Tag Archives: MBAs

Personalised, Digitally-enhanced Student Experiences at Imperial College Business School

Joёl McConnell, Executive Director of Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions at Imperial College Business School explains how they are enhancing student learning
Joёl McConnell, Executive Director, Imperial College Business School

Engineers in Business Fellowship has been awarding Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA scholarships to talented engineers with leadership potential for more than 35 years.  Our awardees attend the top international business schools in the world where they acquire a first-class business education.  Fourteen business schools are partners of the Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) scholarship scheme and we are delighted to be starting a series of articles contributed by these schools.  We are commencing with Imperial College Business School in London, the most recent to join the SMF scheme.  Joel McConnell, Executive Director at Imperial explains how the school is using digital technology to enhance student experiences.

What an unusual year it has been for students, staff and faculty at Imperial College Business School! Resilience has been key, but Imperial College Business School has made important investments under the broader context of COVID-19 that will benefit MBA students for years to come, and particularly in the area of digitally-enhanced student experiences that align with the broader benefit of studying at the business school of leading STEM-focused university, based here, in London.

Imperial College Business School aims to be at the forefront of personalised, digitally-enhanced student experiences
Today Imperial College Business School is firmly focused on the broader disruption happening in the graduate management education (GME) landscape and the various sectors where our graduates go on to work after they complete their degree with us.  We know that recruiters are demanding new and different leadership skills, which has only been accelerated by a change in processes and how people and organisations interact – especially under the extreme circumstances of a global pandemic.  Finally, we aim to amplify the student transformation and leadership journey as well as capitalise on digital innovations led by the Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions teams, our Careers and Student Life teams, and our award-winning Educational Technology (EdTech) teams as well.

Imperial College: An End-to-End Candidate Experience from Day One
The Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions (MRA) teams at Imperial College Business School provide an integrated candidate experience, from the moment a potential applicant registers their interest with the school, right through to when they step into our classrooms. Once a candidate has decided they want to study on one of the school’s programmes, they will have a highly interactive experience as they work to complete their application, the admissions process, and then enrol with us as well.  Under the pandemic, the MRA teams have made big investments in marketing automation platforms and CRM systems, with leading technology partners, that allow the teams to provide more personalised support, and we’re actively piloting new tools that will allow these teams to have the most effective technology stack in place so that candidates can complete their onboarding process as seamlessly as possible. 

A Full Support Package to Complement MBA Programme Delivery
For those candidates who obtain an offer to study the MBA programme at Imperial College Business School, joining the programme is just the first step.  This past year our Careers and Student Life teams have focused increasingly on integrating Digital and smart tools, virtual experiences, and technology that directly supports candidates as they prepare to return to the workplace upon graduation. We now make LinkedIn Learning available to all MBA students, so our students can top up their programme content with additional training in more technological skills such as C++ or Python for example.  Another great example is how we work with a company that leverages AI and Machine Learning to help candidates evaluate how their career profile matches their target job characteristics, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of their profile, and then we complement this tool with 1-1 appointments with dedicated career consultants to ensure our MBA students develop an action plan to reinforcing their profile and better meet their expected career outcomes.

EdTech and Learning Analytics for Optimal Student Outcomes and Programme Delivery
Imperial College Business School is working to better understand how MBA students are learning, and how the institution can make continued, neuroscience-based investments in the most impactful EdTech possible, which will help the programme delivery teams deliver optimal outcomes for our students. Under COVID-19, our EdTech teams have led key investment programmes that have seen our lecture theatres become more interactive, in a way that has allowed for the delivery of the MBA programme in multi-modal format – something that has been crucial to manage the uncertain environment this past year, but that will also allow for a more dynamic student experience in the future, that allows students to pursue multiple interests at once.  Finally, the EdTech Lab at Imperial College Business School works closely with our parent university infrastructure dedicated to instructional design and delivery, and other areas of the college such as the Department of Mathematics on a pilot project related to unsupervised machine learning to learning data.  Imperial College takes a research-based approach to EdTech, and MBA students benefit directly from this.

