At Imperial College Business School, we’re committed to encouraging talented women to consider MBA programmes and ultimately increase female leadership in business. We caught up with two Full-Time MBA students, Alison Lane and Suzy McClintock, and Weekend MBA student Adéolá Ònásanwó (Dee) to find out more about their experience of studying an MBA.
What you were doing before you started the MBA?
Suzy: I was a development producer in television which is quite a varied role. I worked on everything from idea generation to project management, budgeting, pitching, marketing and branding. My first job was at Hat Trick, a big comedy producer, and then moved to factual content in-house at Barcroft Media. At Barcroft Media, I used metrics to inform creative decision-making which was something I really enjoyed. I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge so I’m quite analytical.
Alison: My first role was a one year internship at Deutsche Bank, where I focussed mainly on corporate social responsibility, corporate event planning, and marketing. My next role was in HR at Japanese investment bank Nomura where I was involved in leadership development and implementing the diversity strategy for the region, which included managing our women’s network and LGBT network.
Dee: Prior to joining the Weekend MBA at Imperial College Business School, I was working in the banking sector for eight years. As much as I did enjoy it, I always knew that it wasn’t necessarily a career that I really wanted to pursue any further and I’m looking to move into the creative industry. Whilst studying the MBA, I’m doing some contracting and consulting work for start-up companies, for example one project I’m currently working on is brand strategy.
What is your biggest achievement in business so far?
Suzy: At Barcroft Media I instigated a more analytical way of developing ideas using metrics and statistics to inform the type of programmes we would develop and pitch to broadcasters. A common put down from broadcasters and schedulers is to say, for example, ‘we know our viewers and no-one’s going to watch your show at 9pm’. By having audience data we were able to push back and argue that there was an audience for a programme. Streamlining the process of using that data in pitches was probably my biggest achievement.
Dee: Towards the latter part of my time in the bank, I established The Pink Dynasty, a mentorship programme for young women who don’t have the right contacts or connections to get internships or work placements in the city. The programme has seen young women transition from higher education into city careers in banking, accounting and law. I still run that with a group of amazing volunteers and the bank is the main sponsor.
Why are you doing an MBA?
Dee: I would say that I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit but I wanted to solidify it in an MBA which is widely recognised. Another reason was to collaborate with likeminded people. When you work in a particular sector, everyone has a similar background and thinks along the same lines. At business school, you meet people from different walks of life and get a different perspectives on things and learn new ways to solve problems which you wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to.
The MBA is also a springboard to jump from banking to the creative industry. If you have eight years of experience in one industry, it can be quite different to transition to another industry without experience or qualifications. Learning about organisational behaviour, marketing and accounting on the MBA is also helping me expand The Pink Dynasty. At the moment it’s a programme – I want to establish it as a social enterprise so it operates as a business but with a focus on social impact.
Suzy: As a development producer, there are a few routes open to you. You can go into commissioning, work in-house at a channel, or move into a more business focussed role within an independent company. The last option is quite difficult and unlikely. The media industry is changing incredibly fast and I didn’t want to be left behind. I’m interested in a strategy focussed role with an element of creativity and I didn’t see a way for that to happen on its own and I wasn’t willing to wait for it to happen. The MBA is a way of proving the skills I have and developing them further.
Alison: It’s been a radical shift. In my previous job I was doing a little bit of administration and strategy. Part of the reason I wanted to get an MBA is to shift that proportion to be even more strategic and less administrative. I’d like to be on a team where I’m mainly doing the strategy work and then somebody else on my team ends up doing the logistical side of things.
How is the MBA building your credibility?
Suzy: With my background, if I wanted to move into any other career I would need to have been incredibly lucky to be able to make that move without an MBA. It gives you credibility and it proves that you have a certain grounding in business that you need for a multitude of roles at different industries. There are loads of industries other than television that I would now be able to get a job in which I wouldn’t have been able to before the MBA.
Also, I don’t think the MBA is given enough credit for changing the way you think about the world and the way you present yourself, and your general knowledge of business. You might not use a particular framework for strategy that you learnt in class but that’s not really the point because you learnt in that class to talk differently about business strategy: the way you analyse the decision now will always be different.
It also adds credibility as a woman. We’re quite guilty of wanting to be perfect and we’ll often tell ourselves, “I wouldn’t be able to do it, I’ll fail”. I think doing an MBA gives you the confidence to say, “I can probably tackle that”.
Dee: I think it shows that I’ve taken the time to invest in my development. It’s a huge financial and personal investment. Also the MBA appeals to different industries and sectors and now there’s so many areas that I have an opportunity to enter now that I’m studying for my MBA.
How is the MBA going to help you advance your career?
Alison: Employers are much more receptive to the fact that I am studying for my MBA at Imperial College Business School. It has great recognition in the UK. They’re also more open to considering me as a potential candidate now that I am living in London. Moving from New York and getting hired in London without the MBA was immediately a shutdown because it’s really difficult to find a company willing to sponsor someone without work experience in the UK.
Dee: Whilst studying the Weekend MBA, I’m coordinating some brand strategies for start-up companies. I’m implementing a lot of what I’m learning in the classroom and bringing fresh ideas to the table because it’s something I’m currently studying. Gaining this practical experience is important for when I do finish the MBA because I’ll be able to get into a career without starting from the bottom up.
What opportunities have you had for networking on the MBA?
Alison: I’ve been going out and meeting with alumni and connections of alumni, just to sit down over a coffee or a juice to learn more about they do and what advice they have. The Careers and Professional Development Service at the Business School ran a world café event where they invited alumni and put them at different tables based on industry. I met an alumni who connected me with another alumni in his class, who in turn after coffee two weeks later put me in touch with a contact from a large asset management firm. We met for an hour and she explained the culture in asset management and what a role in their HR team would look like. She’s put me in touch with their HR team and I’ll be linking up with them. Now they’re the number one company that I want to work for.
