Tag Archives: MBA

USA or Europe – Where to Study for your MBA?

292070 from Stock Exchange for MBA USA v Europe Article
You will do your MBA once, so it’s important to choose an environment that enriches your journey.  Ambitious young professionals come to their MBA programme with personalised goals and objectives, so there is no ‘best’ country in which to study. There are pros and cons to both the American and European system, so it’s a case of deciding what’s best for you.  Here, we highlight some features of both systems which may help with your decision-making.

The MBA qualification was invented in the USA – it had the institutions in place, the knowledge, passion and the need.  It probably suited the existing university platform to have business schools, which did not pre-exist in Europe.  With such an august heritage, the USA has developed big brand schools such as Harvard and Stanford, which are known worldwide.  While studying at any top business school gives you kudos and enhances your own brand, gaining an MBA from an Ivy League business school adds weight.

When Size Matters

One of the biggest contrasts between European and USA schools is that American schools are usually much bigger. They tend to sit on top of well-established large universities which broaden the learning opportunities. For instance, at Wharton School in Pennsylvania there are some 1,500 courses from which students can choose their elective.  This is possible because students have access to the entire law school, medical school, engineering school as well as the business school. Imagine you wanted to specialise in micro-electronic bio-medicine because you saw an business opportunity in that area; you could specialise in something that you find intensely interesting and design your own finale!   European schools do not typically sit on top of a larger educational system except in name and therefore have much fewer courses from which to choose an elective.

The Faculty
The top business schools all have first-class faculty, but America tends to lead the field, attracting world class authors of business books and published works, because they leverage such an impressive academic base.  For example, Philip Kotler, arguably the number one marketing guru in the world, is a lecturer at Kellogg School of Management; Dr Dipak Jain, who is now dean at INSEAD, was previously Dean at Kellogg and Michael E. Porter is affiliated with Harvard.

European faculties are becoming increasingly competitive and have big hitters and famous publications too – Blue Ocean Strategy, probably the most famous business book published in recent years, was written by two INSEAD professors, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne at The Blue Ocean Strategy institute.

Course Length
USA schools run longer programmes; two years is the norm, though they can be completed in 16 months by working through the summer and some of the modern courses can be shortened further. The advantage of longer courses is breathing space – you have more time to reflect on learning and absorb yourself in projects of special interest. This, of course, is only feasible if your circumstances and resources allow two years study, as programmes in the USA are much more expensive.

European MBA programmes are shorter – INSEAD’s course lasts 10 months, which makes for an extremely intensive period of learning. Undertaking an exercise as costly as an MBA in a shorter time frame is obviously advantageous, but you need to consider if this suits your personal learning style. A longer course is more accommodating to personal growth; based on what you learn you may want to change direction and specialise in a different area. Will a shorter course provide sufficient time for reflection and to evolve?  For some people the shorter course will be ideal and studying for two years would not be fast-paced enough or suit their personal circumstances.

International Experience
Gaining international experience is a key component of MBA programmes. The top USA business schools are extremely international, exposing you to a very different environment to normal surroundings and forces you to organise your life accordingly.  Studying in Europe (outside the UK), you have the added challenge and benefit of learning a new language. If you choose to study in your home country, you will still be exposed to an international group, as the schools attract students from all over the world (European schools probably have about 60% overseas contingent) but studying overseas gives a more international perspective in business experience and knowledge, you will interact with a larger number of international students and develop a truly international network.

European business schools are becoming more international in their structure – Nottingham  University Business School is a good case in point; now it also has campuses in Malaysia and Singapore.  Students can start their studies in one location and finish in a different, more exotic environment!

Business School Culture
Choosing the right business school is not only about the academic programme and unrivalled facilities, it’s also about your personality and where you will feel most comfortable and can shine.  Here too, there is an important difference between the USA and European schools – it is said that top American business schools produce a highly competitive ‘Type A’ personality environment, filled with similar supercharged people, many of whom aspire to become entrepreneurs in specific fields.  By contrast, European schools attract a broader mix of personality types and it is speculated that they produce a larger number of graduates who move into consultancy careers.

Gaining a place in either a USA or European business school is equally challenging and competitive, so make sure you choose one that fits your personality as well as your academic and career ambitions.

Teaching Styles
Look into the different approaches to teaching. European schools devote much more time to classroom teaching, which is a plus if your personal learning style lends itself to more frequent tutoring.  American schools give students more ‘free time’ to pursue areas that interest them. Also, check how assignments must be presented and be clear about the schools’ grading policy (who grades, can grades be challenged, are grades confidential or shared with others, such as recruiters?) – these will differ by country and school. European schools have more international standards such as GAAP (general accepted accounting principles), whereas American schools have their own GAAP.  Though, in reality, the content of both are similar.

