I graduated back in 1999 as a software engineer. For the first 10 years of my career I was a software engineer, working for a digital agency called AKQA where I built solutions for our clients. It was an interesting and fun 10 years, but I realised that I didn’t want to stay as an engineer: I had become more involved with clients and I became a little bit more interested in the business side of things. I then made the leap into telecoms, initially product managing hardware for Motorola before moving to the network operator’s side. I’ve worked at O2, Vodafone and now EE, which has been bought-out by BT. I’ve done a wide range of roles, mainly around business development, product and commercial marketing. At BT, I ensure a profitable hardware P&L for our B2B channel.
Choosing an Executive MBA
An MBA was always part of the plan. When I jumped ship from being a software engineer to product development at Motorola, I had it in the back of my head that I should be thinking of doing an MBA and that I’d like to do one. It was never the right time unfortunately because a) I moved to a new industry so there were a lot of learnings I had to pick up there, and b) I got married and had a lot of things happening in my personal life. It was never the right time until 2016; there was a level of stability, I was comfortable in my role and everything was fine in my home life. My wife was very supportive and it felt like this was the right time to do it.
I had the choice of going to London Business School and CASS, but I chose Imperial. When I went around to all the open days, the alumni that I spoke to at Imperial seemed really humble and good, down-to-earth people. I didn’t want to come out of an MBA to fit a banking/consultancy mould, I wanted to come out retaining an entrepreneurial skillset that’s perfect for the digital/business world. It felt to me that Imperial was very much the Stanford of the UK in the MBA world, and that’s what I wanted. When I went on campus I realised that you have great access to the Imperial alumni and academic infrastructure. From there great ideas can come about. That was one of the things the Executive MBA programme did have, we would spend some of our sessions brainstorming with professors from various different STEM fields that Imperial is renowned for. Little things like that, which I don’t think you can do in MBA programmes at other universities, set this the Imperial Executive MBA apart.
My favourite modules are the ones when I stop and think to myself, what have I gained the most? The first one was Leadership with Professor Nelson Phillips. The second one was Leading and Executing Strategic Change with Dr Namrata Malhotra, and the third one was the Entrepreneurship Journey. What the leadership element did for me is help me better understand how I could lead people. As you go through a career, you naturally progress up and you start to work around teams – either running a team or working with other teams. You do the best that you can by using your own personal charisma and it’s trial by fire. What these leadership modules did, along with the Executive Leadership Journey, is help nurture those skills. You learn more about yourself, what works for you and what doesn’t work for you, and how you can bring that out in other people and coach them. That was phenomenal.
Becoming a leader
My Executive Leadership Journey (ELJ) was in a word, transformative. Understanding yourself, learning softer skills, being mindful within yourself and externally, knowing what mindset you’re in, and how you can shift and work with different personality types – I would never have been exposed to that at all. One of the elements of the ELJ was Equine Affinity, where all students went to an equestrian centre. The situation was really stressful for me because I’m badly allergic to horses for a start, and I’ve not really been around them! Being able to control your emotions in such a way that a gentle creature like a horse isn’t scared of you, may sound odd and wishy-washy, but if you can manage to calm a horse down and control your emotions no matter how stressful the situation is – especially when you’re suffering an allergic reaction – you can do that anywhere. I’ve learned how to apply that control that at work. It sounds weird, I’m not leading horses at work, but the skills and emotional control that I learned on that day are useful to actually better manage and deal with people. My key takeaway from the overall programme is ethics and empathy – a level of responsibility that some leaders don’t tend to display, and I think Imperial really does teach in everything you do.
Learning startup skills on the Entrepreneurship Journey
You have that dream of maybe I want to work in a startup and what is that like? From the Entrepreneurship Journey, I’ve now got that experience of taking an idea, using key methodologies like the lean startup methodology and design thinking to fail fast with an idea and prototype. I learned how to bring an idea to life to the point where you can actually go pitch, get funding and talk to venture capitalists with a level of confidence, and in their language as well. I would not have been able to do that before the MBA.
Applying MBA learnings to my role
Initially, my role was very commercial and product-oriented. I’m now able to talk to anyone at work with a high level of confidence in whatever field they’re in, and with the breadth of knowledge that you have in all these disciplines. Your ability to add value and create new ideas and strategies and apply them was something I was not really confident in doing at senior levels. Being able to go head-to-head with MDs and CEOs, I wouldn’t have had that confidence before. But now, absolutely.
