Tag Archives: Leadership

From Watching Diggers Construct the M25 to Shaping the Future of the UK’s Aerospace Industry – this is SMF James McMicking’s Story  


When discussing his fondest childhood memories, you certainly don’t expect Sainsbury Management Fellow James McMicking to recount tales of spending hours (and hours) sitting and watching diggers go about their work to build the M25. For James, it was these hours, plus a ‘traumatic’ incident watching his engineer uncle disassemble and incorrectly reassemble his parents’ broken washing machine at the tender age of 3, that was the start of his journey into the world of engineering. And what a journey it has been. Since these early days, James has had a passion for all things mechanical. It led him to study engineering at university, but it was the completion of an MBA via a Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship that took his career to new heights (literally) as Aerospace Technology Institute’s Chief Strategy Officer. This is James’ story… 

Where my passion for engineering began
Faulty washing machine aside, I’ve always had a knack for mechanical things. Even at an early age my parents were convinced that I’d become an engineer! I loved seeing machines in action. That’s when I’d be at my happiest and this passion endured as I grew up, with my thirst for knowledge seeing me gravitate towards mathematics, physics, and sciences.

It was the clarity of these subjects that appealed to me, and with an interest in sports and racing cars, there were clear signs that pursuing an engineering degree would be the natural next step for me after leaving school.

It was at the age of 15 or 16 that I started thinking seriously about studying engineering at university. I visited engineering departments and got a real buzz seeing what I could be involved in as an engineer. That grabbed me. The prospect of developing products and solving problems was something I got excited about. I could have an impact on the world and make my mark as an individual, so needless to say I was sold.

Talking to universities and graduates cemented my decision, and I was off. Studying for an engineering degree was a valuable and exciting time for so many reasons, a highlight of which was leading Bath University’s Formula Student team.

From watching diggers to building them
During my degree, I landed a one-year internship at JCB thanks to its sponsored undergraduate programme. I was back in my spiritual home but no longer was I simply watching diggers, I was building them! My time at JCB didn’t just help my progression as an engineer, for the first time, I began to learn how engineering businesses were run as well as what the job of an engineer is.

I’m very grateful for my time at JCB, I had the chance to be involved in so many aspects of engineering, from design through to manufacturing, testing and development, yet it was my interest in working on higher performance products that saw me move on to Ricardo Plc.

My time globetrotting as an automotive engineer
My time at Ricardo opened up a whole new world of opportunity. I was able to develop as an engineer and get amid lots of exciting, industry-leading work as part of its driveline transmissions business in the Midlands, not to mention travel all over the world.

Working internationally at Ricardo, I saw how well-regarded British engineers were and what made us different. I was lucky enough to get some real variety in this regard, working across Europe, North America, India, China and Korea. Besides seeing some amazing places, working with people from different cultures with different educational backgrounds showed me new ways of thinking and taught me a lot about working internationally that was important to getting things done.

I worked on many thrilling projects at Ricardo. Memorable experiences included testing the 550 hp Ford GT through the streets of Detroit to pushing hot-hatches to their limits at race circuits in France to diagnose transmission faults.  There were certainly times when I was thrown in the deep end by the company and still expected to impress challenging clients. These were often the most important development experiences for me and when you grew the most.

The moment I hit my career crossroads
Driving and testing cars and working on various engineering projects around the world was an amazing experience and I became a specialist at Ricardo and progressed in many aspects of my job as an engineer, but I started to develop a new craving. I wanted to extend my role on the business side.  At this stage, I was managing projects, leading and managing teams of engineers across the firm. I was interacting more and more with customers, which I enjoyed, and with this, I hit something of a crossroads.

I became particularly interested in the strategy behind the business, the markets we were working in, the competitors we were up against, and the decisions the management took and what made commercial sense or not.

My curiosity grew more and more. I asked myself what it took to run an organisation, how they built the business into the global player it had become, and how they would progress further. I had always been encouraged to develop leadership qualities, and always thought that one day I could be a leader of a business myself, but I needed more than my experience and skills as an engineer to achieve this. If I was to make the most of my potential, it would not be by continuing in the current role at Ricardo. I could change direction or keep doing what I was doing and build a long, and of course successful, career at Ricardo. After much thought, I decided that it was time for a change and that business education would be my catalyst.

There are so many options for getting a business education, and this can be daunting for engineers looking to unlock their potential by gaining business skills that support their engineering experience and qualifications. You can study part-time, go to a top business school, or go to a mainstream university that offers MBAs at a much lower cost.

For me, a full-time MBA made perfect sense. With a full-time MBA, I could give myself the time, space and focus to study how I learn best. It is not easy deciding to take that leap. It is of course costly, and as a successful and experienced engineer, potentially, there is a lot to lose. You must think about this, consider how much savings you have, and how much debt it could leave you with.  But remember, there is so much more to gain, especially with the various sources of funding accessible to those wanting to do MBAs. This brings me to the Sainsbury Management Fellows.

The day I discovered SMF made pursuing an MBA even more possible
Discovering Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) changed my outlook and made pursuing an MBA a stronger possibility than ever before. I did endless hours of research and spoke to others within the industry before being led to SMF by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Sainsbury Management Fellows’ scholarships offered the perfect opportunity to accomplish my career goals. The scholarship supports engineers who are passionate about engineering and technology and want to get a business education so that they can take up leadership roles.

I applied for the scholarship and was pleasantly surprised by the interview process. The interview was not a daunting formal experience as I anticipated. Instead, part of the event was an informal gathering with other scholarship applicants who all had interesting stories to tell and views to share about their careers. Then there was a personal interview with an assessment panel, and I discovered so much more about the benefits of an MBA from the people who had been to business school themselves. It was an enriching experience.

The assessment also involved presenting a real work project, so I shared a piece of work that I had done at Ricardo – it was great to have a deep technical discussion engineer to engineer. We talked through my logic for pursuing a business degree and discussed how I planned to use my newfound skills once I emerged at the other side of an MBA.

I had received two offers, one from London Business School and the other from Kellogg School of Management.  The latter was costlier, but Kellogg had a special appeal for me. It offered a combined degree – two for one so to speak – with an MBA and a Master’s in Engineering Management that focused on business and innovation.  Attending Kellogg would allow me to live in the US and immerse myself in a different culture, something I relished doing at Ricardo.

I was fortunate to make it through the process and be awarded the SMF scholarship. It gave me the freedom to study away from home and pursue career opportunities post-MBA with less debt. 

Working hard and playing hard at Kellogg
Chicago-based Kellogg School of Management was a special place. The high energy environment and feel-good culture meant you worked hard but also played hard, and I relished that it would challenge me in so many ways, not just academically.  Students were encouraged to get out and take risks on a personal front, and that’s something I have taken with me even now, years after graduating.

Living in the US was another experience that would not have been possible at that stage of my life without doing an MBA. I met, conversed and interacted with people from different backgrounds and industries, and this rounded out my view of the world. This helped me think a little differently and act a little smarter.

Thanks to Kellogg (and of course the SMF scholarship that made it possible) I achieved more than an MBA. I developed the confidence to engage in and challenge business strategy and management practices.  I now have the vocabulary and insights I did not have before by doing my MBA. And I can honestly say I would not have gone into management consulting without it. The thinking space an MBA afforded me was also valuable. For once I had the time and space away from a busy day job to consider a broader range of careers and take my next step with confidence and clarity.

My status as a Sainsbury Management Fellow and Kellogg alumnus has given me the support I need, even now, years after doing my MBA. You find out quickly who else has done an SMF- sponsored MBA or attended Kellogg, especially with networks like LinkedIn. Let’s just say, if you get a message from a fellow Kellogg alumnus or an SMF, you respond!

Now back to my passion for engineering and technology
After graduating from Kellogg, I worked in management consulting for three years to further extend my learning experience.  That was an excellent way to rapidly acquire experience solving a variety of business and commercial problems. It also ensured I made the switch from pure engineer – I had gone from fixing transmission designs to fixing business strategies, processes and organisations as part of very high-performance teams. But I had an overwhelming urge to get back to my passion for engineering and technology and put my technical past together with my newfound business acumen.

Shortly after this realisation, I joined a small team to establish the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), a not-for-profit organisation created in 2014 half funded by the government’s Department for Business and half funded by the aerospace industry.