Alumni and Milkrounds
Finally, compare the differences between the USA and European models beyond the MBA programme itself.  Both models have strong alumni organisations and recruitment support but many argue that the American model is unrivalled.  American schools have large, very well-funded alumni organisations, and their milk rounds and recruitment assistance are broader and deeper than in European schools. Because American schools are bigger and operate in a much larger economy, every blue-chip company goes to their favourite schools to seek out talent and provide big financial incentives to recruit the candidates they want.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

[photo: Subin]


Searching for the Right Post-MBA Job

Fang Fang
SMF Fang Fang

In August 2011, when I walked in London Business School for the first time, I had no idea what to expect.

Until then, my career path had been very simple: five years as a civil engineer in the same UK engineering consultancy. Unlike many of my classmates, I was not sure I would like a career switch. When I was surrounded by bankers, strategy consultants, marketers and entrepreneurs, my mind went completely blank. I had no idea what M&A, customer acquisition or global business leaders mean; not to mention what kind of job I could do after the MBA.  What should I do?

Shock and fear drove me to take immediate actions. I decided to use the two years at LBS to explore. An MBA provided the best platform for me to step out of the engineering design world, to try out different industries and roles, to experience different cultures and to exchange ideas with similar minded people. I did not want to waste a single minute of it.

I worked seven days a week and used every possible opportunity to learn, to research and to network. Besides classes and exams, I completed one project and two internships in three industries in three countries. I spent one exchange term in the US and travelled to many more countries. I participated in every major school event and many business competitions. Some say an MBA is a journey to find yourself. It was exactly through these experiences I started to realise my strengths and weaknesses, my interests and my career options.

My first project came through the discussion board on the LBS intranet, three months into my MBA. It was to help a LBS alumnus, a managing director of the UK arm of a large international construction group, to analyse M&A pipeline targets in the UK construction industry. I secured the job by partnering with a classmate with an M&A background. The successful completion of this project boosted my confidence that I was able pursue a non-engineering career.

When the summer recruiting season began, I was determined to try something totally outside my comfort zone. After numerous mock and real interviews, I won my first internship with the Boston Consulting Group in its Melbourne office. This internship exposed me to the fascinating world of strategy consulting as well as to the magical land and waters of Australia. The challenges to transform from a frontline civil engineer in the UK to the advisor of the top management of a major Australian retailer were beyond my imagination. However, I was equipped with the excellent BCG database and toolkit and supported by extremely intelligent and warm colleagues.

During and after the internship, I also travelled along the south and east coasts of Australia. Interacting with local people furthered my understanding of the country and culture. Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, riding the waves around Tasmania, night climbing of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and watching whales, koalas and kangaroos along the Great Ocean Road have become unforgettable memories of my life.
Fang Fang at Sydney Harbour Bridge 2Fang Fang at Sydney Harbour Bridge

Shortly after my return from Australia, I headed to the Netherlands for my second internship at Shell headquarters in the Hague. Life in the country of windmills, bicycles and tulips was not always rosy. I had to deal with the language barrier while taking up a challenging project at work.My project was to develop a market strategy for the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) business.

My background as a civil engineer helped me to understand many aspects of LNG projects and the value chain. Shell was a very international company with a strong networking culture.  People in my team were mostly Masters and PhDs in mathematics or economics with international field sales and strategy experience. I benefited enormously by learning from them and became friends with many. In addition, I spent a considerable amount of time meeting people in different divisions who offered me valuable insights on Shell and their career experience. Working at Shell headquarters was a great opportunity for me to see the workings of the largest company in the world and to learn how incredibly bright and successful corporate leaders think and operate.

The classroom knowledge at LBS laid a very good foundation for me to pursue a management career. My projects and internships taught me the real world, real people and real challenges. Together they transformed me, from a technical design engineer into a commercial and people- minded manager. They also helped me to confirm my passion for the engineering industry and to realise my interest in strategy and operations management.

Soon a perfect opportunity came up. In autumn 2012, the CEO* Program (Chief Executive Opportunity Program) at Siemens came to recruit at LBS. The Siemens CEO* Program is a recently founded and unique leadership program for MBA graduates. Each year, the program recruits six associates globally. The associates have both engineering and business backgrounds and aspire to become general managers in a global company. Top global leaders at Siemens are heavily involved in selecting and mentoring the CEO* Associates. Over the two year program, each CEO* Associate is usually tasked with three international assignments, completely personalised to suit his/her development needs.

To get the job, I went through four rounds of interviews, with the CEO* Program team, with the head of Strategic Projects at Siemens, with a division CEO and finally, with then global CEO of Siemens Peter Löscher. My learning from these interviews is very simple: be yourself, know what you want and be clear about what you can bring to the company. To me, interview skills help you to tell your stories more effectively, but who you are and what skills you have acquired through the years determine how far you can go in the recruiting process.

Siemens is a great company that cares about the development and welfare of its employees. My on-boarding included management training, intercultural training and German language training. The CEO* Program team took great care of all my relocation issues and assignment search. In October 2013, I started my first assignment in the Strategy and Business Development team of Siemens’ train business in Berlin, mentored by the division CEO of this multi-billion euro business. Currently I am leading a project that aims to optimise the sales organisation and approaches in some 20 countries. It is a great opportunity for me to gain an overview of the train business, to gain an appreciation of the business planning, development and sales at Siemens and to understand the highest level strategic topics of a global business.

