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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Wilfred’s Non-Alcohol Aperitif was Founded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why MBAs aren’t the only route to a good business education

MBAs v MScs

An MBA is one of the most highly respected and sought-after qualifications in the business world, and deservedly so. However, it’s important not to let the success of the MBA overshadow the incredible diversity of options available to you if you want to boost your career. The MBA has brand power on its side, and the title itself carries a great deal of weight, but as with all great brands there are always alternatives available that can be just as effective. A Master of Science (MSc) degree in business or management, for example, can be almost identical in all but name, and in some cases might even prove to be a better choice depending on your goals.

If you are torn about which route to take, or you are just beginning to explore your options for career-shaping further education, this article should help. We will take a look at MBAs and MScs in business, compare the two, and hopefully help with your decision-making process.

The difference between an MBA and MSc
The MBA badge is instantly recognisable on courses and programmes around the world, attracting candidates to some of the top universities and business schools. For most education providers, the MBA is a flagship programme due to its ability to attract excellent talent and command relatively high prices. These high prices are not usually too much of a barrier-to-entry for potential candidates, given that the ideal time to do an MBA is when you have already got a few years of industry experience under your belt. Some of you may even qualify for funding, scholarships or have an employer willing to invest in your future.

MBAs get a lot of glory, and with good reason, but that does not mean MSc options can’t be just as viable. MScs come in a variety of forms and might have different names in different places. Some education providers may refer to them as MAs or diplomas, but all business degrees will have a suffix, such as MSc in International Management or MSc in Business Management. Speaking from personal experience, when I did part of my MBA at SDA Bocconi, there was a course called MSc in Economics and Management, which was strikingly similar to an MBA but shorter in length. It was also cheaper and had a much younger candidate pool. All told, there are probably three times as many MScs in business than there are MBAs, providing younger candidates with more choice and flexibility in where – and what – they study.

In terms of scholarly output and benefits, there’s surprisingly little difference between an MSc and an MBA. MScs might not enjoy the ‘catch-all’ popular title of an MBA, and are often overlooked because of their diverse titles, but they often have remarkably similar content and leverage the same educational resources. For some of you, the MSc may even prove to be a superior choice. We’ll come onto that in the sections below.

The engineering management MSc
There are also specific options for those that wish to pursue an engineering career. Engineers are often the biggest single group participating in an MBA – which is testament to how good the combination of engineering and business is – but there are other options for those who don’t wish to pursue a broader career in business. After all, much of the content of an MBA is incidental to a career managing technical teams or processes.

Engineering management MScs tend to cover operations management, project management, leadership, and technical management. These convey skills on how to optimise operational environments, sometimes including manufacturing, and whilst they will also include a general business element, they tend to focus more on the technical and people management aspects of an engineering division of a company.

The question of affordability
As I mentioned earlier, the MBA is often pitched as a flagship programme at business schools. That’s because they are extremely lucrative and command high tuition fees, and they are in high demand. With an MBA, not only are you paying for a fantastic learning experience, you are also paying for a brand that has been cultivated over many decades. This is certainly worthwhile if you have already got some career experience and can afford it, but if you are at the very beginning of your career journey, it’s probably not the best move.

In fact, you could argue that an MSc is better value for money if you are just starting out in your career or want to start a business. After all, you are gaining access to the same faculty and business school brand for less money. MScs also tend to run over a slightly shorter period of time which is helpful if you want to get your business career going quickly. If you put in the work, MScs will not leave you any less prepared for the world of business. In some cases, an MSc might even be more advantageous, for example, if you are looking to pursue a specific area of business, because the subject matter will be covered in great depth.

Let’s take a look at the difference in costs between MBAs and MScs in business. Currently, an MBA at Oxford University would set you back £63,000, Cambridge charges £59,000 and at Manchester University it would cost £44,000. To study an MSc in business at these universities would cost you £46,800, £38,400, and £14,500, respectively. These are significant price differences!