The Sainsbury Management Fellows Opportunity
Imperial College Business School is one of the newest partners to the Sainsbury Management Fellows programme, which is managed by the Engineers in Business Fellowship (EIBF).  As the business school of Imperial College London – a leading STEM university in the UK and top-ranked internationally as well, we actively welcome engineering graduates who wish to complement their previous studies and professional experience with an MBA from Imperial.  The fellowship is a unique opportunity as graduates not only become part of a national network aimed at connecting top engineers in the United Kingdom – which includes career and entrepreneur mentoring, but by completing the MBA degree at Imperial College Business School, you also become part of the business school’s alumni network of some 19,500 professionals, but also of the broader university that has 200,000 graduates located in some 190 countries. So, if you think you might qualify for a Sainsbury Management Fellowship, don’t wait, and apply for one of the fellowships, and the MBA degree at Imperial College Business School. 

Joël McConnell leads the Programme Marketing, Student Recruitment, Admissions as well as CRM, Data, and Insights teams at Imperial College Business School.  A graduate of the MBA and several other postgraduate degrees and certifications from leading business schools such as Saïd Business School (University of Oxford), IE Business School, IMD, and the Booth School of Business (University of Chicago), today Joël is also actively engaged in cross-college initiatives related to technology programmes and equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).  He has also been an active participant and leader in IEEE events and activities across Europe as well.

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

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

SMF Samarth Sharma at INSEAD Graduation

SMF Samarth Sharma is pictured far right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Engineer with a Head for Finance: How an MBA Paved the Way for a Billion-Dollar Dealmaker – SMF Simon Duncan, CFO & Entrepreneur


As an A level student, Simon Duncan wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for a career.  His mother would ask him what he wanted to do, and he would reply with vague ambitions of becoming a pilot or a nuclear scientist, never quite settling on anything permanently.

With his three A levels in maths, physics and chemistry almost complete, Simon decided to visit the careers room in his school for inspiration.  It was 1979, and the careers room consisted of little more than a shoebox containing cards with different job titles written on each.  There were holes in the box, and students would write each of their subjects onto a piece of paper and attach it to a knitting needle and push them through a hole and then pull them out  to reveal career suggestions!  A single card was pierced by all of Simon’s needles and it said Chemical Engineer.  

At the time, Simon didn’t know what a Chemical Engineer was, but, given that he was interested in chemistry, he thought it sounded like a good idea – and, believe it or not, that’s how his career started.  Here he reflects on that journey …

Making a start in chemical engineering
“There must have been more than one hundred cards in that box, so my three needles piercing the card that read Chemical Engineering seemed like fate.  I was already interested in nuclear reactors and particle physics and had written essays on the subject at school, so I was happy when that career option came out of the box.

I set about researching universities and decided that, if I was going to commit to being a chemical engineer, I wanted to do my degree at one of the best institutions in the world, so I applied to Imperial College of Science and Technology in London and was accepted.  I graduated from Imperial College in 1983, but, when I stepped out into the world of work, I was met with very few job opportunities, thanks to a severe economic recession.  Despite that, I managed to join a London-based graduate scheme at Davy McKee, a multinational chemical engineering contractor.

From graduate to lead chemical engineer
One memory sticks out in my mind during my early days at Davy McKee.  We were designing an ammonia plant for ICI and among the team was a man who stood out.  He would sit in the middle of the working area surrounded by technical documents and whenever anybody on the team wanted to know something about the project, they sought this person’s advice.  Eager to find out more about his role, I asked him why everyone turned to him for decisions and he told me that he was the lead chemical engineer.  Here was an engineer who seemed to know everything about chemical engineering, and also took full responsibility for the big decisions. I knew straightaway that I wanted to work towards becoming a lead chemical engineer as well.

My chance at being the lead chemical engineer came sooner than I expected, at age 25.   Four years on from joining Davy McKee, the head of process engineering called me into his office to brief me on an English China Clay project, a mineral plant at Indian Queens in Cornwall that had to be completed and commissioned.  The assignment was due to last six weeks, then we would hand over the plant to English China Clay to produce kaolinite, the chemical used to make paper white.  At the meeting was an important-looking man who I assumed was the lead chemical engineer and that I would be working alongside him, learning on this important project.  Not so – he was the graduate trainee, and my boss was now entrusting me to run the show and commission the new plant. It was so unexpected; I was now the lead chemical engineer.