With annual combined government and industry funding totalling £300 million to spend on world-class R&D programmes and promote transformative technology within the aerospace sector, the ATI and the work it does was a real game-changer for the UK. As one of the founding members of the Executive Management Team, I was so thrilled and considered myself so fortunate to be doing something so significant for UK industry and engineering.

Unlike most start-ups, the ATI was fortunate to have solid and long-term funding to focus on delivering to the needs of the sector. To date, we have been instrumental in encouraging industry collaborations to the UK in some of the biggest global aerospace programmes that will lead to more sustainable commercial aircraft in the future. Our partnerships with businesses interested in doing R&D in the UK has created significant momentum towards achieving this goal and it has been the foundation of so many fantastic projects. We are encouraging investment in technology research and aerospace like never before and giving the UK leadership, competitiveness and even more business.

We recently created project FlyZero, a ground-breaking initiative bringing some 90 secondees and contractors into the Institute to research the potential of future zero-emission commercial aircraft in just 1 year. The ATI is part of the government’s Jet Zero Council, with the ATI’s FlyZero initiative seen as instrumental to the council’s future zero-emission strategy which ultimately aims to lead the world in zero-carbon emission aircraft with exciting and radical technologies. The initiative is unique in how it is harnessing the best of UK industry and Academia in a way traditional research agencies elsewhere don’t. Our FlyZero initiative represents a thrilling future for the UK and its place in the wider, global aerospace sector.

Every opportunity starts with a conversation
If I were to advise other engineers, I would say, start having conversations with people from different career backgrounds. I was headhunted for the ATI role having been recommended by someone I had met 18 months before the opportunity arose. Building relationships is important – you never know what might arise from these connections further down the line.

If you are wondering whether an MBA is right for you, remember that studying for an MBA is more than a qualification. Business school is the ideal place to explore ideas without fear of failure; gain the confidence to progress in your career; engage with and sometimes challenge the way things have always been and lead from the front to change practices for the better.

Having a good mix of engineering and business skills in your job is more beneficial than many give credit for. As a passionate engineer, I am very tempted and often guilty of getting drawn into the technology and spending days learning about it. The beauty of blending engineering with business is that you comprehend what a piece of technology means in terms of how difficult it is to deliver but also how it can be exploited. You will be able to determine the impact it could have, and then translate that into a business impact, an economic impact, and a societal impact – that is a powerful thing in any organisation or industry.

Engineers who are a little further along in their decision to study an MBA should reach out to Sainsbury Management Fellows and the Royal Academy of Engineering to learn more. Through SMF, you can not only get funding to pursue an MBA but get support from people like me throughout your journey. I have met and connected with many people during my time as a Sainsbury Management Fellow, helped with scholarship applications on the interview panels and mentored young engineers. There is nothing more rewarding than talking to young people about their ideas and progression and helping them to make their career-defining decisions.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author: SMF David Falzani MBE is President of Engineers in Business Fellowship and a Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at Nottingham University.

How Being Open-minded and Taking a Leap of Faith Helped Engineer Kofoworola Agbaje Become a Successful Venture Capitalist


 

A broken Walkman and advice from a younger brother may seem unusual career influencers but they both combined to set Engineer, Kofoworola Agbaje on an inspirational career path via seven years in banking to her current role as an Investment Associate at Quona Capital which, so far, has seen her successfully close venture investment deals in six countries. Quite a feat for someone who has, in her own words, experienced ‘imposter syndrome’ at points in her life.  A key turning point came in 2017 when Kofoworola was awarded a Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship for her MBA study at Wharton Business School where she would build her business skills further.  Kofoworola’s story told by her, highlights the importance of not being afraid to step out of your comfort zone and, above all, being open to advice and guidance from others.

Choosing Engineering
Becoming an engineer wasn’t my first career plan. I had a hankering to be a doctor, but unfortunately for me, I hated the sight of blood, and it transpired that biology wasn’t my strongest subject. Clear signs that a career in medicine would not be my path.

However, I excelled at maths – I absolutely loved maths and at school I would jump at the chance to help younger students, even today it’s still one of my passions. I find maths comforting which is just as well as I do a lot of analysis in my current role. Clearly, maths was going to play a big role in my career, but as much as I loved working with numbers, for me studying maths at university would be too narrowly focused. I felt it could limit my career options.

I started to think about career options. I had always enjoyed tinkering with tech and one incident prompted my brother to suggest that I study engineering. I had accidentally broken the Walkman that my dad had bought me, so purely on instinct, I took it apart and repaired it. Seeing this, my brother jokingly said, “you should study electrical engineering”. That banter turned into serious discussion and then research into the subject. I applied and to my delight was accepted into Imperial College London. So, my route into engineering was partly due to playing to my strengths in maths and partly from listening to a shrewd piece of brotherly advice.

When I arrived at Imperial College London for my interview, I remember feeling lost. I’d been to school in rural Sussex so wondered how I would survive in central London and what the course was going to be like. Unlike a lot of universities, the term started later in the year which, thankfully, gave me time to build my confidence. I used that summer to get comfortable with the idea of being at university.

The best part about the university experience was the diversity of students. There weren’t a lot of females in my classes, but there were far more than in my A level classes, and more importantly, there were females from many countries and lots of students with different backgrounds and stories and studying with such a diverse group broadened my view of the world. It was also my first experience of expressing my African side in the UK which I was able to do through the university’s Afro Caribbean Club. There are many such clubs at universities that give you the opportunity to mix broadly with students academically and with specific communities. This was incredibly good for me.

Above all, my time at Imperial gave me so much confidence. I did well to get there, but I struggled with imposter syndrome. I remember thinking “why am I here?” and that feeling lingered for the first two years of my four-year course, yet I graduated with a first-class degree. Being at such a prestigious university and still being able to succeed despite my concerns boosted my confidence and it was an important part of my growth at that time.

During my first year at Imperial, I was convinced that after graduation, I would get a job with an engineering firm like Land Rover. In my second year, firms came to the campus to recruit – there were so many tempting opportunities that it was hard to decide. There was a period of confusion trying to figure out what my post-graduation career would look like. Everything fell into place in my third year – I gained an internship with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), and I went on to join its graduate trainee programme after I graduated.

RBS Internship Helped Me Choose my First Career
Whilst on the initial RBS internship, I met a lot of people with totally different backgrounds and seeing all those people working in finance, helped me realise that I could do almost anything post-degree. You can feel a little overwhelmed with all the opportunities presented by recruiting firms and an internship helps you focus on what you want to do.

During my two-month internship, I worked in different teams depending on who needed support. My boss at the time, Stuart Gurr, was incredibly helpful and was one of the reasons why I took the graduate role. He was always busy as he ran a department of over 100 people, but whenever we had our catch up, he always took time to talk and that impressed me. He said that to build a career in banking, you must do multiple roles and advised me that whether I loved or hated a particular task, banking would provide a solid foundation that would allow me to do many other things. Whether I opted for a banking or an engineering career long term, he said the experience would be invaluable and he was right.

Full Time at RBS
When I joined the RBS graduate programme, I received the obligatory six weeks’ training and then did my rotation across different teams in multiple roles. During that time, I learnt that I could do anything I was tasked with! I went from doing an electrical engineering degree at Imperial where the only coding language I knew was Pascal to learning C#. Then I became a business analyst and later moved to another team that coded only in Java. I worked at the equity desk, in finance and strategy and credit risk – I moved around a great deal and learned so much.

During my seven years at RBS, I held a variety of challenging roles that stretched me. The experience taught me that it’s important to remain open and not to put yourself into a ‘career box’. It’s easy to fall into trap of thinking that you must do the same job as your last one. The default position tends to be move from being a developer in one firm to being a developer in another, from business analyst to business analyst and so on. However, many skills that we learn as undergraduates and on-the-job are transferrable: you may be working in healthcare today, but it’s possible to take your skills into banking tomorrow. My time at RBS taught me to stop thinking about myself as someone who could only do one job.

Five years into my time at RBS I began seriously thinking about doing an MBA. The MBA had always been in my mind, and I had attended an MBA information session in London while I was studying at Imperial. Even though it was early days, and I was advised that applicants need work experience before doing an MBA, I registered on the GMAT website so that I could receive the MBA articles and build up a knowledge bank for the future.