The most rewarding part of the programme, other than how transformative it’s been for me, was the cohort. My cohort is a second family. Everybody’s got different opinions, everybody’s got a different approach, we all come from different walks of life but the thing we’ve got in common is going through the Executive MBA. We all bled together, struggled together and we all succeeded together. That creates a culture and a bond which I’m really, really proud of. Our cohort was wonderfully scrappy and opinionated, we were very vocal in our sessions, much to the chagrin of our lecturers no doubt. I don’t think I could have gone through this year without any of the friendships that I made within the cohort. I never thought that the bonds created would be this strong. The other thing as well is due to the global nature of the programme, you get a better feel of how to interact with other cultures.
The Lucky Seven
My syndicate group are the best group ever. All the people in my group have families with kids of different ages, so there was a level of empathy we had about work and how we interact and operate together. There were a few times that it got a little bit heated but generally, on the whole, we swam in the right direction. We bonded really quickly initially and we came up with a group name – Lucky Seven. They were the shining star of the whole year.
I was really lucky to go to four international campus sessions and learned a lot from how other cultures operate and how to manage and interact with them accordingly. I went to Brooklyn on our IB Glocal Elective, and to Manhattan, Berlin and Hong Kong for our Executive MBA International Residencies. Each trip was quite an eye-opener. You take a lot for granted assuming that you can just walk into the situation and your standard approach would work. But that’s not the case, we learned about how to do business and talk the languages of natives, whether Americans, Germans or Chinese. You learn how to interact with different cultures, the differing cultural norms and how to pick up on them, and how to then affect your own mannerisms and respect their particular positions in a different way, so you don’t end up creating any knee jerk reactions. It was tough, especially the Hong Kong trip, we had just finished exams and on the same day, we flew out there. But the people that you meet, the contacts you make and the different perspectives were very key.
Being a father: balancing the Executive MBA with family
For me, the most challenging part of the programme was how I balance being a father and husband with all of the deadlines and work that I need to absorb. You have a lot of reading that you’ve got to do, there are reams of case studies, theories and books, and you’ve got to write essays. The level of work that gets thrown at you is phenomenal. You have to learn really quickly how to be efficient and get to the point of your learnings when you might only have 30 minutes to summarise a 30-page case study. Being efficient with your time really helps, as well as having a really understanding wife who helps you carve out time for yourself. The biggest challenge was squeezing everything in while juggling my family and job. I had to completely neglect my social life, none of my friends saw me over the two years, they were all supportive but they didn’t see me and that’s quite tough mentally.
Advice for students with families
My advice for people with families: make sure your wife or husband is on board. It’s not just you doing the MBA, your family are on board the journey as well. This bit of advice was given to me by another Imperial Executive MBA. He told me, block out your Friday afternoons in your work diary. Friday afternoons generally tend to be quiet anyway, so if you block it out you can probably spend some time studying, which is what I did. Then you make a deal with your partner that Monday to Friday in the evenings after we’ve put the kids to bed, I’d be in my work office and be studying for around two to three hours. And on Saturday from about 10am to 5pm, I would be studying. Everything else has to be outside that time. I devoted Sundays to being a Dad/husband. You don’t have much time for yourself at all really and it gets tough, but I had some nice holidays in between and that’s when I recharged. I also made the most of my time during my commute, I would sit there with my tablet or book and highlight and read case studies and required reading; you’ve got to find the time to get everything in.
Using the Careers service for my next career move
The Imperial College Business School Careers service was fantastic. The Careers team have really helped me pull together and tweak my CV in such a way that now whenever I send it out, I get a phone call and an interview. I’ve already been offered a couple of roles. I’m not going to take them because I can be picky with where I want to go and wait for that perfect role. They also run a service that helps you find roles that are at the right level of seniority. There aren’t that many for Executive MBA students, but there are a few, which opened the door and allowed me to have that conversation. I entered the MBA saying I didn’t want to turn into a consultant. However, the MBA has broadened my horizons and my interests now have expanded. My final project was based on digital transformation and how I’ve applied that at BT, and I put a proposal together which is under review by the company. What I really want to do now is pivot back into the digital realm, in a digital consultancy.
Advice to prospective students
Without a doubt, you should definitely do an MBA because it gives you that confidence and a 360-degree view of all things business related. Doing it at Imperial, the benefit it gave me is the heavy focus on entrepreneurship. I am now able to talk to people about startup activities, there are not many universities that offer as structured frameworks on that. With the Executive MBA, there is a price to pay obviously, but the benefits that you get through the Executive Leadership Journey that is tailored only for the programme, you can’t get elsewhere. Those elements really bring out the leadership qualities within the first year you that you can take across. I’m an absolute proponent of taking an Executive MBA at Imperial.