Three Full-Time MBA students from three different professional backgrounds share their reasons for doing the MBA and the value it adds to their career.
Rob Thompson studied engineering at university before joining the oil and gas industry; Supitchaya Jirachaisakul spent two years in risk consulting at KPMG before moving to Nielson to work in retail price measurement; and Andrew Murray was an attorney in New York where he specialised in corporate transactional work.
What were you doing before you started the MBA?
Rob Thompson (left): I initially studied Engineering for my undergraduate before joining a graduate scheme working on a variety of projects. I spent 3 and a half years moving around the country, managing engineering projects and getting operations support experience. In 2011, I began managing a niche special gas business. It was a varied role in sales and marketing but I still had engineering responsibility. I found I really enjoyed the business side and that’s what’s led me to an MBA to prepare me for a less technical role and for a career in business.
Supitchaya: I spent two years in KPMG in the risk consulting department as an associate. After two years I moved to Nielson which is one of the largest market research companies in the world. At Nielson, I worked in retail measurement. I was a manager on the Colgate account and I would analyse the scan data from companies like Boots and Tesco to see how tooth paste had been selling and what types of toothpaste had been performing better.
Andrew: Before starting the Full-Time MBA I was a lawyer. I worked initially in Ireland and then in 2009 I moved to New York where I worked as an attorney for 8 years, first in litigation and then subsequently as an associate attorney for a university in New York. In that role I focused almost exclusively on contract negotiation with both private and government agencies for research and development funding. Subsequently I was promoted into more managerial roles. The last role I had was Deputy Chief Counsel and I was responsible for the day-to-day management of the department, which consisted of ten attorneys and ten paralegals.
Which business skills did you use?
Supitchaya Jirachaisakul (right): The two core skills in my role were data analysis and the presentation of data. My strength is in studying data. If I see a graph, I can interpret what it’s trying to say.
Rob: The key thing was focusing on the customers and fully understanding what their needs were. There were a lot of regulatory changes which hadn’t been there before and I would spot a customer need that had suddenly arisen because of things outside their control.
What’s your proudest achievement in business so far?
Andrew: I went to New York during a significant financial crisis. It was a bleak employment situation and I’m proud of myself for persevering with that. Through networking and determination I secured employment and a sponsor company to work there. I tried to do it remotely by email but it became apparent it wasn’t going to work until I went over there. Making it happen is my proudest achievement.
Rob: In my previous role, there was a big transition in the regulation around what we did and the number of opportunities that were available during difficult economic times. The traditional market was shrinking. I took a step back and looked at what we were doing and what we could be doing, then made some changes in terms of the technical solutions we provided to customers. This meant we remained competitive and grew the business in a period when in theory it should have been declining. It was a business that traditionally survived by bringing business in from a few small customers. I massively grew the number of new customer opportunities and with it increased revenue.
Supitchaya: After less than a year at Nielson I stepped in to lead a team, which was earlier than my colleagues. My biggest achievement was helping Colgate establish their business plan between the wholesaler and supermarket.
Why are you doing an MBA?
Andrew-Murray (left): Following my most recent promotion I was in a leadership role within the organisation as a whole, not just the department. I was sitting in executive meetings discussing bigger picture strategy questions, marketing questions, accounting and other disciplines – and I enjoyed that. It got me thinking that maybe I wanted to branch out from an exclusively legal role and that made me think about the MBA.
Supitchaya: I know what my career aspirations are and I believe the MBA will bridge me to where I want to be. Having an MBA is a very prestigious degree and it leads to good job opportunities in the UK or Thailand.
Rob: I’m interested in clean energy and sustainability, and I want to work on something commercially viable and deliver it. The Imperial MBA has a focus on innovation and I wanted to give myself the right skillset to work in new product innovation.
What have you learnt on the MBA so far?
Rob: I’ve picked electives with an eye on what I want to do, including modules related to sustainability and clean energy. I’m aware of a lot of the technical aspects but to realise them from a business point of view is really interesting. Everything I’ve chosen is with my career in mind and I’ve tried to pick modules that will also benefit me longer term as well. I’m taking the Leadership module because, whatever I do next, I want to get into a senior leadership position and I want to make the most of training now to benefit me in the future.
Supitchaya: Although I have a certain level of business acumen, the MBA has allowed me to study subjects I haven’t used at work before, for example, finance subjects. One project I’ve been working on as part of a group for the Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving module comes up with a more efficient solution to textile waste from high street brands. Past production is based on the impulsiveness of consumers so they tend to produce a lot more than they need to. Our project uses data to produce forecasting models to be smarter about the textile that is produced.
I’m the youngest in the class and I’ve found one of the key benefits of the MBA has been to learn from a lot of people with different experiences and professional backgrounds. For example one person has an engineering background and another in TV production. The way one person looks at things is different from the way I view things. The lectures are really important but I’ve found the support from friends on the cohort the most important part.
