Tag Archives: Business School

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 375 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.

Billy Comes to Life Through Engineering and Business Talent

With a childhood love of maths and a passion for engineering as he grew up, there was only one direction in which Rob Deeming’s career path could travel, and it is a path that has led him to found a software business set to revolutionise the care sector. Rob knew that the key to career progression was in expanding his horizons via business education, and winning a Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) MBA scholarship opened avenues that would, otherwise, have not been available.

Before business school, Rob gained a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Nottingham. “I always loved maths growing up,” says Rob, “and as I started thinking about university, I was eager to find a practical outlet.” Upon leaving university, Rob needed a little time to decide which direction he wished his career to take, and so spent five years as a consultant at global management consultancy firm, Bain & Company. Throughout his time there, Rob was able to fine-tune disciplines; working through practical skills such as problem-solving and collaborative working; giving him a platform on which he could consider a range of exciting careers.

Rob says, “There have been times during my career when I have been closer to engineering than others, but my degree has given me tools that have helped me in every professional situation. My background in engineering has always meant a foundation in process, structure, and a keen interest in using first principles to solve problems.”

Working at Bain gave Rob the time and freedom to decide what he wanted to do longer term. As Rob says, “It was the classic non-choice coming out of university; as it turns out, it was an incredible place to start a career. The level of learning, skills development and personal support available in consulting is second-to-none – I have never experienced anything like it since. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had that experience.”

Winning the SMF scholarship made a huge difference to Rob; offering opportunities that otherwise would not have been available. “I chose not to take sponsorship from my employer; studying a two-year program in the US amounts to a considerable expense. The scholarship really helped ease some of the burden while at business school, and most importantly in the years since, as I have been paying down by business school loans. On top of this, the scholarship gave me the freedom to really go after the entrepreneurial career path I wanted.”

The MBA gave Rob professional and personal perspective; giving him the opportunity to travel to the US to work, and opening his eyes to brand new career pathways he had not previously considered, in particular, those which combined his engineering and business skills. Since graduating, Rob has spent time living in both New York and Sydney building tech-driven businesses.

Rob agrees that there is often an image issue surrounding engineers, but he feels strongly that the limited image of engineering is changing, particularly as many organisations are now working to educate the public, and young people, on the variety, diversity and excitement a career in engineering can bring.

Rob says, “Today I run a software business and I love that our software development team identify as engineers. I believe that the world now clearly recognises that engineering forms the building blocks of future development, not just a retrospective understanding of the past.”

Rob would encourage young people to choose engineering as a profession, quoting the value it has had for him in building an incredible foundation from which any number of professional directions are possible.

With an MBA under his belt, Rob built and sold three start-ups from his base in New York, and most recently has set to work developing technology that would address the fundamental challenges of caring for seniors, while allowing them to remain in their own homes as independently as possible, on their own terms. Billy was born. Rob explains, “Across the world, the lives of seniors are changing every day. For too long, seniors have been seen as a problem to be managed, rather than simply as consumers with needs to be met.”

Billy was founded with the objective of addressing the fundamental challenges that seniors face when trying to maintain their independence in their own surroundings. “We recognised that technology had a role to play in helping seniors feel confident, and giving families peace of mind,” Rob explains, “we put Billy into testing and pilot eighteen months ago.

Billy uses a series of IoT sensors to identify patterns of behavioural routine for seniors, and share this information through an app, in real time, with family members and professional carers.” Billy uses no cameras or wearables; it is an entirely passive kit, which requires little user input. It can read all the activities of daily living, including knowing when someone is eating; taking medications; leaving the house; and rising from and going to bed, using smart analytics to determine patterns in routine and identifying changes before they result in medical emergency.

The focus when developing Billy was on prevention, rather than reacting to an emergency. Recognising that the newest technology is not always the best solution to a customer’s true problem; the team at Billy will often forego the latest innovation to deliver an improved customer experience.

The future is exciting for both Rob and his company; Billy is growing in both size and reputation, being in almost 1,000 homes across Australia and the US. Initial feedback shows that customer confidence is high (receiving a NPS score of 58 which is regarded as excellent), and there has been a reduction in hospitalisations in the households where Billy is installed.

Rob attributes the success of Billy to the commitment and hard work of the whole team and particularly to the talent of the software developers who have “built a market-defining product that is having material impact on one of the major social issues of our time.”

Emphasising the positive combination of having both engineering and business skills, Rob says, “A good understanding of the hardware and software design and its capabilities, and limitations, have been very helpful to me.” The needs of his customers are the cornerstone of what Rob does; guiding the development of Billy, and keeping his team cohesively aligned behind their goals.