Which Business School – Wharton or MIT?
The desire to do the MBA was spurred by my increasing interest in working “front-office”, as it’s called in banking. When you work in tech in a non-tech organisation you are often seen as back-office professionals, people who help the business to function rather than driving growth and profit. I was keen to move into the business side of things and succeed but my resume was very tech. That’s what I mean by putting ourselves in boxes. I asked myself, how can I move out of the tech space where everyone thinks that is all I can do? Doing an MBA was the answer.

Choosing the business school was not straightforward. I ended up in a school where I was so adamant that I would not go! I knew for certain that I would study in the USA because I wanted a completely new experience.

After initial research, I attended information sessions for Harvard, MIT and Wharton. I was confident about wanting to apply to MIT and Harvard, but I didn’t feel any affinity with Wharton. However, when I delved into Wharton’s website, I quickly realised that my experience in financial analytics was a perfect match for the school. I was also a good fit for MIT, so I applied to both schools and received offers from them.

Then I attended the welcome weekend for both schools and again I came away with the feeling that Wharton was not for me, but I felt at home with MIT. The attendees at the MIT event included a lot of people with similar backgrounds to mine: engineers, rocket scientists and the like. Wharton’s event was attended by people who were a world apart from me at that time, for example, from private equity backgrounds. My first thought was, “this is not my tribe, and I don’t know how to interact with them.” I was uncomfortable and I was so sure that I wouldn’t choose Wharton that I didn’t go to view the accommodation options!

As always, I discuss big decisions with my family and my brothers had an influence on my final decision. Talking to them about how well I fitted in with the MIT group compared to the Wharton group, they made me realise that I was putting myself in a box. One said, “The fact that you felt uncomfortable with the group at Wharton is the exact reason why you should choose that school. You’re not going to business school to get comfortable; you’re going to get out of your comfort zone!” It made sense. I was going to America because I wanted to experience something new and challenging, what could be more challenging than joining students with totally different backgrounds to me? So, I chose Wharton, and it is the best decision I have ever made.

Scholarship Awardees Helped Me Secure MBA Funding
Neither of my business school offers came with financial support, which is not unusual. The MBA is a significant cost and even with family support, I needed additional funding. The work to raise the funds started with a list of sources of possible help. I researched many websites, anything that was related to masters, MBAs, engineering, and diversity support, be that gender or ethnicity. It was during this research that I found the LinkedIn profiles of SMFs. First, SMF Busola Banjo, who had been awarded a Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) scholarship to study at INSEAD. I checked out the SMF scholarship and it looked like a great opportunity. I messaged Busola to ask for her help and she willingly agreed to share her scholarship application experience.

Thankfully, the SMF scholarship applications were still open for the year I wanted to start business school and I was selected for an interview. I contacted another SMF, Animish Sivaramakrishnan, who had just been awarded a scholarship to ask questions that helped me prepare for my interview, The information and advice shared by both Busola and Animish were enormously helpful, and I am so grateful to them both.

I must confess that despite all this preparation, I was very nervous on the interview day and my imposter syndrome tendency crept in, but I needn’t have worried. I was interviewed by a fantastic panel, and it was reassuring to see the diversity on the panel: someone older, someone younger, someone who had done his MBA fairly recently, and a hugely impressive lady called Naomi Climer CBE. I was so impressed I emailed her after my interview. I heard quickly after my interview that I was being awarded the SMF scholarship; I was delighted. Not only would I have financial support for my MBA, but I would become part of the SMF network.

Key Lessons from My Business School Experience
So, I headed off for my MBA adventure and what an adventure it was. Again, I learned the value of not putting myself in a box and being open to fresh ideas. I tell anyone who wants to know about MBAs, that you can literally craft the experience to suit yourself. People who knew me before the MBA tell me that I came out of my shell because of my MBA. I met so many people that were not like me and that forced me to change my worldview. It was challenging at the beginning, but it helped me flourish.

I learnt many important lessons at business school. Probably the most important is to embrace people and their ideas and don’t be afraid of failure. I work in venture capital now and the idea of working in this sector came from a classmate who had worked in private equity. I was deeply sceptical at the time because I had no experience in buying companies but listened to his rationale for saying that my tech background and experience would be ideal for venture capitalism. Despite my protestations about lack of experience, he kept insisting that I would be a good venture capitalist. So, I started taking courses in the subject; I did eight in total and spent four months in San Francisco during my MBA, to get to know the venture world first-hand.

It’s amazing how those experiences have helped the career path I’m on now. The idea of becoming a venture capitalist seemed random back then, but my classmate was right. I am so grateful that I was willing to step outside my comfort zone: that’s why I picked Wharton Business School and even though venture capitalism seemed strange electives at the time, I still checked them out. I’m grateful for being open-minded and for being surrounded by people who were so different from me.

When I tell people the story of my MBA journey and post-MBA career, they think it makes sense, but it didn’t always make sense to me back then, because my journey wasn’t straightforward. Even with the MBA from Wharton, transitioning into venture capitalism took tenacity. I must have sent hundreds of emails with a response rate of around 0.1%, but I made it!

Taking to VC like a Duck to Water
Now, I’m an Investment Associate at Quona Capital, a VC firm that invests in financial services technology in different markets – it’s such an exciting business. Since I have been with the company, we have invested in businesses in Nigeria, Kenya, Turkey, UK, Egypt, and South Africa. I’ve worked with all our portfolio in these countries supporting our investments (though of course much has been done remotely during the COVID pandemic). I love my job, especially working with seriously smart people who are experts in their field and who are so passionate about their ventures!

My job entails analysing markets and specific sectors, as well as deal sourcing. Once we have the data on a sector, I research companies and propose them to my team. If we decide to invest, I build a model on that investment so that we have clarity about its likely progression and return on investment. When we commit, we support the lifecycle of our investment, which covers everything from supporting the CEO with hiring and financing to product and company expansion. Essentially, anything that helps companies achieve their goals.

Engineering and Business Skills Working in Harmony
My path into venture capitalism has been atypical and I draw on my engineering background and skills all the time at Quona. Analytics is the bedrock of an engineering career. You learn how to analyse situations, models, numbers – the skills you learn from that, regardless of what engineering you’ve studied, are transferrable. My manager says that when they were recruiting for my role, they saw my engineering background as a real asset. I might not have done consulting or investment banking but put me in front of any Excel spreadsheet and give me time with it, and I will tell you what is going on with the data! Most people I know who studied engineering have strong analytical abilities. It’s important to remember that there are so many things that you can do with those skills.

If you’re a young engineer looking to make a paradigm shift in your career, I would suggest that you take stock of what you’ve been doing and what you’ve learnt in your current role. Then think about what you can apply your skills to. Think laterally, you might be a lawyer – companies need lawyers in high-tech too, you don’t always have to work for a legal firm. You might be a coder; you can work in healthcare just as much as you can work in cleantech.

So many industries have tech underlying them. There are so many roles within different sectors where you might not have been able to work in five or ten years ago, but today you can because of the pace of innovation. Explore sectors you might not have considered before, and don’t take the easy route! Then figure out how to get there – do you need another degree, extra work experience, or a new classification? Whatever it takes to get where you want to be, do it!

I’ve come a long way in my business life, and I have left the imposter syndrome tendency behind me. I think I’ve shown what is possible with a combined engineering and MBA education and by embracing other people’s observations and advice, not least my wonderful brother, who reminds me far too often about his hand in my career! I’m delighted that he is also thinking about doing  an MBA and now it’s me who is trying to convince him to go to Wharton – remember, if you can dream it, you can do it!

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.

“I’ve never worked so hard in my life”: How an MBA helped SMF Henning von Spreckelsen go from Engineer to Business Guru

Many engineers can pinpoint a moment in their childhood that sparked a real interest in engineering. For entrepreneur Henning von Spreckelsen, the spark was ignited by his father, who suggested it as a possible career.  As an adult, Henning has used a combination of engineering skills and business education to develop an impressive career.  He has worked in senior management positions in international companies both large and small, with experience in chemicals, plastics, and packaging, as well as having founded and/or invested in innovative manufacturing and technology companies.  One of those companies, Plastecowood, has just become an international award-winning business in the Santander X Environmental Challenge.  Here, Henning takes us on a brief tour of his journey from engineering student to entrepreneur.

