Sam Ellis

Professional Background

After my Bachelor Degree, I decided I wasn’t ready for the real world, so I went back to do a Masters and then took a job on a grad training scheme at a corporate advisory and restructuring business. I was training to be an accountant but had an epiphany that I didn’t want to spend my life telling people I was an accountant, so I quit!

From there I went to work for a digital training start-up. I ended up doing a lot of marketing and found it really interesting so I took a job at a direct marketing agency. I was then head hunted to LIDA where I worked on new business. Eventually I moved back into account management and client services and ran the Virgin Holidays and Jaguar Land Rover integrated accounts. We did a lot of innovation work, trying to push the boundaries of creativity and technology. I really enjoyed this and made the move into the innovation team which I now run.

My work with Jaguar Land Rover is my proudest professional achievement. We created an augmented reality experience in dealerships for the launch of a new car. It was extremely difficult to get everyone on board, from the team at Jaguar Land Rover to our developers, but it was a huge success and it’s now a key part of all their launch campaigns.

I’m also a mentor in a start-up programme called Swift Scale, I’m involved in my family’s investment firm which I advise for, and I work with our industry body, the IPA, helping young people get into advertising.

Expanding my skills with an MBA

I’m at a point in my career where I want to be able to understand all aspects of business and all the challenges that my clients are facing. I thought an MBA could give me a really broad set of skills, especially in areas that I don’t get enough exposure to in my current role.

I believe continuous learning is very important, having a growth mind-set and a healthy competitive learning environment. I’d also like to work more in global business; I’ve predominantly worked in UK focused businesses so when choosing an MBA the diversity of students was a big factor for me. Imperials previous MBA cohorts have been quite international and the modules are really useful and relevant to my future career goals.

I looked at a number of other MBAs and attended information sessions at other universities, but I couldn’t find another MBA programme that offered the focus on entrepreneurship, diversity of modules, and accessibility to other schools within the College that Imperial offers. The Business School’s attachment to the College’s research and technology institutions is a real advantage and the entrepreneurship focus was very important for me.

At the other open days I attended I couldn’t find any other potential students who weren’t working in finance and I was the only one not in a suit. This really painted a picture of what I could expect from other Business Schools compared to Imperial. To me the whole point of an MBA is to broaden your mind so the diversity of the cohort and the programme were really important to me and I found Imperial had the diversity I wanted.

Career aspirations

The MBA has been a huge help with all my aspirations and I can now see greater possibilities for me within this company. A big part of my aspirations include furthering myself internally within M&C Saatchi, consolidating the role I’m in and potentially moving into a more international role within the company. I also want to get involved in a start-up, either internally here or externally.

The biggest thing is probably the flexibility it gives me; it’s broadened my skill set which is extremely helpful if you’re looking to move roles within a company. It has given me an appreciation for other areas of the business that I didn’t have before starting my MBA.

Skills for the real world

The whole programme is really practical and I find I’m already applying what I’m learning at work. Even the marketing modules have been useful as there have been a couple of things that we weren’t doing here, so I’ve brought those in. We’ve done a lot around organisational behaviour and I’ve been putting that to use at work.

I’ve recently pitched here to start a start-up and a huge part of that was using the accountancy and managerial economics work that I’ve done in the MBA. Even softer skills like time-management I’ve put into practice immediately, I’ve got many more demands on my time so I need to be more sensible with it.

I’ve learnt to be much more diplomatic. I was always aware of cultural differences but when you aren’t directly working with people from different backgrounds you don’t have the same sort of understanding. I’m much more aware and it’s great working with people who have a different point of view.

I’m looking forward to Corporate Finance. I have a very superficial view of how that works so I’d love to gain a greater understanding. I am quite interested in it as I want to be more involved in the start-up world.

The Entrepreneurship Journey is also one module I’m really interested in. We’ve been talking about creating a start-up here for a long time and I really want to be involved in getting that off the ground.

The Executive Leadership Journey has been really valuable. I underestimated how important that was, the mentoring and coaching has been incredible and I’ve learnt a lot about how to coach other people from that course.

International Residency

Our first International Residency was absolutely brilliant. We went to China and it completely opened my eyes to an entirely different world and way of thinking. I learnt about things I’ve never considered because they just don’t come up in my day-to-day and it made me realise how big the world is out there.

Cohort and faculty

Our cohort is hilarious, challenging, occasionally difficult, and very bright – everyone is smart in different ways. And they’re all very different, the difference in personalities is incredible, there are no two similar people. There’s about 35 of us made up of different countries, different cultures, different races, different backgrounds, different sectors, different ages. The diversity is incredible. Brits are in the minority, male and female cohort numbers are pretty much equal which is really great and as it should be. That was definitely one of the big reasons for me to come to Imperial, their real focus on creating a diverse cohort.

The international component of the class is brilliant. I sit next to a man from Cameroon who is really funny and has such a different view of the world, I’ve honestly learnt more from him about the world than anyone else I’ve ever met in the business world.

The faculty are great, George Yip (Associate Dean, Executive MBA) is amazing. Mark Kennedy is the best teacher I’ve ever had, in any subject for anything. He’s a businessman who decided to go into lecturing so he has so many practical examples. He also knows how much hard work this is and understands what we’re going through as he’s done an MBA. He thinks about things from our perspective.

Location

The convenience of Imperial also played a part in my decision. I live and work in London so it was easier for me to get to than other universities. I probably could have made others work if I really wanted to but everything fell into place for me at Imperial. There were also practical considerations like the cost, the Imperial Executive MBA is just better value.

