Is the MBA still relevant in a transforming world? Richard Haigh reflects on how the Executive MBA has impacted his leadership within the dynamic world of a career in the technology sector.
In 2015 I embarked on an Executive MBA with Imperial College Business School – a decision at least a decade in the making and for which the opportunity had finally crystallised. For the previous 15 years, my career had been heading towards senior management and I had always considered an MBA as the ultimate prep to eventually either lead a business or create my own. Now, two years after graduating, I reflect on how the Executive MBA has helped and equipped me to lead within the furiously dynamic world of the product-driven technology sector.
Learnings from the Executive MBA did not have to wait until graduation to emerge. The programme was a true mix of the academic and the practical, with the latter being encouraged to be put to use as soon as possible. And the results were stark. The MBA equipped me with two immediate benefits. This first was a high-level understanding of each of the areas of the business – finance, marketing, operations, etc. Whilst these departments had always been there, I had never found reason to understand them in any depth.
The second was an introduction to the ‘language’ used by each of these departments. With this I was able to join (and sound useful in) all sorts of conversations and engage in a way that no longer required operating at a layman’s level – I was ‘that techie that appears to understand the business’ – a revelation to all!
Now that I was being involved and recognised as understanding the business, I was able to leverage another key takeaway from the MBA; the various tools and techniques plucked from the more academic side. I could now not only talk the language but I could articulate my views and reference various proven methods to make my point.
The final part that followed was the networking – both at work and back at Imperial. One of the biggest rewards of the Executive MBA is the network of professionals that you end up calling friends. The challenges at work, now wider and more interesting, could be supported by those from my network with years of experience in the relevant field. And quid pro quo: for every conversation helping me understand corporate finance, I repaid with my views on structuring technology teams.
So, in the short term the MBA has been massively beneficial. But what of the years to come? How do I think it will assist me as the world around me continues to transform and evolve?
In my career I have seen several significant shifts in how we use technology – the move to mobile as the point of consumption, the advances in data science leading to an acceleration in experimentation and personalisation of the product, the abstraction of infrastructure that we now call the cloud – to name but a few. It seems obvious that this constant transformation is not a phase, it will continue and its inertia will grow. Businesses will always be forced to adapt and to embrace the new, despite the disruption it causes.
And amongst this disruption and constant reinvention, I hope to continue to be the ‘techie that gets the business’. In my world the Executive MBA has not only equipped me to adapt alongside this constant transformation, but it allowed me to stand up and look outside of my immediate world to begin with. I still hope to lead a business one day, or create my own – and nothing else I have done has made me feel more comfortable in this endeavour.
It turns out that amongst an ever-changing and transformational world, having a solid understanding of the fundamentals, being able to speak the language of the business and knowing how to spot the tools and techniques that really help is key to dealing with the uncertainty of the future. That, and knowing which of your new friends knows more than you about it!