Becky Hartnup started Imperial’s Global Online MBA in January 2016. A consultant with more than twenty years’ professional experience, Becky specialises in innovation and change. In this interview, Becky shares her experience of working and studying our online MBA, juggling an active work, family and social life – and what flexibility and support family and work can offer to students on the Global Online MBA.
Tell me about your professional background.
For twenty years, I worked in digital publishing, marketing and education for big brands including Macmillan, Cambridge University Press and the BBC. It was difficult to balance a high-level global professional existence with caring for two young children and my mother who was very unwell. I was contacted by a previous colleague to work on a project and I moved into consulting, working on marketing, strategy and training projects.
My consulting work became a full-time job and I realised that whilst I was really busy, I hadn’t actually made the career change I had intended to make. I’d taken the work coming to me rather than re-thinking the work that I wanted to do. As a consultant, everyone wants a safe pair of hands so there isn’t room to learn on the job and take on a challenge.
I realised that if I wanted to develop my career and move into a management route, I needed to do an MBA.
When did you decide it was the right time to do an MBA?
In terms of timing, I was at a point where financially I could afford it and my two children were in secondary school – that made it more feasible. It’s been an advantage because we all sit down together and do our homework. I carried on working on consulting projects throughout my MBA and structured my hours so I could study in the morning and start work at US hours (12pm-8pm).
Professionally, I wanted to broaden my career in terms of the organisations and industries I work in. For example, expanding from working with digital suppliers to working within education, and opening up the potential to work in other related industries that require digital strategy, project management and marketing. The rationale for doing the MBA was to get the skillset and language to transfer my skills into other industries.
What did the support from your family look like?
Flexibility. As a consultant, I arrange my own hours and meetings. If I had a deadline coming up, I would clear my diary as a contingency. My family gave me the peace and space to study; my eldest son has been helping me with calculus which he’s been enjoying very much!
What are you working on at the moment?
I still have a presence in educational technology consulting, continuing to work with my previous clients and building new businesses – I am directly using my MBA knowledge on a growth strategy project with a new client.
In addition I am in the process of going to market with three start-ups. The first is Surgical Teaching which is a collaboration with another Global Online MBA student who was a surgeon. The company introduces education technology to medical education, bringing in video content, the ability to test yourself, social learning and networking. We offer a platform that is accessible to students – as accessible as Facebook – so they can swot up quickly before seeing their lecturer or patient. The platform will be launching in January 2018.
As well as Surgical Teaching, I am also Director of Sound of Drums, a collaboration with a Creative Director who worked at the BBC. Its focus is creative strategy and brand communication. We help organisations understand their users so they can speak their language – and deliver brands that people love.
Currently, I’m working on an Escape Room-style learning experience with Imperial. This has been exploring the concept of ‘playful learning’ and how our intrinsic goals can help use learn. I am collaborating with a team to write the project up as a proposal for further use within the university and for educators.
About studying the Global Online MBA
How did you benefit from networking with your Global Online MBA cohort?
The Global Online MBA kicked off with an induction week, where I spent a lot of time with my cohort, especially my syndicate group who I would be working with for one year. I made close bonds with people from different cultures, organisations and backgrounds, who have very different ways of looking at the world.
As an online student, you have to actively build your support network. That’s a challenge in the first two months when you don’t know anyone, but you develop the skills to build a team remotely, and other professionals on the programme are also keen to build their networks.
My background in publishing is very female-dominated and has seen a lot of change with digital transformation. I was studying with people who work in oil and gas, which are more male dominated, hierarchical, and much less impacted by digital transformation. By being exposed to other industries you see the parallels to your own industry and learn about new opportunities. It’s easier to move into senior management when you’re in your own industry and you’ve got anecdotes going back to 1990. But when you start moving across, that doesn’t necessarily apply in the same way. Learning through the network becomes really important.