Which should you choose?
This obviously depends on your personal circumstances and goals, but there are a few key things to bear in mind. Remember, an MBA is designed for people who have already had some industry experience. If you take an MBA, you will be expected to draw on this experience and share it with classmates, using it as a springboard to develop your understanding of business. MBAs are usually longer than MScs and, as we have discussed, are more expensive. This makes an MBA a solid choice for someone with industry experience and the financial resources be that personal financing, a scholarship, or a supportive employer. In exceptional circumstances, a fresh university graduate might be able to leap straight onto an MBA, but it’s rare and not usually recommended.

MScs may not have the same awareness as an MBA, but what they lack in branding they more than make up for in the diversity of subjects and affordability. If you’re in your early twenties or at an early stage in your career, an MSc in business can set you up for a career in business, whether you want to work for a blue-chip or become an entrepreneur.

To summarise, an MBA is not the only route to success in business and management. Don’t discount a variety of MScs in business from excellent schools and universities just because they don’t carry the MBA brand, or you’ll miss out on some terrific opportunities to study at some of the best educational establishments. MScs in business and administration topics are usually shorter, more affordable and, crucially, more suitable for those at an early stage in their career. If that sounds like you, consider an MSc to develop your business skills and acumen.

David Falzani MBE is Presidnt of Engineers in Business Fellowship and a Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at Nottingham University.

Photo credit: Delmaine Donson

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

SMF Busola Banjo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you need an MBA to be an Entrepreneur?

Do I need an MBA to be an entrepreneur

By EIBF President, David Falzani MBE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

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

Kyle Henderson, Senior Director, Licensing at Honeywell Aerospace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When to do your MBA?

By David Falzani MBE, President EIBFProfessional engineer

An MBA is a highly regarded and sought-after qualification for employers around the world. Not only can it leave you standing head and shoulders above your peers, it can transform the opportunities that open up to you as you progress in your career.  One of the questions we are asked by prospective MBA candidates is when to take an MBA. Is there an ideal time? Will I get more out of my MBA depending on when I take it?  The optimal time depends on several factors, but more often than not the answer is a resounding yes.

First, you need to consider your personal circumstances and what stage of life you are at.  Do you have the flexibility to take time out to study? Will your finances hold up? Second, you need to consider your career and how you will really benefit from an MBA. Those with several years’ experience in a business or specialised role such as an accountant, technician or scientist, will have a lot to gain from an MBA. Those with very little experience may still benefit from an MBA – but without the ability to contrast what they are learning with knowledge and experience gleaned from work experience – they will not be getting the most out of it. Or certainly not the same benefits as students who have been in the workplace.

In other words, timing is important.  Let’s take a look at the three MBA categories people can choose depending on their life stage: The Executive MBA, Full-time MBA and MBA straight from university.

The Executive MBA
The Executive MBA is a popular route because it enables you to gain the qualification whilst working, so there is no dramatic change to your personal lifestyle. The Executive MBA allows you to study part-time while actively engaged in employment. It’s very much an educational experience which requires you to link your learning to your ongoing work projects and vice versa. For that reason, it’s essential to take the MBA while you are employed in a role that allows you to make those linkages and reap the benefits.

In order to make the most of an MBA you need to be in a role that will give you the latitude to develop and apply what you are learning. If in doubt, explore each business school’s entry requirements as these will help you to determine whether or not you have the right level of experience and are working in an industry sector/role that will ensure you benefit from studying with the school. A good business school doesn’t just want your fees; they want you to thrive and succeed and therefore help build their brand.

An Executive MBA is a great route for someone who is employed in a role that will allow them to maximise the content of the course, develop/grow and add further value to their company. The Executive MBA is often the number one choice for people looking to balance learning with earning.