Andrew: I have a legal background so modules like Decision Analytics and Corporate Finance don’t come naturally to me but there is a lot of satisfaction in learning new skills. To learn a relatively complex optimisation problem is brilliant because I thought I’d passed that stage in my life where I would learn something from scratch. I would advise a prospective student to go for the things they’re naturally inclined to but there’s also a lot of benefit of challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone.
What’s next after the MBA?
Andrew: I’ve got a number of things that I’m thinking of. When I started the MBA, I wanted to move into consultancy but then I discovered that I was really interested in strategic communications, either consultancy or in-house in a finance institution. That was something I wasn’t really aware of until I started the programme. Meeting people on my cohort who are aware of that discipline and have experiences in it got me thinking about it. I also really enjoyed the marketing elements of the course and I’m better at them than I thought I would be. That self-discovery is a result of being around people who have done different things, and learning from them and their experience.
Rob: I’m still in the discovery phase. Doing an MBA has made me aware of the scope of opportunities out there. I’m quite keen to get involved in developing and commercialising new technologies that are changing the world, so clean technology, sustainable transfer, healthcare or smart cities. I’ve learnt on the MBA that there’s a number of ways I can do that, whether it’s within a big organisation, a technology transfer company or a consultancy.
There’s quite a few paths I could go down which is quite exciting. Over the rest of the year, I’ll make the most of the Career Clubs at the Business School and project work on the course to best position myself to get the experience that might help me get these types of roles. For example, for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship module, I’m focusing on a project that will sit well on my CV and will help me get where I want to be.
Your dream job title?
Supitchaya: My dream job is C-level of a company but I would like to start my career in consulting or in a strategy management role in retail. I see the MBA as a stepping stone as it is considered by most employers as a prestigious degree.
Rob: I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Perhaps something like “Innovation Manager”. I’ve got an idea of things I’d like to do day-to-day, but I think there’s probably quite a few ways I can realise that in different roles, which depends on whether I’m in a large organisation, a startup or an emerging company. Innovation and creating is the key part of a job role for me and doing something that hasn’t been done before, that appeals to me.
What would you say is the value of an MBA?
Rob: One thing which I’ve realised since I started the MBA, which I didn’t factor when choosing to study it, is the context it gives to what I was doing in my previous role. I could see direct relevance to areas like managing people, working cross-functionally or marketing strategy. I look back at what I did do and reflect that I did that quite well or I should have done it differently. So I think it benefits in quite a lot of areas you wouldn’t necessarily think in your working life.
Building on that, it will make me more capable to deliver in my future roles and be a better leader. The decision to do an MBA was a no brainer once I knew I was ready to take a step forward without necessarily knowing what that step was. The MBA is the best way to prepare and propel myself forward and be better equipped to achieve things in the long term.
Andrew: For me, the MBA facilitates a new direction in my career. It’s perfect for that because you get exposure to different careers on the cohort. You get a feel for what working in those sectors might be like and you might surprise yourself. You might end up being more creative or more quantitative than you thought you were. The MBA is the perfect format for you to experiment that way. You have a structured day laid out for you whilst you’re making that decision. The reason I did it has been completely vindicated by the experience so far.
Why study an MBA at Imperial?
Supitchaya: I’ve been talking to my friends about this a lot. The first is the strong reputation of Imperial. When I attend an event, I give out my business card from the School that says I’m doing an MBA at Imperial. It impresses people when networking. Second, it’s London. Compared to Oxbridge, it’s totally different in terms of opportunities to go to networking events and company presentations.
Andrew: The Business School connects students with people who have entrepreneurial startups. There’s lots of science, engineering and math enterprise happening at Imperial, outside of the Business School, and there’s a big drive from the School and the students to connect those two things. If that’s what you’re interested in, then this is the best place to do it because there’s so many science and tech things happening on campus.
Rob: One of the things I really liked was the fact that in the core modules there’s a lot of innovation content. A lot of business schools offered innovation as electives but I like that it was fundamental to what we learnt. Imperial’s reputation as a leading university for engineering, science and technology was also a big part. There are opportunities to get to know other academic departments and I would have struggled to get that anywhere else. For example, I’ve done a couple of things with the Enterprise Lab. That energy of innovation at Imperial College Business School is also spread across quite a few of the clubs, such as the Entrepreneurship Club and the Energy Club.
Anything else you want to add?
Rob: If you look at the cohort, the reasons people have come here and their backgrounds, it’s so varied but it’s obvious that everyone here is going to massively benefit from doing the MBA. Just because I’m interested in the innovation side doesn’t mean anyone who’s not gets anything less, which shows a lot about the value of the MBA.
Andrew: When you study an MBA, you’re discussing things with smart people from different professional and cultural backgrounds. You’re learning all the time and challenging preconceptions of who you are and what you’re good at. As a more experienced student I appreciate the value of an MBA, really enjoy it, and make the most of it.