Becoming an engineer was complete chance. During the careers’ discussion process at school, I had a chat with my dad, and he suggested studying engineering because it would give me a breadth of options, even if I did not want to work in the field at some later point.  So, with the help of one of my teachers, after A-Levels, I applied to and was accepted to study electrical engineering at the University of Southampton.

Southampton turned out to be a great choice. It had pioneered the Master of Engineering course and in the fourth and final year, students undertook real-world commercial projects sponsored by companies.  From the entire engineering faculty, they took just three or four students from each engineering discipline, and I was one of those selected, therefore ended up studying alongside mechanical, civil, aeronautical and electronic engineers. We did additional courses in basic accounting, law and project management alongside the normal engineering subjects

Thinking Outside the Textbook
In the final year of the programme, we did two commercial projects. One was a marketing study for Southampton airport on the freight and charter brokerage services they could offer to existing and new clients.

The second project was an airborne wind generation unit. The university had been approached by a barrage balloon manufacturer who wanted to test the feasibility of hanging a wind turbine under the balloon to get it 100 to 200 metres up in the air as the wind speed at that height is much greater, more regular and could generate a lot more electricity than at ground level.

Our team worked out a concept design of turbine, cable and generator allowing the company’s idea to pay for itself in three years, but then we realised that the life of a balloon was only three years!  I learned then that you can be the best engineer in the world with the best product, but unless you understand the finance and customer side of things and the value of teamwork, you will not be successful.

Although most people think about MBAs a few years into their work life, this project got me thinking about business education early. I felt that an MBA would supplement my engineering knowledge and help me work out how to make companies and products successful.

I was fortunate also that the Master of Engineering programme required students to secure corporate sponsorship. With the help of the university’s corporate links, I interviewed successfully and was sponsored by GEC PLC during the last two summers of my studies.  It made a big difference to me as a student because it gave me work experience, a small income and I had a great experience working alongside engineers. Even then, I could see that the engineers who would be most successful would be those that could marry engineering with the financial side of the business.

Becoming a Boffin
After graduation, I joined ICI (then Britain’s largest company) in the “boffins department” the Advanced Process Control Team – we worked on the simulation of chemical plants using rocket simulation software. We wrote programmes that simulated ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, paint, plastics or nitroglycerin plants and then travelled around the world helping ICI factories to make their products more effectively through control engineering and applied common sense.  I had thought that being in this department would be dry, but it was fantastic because we were innovating, and we got to travel all over the world and help different divisions improve their performance.

We were only a small team within a large multinational company, so to improve our reach and effectiveness, I developed a course called Tuning for Profit which involved bringing teams from the ICI divisions in training sessions to learn how to reduce costs by “tuning” their factory control systems.  They were given a deadline to implement the learnings and every division participating was able to reduce its production costs by implementing what they had learnt with us.   This initiative enabled us to amplify the impact of our small, young team, through the people working in the divisions around the world.

Business School and Beyond
Seeing my keen interest in business, the chief engineer at ICI recommended that I read The Machine that Changed the World which is about the Toyota Production System and The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt which is about improving production performance but written in novel format.  These books opened my eyes.  I realised that the nascent thoughts about business that began back at university would become the driving force for my career.   At that point, I committed to doing the MBA, did my research, did the GMAT and gained a place at IMD Business School in Switzerland.  Funding an MBA at a top school can be daunting, so I was delighted to be awarded a Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship.

One of the attractions of IMD was the multicultural, multilingual nature of the students – there were 42 nationalities in my cohort!  I am a German national, educated in the UK and Belgium so I speak fluent French and German and thought that with three languages I would be on par with other students, but the average number of languages spoken was between four and five. You went into the study rooms to debate different cases and it would be done in Spanish in one group, in French in another group; you might have a German lawyer arguing with an Italian engineer in a language that was not their mother tongue – it was impressive.

IMD also offered international consulting projects – companies paid to get fresh, strategic thinking on their operations from MBA students who could analyse their business challenges differently.  My team had the exciting opportunity of analysing LEGO’s business and was able to show the board of directors how a major competitor, which one could argue did not produce the toy bricks to the same high quality as LEGO, was gaining market share by turning its packaging into a toy/storage item that the kids could enjoy, rather than throw away cardboard.  We recommended a change to LEGO’s packaging strategy as well as the introduction of movie-themed bricks.  Within a few years, the company started implementing these proposals and continues to do so today.  This was a brilliant experience to have during the MBA course.

Teamwork, Teamwork, Teamwork
Work is full-on from the moment you start business school.  On the first day at IMD, I was given three cases to work on and develop a solution for the problems posed.  With six years of work experience under my belt, I was feeling confident in handling them.  I remember phoning my wife and saying, “I think I’ve got the hang of this; I know what the answers are.” The next morning, I was put in my team, and we discussed the cases – I thought I had nailed the cases the night before but there were at least three different answers to the problems, all of which were better than mine.  Later that day all the students came together, about 80 of us, for a session with the professor and to my surprise, there were even further potential solutions to the cases.  This demonstrated to me, the power of collaboration and teamwork.

I have never worked so hard, before or since business school. We started at 8am and worked until midnight – it was work, work, and more work!  When I did my engineering degree, my notes were in four folders, one for each year of the course. For my one-year MBA, I had 20 folders of double-sided typed pages as well books and other material.  It was incredibly intense – you are placed in a group for a month and just as you are getting comfortable, they change the groups to generate different dynamics and pressures.  You stand and fall by the group, which is much the same in real life. There were intermittent moments of play though, cultural events from the different nationalities, trips, etc– we even had a series of 5-minute parties – where after hours of working late into the night, we would play loud music through the building for exactly 5 minutes – dance like crazy – then go back to work.

Having the Bottle
After graduating from IMD, I was recruited by Tetra Pak, famous for its UHT milk and juice cartons.  After induction and training, I joined a four-strong team that was asked to form a new division. We were tasked with setting up an extrusion blow moulding division to make milk bottles for the price competitive global market.  In three years, we grew the division from four to 170 people, with four factories in the UK and Argentina and bidding on over 20 others around the world. I designed and project managed the first factory installation and then had a team of project leaders reporting to me, each project effectively creating “brownfield” startups on customer premises.

I spent an enjoyable three years heading up projects for the division and only left because I wanted to forge out on my own and buy a company and I was fortunate to be backed by Deloitte & Touche corporate finance on a fully contingent basis. One thing led to another, and, over several years, I founded a company that developed an innovative bottle-top technology. The new technology led us to create bottle tops that enabled lighter weight (more environmentally friendly and cheaper) bottles that are faster and easier to fill and eliminated any possibility of leakage after the containers were opened and recapped by consumers.

I raised £6 million to build the first bottle top factory, having all sorts of adventures along the way, raising a further £6+ million a few years later, with all the highs and lows associated with the process. Our first customer for the new bottle top was a small Irish dairy that bought £20,000 worth of stock. The second customer was Del Monte in Canada. The company used our technology for canned fruit and doubled their sales. Del Monte’s market share in Canada soared from 30% to over 60% in less than 12 months, knocking Dole off the top spot. We won an Ameripack award for the product.  Our third customer was PepsiCo for whom we created an oval bottle top for Tropicana juices in North America.    During these ten years, we filed 170 patents in 30 countries and built factories and a research centre in the EU and the USA. A multinational packaging company, Aptar, has now bought the business and transferred our technology to its portfolio.

Playing a Greater Role
I then began looking at getting involved with companies by investing and/or taking an active role in the business strategy and development of both product and business profitability.  Today I am involved in several companies, including underwater yacht and marina lighting through Bluefin LED, with a company called Parafricta International, and Plastecowood. Parafricta sells products made from a high-tech fabric that prevents or eliminates Category 1  pressure ulcers in 14 days.   Over the past eight years, they have been working with an NHS trust in the northwest, with thousands of patients using Parafricta products, and the trust has a 75% lower incidence rate of hospital-acquired pressure ulcers than the NHS average.  Based on the NHS’s own figures, we estimate the NHS would save upwards of £240 million per annum on the cost of pressure ulcer treatment if it adopted the products across the country.

