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Mastering the MBA Admissions Essay

Wharton MBA Candidate Nic Renard

By Nic Renard, (CEng MEng Hons, Imperial College London), The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

For some people, an MBA is something that was always going to be a part of their career – a rung in the ladder that they would plan for years in advance.  My journey was a little different. I’ve always loved being an engineer, but after working for eight plus years in the same company I felt the need to make a change. Society needs to evolve, and I want to play a part in driving that evolution. To achieve that, I knew I would need to develop my entrepreneurial skills, deepen my understanding of digital technologies and equip myself with the business know-how to kickstart the next chapter of my career.  That’s when I decided to apply for an MBA.  Having gone through the application process, I thought I would share my experience of tackling the MBA admissions essay as this may help aspiring applicants.

Being true to yourself
“The MBA admissions essay is important for lots of reasons, but ultimately, it’s about getting to know the candidates and their motivations for wanting to do an MBA. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing what you think the admissions team wants to hear – if you catch yourself doing that, take a step back and do some more thinking.

“First, it’s very difficult to persuade somebody that you’re something you’re not, and sooner or later you’ll get caught (probably during the interview). The admissions team is very thorough, and reviews thousands of applications each year, so are adept at spotting lack of authenticity; people that present themselves in a way they think will please the admissions team. Second, the essays are a fantastic opportunity for you to reflect on your career journey and your next steps.  Approach the essay as a ‘thinking tool’ – use it to dig deep and reflect on what you have achieved so far and where you want to go next in your career. If you don’t figure out where you want the MBA to take you, you’ll end up trying to recruit for consulting, banking and big tech all at the same time!

“For me, the admissions essay was a chance to sharpen my career plan. It also helped me focus my time and attention on the right activities at Wharton. When you start at your chosen school, you will find so many opportunities at your feet that you will need a clearly defined set of goals to choose the right ones and make the most of your time at b-school. 

Putting pen to paper
“The admissions essay will force you to think seriously about yourself and your career. I found it an interesting exercise, and I learned a few things about myself that might otherwise have slipped under the radar. For weeks, I discussed what I was going to write with my wife, parents and friends, and this helped me to cut through the noise and get to the heart of what I wanted to say. I did find the actual writing of the essays and staying within the word limit a challenge, but it was made immeasurably easier by first figuring out my story and what I wanted to say.

“Coming from an engineering background there were very few people in my network that had gone through the MBA applications process to whom I could go for advice. At the time I was concerned about this, but it was a blessing in disguise as it forced me to focus entirely on what I wanted to say rather than what the admissions team might want to hear. By all means look to others for advice before putting pen to paper, but make sure your essay is yours and yours alone. 

Structuring your essays
“Essays traditionally have a set layout with an introduction, body and conclusion.  This is important, but the format your MBA admissions essays take will largely depend on your chosen topic and your individual story. There is no fixed format or ‘top ten things that need to be included in your essay’.

“That said, the admissions team will be looking for certain traits in your essay. They will want to see examples of leadership, particularly in extra-curricular environments. They will also want to see evidence of proactive contributions in team settings, as well as any industry skills you may have picked up on that might not be explicitly referenced on your resume. Different programmes will have different criteria by which they assess your application, so this will impact the layout and weighting of topics.

“Take care how you express your accomplishments. You need to balance a fine line between singing your own praises and conveying the uniqueness of your application. Be wary of superlative language or anything that feels boastful but do bear in mind that it is a competitive application and the admissions team does want to hear about your accomplishments in the right way.

Making it relevant
“One of the most important aspects of writing an MBA admissions essay is tailoring it to each business school you are applying to. Different schools have different requirements, preferences and weightings, and programmes can vary widely too. Some schools might be looking for academics, others might be more interested in entrepreneurs, some might want natural leaders or industry professionals etc.

“It’s also a good idea to get a sense of where each school’s programme is trying to go, for example, is it trying to develop a new type of major? Does it want to improve its finance rankings? Has it recently opened a new environmental research centre? All of this should be easy to research online and will help you understand what your chosen business schools might be looking for in candidates. Going back to the essay structure, this research could hugely influence the weighting of your essays and how you write them. 

Backing achievements up
“One of the unwritten rules for admissions essays is back up everything you say with real-world examples. No MBA administrator is going to be impressed with a well-written essay that doesn’t demonstrate the talents and skills you claim to have. For example, instead of writing “I’m a passionate team player who leverages everyone’s skills in every project I undertake,” you should write something along these lines: “While working on project X, I personally sought to bring people from departments Y and Z into the team because their skills in A, B and C complemented mine and enabled us to tackle aspect D of the project and complete it X months early.” I think you will agree that the latter example is a more persuasive way of highlighting a relevant skill.

“On the whole, I think the key to unlocking your MBA future and submitting a brilliant admissions essay is simply figuring out why you want to do an MBA and what you bring to your business school of choice. If you take nothing else away from this article, this alone should be enough to set you up for success.”

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.

Imperial College Business School MBA Students Now Eligible for SMF Scholarship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engineers with Business Skills Transform UK Industry: SMF Ian Peerless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Engineering a Finance Career in Green Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Decade of Achievements for EIBF

As we say goodbye to 2019 and welcome a new decade, we reflect on some of our milestones.  We would like to thank our Patron, Lord Sainsbury of Turville and his Gatsby Charitable Foundation, our Sainsbury Management Fellows, partners and associates, who have helped us achieve so much in the last 10 years.

2009/10: Published Re-engineering the Board to Manage Risk and Maximise Growth, promoting multi-skilled engineers as business leaders.

