Damian Ellacott spent 12 years as a pilot in the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF), leaving the military in 2009. He then moved to the UAE and started the Manchester Global Part-time MBA, graduating in 2013. He made the switch to the commercial business world with the help from his MBA studies. He is still working in the aviation industry and is now based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia as an Airport Operations Consultant.
Where I am today
My current position is as a consultant working for AECOM, a large global American engineering and construction firm. My latest project is at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah where AECOM’s scope is to support our client with the opening of the stunning new Terminal 1 facility. I provide advice on other operational enhancement activities, making the operation more efficient and helping to deliver a unique passenger experience.
I have worked in the aviation industry throughout my career. It started with being sponsored through school and university by the RAF. I was always focused on joining the RAF as an officer and a pilot. I had an incredible career in the RAF. After flight training, I became a fast-jet instructor pilot for three years before progressing to become a combat-ready pilot on the Jaguar fighter jet. I had always dreamed of becoming a Red Arrows pilot. I was lucky enough to find myself in a position to apply. I was selected and enjoyed three years as an aerobatic pilot in the world’s best military display team. In 2009 I left the military, moved to the UAE and continued my career in aviation but now outside of the cockpit.
The decision to study an MBA
Studying an MBA was not always a consideration as I imagined I would either remain in the RAF or leave and become a commercial airline pilot. However, my aspirations changed and when I decided that flying was not going to be part of my future, I knew I needed to undertake the right learning to support the transition out of the military. To maximise my chances of success I had to learn the right business language and understand how commercial organisations worked. Their different functions, goals and priorities – and other differences compared to the military.
I decided studying an MBA was a critical part of my transition from the military world to the non-military so started my research into an MBA programme. Living in Abu Dhabi at the time I investigated schools with campuses based in the UAE and found Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) in Dubai. At the end of the three-year programme, I soon got a new job with Etihad Airways, fulfilling my transition out of the military to the corporate world.
The reason I chose AMBS was due to the high global ranking, global study opportunities, good reptation, more mature student cohort and its affordability. I knew I would be working as well as studying so I needed a programme that was manageable alongside family commitments. Manchester ticked all my boxes; it is a solid UK business school with a great reputation globally.
Coming from a military background with little business knowledge I thought I would be at a disadvantage to my classmates. I soon realised my management and leadership experience from the RAF was broader than a lot of the students with 15 years corporate experience, so it all balanced out. I learnt a lot about commercial organisations throughout the programme but the main skills that stuck with me are the kind of cross-functional collaboration techniques that you learn and use to be successful when working with colleagues on the MBA.
Skills I still use today
During the Covid-19 pandemic I have utilised the skill of remote collaboration a lot. This was something I first put into practice when studying then Global MBA. When we were doing our project for the last six months of the programme, my team were situated all over the globe. Our team never met face-to-face, and we worked together and executed a great project by working online. I am now grateful I had had the experience of remote collaboration before it became less of a choice during the pandemic.
Challenges facing the aviation industry
Working in the aviation industry has been a challenge during the pandemic. Airports and airlines have gone through huge cost-cutting exercises due to the almost complete halt of air travel. Since the pandemic has hit, airlines are parking aircraft and continuing to make many staff redundant. The only way out is with testing and the vaccine, which of course will be deployed at different rates across the globe which will delay the industry’s full recovery. For countries with a larger domestic travel market, the bounce back and recovery for aviation has been faster but for those like the UAE with an almost entirely international air travel market it will take longer. The demand for travel is high and people are ready to jump on a plane whether it be for leisure, to see friends and relatives or business when they are allowed. However, until the vaccine roll-out is more widespread and infection rates drop further the aviation industry’s recovery will continue to stutter.
Personally, the best part of the MBA programme was the chance to choose to study electives at the different AMBS locations. I did my corporate finance elective in Hong Kong and it was an amazing experience to travel to a new location and study alongside a new set of people. With this global element to the MBA you can learn, have fun and make new contacts at the same time. I also enjoyed the project which being global retail-focussed was a completely new domain for me and we successfully completed a meaningful and substantial piece of strategic work for a global luxury watch brand.
To anyone considering an MBA, act on it. Do your research online, visit schools and meet their current students and alumni. An MBA is a fantastic qualification to have but do it for the right reasons, so choose your school and the programme carefully. There are a lot of MBA programmes out there these days and it is a significant financial and personal investment to make so investigate it carefully and choose what suits you. Ultimately, if you take the plunge with an MBA make sure you give it your best effort to get the most out of it and make sure you enjoy the experience – you’ll also make some fantastic friends and connections that you’ll leverage for years.