Plastecowood recycles plastic that would otherwise go to landfills or incineration. The company receives plastic waste, mainly from household collections, and reprocesses it into plastic lumber called Smartawood – it is cheaper than concrete and longer-lasting than wood.
This innovative solution has led to the company being one of six winning projects in the Santander X Environmental Challenge, a global competition for entrepreneurial companies that create more sustainable products.

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to gain both engineering and business education.  I have been able to help previous employers develop and deploy technology that has improved businesses, economies, and people’s lives.  Now I get to use my combined skills and experience in companies that I am intrinsically involved with – it is extremely rewarding to work alongside great people who are so passionate about creating value through technology and to use the combination of business and engineering disciplines to help drive the companies forward.

Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA Scholarship
Over thirty years ago Lord Sainsbury had a vision of getting more engineers with business education into boardrooms so that they could make a difference to UK plc.  He did this through his MBA scholarship programme for engineers, which is still going strong today, enabling people like me to acquire the business skills needed to help grow the economy.  Not only that, the next generation of engineers who have an eye on business leadership, have a set of role models.  They can look at the CVs of the 375 SMFs who received an MBA scholarship, and see different pathways towards a diversity of business careers.

For me, the beauty of the SMF network is that there is always somebody who knows something about what you need to know. And as our SMFs get more experienced, they branch out into different ventures, so this network becomes even more valuable over time.

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.

How an MBA Helped A Nuclear Energy Engineer Become A Business Leader at Google – SMF Samarth Sharma, Head of Partnerships for EMEA App Developers at Google

SMF Samarth Sharma at INSEAD Graduation

SMF Samarth Sharma is pictured far right

Born in Tezpur, a small town in a developing region of northeast India, Samarth experienced a unique multi-cultural childhood. Growing up in the remote region, there was very little to occupy this young boy with big dreams.  When his father, a civil engineer who built bridges for a living, got a posting in Paris and announced the family would be moving there, Samarth – aged eight – had no idea what to expect. Fast forward to today, and Samarth is Head of Partnerships for EMEA App Development at Google, in no small thanks to a Sainsbury Management Fellow MBA scholarship.  

 Samarth reflects on his journey, describing how his interest in engineering started and how the MBA helped him get to where he is today. 

The first spark of interest in engineering
When we moved to Paris, I was eight years old.  I had never seen tall buildings so imagine how I marvelled upon seeing the Eiffel Tower.  Perhaps the biggest change was the abundance of electricity in France and it got me thinking about the differences between the two countries.   When I learned that France used 80% nuclear energy, I became intensely interested in it.  How do you build a nuclear plant?  How is energy produced and stored?  If I could help bring energy to millions of people who, like me, never had reliable access to it, the world would be a better place.  I knew there and then, at that young age, that I wanted to become an engineer. That was the spark.

Building on that interest
I was fortunate in my early education to study the International Baccalaureate. I remember being around 16 years old, working on my diploma.  We had to do a project and a 4,000-word thesis on a topic that interested us.  As part of that project, I built a small wind tunnel because I was intrigued by how aeroplanes fly.  I built the tunnel with a cardboard tube and modelled the wings with straw and foil and set things up to find out at what angle the lift of the wings would occur.

So my passion for engineering started early and stayed with me. There was an Indian Prime Minister – Rajiv Gandhi – who studied at Imperial College London. I thought if I could follow in his footsteps and get there myself, it would allow me to get a good general understanding of engineering and then specialise in a particular field like energy or aeronautics.

Imperial College and the beginnings of a career
I was so fortunate to study at Imperial College.  To this day, I look back on the four years I spent there as some of the best years of my life. I was very studious!  Whilst many of my fellow students were out clubbing on weekends, I spent (most) of my Saturday evenings in the lab and loved every moment! Imperial College is strong in applied engineering, so for me, it was perfect, and it had extensive resources.  In my final year, when I did my masters’ degree in nuclear reactor technology, we even got to work on a mini nuclear reactor!

On graduation, I thought I would go straight into the energy sector, but I took a diversion. I had gone straight into Imperial College from my international school and found that many of my peers at Imperial had taken a gap year and had experiences that stretched them.  That got me thinking about doing a gap year.  With London being a centre of finance, Imperial College was one of the target universities for investment bank recruiting, and they vied for the top graduates.  Deutsche Bank offered me a one-year graduate program, and I thought working at the international bank would be an excellent gap year. Different from the norm, but I would expand my horizons and learn about the world of finance and business.

From bank internship to nuclear energy
Would you believe that I started my internship on the same day that Lehman Brothers failed – what an initiation!  Yet, despite the turbulence in the financial sector at that time, I had a great experience at Deutsche Bank.  It was a blessing in disguise for me because I got to see an entire industry change in front of my eyes.  As part of the graduate program, I was seconded to New York to work on a large US automobile company’s restructuring.  I do not think I have ever learned so much in such a short space of time, aside from my MBA experience.

I learned that how you react to setbacks defines you as a person, particularly things out of your control like global financial crises. I also learned that the world of work is very different to university, where you solve problems in front of a computer.  Work is much more about people management and nurturing relationships.  Another key takeaway was the importance of delivering on promises and being dependable for your team and those around you.

When I began the Deutsche Bank graduate program, I had planned to work in banking for one year, and I stuck to that and left with a range of valuable new skills. Once I finished the graduate programme, I made plans to leave the bank – but where next?  Fortunately for me, at my graduation ceremony, Imperial College had awarded an honorary degree to a highly respected female business leader, Anne Lauvergeon, formerly the CEO of the French nuclear company, Areva.  Through a connection with Anne, I was introduced to Areva, gained an interview and was hired, enabling me to fulfil my dream of working for a world leader in nuclear reactor technology.

Working for a world leader in nuclear energy
My first posting at Areva involved working with one of the project management teams to build a nuclear reactor in China. I spent two years in China working as a Project Engineer on the critical path of a key project, identifying stopgaps with sub-suppliers.  When I came back to Areva in France, I was one of a few people who had a combination of finance and engineering experience, so I was asked to join Areva’s investment team to handle project financing of several projects.  Halfway through my seven years at Areva, I was asked by our UK CEO to build the UK team to work on major UK government projects (Hinkley Point nuclear power station and off-shore wind projects in the North Sea).  I managed negotiations with the British government and EDF, our chief supplier.  I was chief of staff to the UK CEO and helped grow the Areva UK entity from 20 to 200 people.

I reached a crossroad near the end of this project. With eight years of valuable work experience under my belt, I had to decide whether to continue in nuclear energy and build a long-term career at Areva or do something different and push onto the next level.

First encounter with an MBA
My first glimpse into what an MBA could do for me came when I met a friend, Chris Hughes, for a drink on a beautiful summer day in Paris.  He was in the middle of his MBA at INSEAD, and he talked about how transformative the experience had been for him.  He suggested that I do an MBA, but I told him it was out of the question – there is no way I could afford it!  Chris had an answer for that too.  He put me in touch with Cathy Breeze at Engineers in Business Fellowship (EIBF), a charity that helps engineers in their career development. Cathy told me all about the Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship for professional engineers and the network of graduates who provide ongoing support for members.

I had to go through EIBF’s competitive application process, of course, but the chance of financial support spurred me on. I was invited to an impressive historical building in London for my scholarship application interview, part of which involved a short presentation. I had put a lot of effort into telling my story, my journey from Imperial College London to working on the Hinckley Point nuclear plant, but I was still nervous.  However, once I was in front of the panel, it dawned on me that having reached this stage, EIBF must have seen something persuasive in my written application; all I had to do was convey that passion in person.  I was delighted when they decided that I would be a good custodian of the SMF scholarship.  I chose INSEAD as my preferred business school and gained a place.  Being awarded the scholarship was genuinely life-changing for me. I will be forever grateful to Chris for introducing me to the idea and the charity.

A brief spell in finance
Before starting my MBA, I had the opportunity to work on a project at a leading VC firm in London called Index Ventures.  I had the time and wanted to try something new, and this experience taught me how much I enjoyed being an advisor to entrepreneurs and working in a fast-growing company. The energy sector is very stimulating but has reached a mature growth level (compared to say the technology sector).  It was then I realised that I wanted a very different future career.  I even started thinking about working for a company like Google and decided to spend my time at INSEAD figuring out how to break into Google.