2011: The Sainsbury Management Fellowship becomes incorporated and a company limited by guarantee.  The legal name becomes Engineers in Business Fellowship.

2012: Engineers in Business Fellowship becomes a registered charity.

2013: Executive Fundraising Committee is formed and plans to raise an initial target of  £5 million.

2014: Launch of Engineers in Business Competition Prize Fund for university enterprise education.

2015:  Published Engineering New Horizons, promoting the exciting careers of 25  Sainsbury Management Fellows.

2016: EIBF and the Royal Academy of Engineering launch promotions to increase the diversity of SMF applicants.

2017: EIBF President David Falzani receives the MBE for services to the engineering industry.

2017: SMF Fundraising campaign raises £2.1m to help sustain the MBA scholarship scheme.

2017: SMFs’ 30 Years Anniversary commemorated with the launch of Mentor30Engineers university competition.

 2018: Our MBA scholarship is raised from £30,000 to £50,000 and applications extended to computer sciences and tech engineers.

2018:  Engineers in Business Competition expands support for university enterprise education from four to 32 universities – £135,000 awarded already, with a £700,000 pot available.

2019: EIBF President David Falzani MBE appointed Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at the University Nottingham.

2019: Our Hard Hat Index reveals a dramatic 37% fall in the publication of hard hats in the engineering media.

2019: Over £9 million in Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA scholarships awarded to talented young engineers to study at the top international business schools

 2019: Our first Engineers in Business Champion of Champions Grand final sees 10 university teams compete for £10,000 in prizes with innovations in surfing, prosthetics for children, medical cell counting services and personal safety devices coming out on top.

It’s been a very fruitful and rewarding 10 years –  here’s to the next 10 years!

If you have any questions about Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship, please get in touch.

 

Why Do Companies Prefer MBA Graduates?


In a business landscape that is becoming ever more complex and difficult to navigate, a company’s ability to hire assets is important. Although candidates with business degrees are becoming more and more common, the need for experience and specific training at a higher level is becoming very desirable.

If you are looking to climb the ladder, or indeed to become an integral asset within your given sector, then you might be considering the idea of an MBA. As you may know, the MBA is no small undertaking; it requires time, funding and energy. So, here’s the question; is it worth it?

Arguably, the answer is yes. Having MBA written next to your name on your CV is a huge advantage. That is not to say that having this qualification makes you a shoo-in, as companies are also more and more interested in the type of person you are; your attitude, ethics and personality. Having said that, to succeed in the quest for an MBA qualification, dedication and resilience are required.

Let’s look at what employers like about MBA graduates, what you stand to learn by undertaking one, and which desirable specialities you may want to develop.

Critical Thinking and Creative Problem Solving
The advantage of being a ‘box-fresh’ graduate of any high-level qualification is how up to date their references are, and a fresh perspective on the issues surrounding their industry or subject. Two of the key skills taught by most MBAs are both critical and strategic thinking. Throughout your training, you will have come up against various simulated scenarios, some common and some rare, ensuring that your ability to think in this way is limber and informed.

This is also true with the skill of creative problem-solving. Fresh MBA graduates are drilled in solving new and uncommon problems and are extremely aware of what is going on in their industry right now. When you have been in a business with a certain focus for some time, it can be difficult to see how to deal with issues that are far removed from the original remit of said business.

Financial Training
The MBA will equip you with a comprehensive knowledge of the intricacies of the financial sector; how it works, how to operate within it and how it relates to the wider business community. This is essential knowledge. In order to take calculated risks, an excellent understanding of finance is not only desired but required. It is an essential component of a business’ success.

Leadership and Communication Skills
Leadership and decision-making skills come naturally to some, but to be truly effective in leadership, training and refinement is required. Mid-level leadership is hard to be good at; it takes balance, patience and respect for a company’s values. This is also something that MBA graduates are great at. Even if leadership is not a specific focused skill in their training, the very nature of group projects, partners and general teamwork requires one to better their leadership and communication skills.

Marketing
We live in a world where marketing is more important and more complex than ever. The market is getting ever more crowded, the platforms we market on are growing and branching off, and marketing techniques are becoming more specific. Having a solid foundation in modern marketing is essential, and something that you are guaranteed to gain by gaining an MBA degree.

Collaboration
Collaboration is tricky. In order to collaborate effectively, you need to be able to hold on to and believe in your own values, but also be able to compromise for the good of the collective cause. It requires a lack of ego, equal respect for others and a light touch. Again, an MBA, by its very nature, fosters this skill naturally. Collaboration is a skill that is often underrated or forgotten, but one that is vital to the smooth running of a business and to make wise decisions.

Organisational Behaviours
You’d be surprised how hard it is to find employees with excellent organisational skills. This is perhaps down to the preconception that organisational nous is something you either do or do not have. However, this is not so, it can absolutely be taught; it is a skill that can be acquired and nurtured. An MBA fosters essential skills such as this to optimise both the quality and the efficiency of your work. This is another thing that employers find extremely attractive.

The MBA is as valuable for equipping you with technical skills and knowledge as it is for helping the individual become a good team player. The skills and behaviours covered above are just a handful of the assets acquired through the study of an MBA.

Gaining an MBA is worth the considerable financial investment because it opens new career opportunities, boosts your employability, significantly increases earning capacity and allows you to develop an international network of contacts that you can call on for years to come. As well as your management skills being a draw for global employers and exciting start-ups, employers will also be impressed by candidates’ ability to build and maintain influential networks.

If you are a professional ing engineer seeking a scholarship to assist with your MBA study, visit the applications page.

Billy Comes to Life Through Engineering and Business Talent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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