As I’m a London-based student, I expanded my network by taking some electives onsite and some sit-ins, including the Strategic Networks elective, where I networked with students across the suite of MBA programmes at Imperial and made useful contacts.
How has the Global Online MBA built your skillset?
Studying an MBA balances out your skillset. Before starting the MBA, I had senior-level experience in marketing, organisational behaviour, strategy and management accounting. However, I didn’t know anything about Corporate Finance and studying it as a core module changed the way I looked at other areas of business. It evens out your knowledge so you don’t have gaps.
The MBA teaches you how to use business language, and how to use words and frameworks correctly. I remember learning a framework in a class on consumer behaviour and using it a couple of days later in a client meeting. It worked really well and it better communicated what I wanted to say. It provides a structure which is efficient and clear.
What is your experience of using the Business School’s education technology The Hub?
The Hub has great features. You can download videos and reading anywhere and at any time. It’s great to be able to re-watch videos if I’m stuck on something, post questions on the group and read the answers to questions other people have asked.
What advice do you have for students who are balancing work, children and other commitments on the Global Online MBA?
I have to balance work, kids and an active social life – I’m a member of an acting theatre company. There’s a lot to juggle and my advice is that you do that by communicating early so the people in your life, whether at work or home, know what you’re committed to.
Be clear about when you’re available and when you’re not. For example, I’ll communicate to my family – booking it in like a work activity – that on Sundays at 4PM I have a two hour meeting with my syndicate group and I won’t be available.
It’s essential to plan ahead by looking at what you have to do that week and scheduling studying in so that meetings don’t come up in that space and be strict to yourself about that. Don’t think “I can just squeeze that in”. If you can do something on the same week, do it that week. The Hub tracks your progress against the progress of your class. I kept ahead of my peer group and avoided, for example, using time that should be for revising for exams, catching up on studying the programme.
Find someone who you connect well with to fill your skills gaps. I had a study buddy, and we would study on Imperial’s campus in the weekend, supporting each other on things we found difficult. Aim to work collaboratively with your classmates; don’t see it as competitive and make an effort to draw on the people around you. One of the biggest skills on any MBA programme is to learn to benefit from the collective.
Why did you choose Imperial to study your MBA?
First, it’s local to me in London so I could benefit from balancing studying online with using Imperial’s South Kensington campus facilities. In a way that makes it easier for women with childcare responsibilities because there’s the flexibility to switch between working from home or working from campus. Imperial’s campus is an entrepreneurial, innovative environment and there’s lots going on. I built a valuable network of really useful people at Imperial outside of the Business School, to connect to the wider Imperial space.
Second, Imperial has a strong international reputation. The reason you do an MBA is for self-improvement and Imperial has a strong, trustworthy brand for academic rigour. Combine that with the network Imperial offers and studying an MBA here becomes a stepping stone to get you to the places you want to go.
Is the Imperial factor more important for women?
People react very positively when I say I’m doing an MBA at Imperial. As a woman, it’s more important to leverage that. Being a woman with an MBA from Imperial is read differently because of Imperial’s hard focus on technology, engineering and business – traditionally seen as male areas.
The MBA gives women the language to fit in, the proof and – more importantly – confidence. It changes the way that you interact with other people: in syndicate groups you’re forced to work together and build those high level relationships successfully. An MBA makes it OK not to know everything and to be confident asking questions without the fear that it might reflect negatively on you.
Are you much more confident in business now?
Is there anything else you would like to say about your experience on Imperial’s Global Online MBA?
It has been an opportunity to connect with a wide group of people from different industries, culture and nationalities. That diversity would not have been possible on a campus-based course. It added richness and diversity of experience.
With regard to gender, for me, the whole experience has been far less gendered than I expected it to be. Early on a group of women with children connected on WhatsApp so we had a place to share. It made sense, right? We had kids and a different set of issues. Actually, however, the group wasn’t heavily used because people have made connections with those they find supportive regardless of gender.