I am very grateful for every opportunity I was given. Without financial support from the Sainsbury Management Fellowship and the LBS Annual Fund Award, pursuing an MBA would only have been a dream. I sincerely appreciate the job opportunities from the great people and companies mentioned above. My post-MBA journey has just started. I am excited about the new challenges ahead.

Reflections on the Start of my MBA Journey

Julia Nammuni
Julia Nammuni,  SMF Candidate, LBS

It is more than 15 months since I began my full time MBA at London Business School. Time seems to fly by and the end of my degree is approaching fast.

I recently attended some MBA fairs and met new prospective MBA students to share my experience and to help answer their questions. They reminded me of myself not so long ago, making me reflect on my experience to date:

I started my engineering career in an international engineering consultancy in the ports and maritime division after completing my undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering at Imperial College. My employer kindly sponsored me to complete a post-graduate degree in ports at the TU Delft and subsequently I worked on large scale infrastructure projects in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. The work experience I gained was very rewarding and allowed me to achieve chartership.

Nevertheless, I was becoming more and more interested in strategy and commercial aspects which led, after some soul-searching, to an MBA at London Business School. I was fortunate to receive assistance from Sainsbury Management Fellowship that helped me realise my idea. I am very grateful for the support, without it my MBA journey would have been difficult.

After my first year of courses, I had the opportunity to work during my summer break as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group in London. The project work was challenging, interesting and created a positive impact for the business. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience and I am pleased to be returning to the company fulltime upon graduation.

I love travelling and in the second year of my MBA, I did an exchange term at CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) in Shanghai to improve my Mandarin and to explore the region.

Two questions seem to come up repeatedly by prospective MBA students. I hope that by sharing my response to these I may be able to help other engineers thinking about an MBA:

How difficult is the transition to study an MBA, especially for an engineer?
I remember that I was myself very worried about this issue. In my experience to date, engineers do well at business school. What is important to realise is that in a MBA programme there will be professionals from many backgrounds who will have different strength and weaknesses that compensate each other. Thus you learn as much from each other as with each other on the course.

In my study group we had a doctor, an accountant, two consultants and another engineer. The professions in my year group included many different backgrounds such as a professional athlete, lawyers, diplomats, bankers and many more. In addition, almost 90% of the MBA student population is international with experience gained in many different countries. However, all students had at least one thing in common: a unique perspective and insight that enhanced my understanding.

Learning business language was an important part of my MBA journey as an engineer. There were acronyms like “PE”, “VC” and words like “portfolio theory” that were used in discussions that did not mean very much to me at the outset. However, like any language once I learnt what these terms meant, it was no longer difficult to understand.

During the MBA I was never far from an expert in any given topic who was happy to explain terms and concepts or to share their point of view!  And then, there are advantages that engineers have such as strong mathematical and problem solving skills that are useful in most courses.  Thus it seemed to me that I needed to master the language and then to apply my problem solving skills in a different context.

An important difference in the problem-solving approach to me was that as an engineer, I used to try to come up in my mind with hypothetical scenarios to destroy my designs and solutions to problems.  Only if I could no longer destroy them or render them “useless” in my mind, I would consider them further.  In the MBA, it seems to me there is much more emphasis on possibilities and adapting solutions as needed.  Ultimately, in civil engineering, a design life of 50 years is not unusual and failure can lead to loss of life, necessitating a very careful evaluation of possible design scenarios.  Yet many business problems do not have such a long time horizon, do not include the risk of loss of life but require solutions quickly that can be adapted as needed.  Therefore, my approach needed to change to be focused more on potential solutions and likely key issues rather than all the potential problems that could exist.

Thus in conclusion, for me the transition to studying for an MBA required me to adapt to a new language and to change my approach in problem-solving.

And what are your greatest challenges in the MBA?
My greatest challenge in the MBA was and still is time management and prioritisation. There are many different events going on all the time and real choices have to be made. FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, is the term that describes this phenomenon at London Business School and many other business schools.

Initially, FOMO was almost overwhelming as there were so many opportunities.  Every evening there seemed to be at least seven equally interesting but conflicting events requiring a choice to be made: do I go to one of the career events, one the corporate events, one of the club events, a party or the pub to meet friends? With time passing, my priorities started to emerge.

Nevertheless, every now and again about of FOMO does kick in. Thus, I constantly re-evaluate what is important to me. Further, I am learning to accept that I will miss interesting events as it is impossible to attend them all!

