.  The next five years were exciting and rewarding, with everything moving at a fast pace and Ian was highly regarded amongst his colleagues.

Many talented young engineers reach a ‘crunch point’ in their careers, where they have to decide whether to continue on their current trajectory and work their way through the ranks of their company or do something new – Ian was no exception.  Ambitious and adventurous, he decided to shake things up for himself by becoming an independent Petroleum Engineering Consultant, a role he undertook for three years.  He said, “My Shell CV was in demand, so I was fully occupied with a range of companies in Madagascar, Norway and the UK.  One of my highlights was completing the subsurface design of the Ivanhoe Rob Roy field – the most advanced subsea development at that time.”

Ian had always been curious about business management and at this stage in his career he was pondering how to make a transition from a pure engineering job to management within his areas of expertise.  He knew an MBA could help, but how to achieve this?  Then he spotted an advertisement for the SMF Scholarship and went through the extensive application and interview process successfully.  He was awarded a £30,000 scholarship.  “There were so many MBA courses to choose from, I knew that to stand out with future employers, I needed to take one of the best.  The SMF process and the scholarship made it possible for me to attend IMD in Switzerland,” said Ian.

MBA helps to Secure Top Management Role at British Steel
The MBA gave Ian the business knowledge and credibility he needed to move into a senior management role.  He took up his first management role in 1989 at British Steel.  Ian takes up the story:

“It was a great opportunity to fulfil the SMF challenge to get more business leaders with engineering expertise into industrial companies to help UK industry be more successful, a strategy both I and SMF would like to see embraced more readily and broadly.

“I gained a wealth of management experience at British Steel. I worked in Business Development, Sales, Operations, and finished as the number two in the Business Strategy department reporting to the main board. I introduced new products, led major M&A teams and implemented Business Process Re-engineering.  I was responsible for £200m annual sales and turned around a failing assembly facility.

“I had a challenging and stimulating career at British Steel, but after 15 years, it was time for a new adventure because the company was experiencing challenges that made it difficult to influence key decisions, so I left to start my own business.

“After two years of experimentation, several former Shell colleagues suggested I return to the company and I joined an internal Shell consultancy group as a sub-contractor. My international life resumed, and I travelled the world, advising, coaching and facilitating leadership teams mainly on project management and contract strategy.  The Shell processes I used during this time were a valuable top-up of my MBA knowledge.

“After several years, that team was disbanded but four of us set up an independent consultancy, IPKA. We continued to perform a similar role but with different oil and gas companies. One job was particularly memorable – we spent 18 months in South Africa writing a complete set of business processes from scratch. This was a great opportunity to document what I had learned over 35 years and to structure clearly in my own mind how businesses work.

Developing Robots that Reduce Risk to Operators
“Towards the end of that project in 2010, I took on a Shell contract to develop an oilfield robot; little did I know then that this was the precursor to me developing my own robotics business. I gained extensive knowledge of this specialist robotic niche whilst working with Shell and felt that, if I worked with the right team, I could establish a business with a strong competitive advantage.  Also, I have experience of all elements of the business: I know the markets, have manufactured and sold industrial products, set up my own companies, and I had already established a network of parts suppliers.

“This was an opportunity to realise another work ambition and it  comes at a stage in my career where I can use all my experience to create a company that’s effective and efficient and that all stakeholders enjoy working with.

ExRobotics  was launched three years ago and is addressing the problem of oil and gas operators being sent unnecessarily into hazardous, harsh, and remote locations. Our robots can be permanently stationed at those locations, removing  people from harm’s way as well as cutting costs and reducing lost production. The obstacle to robots playing this role is that they must be designed and certified to work in these tough environments.  It takes years to do this, thus our competitive advantage.  ExRobotics is an exciting emerging business and we are working hard developing the market and product, which could transform how this work is currently done.”

Combined Engineering & Business Skills Makes a Difference
Asked how the combination of engineering and business skills helped him build a diverse and exciting career, Ian said, “I don’t think you can make good business decisions if you don’t understand your products/processes, their applications, your customers’ activities, and your competitors’ products and processes. You have to take all of this technical information and use your business/people skills to adapt your business to succeed. This is how engineering leaders create wealth.