Takeaways from INSEAD and the MBA 
I went into INSEAD with an open mind, ready to absorb whatever knowledge I could.  I wanted to learn more about the world of business, learn from my peers and see just how far I could push my career.  Looking back, Deutsche Bank set me up well on the basics of business; I understood how accounts worked and all the basic tenets of running a business.  The real lightbulb moment came when I realised that business is only really half of what you do on an MBA.  The rest is about your relationships with people, how to manage them and their expectations.  At business school, you are put into hypothetical situations, for example, acting as a CEO. You learn so much from role-playing. For me, learning hard skills was a small tick, whilst learning soft skills was a huge tick!

You also get time during an MBA to figure out who you are in a way that work does not allow. It is all about introspection, teamwork and learning from those around you.  Learning from such a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and different ambitions was a privilege.

One of the things that INSEAD taught me was how to connect with my inner self and find a higher level of patience.  It helped me realise that some things are outside of my control and to be okay with that. You can give your best, but even then, it might not be good enough.  Life will throw challenges at you, and if you keep thinking it is your fault, you will never succeed.  You have to take a step back, accept that there are things that you cannot control, and you have to let go and not take them personally.

INSEAD and the springboard into Google
The access and exposure you get to people from different cultural and professional backgrounds at INSEAD are remarkable.  While there, I worked as a strategy consultant on a so-called ‘moonshot projects’ for Google’s experimental ‘X’ division.  This was my first taste of life at Google, and I loved it.  Following my graduation from INSEAD, I did not take the traditional path of post-MBA careers in consulting or finance like many of my peers.  I knew I wanted a future at Google and was happy to carry on networking to secure an interview there. That interview came a few months later through networking with professionals associated with Google.  I was introduced to the leader of the strategy team for the EMEA business for the SMB (Small and Medium-Sized Businesses) sector at Google.

Since Deutsche Bank, I had a newfound respect for job creation and the volatility of the job market. My passion for helping small and medium-sized businesses scale-up was recognised and I was offered a role as EMEA Strategy & Operations Manager. It was a great fit and I had a fantastic experience.

After leading business planning for the entire EMEA region, I joined our Apps business to become Head of Partnerships for App Developers and manage Google’s third-party partnerships.  We are all spending so much time with apps these days – from gaming and shopping to education and socialising.  Many of those apps benefit from services from third-party players and it is my department’s job to grow successful partnerships with these players to help our customers expand their businesses.

Advice for engineers considering an MBA
Everybody’s circumstances are different but do not let financing an MBA be a limiting factor.  If you decide an MBA is right for you, you should apply for a Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship.  It is also a good idea to let go of any preconceptions you have about people who do MBAs – they do not all go on to work for the likes of McKinsey or Goldman Sachs.  You will get far more out of an MBA if you keep an open mind and stay true to your ambition.  Another thing I would suggest is always trying to operate slightly outside your comfort zone, but never in your panic zone.  Continuously nudge yourself in new directions as this will help you to thrive.

Lord Sainsbury’s vision of getting more engineers into business organisations through the MBA scholarship scheme is a force for good.  Engineers can bring perspectives to business that other people might not have because engineers have built things their whole lives.  I am grateful to everybody who has helped me on my SMF journey – my family, Chris Hughes, Cathy Breeze, the interview panel that awarded me the scholarship and the SMF network that, to this day, is a valuable resource.

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.

‘Better ways of working driven by COVID-19’ by SMF Perses Sethna  

Sainsbury Management Fellow, Perses Sethna- Director of Business Change Services at PRT Partners: Perses is a Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering & Technology, SMF and INSEAD MBA. He has held change leadership positions throughout his career at BT plc, Dixons Carphone Group and most recently his own business change consultancy PRT Partners Ltd.

He believes that mindful application of technology is the route to human progress, and that this requires above all the right conversations to be created between people across diverse business and technology functions in organisations.

In this article he reflects on the opportunity to accelerate the pace of such conversations, in response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many years, we have heard that digital technologies can enable people to work and live in far more flexible and efficient ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the pace of this realisation, crashing through traditional barriers to change in the working environment.

Many people have been unable to work together in the same physical location, and miss the deeper level of social interaction. However, they are also appreciating the many benefits that new ways of working from home, enabled by digital technology, can bring.

Few people are missing the time and energy expended in commuting and travel to meetings just because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’.

Huge benefits have been seen all over the world in pollution reduction and improvements to our environment in a relatively short time. This shows the enormous long-term benefits that are possible, if we prepare for life and work beyond lockdown in a mindful and flexible way.

Simply returning to exactly ‘the way things were’ is not going to be an option.

In his well-regarded article “The Hammer and the Dance” (note 1) consultant and author Tomas Pueyo advocated a response to COVID-19 that authorities around the world have since taken. The first phase is aggressive action including population lockdowns (the Hammer); the second is a much longer period of vigilance including selective action to target local spikes of infection (the Dance).

A key feature of this approach is that during the second phase, responsibility for decision-making and action will increasingly pass from Governments to organisations and individuals.

So, are we ready for ‘the dance’?
Being ready for a long period of selective action means that organisations will, above all, require flexibility to adapt their ways of working quickly and often as circumstances change. For example, organisations re-opening their offices to employees may need to switch back to only online working in specific locations during local outbreaks of infection.

In most cases, the technology has been readily available for some time to enable such flexible ways of working, at least for office-based people in organisations. But we have often simply chosen not to use it. Why? Organisations have a unique opportunity to ask themselves this and other key questions brought to the surface by the pandemic. By considering these questions, they can design more effective ways of working, tailored to their own specific needs and culture, for years to come.

Flexible working

  • Why do we insist on seeing our staff in the office all day every day? Are we set up to manage performance as measured by outputs and results, rather than simply monitoring time spent in the office?
  •  Would our office-based people be more or less productive if allowed to structure their own time to work in the office, at home or elsewhere? Would this improve work-life balance? How could we avoid negative impacts such as reduced downtime for employees?
  • New disciplines will evolve with flexible working, such as more regular but shorter progress calls, shared dashboards of progress against team goals, automated task tracking against agreed deadlines and so on. How can we build these potentially threatening routines in a collaborative and trusted way, to increase the motivation and effectiveness of our teams?
  • How can our people in business functions be fully involved in the design of processes and technology to achieve the benefits of flexible working and other ‘digital transformations’?

Collaboration

  • How can we extend flexible working technology to break down boundaries between tribes and silos, and to create multidisciplinary teams across locations?
  • How can cross-functional workshops be mobilised online to work through inter-departmental problems, to implement the fixes using joint action plans?
  • How can we use more digital ways of working to reduce departmental politics?

The office and the environment

  • How can our offices be re-purposed to become the Hubs of the new flexible way of working?
  • How can most of our office space be turned over to socially-distanced collaboration (formal or informal meeting areas) rather than individual desks- since individual work can be done as effectively at home?
  • How much of our office space can be released? What would be the savings in property and travel costs?
  • How can we maximise changes that benefit the environment, such as reduced commuting?

Flexible resourcing

  • How can we optimise our blend of permanent and specialist temporary resources, so that we maximise our flexibility to respond to changing requirements?
  • How can we bring in temporary skills for short, specific pieces of work, with payment against agreed outcomes rather than day rates? How can we ensure that this approach complies with IR35 legislation?
  • How can we work with our Consulting partners to update the ‘land and expand’ business model into higher value, short-duration interventions focused on increasing the capability of our own organisation?
  • How can we use temporary expertise to help our employees create new ways of working that are tailored to the unique needs and culture of our own organisation?

Before the COVID-19 crisis, businesses globally were set to spend $7.1 Trillion over the next four years on the use of digital technology to improve their operations (note 2). Many such transformations have failed in the past (note 3), and the new environment will make success even more challenging.

Therefore, it is especially important that these questions are discussed by leadership teams to prepare for the ‘new normal’, fully engaging their people and their technology, business change and resourcing partners.

Coming soon: Look out for video interviews with the people creating better ways of working for the new normal.  These will be posted on the video page on this website from July 2020.  