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the latest winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

A Two Year Transition – My MBA Journey

Gil Rabbie SMALL
SMF Gil Rabbie

It’s almost two years to the day, when after 6.5 years as a loyal employee, climbing up the ranks of the corporate hierarchy, through manufacturing, operations and project management roles – I resigned, to pursue my MBA at London Business School (LBS). Looking back now, I can recall the anxiety of not only losing my steady income but also the unease I had about ‘jumping ship.’ After all, this was my first and only full-time job after graduating from Imperial College as a chemical engineer back in 2004. I quickly realised that the ship I had seemingly jumped was far more resilient to my departure than I had previously felt.

I had considered making a career switch to a commercial direction for some time and eventually decided that I wanted to achieve that by learning best practices, cross-functionally from all over the business world: Understanding corporate strategy in addition to how to finance start-up ventures, appreciating macroeconomic growth trends as well as improving negotiating and other communication skills. I felt that an MBA would be the best way to combine what I had learnt ‘on the shop-floor’ and build a broader sense of perspective on those foundations. Furthermore, studying at a top-quality international business school, would provide a globally recognised qualification, a valuable lifelong network and not least, enable a better return on the heavy investment expected.

The research, preparation and significant application process took me over a year, particularly as I had little down-time at work, with one project after another requiring my time and attention. With GMAT scores in place, essays written and references gathered I was determined to make my application successful first time, as the window of opportunity for completing a full-time programme was closing steadily. Engineer that I am, I systematically considered my choice of school and concluded that with my desire to study in an internationally focused school with a mature student body that encompassed a range of experiences and crucially, my plans to work in London immediately after the programme – the best school for my purposes was right here in Europe. Ultimately, I chose London Business School as it offered everything I was looking for and moreover, was close to home making it easier on my personal life and expense outlay.

The two years at LBS have gone by like a flash. No sooner had I begun to take in the mass of new information from coursework and academic life, was it time to make the career switch and in particular, find an internship for the summer – my number one priority. Nevertheless, I tried to remind myself throughout, that the enormous wealth of opportunity to learn and try new things as well as a vibrant network of new friends and contacts was not going to last long – all of which resulted in a busy schedule full of activities, some 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I attended a plethora of interesting talks, conferences and seminars, apart from my required studies which I found by and large, to be truly eye-opening and thought-provoking, particularly the electives I took.

I spent my summer after the first year gaining experience in strategy consulting, through an internship at The Boston Consulting Group, in its London office. In addition to developing my ‘consultant toolkit’ of analysis and presentation skills, I also had the opportunity to learn about the activities which the firm and office are involved with, in more depth and how they are impacting business thinking at the most senior levels. I was delighted to receive a full-time offer at the end of the internship and intend to commence my full-time post-MBA career at BCG London.

Whilst at LBS, I also became heavily involved in student leadership roles, becoming the president of the Running Club as well as the Industry Club. This not only gave me fantastic experience to try out, in a fairly ‘risk-free’ manner, some of the tactics and ideas I had picked-up in the classroom and from previous experience, but also widened my circle of friends and professional contacts even further. I even achieved a few unique firsts, including a triathlon and organising a conference.

Additionally, the flexibility of student life and in particular the second year at LBS, offered the chance to pursue some personal priorities, which would be more challenging in full-time employment. The first was taking quite a few trips abroad including sailing in Antigua, hiking in the Indian Himalayas and wine-tasting in South Africa.

Gateway of India

Holi – festival of colours, experienced with the locals at The Gateway of India – Mumbai

The second and most important of all, was deciding with my wife to become parents for the first time and our daughter was born at the end of my first year of studies (in fact, on the day of my final exam!). That transition has been my most momentous and fulfilling of all.

So all in all, I have had two hectic and intense years during which time I learned an enormous amount: completely repositioning my career in a commercial trajectory whilst at the same time developing myself immensely and building a significant network of contacts and close friendships. Having just had my graduation and with work restarting imminently – the future seems full of promise and opportunity from where I am sitting. I also know there will continue to be plenty of challenges, but I doubt I would have gone down this path, if I did not highly relish those…

Finally, my advice for those who may be considering the MBA may be somewhat surprising having read the above. I believe it’s not a benefit to everyone and is a need for few. That is to say, the course and learning that comes around it, are only as good as what you make of the experience and the same goes for graduates returning to the workplace: there will be those that revert to what they feel comfortable with and there will be those that seek to continue to learn and push the boundaries of what is possible. I intend to be the latter and much of that desire has been driven by the fundamentals and the flames of ambition that have been further fuelled by the MBA. I am in no doubt that this was the right decision for me and I know that, without the help of the Sainsbury Management Fellowship my experience would have been very different, perhaps even non-existent and for all this – I am immensely grateful.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.


Preparing for your SMF scholarship interview

Interview Candidate

Over 300 engineers have succeeded in winning an SMF scholarship to study for an MBA at a world-class business school. You could be about to join this group of talented individuals who, once qualified, forge outstanding careers in major companies or develop their own thriving enterprises, thus helping our economy.

We asked SMFs and candidates currently studying for their MBA to think back on their application and assessment experience and share their thoughts and tips on making a strong case for a scholarship. Here they tell us what things to consider and how to impress the panel while being true to yourself.