Rob values the five years spent in a non-engineering role prior to his MBA; he sees it as having the space to think and work out what he wanted from his career and his studies, something not everyone gets to do. And his advice to engineers with a desire to become entrepreneurs?  Keep engineering: “Engineers make great entrepreneurs – they are practical, problem-solvers and they recognise the value of building strong, multi-disciplinary teams.” Rob says. “The next generation of great businesses will be built on increasingly complex technology and engineering principles. That puts newly graduated engineers in a very strong position to pursue an entrepreneurial path.”

From Cambridge to Jordan – Bridging the Gap Between Technical Education and Industry Demands

SMF Nick Sullivan, co-founder and managing director of Heritage Independent Living, is one of many Sainsbury Management Fellows at the forefront of initiatives that help business and industry grow and thrive.

Nick was recently invited to give a presentation at the Amman Chamber of Commerce in Jordan on an innovative Roadmapping project that he is leading on behalf of Cambridge University Institute for Manufacturing (IfM). The project is funded by the Newton Khalidi Fund and administered by the Royal Academy of Engineering, which also administers the Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship of which Nick was a beneficiary enabling him to study for an  MBA at INSEAD.

“The Newton Khalidi Fund is being used to establish a Roadmapping capability at the Al Hussein Technical University (HTU), which was established by Jordan’s Crown Prince Foundation.  HTU provides excellent, rigorous and industrially-relevant technical education that enables its graduates to obtain quality employment and to contribute to the development of Jordon’s industry, economy and society. The Roadmapping project bridges the gap between technical education and industry demands,” said Nick, who is now teaching and embedding the fast-track approach to Roadmapping at the university.

Following initial successful workshops, Nick and his colleagues are looking at helping HTU to work directly with industry and particularly with SMEs.

Nick explained: “SMEs all over the world have similar challenges, a pressing one is time constraint.  Typically, the senior members of the team wear multiple ‘hats’, managing many tasks and they have little time to take a step back from the detail of the business to focus on strategic matters.   Their knowledge of available markets and best practice also tend to be limited.  Our intention is to develop the Roadmapping capability at HTU to enable them to use a range of tools and techniques developed by Cambridge University IfM to tackle such challenges.  Many of these tools have already been used extensively within UK SMEs.”

The programme will focus on specific industry sectors.  As Jordan already has a well-developed Computer & Informatics Industry, the next HTU roadmapping workshop will look at other major industry sectors including Energy, Engineering, Technology, Architecture/Civil/Construction, and Manufacturing – the SME tools and techniques are especially pertinent to the manufacturing sector.

HTU’s programme not only develops the fast-track roadmapping capability, Nick and his team are delivering advice and support.  Initially, Nick and his team will train HTU practitioners at Cambridge University; they will then work with SMEs with HTU personnel shadowing them, and then HTU will work directly with SMEs with Nick providing support as and when needed.

“We are all very excited about the potential of HTU’s educational programme and we believe it will have significant trickle down effects on the growth of small businesses and the economy in the coming years.”

 

SMF Awards £50,000 MBA Scholarships to 11 Talented Engineers

SMF has announced the 2018 SMF Scholarship awardees, each of whom has received £50,000 towards their MBA study at a leading international business school:

Awardee Business School
Jonathon Simister LBS
Emmanuel Lawal INSEAD
Jad Abi Esber Harvard
Ian Taylor Stanford
Samir Szamocki INSEAD
Rachel Fitzsimmons INSEAD
Jacob Mills LBS
Meenal Pore INSEAD
Abhishek Morey INSEAD
Jegadeesh Sithamparathas MIT

The Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship is open to professional engineers who are heading towards business leadership roles – in large organisations or as entrepreneurs – and wish to combine business education and engineering skills to take their careers to new heights.

This year’s 11 scholarship awardees share their thoughts on studying for an MBA, how it will help them fulfil their aspirations to help businesses flourish and make a positive impact on society. They also talk about the benefits of becoming part of the Sainsbury Management Fellowship and their commitment to mentoring young engineers.

SMF works with the Royal Academy of Engineering to select each year’s scholarship awardees and details can be found on the RAEng’s website.  The value of the award recently rose from £30,000 per awardee to £50,000, providing even greater support to successful applicants. Professional engineers who are interested in studying for an MBA at one of the 14 business schools that support the SMF scholarship scheme can register their interest with the SMF Office.

You can read interviews with current and past scholarship awardees.