Notes & sources

  1. Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance. What the Next 18 Months Can Look Like, if Leaders Buy Us Time. Tomas Pueyo https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-the-dance-be9337092b56
  2. IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Digital Transformation 2020 Predictions https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US45569118
  3. Unlocking success in digital transformations. McKinsey&Company https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/unlocking-success-in-digital-transformations

How 4 professional engineers used an MBA to change their careers

The MBA is a highly desired qualification by both young professionals and employers.  Not only does an MBA equip the student with a wealth of business and leadership skills, it  shows clear signs of an individual’s focus and ambition as well as an adventurous spirit – leaving a secure job to study for an MBA requires not only funds but courage.

MBAs benefit individuals, employers, and the economy. Although it is essential to hone skills in specialist areas, businesses are keen on hiring MBA graduates because they have a deeper understanding of a range of business practices that enable them to be more strategic and agile in their thinking and problem solving.

The MBA opens new career opportunities, helps students to gain better insight into their motivations and goals, and connects them with inspiring professionals who can support their career ambitions long term.  Taking an MBA is a major financial commitment and because of their prestige, the cost of attending the top international schools is high.  Consequently many students seek scholarships to support their studies.  For over 30 years, the Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) scholarships have been awarded to professional engineers who have clear leadership potential.   Today, there are 365 SMFs who, collectively, have been awarded £11 million in scholarships to enable them to acquire skills that help UK businesses succeed and the economy growth.

In this blog we introduce four Sainsbury Management Fellows who have used their MBA skills and experiences to steer their careers in new and exciting directions.

Engineering a Finance Career in Green Energy:  SMF Chris Gifford, Senior Risk Consultant, Chief Credit Officer, Vancity Community Investment Bank, Canada

After gaining his engineering degree at Oxford University, SMF Chris Gifford started his fulltime career in the power generation sector. He worked throughout the UK and internationally helping to operate and maintain the control and instrumentation systems of fossil-fuelled power stations.  He progressed into a commercial role, analysing the financial performance of the power stations, which gave him a deeper understanding of business and a desire to pursue his career in a business direction.

Chris decided that he wanted to work in the cutting-edge transition from fossil-fuel to green technology in a business and finance capacity, but he realised that he needed additional business skills to secure a top-level position in a leading company.  Because of his engineering background, prospective employers tended to pigeon-hole him as a techie. Chris knew that gaining an MBA would enhance his skills and make him more marketable.  The MBA, which he undertook at INSEAD, provided not only the vital business skills needed for a career shift, but accelerated an improvement in his interpersonal and leadership skills.

Today, Chris is the Senior Risk Consultant, Chief Credit Officer at Vancity Community Investment Bank in  Ontario, Canada where he uses his combined engineering and business skills to assess the viability and robustness of complex renewable energy proposals from businesses seeking finance, eliminating the need for the bank to use external professionals to carry out additional assessments.  In addition to identifying potential problems, Chris recommends improvements and efficiencies that allow important renewable energy projects to be funded.

Chris’ engineering background is a major asset in his role.  He explained: “My engineering skills are typically applied to evaluate whether businesses trying to access financing have fully understood the complexities for themselves.  There is a bias for optimism and sometimes blind spots when it comes to risk assessment; I provide an objective and pragmatic view on how likely a project is to succeed.”

Switching from a Technical to Management Role:  SMF Dere Ogbe, Shell Corporate Strategy and Portfolio Consultant, UK

SMF Dere Ogbe was appointed Senior Strategy and Portfolio Consultant at Shell after graduating from London Business School with an SMF-sponsored MBA.   He credits his MBA for galvanising his career in this new direction and says he now has the ability to lead both technical and commercial strategy projects.

Before taking his MBA, Dere was a Senior Operations Excellence Engineer at BP Exploration. This was a technical role which involved implementing best practices to drive continuous improvement across joint ventures in Europe, Middle East, and North Africa. This involved cascading business decisions into technical requirements and this gave Dere an insight into how commercial choices drive project design and operational requirements.  This awareness, coupled with the knowledge from courses such as Managing Engineering Projects, sparked his interest in business management.

Dere sites a number of ways that the MBA has helped to transform his career: “It has given me the necessary financial, strategic, and commercial skills to quickly analyse problems and propose possible solutions. The programme also enhanced my data analytical and leadership skills. Also, I feel very comfortable leading a wider range of people with different technical and commercial expertise.  With these additional skills, I can jump into projects and get up to speed quickly.  The part of my job I especially love is the challenge of thinking on my feet, rapidly uncovering the critical factors and, with the team, creating a roadmap to solve the problem.  The MBA has had a transformative effect on my career and leadership skills.” 

Billy Comes to Life Through Engineering and Business Talent: SMF Rob Deering, CEO, Billy, Australia

Before business school, SMF Rob Deeming gained a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Nottingham. After graduation, he spent five years as a consultant at Bain & Company where he developed practical skills such as problem-solving and collaborative working.  This role gave him the time and freedom to decide what he wanted to do longer term.  He said: “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.”

Rob took his MBA at Harvard and says that it gave him both personal and professional perspective: “It opened my eyes to new career pathways, in particular, those which combined his engineering and business skills.”  Since graduating, Rob has lived in both New York and Sydney where he has built several tech-driven businesses, including three start-ups.

The most recent entrepreneurial venture is a technology company, Billy, which addresses 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 uses a series of Internet of Things sensors to identify patterns of behavioural routine for seniors, and shares this information through an app, in real time, with family members and professional carers. Billy can read all the activities of daily living using smart analytics to determine patterns in routine and identify changes before they result in medical emergency.

The future is exciting for both Rob and the company; Billy is growing in size and reputation and is now in 1,000 homes across Australia and the USA. Initial feedback shows that customer confidence is high and there has been a reduction in hospitalisations in the households where Billy is installed.

Winning an SMF scholarship enabled Rob to undertake his prestigious MBA, which gave him the skills to follow his entrepreneurial dreams.

Engineers with Business Skills Transform UK Industry: SMF Ian Peerless, Operations Director, ExRobotics, UK

SMF Ian Peerless and ExRobotics Colleagues

Ian Peerless’ route to an engineering career began at the University of Southampton, where he graduated with a First in Civil Engineering, after which he spent a year with British Leyland in a mechanical engineering role.  The hydrocarbon industry in the North Sea was booming and he was keen to move into that sector, so gained a Petroleum Engineering Masters at Heriot-Watt University and shortly after graduating joined Shell as a Petroleum Engineer and enjoyed an international career for five years.

However, he reached a ‘crunch point’ in his career, as is often the case with young engineers.  At this point there is a choice; to work up through the ranks of a company as a pure engineer or to diversify and move upwards in a different direction.  Ian chose the latter. His interest in business management led him to the MBA, with a scholarship from SMF to attend IMD in Switzerland.

The MBA gave Ian the credibility required to step into a management role; a role that would otherwise been out of his reach. He was one of the first engineers to benefit from the SMF scholarship programme, and proved that having engineers in management roles throughout industrial companies is extremely valuable.

After the MBA he joined British Steel, where he gained a wealth of management experience. He worked in Business Development, Sales, Operations, and finished as the number two in the Business Strategy department reporting to the main board.   After 15 years with British Steel, Ian was enticed back to Shell, where he was a key member of an internal consultancy group.  He travelled the world advising, coaching and facilitating leadership teams on project management and contract strategy.   When that project was completed, he set up an independent consultancy, IPKA where he continued to perform a similar role to the Shell position, but with different oil and gas companies.

In 2010, Ian took on a Shell contract to develop an oilfield robot. He gained extensive knowledge of this specialist robotic niche which led him to form ExRobotics, a company that is tackling the problem of oil and gas operators being sent into hazardous, harsh, and remote locations. The robots can be permanently stationed at those locations, removing people from harm’s way as well as cutting costs and reducing lost production.

Summing up the benefits of the MBA, Ian said: “The MBA gave me skills that I still use in my work. In particular, the ability to understand a business, its markets, its competitive position, and to turn that into an action plan for success.  Furthermore, the MBA made me understand that if you combine the strengths of individuals and create a motivated team, wonderful things 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.”

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.

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

Benefits of Studying for an MBA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What next for the sharing economy? – SMF President, David Falzani

While conventional markets and brands were under financial siege by the recession, the concurrent development of a global, data-driven, mobile infrastructure provided an answer to the strife: the sharing economy. Billed as a radical new, ‘alternative’ socio-economic system based on the values of ‘sharing’ and ‘collaboration’, the sharing economy seemed like a fluid, big-picture response – one which some commentators have described in utopian terms since.