There is bound to be something here to inspire your application, so do dip into to this valuable source of advice throughout your application process – good luck!

Are you really ready?

  • Ensure you have completed your professional engineering registration and are close to reaching Chartered status.
  • Be very clear about why you want to go to business school, and how you see it accelerating your career. Ideally, you should have a 3-year and 10-year plan.

Don’t be shy – sell your capabilities and achievements

  • Make sure your application tells a story about you, about the capabilities you think are important and about the way you have demonstrated them to colleagues. Learn how to tell that story using illustrations of successes and failures in words and for your presentation.
  • When filling in the online form, think about the various skills and qualities you are being asked to demonstrate, and also show how you expect these will be supplemented by your MBA. Don’t limit yourself to your professional experience – extracurricular activity is useful too, particularly if it demonstrates leadership potential.

A winning application form

  • Don’t waste space in your application on unnecessary filler words. Every sentence should, if possible, say something meaningful and interesting about you and demand a follow-up question. Don’t forget, it’s not just work and career that is your ammunition to enrich the picture. Your leadership, communication and innovation skills will be evident in many other areas of your experience.
  • Demonstrate your professional achievements as well as your contribution to the broader society. Include details of extracurricular activities such as charity work, competitions, committee work, training workshops for students and professionals, working for professional institutions and writing research papers. Detail these activities, their impacts and any awards received.

Engage your audience

  • Consider your presentation opportunity very carefully. It’s your unique chance to dictate what the selection panel hear and see. It’s your best opportunity to sell yourself. Think about your preparation as well as technical and commercial content.
  • In your presentation know that your message is not what you did or how you did it but why you did it and how you impacted people around you.  A historical or technical review means nothing if you can’t integrate it with what you are trying to say about you. Remember, technology is only a very small component of engineering leadership. People are by far the largest factor.
  • Don’t just present to the panel. Engage them in drawing out the questions you want them to ask. Your Q&A session should never be regarded as a passive exercise.

Winning interview – the devil’s in the detail

  • Your interview will fly by so make the most of it.
  • Be prepared to talk about your achievements when you were 7 years old! You can be asked questions about your very early life and travel experiences – things that may not feature on your CV. Also, be prepared to discuss technical details of your projects as well as your leadership experience.
  • The interview panel is looking for colour around what you’ve put in your application and get an understanding of you and what you’re hoping to get from your MBA.
  • As the panel may be interviewing candidates back-to-back, they may not have remembered all the detail in your application, so it’s up to you to cover all the areas you want to highlight.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your time at the end of the interview to mention one or two aspects of your candidacy if you haven’t been able to discuss them during the main part of the interview.

Let your personality shine

  • Be natural and genuine during the interview. The interviewers are your future SMF colleagues and are looking for individuals that bring richness and diversity to the Fellowship.

Good luck with your panel interview!


From Marine Engineer to Online Publishing

Lee Cowles
SMF Lee Cowles, MD of Europe, Blurb

Lee Cowles has enjoyed a varied and challenging career, starting as a marine engineer in the Royal Navy before jumping ship into bespoke manufacturing. He then made a major turn in career direction by studying for his MBA and moved into the world of business and worked his way up to director at Betfair, the phenomenally successful online gaming company. Today Lee is leading another exciting internet business, the fast-growing online publishing company, Blurb.

As a youngster, what were your career aspirations?
As a teenager I couldn’t possibly have imagined that I would be running an online publishing business as it was pre-Internet days! Back then, I was instinctively drawn to engineering because I saw myself as a problem-solver; I liked the idea of ‘making things work well’ though at that point, I had no idea what I might make work.

Why did you study engineering?
My first job was a marine engineer in the Royal Navy where I had ample opportunity to make things work! I resurrected damaged equipment, bringing things back to peak performance. That experience led me into a manufacturing job. When I left the Navy, I joined an unusual manufacturing business in Huddersfield – it produced customised winches and gearboxes. Yes, I know this doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but imagine selling a concept to every new customer and then having to go away and make the product? It was quite a challenge, as each product was a turnkey solution. No off-the shelf products, meant no standard price list, yet it was essential to get the price right to make a profit and keep the customer satisfied. Sometimes I had to take a leap of faith or we would have missed out on brilliant business opportunities.

Why study for an MBA?
My employer at the manufacturing firm was keen for me to develop in the business and offered to sponsor me to study for an MSc at Warwick University, but I already knew engineering. I had been so involved in product development and sales at the firm, I started hankering after learning more about business. When you’re in the Armed Forces you know exactly why people do the things they do – everyone has a shared understanding otherwise things can go horribly wrong. But in business it’s different – there are lots of stakeholders with competing or hidden agenda. I felt that an MBA would help me to learn what I needed or at least get me started.

How did SMF help you?
Realising that I would be unlikely to return to the firm after studying for an MBA, my employer understandably didn’t want to sponsor my MBA study. I was fortunate to discover the SMF scholarship and to get through the selection process. Without the funding, it would have been a struggle financing my MBA and I would have had a larger debt at the end, which might have influenced the job I took at the end of the course.