Full-time MBA
This is the MBA sweet spot and the most popular route to earning the qualification – candidates usually have between two to six years’ professional work experience.  Typically, full time MBA candidates are in their mid to late twenties.  Business schools are particularly interested in this group for two main reasons.  First, this group has professional experience which they can draw upon and link to the course, and then use it in the classroom to benefit themselves and their classmates. Being collaborative and using your previous experience in the classroom is essential – non-participation is not an option.   Previous experience is crucial to maximise the benefits of a full time MBA. If your work experience is the touch paper on a grill, the MBA is the match that ignites it and really gets things cooking. One without the other generally does not work.

Picture a young graduate with no work experience tackling an MBA. They’ll be able to read, absorb and learn, but without being able to apply those ‘learnings’ to practical experience of work, it’s all theoretical for them. It’s worth bearing in mind that around 25% of what you learn in an MBA is through discussion and collaboration with peers. If a student doesn’t have work experience to bring to the table, he or she may find it hard to relate to some of the concepts that will inevitably emerge, as well as hard to contribute to peer discussions.

Second, business schools are interested in candidates with this level of work experience because they are not so locked into their careers that they cannot make dramatic changes in their thinking and future careers.  Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, by the time people reach their early to mid thirties, they are often very invested in their existing careers, and may have young families and financial commitments such as a mortgage.  Although an MBA is a catalyst for growth and change, helping students to build even more stellar careers, these personal and financial factors make the decision to step out of a secure job and into an expensive and demanding full-time MBA too high risk for people who have been working longer than six years.

So, there is a peak time to take a full-time MBA. That peak may vary slightly from person to person, but you need to demonstrate that you have not only drive and ambition but relevant industry experience and are still able to evolve your career; that you are ready to explore new opportunities that will open up.

From university graduation to business school
This is a bit of a wildcard but it’s worth including because, although it’s rare, it does happen. There are business schools that will take a graduate straight from university, without any or little work experience.  Usually, these candidates have already proven themselves to be academic high-fliers who will benefit from the insights that only an MBA can offer and allow them to go even further in their careers. Furthermore, these students (like all MBA candidates) will meet a diverse group of people and these connections may be useful when entering the workforce.

So, is there a good time to do an MBA?
In order to get the most out of your MBA there most certainly is a good time to apply, but that time will vary from person to person depending on their circumstances and life stage.  You should choose to take on an MBA at a time in your life when you are confident that it will enhance your career opportunities. It’s a huge commitment that requires an investment of time, money and effort and you want to make absolutely sure that it’s going to have a tangible and positive impact on your career prospects.

How to Apply for the Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA Scholarship

If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could become one of our successful awardees –the individual scholarship is £50,000 and we award ten of these every year.

How to tackle the MBA Admissions Essay

By Víctor Manzanares Bonilla, (MEng Polytechnic University of Madrid [UPM]), IESE Business School

“For those aiming to start a successful career in business, there is no better springboard than the MBA. Since its inception at the Harvard Business School more than a century ago, it’s become an incredibly prestigious qualification, sought after by many employers in the world of business. The MBA provides a unique opportunity for flexible, intensive learning that alters thinking and challenges perspectives across a number of key areas. Put simply, if you’re looking for a transformational experience, a change in your career or to take a few steps up the ladder to get noticed in the world of business, an MBA is for you.

“Through a combination of hard work and good fortune, I was humbled to receive a scholarship from SMF to pursue an MBA with the IESE Business School. As a civil engineer, finance and business have never been my strong suit, so I’m very much looking forward to filling these knowledge gaps and complete my profile as I think about progressing my career.  However, gaining an MBA placement is about more than scholarships. The MBA admissions essay is a key part of the on-boarding process, and for many institutions will make or break your application. Having been through this process and tackled the MBA admissions essay myself, I thought it might be good to share some thoughts with aspiring MBA candidates.