Balancing study, work, and family

To be honest the stresses of study swings between being absolutely fine and a total nightmare! You really need to be organised and prepared to put the time in. I’m realistic about making certain sacrifices, you just don’t see your friends as much. You have to put some stuff on the back burner.

Support from people around you is also really important. My wife is amazing! Having a really supportive partner has been a huge help. The reality is that if you’re not in a stable, settled place with routines it’s going to be harder to manage the workload and family time. Usually I get home, put the kids to bed, have dinner, and then do about an hour’s work. The weekends have been harder as I’ll often spend Saturday studying which means I’m not around to help out with the kids, I’ll still have meals with the family but a lot falls to my wife. You need to be realistic with your partner and talk about the time that you’ll need to give up with family to manage your study. Without that support it will be much harder.

Having a supportive employer has also been a big help. It’s really obvious who has spoken to their employer realistically about the time that you’ll need to invest in the programme and who hasn’t. Those who have a good agreement with their employer are doing better because they’re able to allocate the time needed to study. I have a pretty good agreement with my employer.

Ultimately it comes down to how prepared you are, and some months I’m more prepared than others because of work or family commitments. It’s manageable as long as you’re prepared and willing to prioritise your time.

Programme flexibility

The programme has been really flexible. I can study anywhere I like, I don’t need to go in all the time but I can if I want to. We’ve been talking to our lecturers about possible improvements and Imperial have been really receptive to potential changes, but overall it’s great.

Having a bit of a study routine can be good. I have a day off every other Friday which I spend in the library at Imperial where I try to get through one and a half prep-sessions on The Hub. Then depending on work, I spend an hour or so after dinner most nights working through the rest of the videos and interactive work. I sometimes struggle getting through the reading, generally I try to do that on my commute into work. I’ve found the commute quite useful as reading time.

It’s important to know what you’re like as a person. I know this is something I can’t cram for and if I leave it for one day then I might not do any study for a week.

Application and sponsorship

I really appreciate that Imperial doesn’t make Executive MBA applicants take the GMAT. There was still a rigorous application process with tests and interviews but I wasn’t so keen on spending hours and hours preparing for an exam just to get in to the programme – I’m busy enough as it is!

Having an employer that you can make a good agreement with is extremely important if you’re looking for sponsorship. My employer was open to the idea of sponsorship but I also needed to convince them. Look at it like a business proposal – what’s in it for you and what’s in it for them. Working out who is the final decision maker is important as you need to know if you have their support, you may have the support of your line manager but maybe someone more senior is signing off on the sponsorship. Think about if they support you.

Stakeholder management is really important. Before you put a business proposal in front of someone you need to soften them up to the concept of you doing an MBA. Definitely use the resources of Imperial as much as you can. For example George (Associate Dean, Executive MBA) called my boss and had a chat to him about it. Imperial was really willing to help me with setting up the sponsorship and conveying the benefits that both myself and the company would get from me doing an MBA. Be prepared for the questions that your employer will have, especially questions about staying on and how long you’ll be with the company. You need to be really comfortable with any agreement you come to with your employer about staying on.

Start talking about it with your employer as early as you can. I started mentioning it about 9 months before applying and the first proper sit-down conversation I had was 6 months before I applied. Within this time I was talking to Imperial as well. There was then a lot of back and forth to negotiate the sponsorship.

I did leave my application until the last deadline which I wouldn’t recommend! It makes the whole process a lot more stressful. You’re window between getting in and starting is much smaller so you have less time to manage the work you have coming up.

Imperial will put you in touch with people who have done an MBA which is really helpful. I spoke to two alumni and that was a big help with planning so I would definitely recommend doing that.

Tips

Make sure you have a really supportive employer and that they really understand the time you need to commit to the MBA. Your employer needs to be behind you. Talk to past students who have done Executive MBAs as they’ll give you the best idea of what it’s really like. There are lots of students who are helpful and happy to talk to you. Imperial can put you in touch with them. You need to completely understand the requirements so you can have a really honest conversation with your employer about the programme. Make sure you’re quite stable at work. We’ve had a lot of people moving and a lot of change which has been difficult on top of the regular work going on. You also need to consider the logistics. Imperial is probably the easiest one to get to of all the MBA schools, and those that can go in when they need to makes the whole programme a bit easier for them.

You’ll be surrounded by really clever people and you should embrace that and not see it as a threat. That’s the point, to be exposed to intelligent people and challenged by new opportunities. There’s also an expectation that you’ll go above and beyond like you would at work. Everyone’s working on different side projects or helping out by running revision courses. People will ask more from you and it might seem like unnecessary extra work but you’ll end up getting way more out of it. I did all the marketing revision courses and helped tutor other students, which I actually learnt loads from, it was really valuable to me explaining things to others – and definitely improved my final exam performance!

Go into the programme with a really open mind. Those that have done well are able to adjust their expectations as the programme goes on so they’re open to opportunities that come up. Make the most of all situations. There’s an amazing university available, it’s not just the Business School – you have access to so much at Imperial. There’s a brilliant library, the entrepreneurial centre, the research and development centre, and you can access all of it. It’s really exciting. Don’t think of it as just the Business School, think of it as the entire university and you’ll get more out of it.

Nationality: British

Undergraduate education: Bachelor of Science (Sociology), University of Southampton;
Masters in Global Politics, University of Southampton

Job prior to Imperial College Business School: Head of Innovation, M&C Saatchi

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