Suzy: It’s twofold. There are your classmates who you can network with and who will be an incredibly strong network for a long time to come. Then you’ve got the opportunities to network that doing an MBA provides you with. For example, you can get in touch with people to go for a coffee and ask for advice about moving into the industry. There’s no easy opportunity to make that approach if you’re not doing an MBA because people worry that you’re after a job. Whereas if you’re doing an MBA, people are more open to help you because you haven’t decided yet what you want to do.
Alison: As a Forté Fellow, I also receive regular contact from the Forté Foundation and they send out profiles of women at senior levels in their careers. That’s really motivating for me, especially in financial services which is where I see myself going. They also send out a spreadsheet with emails of recruiters at different firms and encourage us, as Forté Fellows, to get in contact with them.
How has the MBA helped you build your skillset?
Alison: When you’re a woman and trying to make it in business, there’s certain things at a disadvantage. Imperial College Business School has various events and training for women to develop the skills they need in their career after the MBA. Last week, for instance, there was a workshop ran by a leaderships skills coach, and a panel of female senior leaders from large firms who discussed gender parity in the workplace. For me, it was useful to get coaching on how to be influential in the workplace. It’s a safe environment for us to voice any concerns or challenges we’ve faced in our careers to date.
Suzy: All Full-Time MBA students attend a leadership skills workshop delivered by the Careers and Professional Development Service at the beginning of the programme. The part I found useful was the skills to encourage introverts in your team to feel comfortable expressing their opinion. Another was to be comfortable taking control. Previously I would have been too nervous to do that because I didn’t want anyone to think I was bossy. Now, if I’m asked to take charge, then I need to take that and run with it.
Dee: Studying the Weekend MBA has enhanced my time management skills. It’s essential because I’m working throughout the week and I need to be ready for classes, lectures and group assignments at the weekend. There’s also certain commitments with family and friends you can’t make so it’s really important to have a supportive system around you.
Why did you choose Imperial to study your MBA?
Dee: Initially I didn’t consider Imperial College Business School because I thought it would be tech and science-based. My friend convinced me to attend an information session and I was completely blown away by the atmosphere at the School. It’s somewhere that stimulates learning and I was very taken back by how engaging and genuine the staff are, something I hadn’t experienced at any other business school. There are 70+ of us in the Weekend MBA cohort but we’re treated as individuals and I like the fact that the School cares about us and does everything they can to support our growth and learning.
Suzy: When I visited Imperial College Business School, I was really impressed. It felt really forward-thinking and entrepreneurial. They really support women which is really impressive and I like the fact that the class sizes are small, that it is an international cohort, and it’s in London. There is a commitment to technology which for the media industry is becoming more and more important.
Alison: My main purpose of doing the MBA is get a job that I love, so the reason I chose Imperial is because it’s in a great location in order to be networking across the city. I also like the small cohort size of nearly 70 students because we’ve been able to make really close connections. It’s really unique compared to other MBAs where there is a class of 400 people.
Entrepreneurialism is also built into the programme. We’re encouraged to think outside of the box in a different way and think strategically instead of rushing to the group for a solution which often happens in corporations. Even though I’m on the corporate career track, I can use entrepreneurship styles of thought in any corporate role.
What do you want to do after your MBA?
Suzy: In five years’ time I would like to be in a leadership role at a large technology or media company, preferably in a strategy division. I’d like to work for a company that creates an amazing product or provides an amazing service and really cares about its customers.
Dee: I want to work in brand, product or service awareness to drive sales, or perhaps marketing or brand strategy – definitely something creative.
Alison: I’ve gone on a journey in terms of what I thought I wanted to do. When I applied to Imperial College Business School, I wanted to go into management consulting. Since starting the MBA, I’ve realised that my strengths lie in human and interpersonal skills. My ideal job would be a strategic HR position where I focussed on people, management, engagement, and team dynamics.
Last question. What would you say is the value of an MBA to a woman who is mid-career and looking for the next step?
Alison: Three things. The first is to add credibility to your CV. The reality is that women struggle to earn the same salary as men so to be able to say that you have an MBA from Imperial helps to gain credibility. It also shows that you are hard-working, driven, and have good interpersonal skills. The next is having the network. As a Forté Fellow, I’m connected to a lot of women with MBAs across the world. The third is the interpersonal skills we’re learning. For example how to be assertive, how to fight for that part of presenting first, or presenting the hard part of the presentation. I think that’s really valuable as well and we have the luxury of all being on the same playing field. The class setting is a unique environment and a great training ground for gaining those skills to use in your post-MBA role.
Dee: As women, getting an MBA is going to put you in a position where you could potentially have the confidence to go after leadership roles. It’s also a great way to learn more about your skillset if you’ve been in one career for a period of time. Sometimes you forget the value you bring to the table but studying an MBA and taking yourself out of your comfort zone makes you learn so much about yourself. For a woman changing careers, getting an MBA will bring a new lease of life.
Suzy: I think it really gives you the opportunity to self-reflect, strategise, and to think about what you want to do. On a practical level, as much as lots of people say an MBA doesn’t matter, I think it opens doors that wouldn’t have been opened to you if you are interested in switching careers. An MBA is a really good way of showing commitment to your career and it gives you an academic stamp of approval that other people don’t have.
Alison: I would also say just for advice for anybody doing this programme, you learn so much if you attend the networking and skills events that the School puts on for students. The interpersonal, leadership, and team work skills that you develop throughout the MBA, and the networking that you do, is going to make a big difference in your career.