Honing your message
“First, it’s important to understand that almost everybody applying for an MBA will have a stellar CV and a solid GMAT score, so these aren’t necessarily things that are going to set you apart.  Make the assumption that every other applicant is as qualified as you are – if not more so – so you’re going to need to look beyond academia and professional career to make an impression. For the MBA Admissions Committee, this is their first ‘handshake’ with you. They’re going to be interested in what makes you who you are, how you’ve progressed in your career and what your ambitions are for the future. What are you hoping to learn? How will an MBA further your goals? What motivates and drives you?

“These are all great questions to think about and require some time for self-reflection. I’d also recommend thinking not only about what the course can do for you, but what you can do for it. What can you bring to the table? How will you be an asset to the particular school you’re applying to?

“The admissions essay is a great time to open up and reveal a little more about your thoughts, values and aspirations beyond the academic grades.

Setting aside the time
“Quite often, the admissions essay will in fact be admissions essays, if you’re applying to more than one school or course. I had to write four essays for IESE, and before starting each, I’d spend at least one day ruminating about what I wanted to say.  I’d think about the title of the essay and how it aligned with my experience and career objectives.  I’d check the business school’s website again to remind myself of their mission and values, and how I might be able to contribute.  An entire day may seem like a long-time to plan a short essay, but if you put in the hours, you’ll find the writing process that much easier.

“That said, I think you also need to know when to call it quits. Having two or three drafts is fine, but if you constantly tweak and modify your final draft into something you think the committee wants to hear (as opposed to what you actually want to say), you run the risk of sounding very generic and impersonal. Remember, the committee wants to get to know you – not a version of you.

Structuring your essay
“Structuring your essay is something very personal, but I would say that all good essays have an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.  However, with something like an admissions essay there’s a little more to think about. First, you need to make sure your introduction is very short and to the point. It should consist of one or two sentences that directly relate to the title of the essay. If your essay title is a question, the first sentence or two should answer it as concisely as possible. As for the body, this is where you show your ‘working out’.  Expand on the introduction, drawing on your past experiences and your own personal values and judgements to support the essay’s core message. Your conclusion should be as concise as the introduction – a quick summary of the main message and the thinking behind it.

“If you’re struggling to get started, do what I did.  Sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down what you want to convey in very simple bullet points.  Then assign relevant milestones and achievements in your life to those bullet points. This will give you a neat structure with a unique personal angle.

Keeping things relevant and in context
“It’s very tempting to fall into the trap of simply listing achievements and qualifications throughout your essay to make up the word count.  Remember, the committee already has your CV and knows how capable you are. This isn’t the time to prove what you can do, it’s the time to prove who you are.

“While this might sound contrary, you should also avoid making the essay all about you. Yes, the committee wants to get to know you, but they also want to gain a deeper understanding of what kind of student you’d be and how you’d fit into their school.  So, talk about yourself, but do so in context.  Each time you mention one of your experiences, traits or values, think about how that might resonate with the school or course you’re applying for.

Answering the ‘big question’
“One of the questions that makes us all secretly want to run to the hills is, “Why do you want to study an MBA?”  It’s a very reasonable question, but it’s intimidating because it’s so vague and there are so many wonderful answers you could give.  While there isn’t necessarily a wrong answer to this question, there are right ways to go about answering it. You should start by talking a little about your career and experience and what led you to discovering the MBA as a qualification. Talk about your deepest motivations and why an MBA in particular appealed to you.

“The key here is context – you need to demonstrate how your own personal experiences and world view led you – as an individual – to consider an MBA. However, do remember that you’re not just applying for an MBA. You’re applying for an MBA at a particular school, and you should include your school of choice in your thinking. Don’t just talk about why you want to study an MBA; talk about why you want to study an MBA at your chosen business school.

“At its heart, the MBA admissions essay is an exercise in self-reflection. If you take the time to uncover your true motivations and articulate them in a concise, relevant and meaningful way, you’ll easily make the shortlist for your chosen school.”

How to Apply for the Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA Scholarship

If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could become one of our successful awardees –the individual scholarship is £50,000 and we award ten of these every year.

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.