When I decided to do my MBA, I had several objectives in mind: I knew after working for a couple of years in the professional services industry that I wanted to broaden my horizons and develop a more commercial understanding of business. I also knew that I wanted to build on my professional network by working with people of different cultural backgrounds and experiences, and that the programme would help me achieve this. What I didn’t realize, however, was how truly transformational the experience would be.
Though not quite like ‘drinking water from a firehose’, the course load is intense, particularly if you haven’t been used to doing academic work for a while. Keeping pace with classroom case studies, writing reports, preparing for client presentations, studying for exams, organising study group sessions, socializing – even with the weekends, it’s challenging juggling all the workloads, and there’s only so many midnight oils you can burn!
So how has the MBA been transformational for someone like me?
Well, the projects have certainly been an important part of my experience. Not only do you get to work in new and challenging industries; you really do get pushed to take on things outside the realms of your own comfort zone. In my first term, for example, I remember working on a Non-for-Profit project to develop the marketing strategy for a chain of local nurseries. For someone with a finance and engineering background, it was a type of business I had never before been involved in, and importantly, was a clear demonstration of how, by applying some of the principles taught on our marketing class, we were able to work with a local organisation to make a real societal impact.
Since then, we have had many other opportunities to apply the teachings in topics such as marketing, negotiations, corporate finance to several other exciting projects: we have worked on Consulting project for a UK SME that provides traditional and luxury long-haul travel products; an M&A project, that got us searching for and valuing potential acquisition targets and their synergies with a FTSE 100 company in the foods and beverage industry; to a Negotiations project that saw us develop a business model, write a business plan and pitch an idea to a venture capitalist in the retail industry.
I remember the moment waking up on Sunday, when working for our UK Consulting client, after our surveys had gone out live nationally, we achieved in a little under 2 days, the number of responses we had planned for in over 2 weeks. The client was delighted. Later that month, I also saw the client broadcast their first commercial advert on prime-time TV, which was great to see.
Along with the projects, some of my best learning’s have come from my MBA classmates. In a class of 33 different nationalities, I have found myself working with people from as far as Brazil, Korea, Romania, Egypt, and Japan, and those with previous experiences completely unrelated to business, such as the Armed Forces and Medicine. Having group discussions and debates with such diverse groups, who could draw from their own personal experiences proved to be particularly stimulating, and not something that could be taught passively from just a course. For example, when trying to attack a business problem, we found ourselves being able to generate many more ideas, than I could have ever considered doing by myself. This led to more superior, and more robust solutions.
These interactions also personally broadened my own thinking, and taught me the importance in particular of being able to put across an idea or argument simply and convincingly. They have also greatly influenced my own working style, in how I present, participate in, and manage meetings, ensuring that people, no matter what their background, are able contribute their very best. On the whole, it has also been a great experience in leadership development, and, it has been great to see everyone around me develop in the same way too.
While the first year was a steep learning experience for all of us given our varied experience, I now look forward to a slightly different year, with greater flexibility and the freedom to choose electives that would enable me to establish greater industry focus.
With so many electives to choose from, I have opted for electives that would build on my prior experiences, maximize my commercial understanding of business, and expose me to industries of greater interest to me.
So far, I have enjoyed taking a class in Advanced Strategic Management, where I got to study some of the trends in the Media & Entertainment industry– and how a company such as Disney could – through careful management of its portfolio – overcome some of the challenges facing its industry. In the same class I also had the chance to study some of the emerging trends in the Automotive industry and how recent developments in electric cars are affecting the corporate and business strategies of companies such as BMW.
In the year ahead, I now look forward to taking classes ranging from Corporate Turnaround and Recovery, Venture Capital and Private Equity, Digital Economy: Foundations and Strategy, and other similarly practical courses. If I get the time, continuing with the international theme of the MBA programme, I might also try to brush up on my Japanese, or learn one of the many other language electives the school also has to offer, which should be great fun!
So, as I reflect on the year just gone, the MBA has without a doubt been a transformational experience; not just for someone with a finance background, in being able to develop a broader base of multi-functional skills and insights gained from project work, but also in allowing one to broaden their own entrepreneurial, presentation and leadership skills, developed from working in experienced and diverse multi-cultural teams.
I now look forward to what promises to be another challenging and exciting year, where I can make the most of the opportunities available to take electives tailored to my own interests, continue to learn a vast array of business skills, pushing the boundaries of conventional paradigms in business, but also continue to cultivate lifelong friendships, which is, after all, what makes the MBA such a remarkable experience!