Benita Matofska, of The People Who Share, defines the sharing economy as, “A socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human, physical, and intellectual resources. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade, and consumption of goods and services by different people and organisations.” It is, in other words, a new, ‘alternative’ market which “Embeds sharing and collaboration at its heart” – a ‘hybrid economy’ enabling different forms of value exchange using shared physical or human assets. Matofska points to the ‘gig economy’, social media, peer-to-peer (P2P) trade and exchange, upcycling and recycling, as examples of economic sharing in action.

At the core of the sharing economy is the principle of people renting things they need from each other, The Economist argues, “The big change is the availability of more data, which allows physical assets to be disaggregated and consumed as services.” Apps and data, therefore, act as conduits for people to get in touch with one another and share what they need within this economy. Technology has reduced transaction costs, making the sharing of assets cheaper and easier than ever – or so the story goes.

The Economist is right in noting the significant disruptive effects of the sharing economy, which seem only to be increasing as these P2P markets develop. The consumer peer-to-peer rental market alone is worth around $26 billion. However, in their bid to market the sharing economy as a collaborative, user-first way of delivering services and products, the major players that make the sharing economy possible, and by claiming to be merely middlemen for ‘independent contractors’, large corporations like AirBnB and Uber understate their own involvement and responsibility for the sustainable development of the sharing economy.

This has impacts not just on ‘conventional’ rental markets but gives way to a whole host of regulatory and workers’ rights issues. Bike couriers for Deliveroo, said to be paid a mere £4 per delivery, receive no hourly rate from the company. This has led to spontaneous strikes and collective action from their drivers, followed by an aggressive response by the corporation. The adverse effects of AirBnB on local rental markets is well-documented, particularly in small cities such as Reykjavík, Iceland, which, in the context of a massive tourism boom, has seen a huge increase in rents and property values as a result of the sharing economy and has reportedly led to a major housing shortage in the capital.

As we get swept up in the excitement of this new means of meeting demand, we are arguably losing sight of the important question that must be asked of the sharing economy: what is being shared, and for whose benefit? Uber and AirBnB may claim to be middlemen for ‘independent contractors’, but they take huge amounts of commission from their contractors and have even been described as, “Giant corporations pursuing monopoly power.” They have not just disrupted the markets and the profit margins of their competitors, but it could be said that their desertion of responsibility has, in some ways, led to the disruption of the lives of the people who work with them by escaping regulation and giving them only precarious ‘access’ to work, rather than solid, reliable jobs. As the sharing economy develops and brands consolidate their grip on markets, its once seemingly-liberatory potential seems to be surpassed by many of the problems facing the ‘old’ ways of doing things. As the casual workers that make the sharing economy possible become increasingly organised, the sharing economy must reckon with its responsibilities and duty of care to contractors and consumers. The regulatory battles they already face with cities such as New York and Los Angeles will set the stage for what’s to come in this regard.

This is not to say that the sharing economy requires more regulation. It is the lack of broad state regulation which has generated many of its advances and entrepreneurial development, after all. What the major players in the sharing economy must do is to put their money where their mouth is and open up their brands as well as their services. That means sharing not just some more of the wealth (revenue at AirBnB increased by 80% during 2016), but the infrastructure and technology that makes the sharing economy possible.

Some have argued this should take the form of open brand APIs. The sea change in the relationship between producers, marketer, and consumers has turned brands into ‘platforms’, ‘ecosystems’, and the collaborative nature of this relationship and the role of consumer participation makes the possibilities for scaling different aspects of the sharing economy endless. For the sharing economy to prosper and grow, it requires the active participation and input of the people doing the sharing. By making their processes and insights open-source in a genuinely transparent developmental dialogue, a true sharing economy might finally emerge. By placing the locus of organisational power in the hands of a few small, closed-off and increasingly powerful companies, the sharing economy risks lapsing into the same old patterns that made conventional corporate culture no longer able to compete or meet the demands of consumers as efficiently.

The battles around regulation and consumer and worker rights are not mere teething problems –they will determine the shape of what’s to come. The cooperative nature of the sharing economy comes from the technology, and it is the technology which must change to be more inclusive and open to innovation in order to meet the sharing economy’s increasingly unstable demands on local economies and workers.

Would uSwitch your chief executive?

Would you switch your CEO2Tired of paying over-the-top rates for poor service, bad communication, and a total lack of market strategy? It might be time to switch—your chief executive, that is.

Today, thanks to ‘switching’ providers like uSwitch or comparethemarket, consumers have more power than ever when it comes to comparing and selecting utility or insurance providers. All it takes are a few clicks through these streamlined services to find, and switch to, a better deal.

If only such a service existed for selecting better chief executives. CEOs wield such a large amount of responsibility that a bad CEO could damage, if not devastate, your company in every conceivable way – even permanently, as the recent case of Phillip Green and BHS attests.

By looking at common shortcomings CEOs often face and ‘comparing the market’, so to speak, this article will hopefully outline some of the areas in which chief executives can improve.

A self-critical approach
As Ben Horowitz points out, there’s no one else to blame when you’re CEO – chief executives are ultimately responsible for every major decision within the organisation. The blame for a bad hire or a failed initiative will ultimately find its way back to chief executives as they are the ones who OK such decisions.

For this reason, better CEOs need to take a generally more self-critical approach to their position and their relationship with the company. Firstly, this should manifest in an ability to recognise one’s own weaknesses. If a chief executive is unwilling to admit that they can sometimes lack communication skills, or that their excess of ego is having a negative effect on the company, then this demonstrates stubbornness. If you ask a prospective new CEO what their greatest weakness is and their answer does not pertain to an actual weakness (e.g. “I am too detail-oriented” or “I am too friendly”), it can be a red flag for someone who has not faced up to their own limitations and is not focused on self-improvement.

This can become fatal to a company in times of strife, and this vital self-critical approach must be evident in a chief executive’s actions. If, for example, the organisation is feeling the financial squeeze and the CEO is still accepting large bonuses at the company’s expense, then this demonstrates a lack of critical reflection and a detachment from their responsibility to employees and stakeholders.

Goal-oriented strategic thinking
Companies inevitably run into a myriad of obstacles over their lifespan, and as both a figurehead and leader in practice, it is down to the chief executive to ensure the organisation weathers the storm.

No matter what industry you’re involved in, there will doubtless come a time when your company will be presented with a near-fatal obstacle or challenge. Getting bogged down in the details of these obstacles or allowing them to dominate you psychologically can make you lose sight of the path ahead. This calls for strategic, long-term thinking, rather than short-termism.

Chief executives need to be conscious of the many shifting trends in their industry and conduct a risk assessment of how these might change the landscape in which the organisation is operating in the future. This means understanding the historically unique consumer trends and new technologies emerging as potential opportunities with a place in long-term strategy, but it also requires an ability and willingness to determine which of these trends will have a contingent impact on the company’s vision and which of them are simply short-term fads. Put simply, good chief executives need to have a clear head, balancing risk against short-term challenges in order to retain a clear long-term vision and strategy for the company. Those who are susceptible to getting sucked in by the minutiae of short-term issues simply don’t cut the mustard.

Social responsibility
Does your CEO actively involve themselves in the community of the company, or are they rather more aloof? Do they skip staff parties, charity fundraisers, and local business gatherings? It could be a sign that they feel little affinity with their colleagues or immediate business community, and therefore lack a sense of social responsibility.

“People of my generation of leadership have fundamentally failed, in that corporate private sector has not delivered its contribution to society over the last 10 years,” argues Ronan Dunne, O2’s chief executive. Generating revenue for shareholders and stakeholders alike is obviously a priority for most businesses, but it’s important to remember that business people are part of a social contract with wider society. After all, it’s the community of consumers, producers, and other businesses that every successful organisation owes their success to.

CEOs need to take active, intentional action to not only exhibit but cement the company’s social responsibilities. Ask: how does their sense of social responsibility manifest? Boondoggle initiatives won’t cut it—they need to produce concrete results. O2’s Think Big scheme is a great example of a company getting social responsibility right, offering grants of up to £10,000 to young innovators looking to provide new and creative solutions to environmental problems. Does your CEO put their money where their mouth is? If not, it might be time for a switch!