“An Engineering education teaches you a structured analytical approach to life. The MBA complements that by teaching you, amongst other things, how to trust your intuitive ‘right brain’.  This allows you to bring many more perspectives to tackling business challenges.  The MBA course uses case studies that cram years of experience into a few months.  It works; when I come across new challenges, I have flashbacks to the cases I studied in Lausanne.  Of course, those flashbacks now also include situations I’ve experienced in my post-MBA career.

“The  MBA gave me skills that I still intuitively use in my day-to-day work. In particular, the ability to understand a business, its markets, its competitive position, and to turn that into an action plan for success. Also, the MBA made me understand that individuals are different and if you combine their strengths and generate a motivated team, wonderful things can happen.

“The MBA not only changed the direction of my career it also changed my industry.  The combination of my life before the MBA (technical) has been combined with my life after the MBA (management) to create ExRobotics. This would not have been possible without either of those ingredients.

“Importantly, the SMF ethos and network have reinforced my beliefs so that I’ve stayed with engineering and management even when other options were on offer.”

Supporting the Next Generation of Engineers
Ian is also delivering on another SMF tenet; helping to develop the careers of young engineers.  Through SMF, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Leadership events and privately, he has mentored highly motivated, intelligent and ambitious young engineers.  He said, “Working with young people is always a joy. One of the main areas they grapple with is how to gain recognition for their achievements, stand out from their peers and get that prized job.”

Support for young engineers carries through into ExRobotics; the company recently recruited four young engineers, three straight from education. “We try to give them as much responsibility as we can, as Shell did for me.  It’s great to see them rising to the challenges and learning from their mistakes. Even some of the older members of the team seem to learn from my experience.  At the moment, this is one of the most rewarding things about ExRobotics,” said Ian.
Thinking about the next generation who want to be engineers, we asked Ian for any advice he would like to share based on his experience. His top tips are:

  1. “Stick with engineering; don’t be lured into finance or business services.  Engineers can enjoy hugely varied careers and their work generates tangible benefits.  If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing,  change your job but not your vocation.
  2. “If you want to add management to your engineering career, consider an MBA. You will vastly accelerate your learning and you’ll be exposed to a broad range of people that will make you think and challenge your preconceptions.
  3. “Don’t underestimate the importance of engineers. The industry may not seem as fashionable as the media or the city, but who cares? Engineers have a major role to play in solving the world’s intractable problems.”

Ian concluded, “Careers and life have a lot to do with timing.  Sometimes you can push as hard as you can, but nothing happens. Sometimes you pick the right moment and the future unfolds. Now, when new challenges are thrown at me or I’m boarding yet another flight, I’m surprised that I still have the energy to maintain this style of life in my 60s! Deep down I feel a sense of satisfaction. Life is a journey and I don’t find short cuts as intellectually and emotionally rewarding as hard work and resilience. The trick is to have a clear goal, and then do whatever is needed to achieve it no matter how long it takes.”

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

Engineering a Finance Career in Green Energy

Chris Gifford is one of our 365 Sainsbury Management Fellows – he has complemented his engineering qualifications and experience with an MBA from INSEAD and used these additional skills to propel his career into an exciting new direction in the world of finance, whilst using his engineering know-how in his work.

Chris explained, “When looking to broaden my work experience, I found that potential employers frequently ‘pigeon-holed’ me as a techie and they found it difficult to look past my engineering undergraduate degree.  Obtaining an MBA was the way around this obstacle.  Not only that, it has been a significant self-improvement opportunity. The MBA provided not only business skills, but also accelerated an improvement in my interpersonal and management skills, which are essential for more senior roles in any industry sector.”

A Growing Passion for Engineering
Looking back at Chris’ early passion for engineering, one would not have predicted that he would one day use those skills as the Chief Credit Officer for an impact-focused bank, advising on the benefits and risks of complex projects such as businesses transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.  But that is the beauty of having both engineering and MBA skills sets.

From childhood Chris had an innate fascination with how things worked and spent much of his youth tinkering with electronic circuits, disassembling and reassembling bicycles and then, motorbikes.  This was a clear signpost that Chris was destined for an engineering career even though his schooling provided little practical experience of engineering.