By providing the funding, SMF gave me the opportunity to start a different career and explore different options. SMF doesn’t look for people based on the particular career they want to go into so you get a very mixed set of people. SMF is about getting people into senior jobs across the board. This helps Fellows to stretch their careers in different directions.

And the biggest benefit of your MBA?
The real revelation – and benefit – for me was studying with such a diverse and vibrant group of people; there were students from many different backgrounds and cultures. The university places students in very mixed groups to maximise friction and learning!

Has the SMF Network been useful?
You make lasting friendships and, because everyone takes different career paths and are not competing in the same arena, you can contact them and ask their views and advice without any conflict of interest.

How has business education changed your life?
My first job after graduation was with Ford, where I worked on the accelerated Manufacturing Leadership Programme. I also undertook a government research project into adult education for the workforce. The project brought together civil servants and the private sector to explore how business might help to tackle adult illiteracy. While this project was intellectually stimulating, working in a very large corporation wasn’t for me. I wanted to be in a more entrepreneurial environment.

The game-changer for me came in 2003 when I become Head of Operations at the innovative online gaming company, Betfair. Betfair has a great business model – it allows customers to choose their own odds, matches all the bets and charges a small commission on winning bets.

Moving money around is a bit like logistics and works like an engineering business; that’s how I positioned it at my interview and they liked my pitch! Betfair was a small business when I joined, but it grew rapidly. In a small business you take on many different jobs and build very quickly. My division went from two to 50 people in 18 months and I must have hired 200 staff during my time with the company.

Initially, I set up the back-office systems and then progressed into other roles. I professionalised processes and systems in one area, and then moved onto the next. This included product management, product development and even the software development area. By the time I left in 2011, I was Director of UK running half the business. When the business floated it was valued at £1 billion and today it employs around 2,000 people. In a small growing business you do many different things which may not be your area of expertise. The MBA prepares you to deal with unexpected challenges.

What are you doing now?
Scaling up the business at Betfair prepared me for my current role as MD of Europe at Blurb, a venture capital backed online publishing business, which allows customers to produce everything from personalised e-books to professional books on demand. Blurb publishes around 2 million books a year, the same as a medium size offline publisher. In the online publishing world, authors can create demand for their books through social media.

What is the biggest challenge in your business sector?
The Internet has increased the speed of every aspect of business. It’s imperative to keep your eyes on the ball – on everything from systems and processes to sales and marketing – otherwise you will be outflanked by new competitors, trends and customer behaviour.

How can engineers help the UK economy to grow?
We need to embed flexibility and skills into the economy. Engineers have valuable skills, for example, analysis and problem-solving; bundle these with business education and they have a big role to play in growing the economy.

What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
People who start a career in engineering are pretty risk averse. That’s probably why we don’t see many traditional engineers, compared to software engineers in Silicon Valley, become entrepreneurs. My tip is to ‘just do it’ – don’t let fear hold back a great idea. Often the risk is not as great as you think it will be.

Which engineering pioneer do you admire and why?
Brunel – he was audacious! He was a hands-on engineer, who was never put off by failure. He achieved so much and left us some wonderful structures. In Brunel’s time engineers had the advantage of being able to over-engineer and learn from their experiences. There’s no room for that in modern engineering!

How the MBA Changed my Life

James Dunbar SMALL
SMF James Dunbar is an Analyst, Refining; Logistics Technology on the Future Leaders Programme at BP.

Has an MBA has changed my life? Back in 2006, I was in a Middle Eastern desert with the Royal Air Force, reviewing whether we had enough PGMs for combat operations. Here I am in 2012, looking at the capital portfolio for BP, reviewing whether we have enough PGMs for business operations.

In 6 years, I’ve gone from worrying about Precision-Guided Munitions, to Project General Managers. Anyone who has ever changed companies or industries will talk about wrestling with a new business dialect. But it’s not just the language that I needed to make this change; it’s the knowledge to lead at both a tactical and strategic level. That’s what the MBA gave me.

Commissioning into the Royal Air Force in 2002 was my first career-changing leap. The military encourages officers to accept leadership responsibility very early in their career and I thrived in these circumstances, building on engineer training to successfully deploy military aircraft to trouble spots around the world and manage projects across the Tornado fleet. Leading 110 technicians on operations, mentoring junior officers and managing discipline challenges are experiences that will stay with me forever – and not easily explained to some of my more sheltered colleagues! My RAF service also helped me complete my chartership and a second undergraduate degree (in engineering management). After a hugely enjoyable six years, I felt that my future career in the RAF would re-tread familiar roles and I wanted a new challenge.

A stint as a project manager for Bombardier Transportation helped me quickly realise how much I didn’t know about applying my experience to the commercial sector! I needed to re-orientate my leadership skills to managing in the business context – much as I had developed military knowledge for a successful career with the RAF. An MBA seemed to provide the transition I was looking for.