Developing a thirst for business
During our initial meeting with the engineers at the English China Clay site, we learned that half of the plant was actually ready to go live, and, in addition, that the plant was designed to work half on/half off.   Yet the plant had not been started, despite the company needing it to be operational as soon as possible.  All that was needed was for the lead chemical engineer to sign things off and give the green light.

I had a discussion with the decision-makers of the new plant and explained that half the plant was ready and asked them if they wanted that half to be commissioned immediately, and the whole plant once the other half had been completed, and they agreed emphatically.  To their surprise and delight, the following morning half the plant was up and running.  The delay in commissioning that half of the plant was due entirely to the fact that a lead chemical engineer was needed to evaluate the plant and ensure that everything was in perfect working order before it could be started – none of the other engineers on the project had the authority to do that.  This was a milestone in my career, one I had been working towards for four years.

The other half of the plant was completed in the next three weeks, so the project took half the contracted time.  That was a significant success for Davy McKee and the company earned a bonus.  That experience got me thinking about the economics of projects: how do contracts come together and how does a company make money and profit?  I began asking questions about how we cost proposals, for example, how does a business know how many labour hours to allocate to a given project and that the quotes given turn out to be accurate?  When you do your chemical engineering education, you are taught some economics, so you get a basic understanding of supply and demand and company finance, but it doesn’t delve further.  I became extremely interested in learning more about how businesses work.

Unlocking career options with an MBA
At this point, I started talking to other people about my interest in learning about the intricacies of business.  It was my current girlfriend who suggested an MBA; at that time, I knew next to nothing about MBAs.  After doing research on what an MBA is and how they help to expand your knowledge and opportunities, I realised that the career potential following an MBA would be incredible – some graduates were receiving five or six job offers and doubling their salaries after graduating.  It was during this research phase that I discovered the Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) scholarship which, if successful in making an application, would pay for tuition and accommodation for my MBA programme.  This would be transformative – I could do an MBA straightway and not have to get a loan or save up for several years.

I contacted the  Institution of Chemical Engineers which promoted the SMF scholarship to find out how to apply, only to learn that I had missed the application deadline by two days.  However, I must have said something convincing during the conversation because I was asked to apply despite the missed deadline.

I really enjoyed the whole process.  In addition to the application form, I had a three-hour panel interview which covered everything from my education and career experience, to what I had accomplished in engineering, why I wanted to do an MBA and how I planned to use the new skills after graduating.  I talked about my experience at Imperial College London, my work at Davy McKee including my progression to lead chemical engineer and gaining chartered status.  I also gave a presentation on a unique project that I had worked on: the first ever plant to encapsulate nuclear waste in concrete and store it, which the panel found fascinating. When they asked what I wanted to do when I got my MBA, I said I wanted to become a strategic planner at Davy McKee and be more involved in the future of the business.

I received a conditional SMF scholarship offer.  After successfully completing the GMAT, I was offered a place at my first-choice business school, INSEAD. Then my SMF scholarship was confirmed and I was on my MBA journey.

The ‘golden ticket’ effect
When I graduated from INSEAD in 1991, having learned a great deal about finance, business, and strategy, I was raring to go.  We used to call an MBA a ‘golden ticket’ because, career-wise, one could go anywhere with it – the possibilities were limitless.  Sadly, my graduation coincided with another global recession, and the job market wasn’t as ripe and fertile as it should have been. In fact, when I left INSEAD, fifty per cent of its graduates did not have one job offer, let alone the typical five or six.

Despite the downturn, I was fortunate to get a job offer from the chemical company Eli Lilly to work on its European inventory and was considering it before fate intervened.  A friend I hadn’t seen for a while invited me to a birthday party and I dithered about going, but then decided why not, nothing ventured, nothing gained!   During the party, my friend told me that he was working for a  large American company called GE Capital, financing big infrastructure projects.  It sounded fascinating and, despite the recession, they were looking for six new hires. Before I knew it, I was in an interview with the director, with him talking about how much he valued experienced engineers with an MBA. He explained that finance was easy to teach, but engineering skills and acumen were not, and that having an engineer overlooking business decisions gave them a unique and informed perspective.