Having set his heart on an engineering career, he wanted to gain industry experience as soon as possible so did a Year-in-Industry as a trainee engineer working in the water industry, just before and during his studies at Oxford University.  The work experience gave him a valuable foundation and the realisation that he wanted to work in a less mature sector, one with great potential for innovation and change. On graduation, he switched from the water sector to power generation.

Chris said: “I worked around the UK and internationally helping to operate and maintain the control and instrumentation systems of fossil-fuelled power stations.  I progressed into a commercial role, analysing the financial performance of the power stations. This experience helped me to understand that a broader perspective, beyond the technical, is required for success and career progression.”

At this point, Chris decided to take his career in a new direction. He wanted to be at the cutting edge of the transition from fossil-fuel to green technology but wearing a business and finance hat, and he recognised that he needed additional skills to take him into the board room of a major corporation.  That’s when Chris made the pivotal decision to take an MBA degree to help achieve his goal.

Combining Engineering and Finance to Create a New Career
Giving up a secure position and salary requires not only self-belief and determination, but also funding. With a place at INSEAD and a £30,000 (or EUR 42,000) Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship, Chris was on his way to altering his career path.  However, he said, “Although I knew I wanted to work in finance, I kept an open mind on post-MBA opportunities.  The point of an MBA is to open oneself to new horizons and I didn’t want to have fixed ideas, after all the course may have revealed a previously hidden interest or skill.”

The MBA has been transformative for Chris. Today he uses his combined engineering and business skills to assess the viability and robustness of complex renewable energy proposals from businesses seeking finance.  Chris’ arsenal of skills removes the necessity for his company to bring in third party professionals to carry out additional observations and assessments.

“My engineering skills are typically applied to evaluate whether businesses trying to access financing have properly unravelled the complexities for themselves.  There is a bias for optimism and sometimes blind spots when it comes to risk assessment; my main contribution is to provide an objective and pragmatic view on how likely a project is to succeed.”

In addition to identifying problems that could prevent a project delivering results and financial returns, Chris uses his expertise to recommend improvements and efficiencies that allow important renewable energy projects to be funded.

Chris reinforces this point: “My engineering and finance skills are complementary in terms of helping to make sure that worthwhile projects attract financial support.  The world faces many challenges and engineers have a significant contribution to make in dealing with them.  However, we cannot do it alone and having an ally in the world of finance helps with the teamwork required to deliver engineering solutions.”

Benefits of an MBA
Having secured his MBA and his ‘dream job’, what does Chris feel is the greatest benefit of the MBA experience?  He said, “Apart from the tool kit of new skills, for me, the biggest benefit is being part of the business school alumni network –  it has been instrumental in accessing my most significant employment opportunities.  Of course, it is a two-way street; it is also satisfying helping other alumnus access opportunities and fulfil their potential.

“Likewise, becoming a Sainsbury Management Fellow and being part of the SMF Alumni provides a mutual support network.  We have more in common with each other than our peers in our respective business schools, so although there are fewer SMFs, the willingness to help each other is much stronger.”

Asked for reflections on his career path, Chris said, “From the first time I donned overalls at work in 1991 at a water treatment plant, to monitoring performance of 230MW gas turbines in 1997, flying to Singapore for my MBA in 2002, moving to Canada in 2006 to open a bank branch, and now providing financing for the green economy; I have not regretted for a moment that engineering has been the common thread throughout my journey.”

Pearls of Wisdom for Engineers
With this diverse and exciting career experience under his belt, we asked Chris if he has any advice for young people considering a career in engineering and for qualified engineers who may be getting itchy feet in their current role.

He shared these pearls of wisdom: “Budding engineers should take comfort in the wide range of careers that engineering can prepare them for, as well as access to varied roles within the engineering sector. The world of work is changing, and career paths are less linear, but a strong engineering foundation provides the resiliency and flexibility to see you through an uncertain future.

“My advice for young people considering a career in engineering is to ignore any negative stereotypes they may see and talk to real engineers about how interesting and rewarding their working lives are.  By doing this, they will have the confidence to pursue their dreams.

“And for professional engineers deciding their next career move, I would suggest they think carefully about how best to take the next step and what their goals are.  Smaller, multiple steps can be easier to make (and reverse if things go wrong) than giant leaps. Also, taking multiple steps means they can navigate around obstacles rather than gambling on one significant change getting them to an ideal destination.”

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