After a lengthy application process, I was lucky enough to get a place on the full-time MBA at London Business School. This world-leading institution reflected environments I really enjoy: highly collaborative, very academically challenging and employing a global view. Deciding to undertake an MBA is a big decision – it’s a massive investment. Winning the funding of a Sainsbury Management Fellowship, awarded through the Royal Academy of Engineering, was the decisive factor in making this second career-changing leap. I think an MBA should give you three real advantages: technical skills, commercial leadership skills, and a powerful peer network. That’s exactly what I got from LBS, taking courses as diverse as advanced corporate finance, strategy, business communication, acquisition management, negotiating; bargaining, risk analysis, and accounting.

The scholarship not only enabled me to go to business school, but also gave me access to an invaluable network of nearly 300 SMF professionals with a vast range of experience and knowledge. This network led me to several academic studies during my MBA, my first consulting contracts after graduation and continues to be a source of professional advice – as well as a great advertisement for the benefits of engineers as industry leaders.

After the MBA, I wanted to work in a global engineering-related business that actually produced something tangible, where I could use the skills to make a strategic difference, but still benefit from my experience of managing in a safety-critical environment. Whilst at LBS, I was lucky enough to attend the CBI conference, where I heard CEO Bob Dudley talk about the turnaround of BP. I had not seriously considered the energy industry before, but the values he described directly matched what I was looking for. Fortunately, the company was looking to start its Future Leaders Programme, to develop a more diverse leadership talent pool in the downstream business. They recruit externally for individuals with post-graduate qualifications, relevant professional experience, international exposure and, most importantly, leadership potential. The structured development plan also helps in getting up to speed on the breadth of different global business areas BP work in.

So here I am, working on BP’s strategic plan. I miss the camaraderie of the military, but professionally I haven’t looked back. Challenging, continual professional development has always been important to me, and without the MBA I certainly wouldn’t be enjoying the career that I am now.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

How the MBA Changed my Life

David Falzani
President Sainsbury Management Fellows

CEO of a consulting company Polaris Associates, David has extensive executive and strategic business development experience in various industries. David began his consultancy career with LEK Consulting which recruited him from the prestigious Wharton School in Pennsylvania.

David has worked with a wide variety of clients including IBM, British Bakeries, Kingfisher, BAE Systems, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, 3i and Cooperative Bank. Additionally, David is a Visiting Professor at Nottingham University Business School.

Let me start by saying that in my opinion an MBA is a beginning, not a destination in its own right. No MBA can hope to make you any kind of expert in one or even two years in as fluid and nebulous a field as business. It does however offer a good introduction.

In starting my MBA I think I had a well-researched set of objectives and intentions. I already knew that a top MBA would double my salary. I knew I would receive a useful network of contacts, a toolbox of functional business skills and have a call upon the school’s all important brand name to supplement my own.

What did surprise me was the extensive rewiring of my brain that seems to have been an unintended but virtuous side effect of the crucible of learning environment. To illustrate this point, my first job after my MBA was a role with a leading strategy consulting house (yes I know, you may well call it “falling into the management consultancy trap”, but I call it a good place to consolidate new skills).

These firms are quite notorious in the hours they can require you to spend. The economy was booming and it was busy: I averaged some 70 hours per week in my first year. But my point is that I recall this seeming like a bit of a holiday compared to the MBA.

The MBA really was an expansion process that, yes, increased my understanding of how business works, but it also quietly stretched my brain into something new and improved. It was also one of the most rewarding periods of my life in all kinds of ways.

Spending 40, 50, 60 hours a week with the same group of people involved forming friendships and relationships that were quite different to the norm, and remain priceless. Also, the richness of the environment was astounding. Imagine being surrounded by world class faculty, interesting intelligent colleagues, being set continually stretching challenges; a learning machine wrapped all around you to whet your appetite and then satisfy it, and an addictive growing sense that anything was possible. If I could have stayed on for another year on my MBA, I would have jumped at the chance.

Post MBA, the fun continued. The opportunity to launch a start up business came via my classmates.  The confidence to raise venture capital funds came from the MBA. We may have missed the IPO window with that venture but the lessons learned were incorporated into the framework set down during the MBA. The next role was more demanding: a tech turnaround. The next: a service business. And so the fun continues today.

Fast forwarding a few years, I still marvel at how those lessons gave me an ability to immediately understand the larger business picture, and the sense of confidence that such insight brings.

That MBA was a set of starting blocks (if we’d made that IPO I would have said launch pad!) for a learning journey that continues to intrigue and challenge, and there’s no sign of it getting boring or processional any time soon.

In answering how the MBA changed my life, I should also ask myself what would the last 15 years have been like if I hadn’t done the MBA. Would I have been more successful? I honestly don’t know. After all, the vast majority of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and business persons don’t have an MBA, and many haven’t attended any university, let alone business school.

Would I be better informed? I think it’s unlikely. As I say, as an introduction to business a good MBA is hard to beat.  But would I have had more fun? I seriously doubt it.