The next day I was offered the job and went on to work for the company in London, where I stayed for seven years before being transferred to the USA. I worked for a decade in the US before being lured back to the UK by another interesting and lucrative offer, to be a chief credit officer within the European arm of GE Capital.

As a chief credit officer, I was responsible for reviewing the team that analysed the performance and financial status of 800 companies in order to tailor-make financial solutions for them.  This involved looking at the businesses holistically – marketplaces, supply chains, purchasers and finances – and then developing innovative financial solutions beyond conventional bank loans, for example equipment finance, leverage finance, equity, etc.  By analysing these companies in depth, we were able to pitch solutions and work with them on alternative routes to develop and create partnership opportunities for GE Capital.

Ironically, recession has played a pivotal part in the forks in my career path.  Come 2008, the financial markets crashed, and, like many other companies, there were cutbacks and reorganisation at GE Capital, and this led to a change in my role.  I was handling leverage finance doing management buy-outs.  At that time GE Capital did not have a retail bank in England (as it did in other major cities), so the company decided to set one up, and I was tasked with establishing the credit and risk side of the bank, ensuring that it was completed properly and gained FSA approval.  Despite the responsibility, my transition from project finance to retail banking was difficult because I didn’t find the new role as stimulating, so eventually I felt I wanted to move onto something new.

A Shade Greener and becoming Chief Financial Officer
A company called A Shade Greener, which generates electricity through solar panels, was looking for funding.  It had secured £20 million from RBS, which was at the limit of what it could lend to the company, and that’s when it crossed my desk at GE Capital.  It seemed like a great business.  At the time, it was doing 40 installations a week, but I thought it could manage three times that amount.  Long story short, I ended up taking a 92% pay cut to join A Shade Greener as its chief financial officer in 2011.

To move from a steady corporate job with the largest company in the world to becoming an entrepreneur was, to put it mildly, a calculated risk. However, this job move was an exciting challenge, much more in line with my aspirations at that time.  Overnight I went from approving loans to trying to borrow money. My initial expectation was to work three days per week to raise money for the business, but it quickly became a full-time job. Within four years, we had raised £500 million in equity, debt and sales acquisitions and were doing close to 500 installations per day. The business has flourished and today it is what is known as a cash-cow.

Lessons from the MBA
One of the most important things I learned at INSEAD was how companies make money.  If you are in business and you don’t understand how a business makes money, you won’t understand how it will continue to make money and survive.  Engineers with MBAs help because we’re not bamboozled by financial terms and we tend to look at risks in a critical way.  Running a business and making decisions is surprisingly similar to working on a chemical plant where you are constantly doing ‘what if’ analyses.  The combination of engineering experience and an MBA puts you in a unique position to do this analysis.

Today I’m an entrepreneur working with several innovative UK tech and engineering companies. I’m passionate about helping new businesses raise the funds they need to take off.  A huge part of that is helping entrepreneurs effectively communicate the unique selling points and benefits of their innovations so they can secure investors.  For me, this all started with A Shade Greener, but I consider myself a lilypad-hopper, jumping into exciting new opportunities as they arise, for example plastic recycling, an SME fund to cover the Covid impact, and assisted living accommodation.

For instance, through the SMF network I was recently introduced to a company called Plastecowood which manufactures plastic lumber and outdoor garden furniture from recycled plastic waste, and I’ve since become its CFO.  I’m also trying to set up a ‘Back to Normal Fund’ to invest in British businesses with the aim of delivering more innovative and flexible funding solutions than traditional banks allow.  The aim is to support companies that have a strong offering and future but have suffered the ravages of the COVID pandemic lockdown.

I have always felt that I owe British engineering something because of my SMF MBA scholarship; that’s how I got my big break and ended up where I am today.  If I can get this fund off the ground, that will be the epitome of what Lord Sainsbury wanted us to do!

Advice for those thinking about an MBA
My number one piece of advice to anybody considering doing an MBA is: do it now!  We are about to experience another recession, this time driven by the pandemic.  So, going to business school now is, I think, a good time.  Do it now and come out of business school with your ‘golden ticket’ when we are bit further along this difficult route.  My other bit of advice would be to keep an open mind about job roles and go and see anybody who expresses an interest in interviewing you. My unexpected turn of luck was getting an interview at GE Capital that led to me doing deals of $1.5 million to $27 billion. That opportunity would not have come my way had I not taken a punt and gone to a party that I really wasn’t in the mood for at the time!

If you are an engineer seeking an SMF scholarship to help finance your MBA, always be yourself, be thorough and well-prepared if you want to impress the panel.  Be three questions deep on every topic and back up everything you put into a presentation, with facts and examples of your achievements.  Make sure you know what you’re presenting and what’s behind it, and never wing it as inevitably you will be caught out and will lose your credibility.

Simon has had an incredible career and, most importantly, he has had fun along the way.  Today, as an entrepreneur, he can decide which projects he wants to support, and is helping a diversity of businesses become financially sound.  Like many Sainsbury Management Fellows, Simon is involved in community and voluntary work.  He is one of the country’s many volunteers on the COVID frontline, in his case, as ambulance crew for St John Ambulance doing 999 calls.

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

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

MBAs v MScs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to make the most of your alumni network

The SMF alumni annual networking dinner 2017

Whether you’ve done an MBA or a regular degree programme, your qualification is not the only valuable asset of your course. Your alumni network is an invaluable resource and can have as much, if not more, bearing on your future than the degree itself – if you take full advantage of it, that is. Building relationships with other alumni will give you a chance to discuss your options, find courses and other information, locate business partners, and crucially, to pursue job and business leads.

So how do you make the most of your alumni network? How can you get involved and nurture these vital relationships – and why do they matter?

Keeping in the loop
There are a variety of ways to keep in the loop with the activities of your alumni network. The most obvious are, of course, the alumni newsletter, which you will hopefully already be subscribed to – if not, you can contact the alumni office of your alma mater to sign up.

The alumni offices are a valuable resource for both current and former students.  They represent the views of members; maintain a database of members’ contacts by industry and location (making it easy for you to be connected with other members), and develops activities for the alumni community which creates fantastic networking opportunities.  It’s worth checking in every few months to see if there are any events that could benefit your career ambitions whilst enjoying the company of like-minded people.

Building relationships
It’s important to not just build contacts, but relationships. At the end of the day, it’s real people you’re interacting with, so the personal relationships you cultivate with them will ground any opportunities that emerge.

Pay attention to what a fellow alumnus talks about. Keep a mental record of their interests and look out for relevant ideas, reading, and events that you can share with them. This doesn’t just demonstrate an interest in their lives – ongoing conversations form the basis of a collaborative relationship, and people are much more likely to give you a tip or introduce you to the right contact if they feel a strong connection with you. Approaching someone through name-dropping, anecdotes, and reminiscing is an easy way in and keeps things informal, but cultivating professional relationships based on genuine interest will be better in the long-term. Start a conversation, not an interview – give something back before you start asking about jobs!

There is no substitute for face to face contact.  If you want to get the most out of your alumni network and build relationships, make sure that you attend at least one event every year.  This way you will be able to cultivate acquaintances beyond your year group.

Looking for jobs
Whilst it’s important to use good judgment when asking about jobs through the alumni, of course, you should use your alumni network to look for jobs. Your alumni network, whether on Linkedin or through your former institution, should allow you to see where your former classmates are working. Actively mentioning that you’re looking for new opportunities in conversations with other alumni is a plus – even if they don’t have anything for you themselves, they almost certainly will know someone who does.

Reaching out early
Whether you’ve just graduated from your programme, or you still have two years to go, it’s never too early to reach out and get involved in your alumni network. Organising conference events, informal socials, breakfast meetings or even a Facebook group are all steps you can take to maximising the power of your alumni network. You might even be surprised at the level of feedback and interest you receive – an alumni network is mutually beneficial to all of its members, and people are more than willing to welcome you into it.