Key questions when you’re getting ready for an MBA

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If you’re looking to advance to a senior management role either in your current career path or an alternative one, a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from an internationally renowned business school is an invaluable qualification to attain.

The MBA provides a sound background in key business areas that help aspiring managers and business leaders take on new challenges, including setting up their own enterprises. MBA candidates gain an understanding and appreciation of the science of management, HR and organisational behaviour, entrepreneurship, leadership, strategy, international business, economics, accounting, finance, operations management, marketing and project management.

Full-time students will also usually undertake a placement within a business where they will be responsible for managing a real project.
As with most things worth having, it is not a course of action to be taken lightly – don’t underestimate the commitment required to complete the MBA successfully. MBA courses at the leading institutions are rigorous and the shorter the course the more taxing it is likely to be.

Here are some key things to think about as part of your planning and preparation.

  • What are your goals and aims in undertaking the MBA? Do you have a short and medium term career plan? How does the MBA fit into this plan?
  • Is it a logical stepping stone towards your goals? Conduct thorough research to find the type of MBA programme that best matches your career goals, lifestyle and financial status.
  • Are you and your family aware of the impact your study time will have on your family life? For example, you may be studying abroad; possibly away from your family.
  • Studying part-time and combining this with a job will help with finances but you need to take into account between 15-20 hours study per week, in addition to your preparatory work and participating in study groups. You need to be very organised and driven to succeed.
  • Can you commit for the period of time required? Most full-time MBA courses run for anything between 10 months and two years; part-time students can expect to do course work for at least five years over weekends and evenings. Some MBAs can be tailored to specific roles and business sectors and this may determine the length of the study time.
  • If you’re thinking about enrolling in a fulltime course, how will you finance your study as well as your normal household expenses while studying? Increasingly employers are willing to fund or part-fund the cost of MBA study because they are looking to promote from within the organisation and keen to develop talent and harness new skills. Support ranges from paying for course materials to full funding. Even if your organisation does not promote support for MBA study, it is worth speaking with your line manager and/or HR department to see if the organisation will consider sponsoring you.
  • If your employer is willing to sponsor your study, will this support be tied to a guarantee that you will return to the company after gaining your MBA? If so, how does this fit into your career master plan?
  • If you are self-funding your study, look into scholarship opportunities, as well as loans. Traditionally MBAs have been funded through loans. Banks have been willing to lend to post-graduates in the knowledge that once the MBA has been attained there would be a substantial increase in expected salary.
  • Also, look into financial support from the business schools you are considering – some provide lending schemes to help with costs.

If you are a young engineer looking to develop your management knowledge and skills and considering an MBA, please look at the rest of the SMF Scholarship sections of this website applications for a £30,000 scholarship are considered on an ongoing basis, with up to ten awards made each year.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

Are you Ready for an MBA?

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The MBA qualification is designed to develop strategic thinking and empower you to reach career goals required for a role in senior management.

If you are in full time employment, or ready to leave university you may want to consider the opportunities that acquiring an MBA may offer you and the career doors that it will open.

Here are the top ten signals that may indicate that you are ready to dedicate the next one or two years of your life and studying for an MBA:

  • You already have some experience in real world business, have a reasonable idea about business practice and want to take this experience to the next level.
  • You are in a middle management position and feel that you have the ambition and drive to progress through your existing company.
  • You are a university student who is dead set on going straight into business school and have a compelling reason for getting an MBA before gaining work experience.
  • If you are looking for a complete career change, an MBA provides you with the skills set to do this and make you more attractive to a wider range of potential employers.
  • In certain industries very few people hired straight from university gain promotion to advanced positions, for example, in the banking or consultancy sectors. An MBA is necessary in most firms in these sectors.
  • If you are planning to become an entrepreneur running a business, an MBA will give you the business and marketing exposure and grounding needed to maximise the potential growth of your company.
  • You are planning on expanding a business idea and become an employer and need to know effective ways to manage a team and human resources guidelines and regulations.
  • Although an MBA is not essential for a leadership role, if you aspire to leadership, it is a valuable set of skills to have at your disposal.
  • If you are struggling to communicate with people in a more senior role than yourself, an MBA will give you the business language you need to converse more effectively and to influence others.
  • If your current employer wants you to become a more resourceful and better qualified employee and is willing to invest both time and money into furthering your skills set.

If so, how does this fit into your career master plan?
If you are self-funding your study, look into scholarship opportunities, as well as loans. Traditionally MBAs have been funded through loans. Banks have been willing to lend to post-graduates in the knowledge that once the MBA has been attained there would be a substantial increase in expected salary.
Also, look into financial support from the business schools you are considering – some provide lending schemes to help with costs.

An MBA is a very useful qualification to have under your belt whether you’re in engineering, finance technology, consultancy, the sciences or an entrepreneur with great business ideas to pitch to potential investors. Furthermore, the contacts you meet during your MBA study will often become useful allies in the future.

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.