Claire Hardy is an Executive MBA, class of 2017-18 student. After graduating from Imperial College Business School, Claire accepted a role as Director at Portland.

Professional background

I head up the External Communications at Worldpay, a FTSE100 company and global payments processor. It’s a varied role which requires liaising with a range of stakeholders, from the media to shareholders, governments and regulatory bodies.

 

A large part of my day-to-day activity is related to the financial markets – the reporting of our results, for example, as well as participating in investor roadshows and speaking to national business editors on our group performance and future ambitions. So, I can be doing anything from briefing our digital teams with content for Worldpay’s social media platforms right through to working with the executive team to establish what themes we want to talk about as a business, who within the business is best positioned to talk about them, and then helping them do so.

Worldpay has been through an interesting transformation in the last seven years, moving from a £7m loss-making division of a bank into a FTSE100 fintech giant. I joined Worldpay as the company prepared to list on the London Stock Exchange, which it successfully did in 2015 – the UK’s largest ever fintech IPO. This was a hugely exciting deal to be a part of. It was a lot of hard work and involved a wide range of people from across the business. We now have more than 5,000 employees around the world and around half a million customers, including many world-known brands such as Monsoon, Airbnb and Emirates. We’re also currently merging with a huge US player to create what’s going to be a substantially bigger company.

On the one hand my role can involve proactive communications to demonstrate how we’re growing as a business, including campaigns, thought leadership and general updates on corporate initiatives we’re running across our three divisions. Equally, it can require working around a risk framework and establishing processes to help mitigate any reputational issues that we may have facing our business.

Why an Executive MBA?

I decided to study an Executive MBA because – given the changes underway in recent years at Worldpay – one of my remits has been to shake up the External Communications function and to build it from what had historically existed in more of a private equity-backed company setting into a function befitting a FTSE100 company. This was a great challenge for me, and I really wanted a toolkit to understand how all of the different aspects of the business work together and how I could pull from that to build an efficient team. I also wanted to improve my leadership skills and general knowledge of traditional business subjects, such as finance and accounting, which are integral to shaping a business. Upskilling is only ever a good thing.

While for me, the purpose of the EMBA is to develop approaches and techniques to use in my existing role, what you learn opens your mind up to so many new areas. An MBA gives you the versatility to be able to step sideways into a different role later on in life or may even introduce you to an exciting area of business that you weren’t aware of. People in my cohort are already beginning to witness that.

Why Imperial?

I chose to study an EMBA at Imperial for lots of reasons. Imperial College London obviously has a fantastic reputation and I was really impressed with the EMBA after going to one of the Admissions Days. We had a sample lecture, networked with other prospective students and got to talk to faculty members. The event showed the flexibility in the mindset of Imperial, that they’re hosting these events at times that work for prospective students. The staff running the event were very open and I was really impressed by the calibre of both the existing students that we met and the teaching staff holding a taster lecture.

For me, location came into my decision process as well. The business school I chose had to be in London and it had to be somewhere I could travel to easily. Imperial’s background in engineering and science was also a huge pull to me. It’s a really interesting aspect that Imperial brings and I can’t think of another school that has that. I work in a finance focussed role and, while there are a number of business schools in London for that, I wanted to have access to more of the creative thinking and the engineering base that I thought would colour debates – and they have done quite significantly.

Core business disciplines

We have a number of different disciplines that we dip in and out of as core modules, from Corporate Finance to Accounting to Marketing. They really give you an expansive overview of all different components of business. Through those in-depth introductions, it gives you a flavour of what you might want to explore later on in the programme when you’re choosing electives or a subject to specialise in with your final project.

I joined the programme in February 2017 and, currently, we’re still covering the core modules. They’re incredibly useful already in my day job, particularly the content around Organisational Health and Accountancy. They’re taking my understanding to the next level in a huge number of concepts.

Obviously there are some subjects that I’m more comfortable with and naturally fit into, but it’s the stuff that you’re not aware of that has been most rewarding. This takes you out of your comfort zone and into new disciplines. What’s really interesting is that sometimes it’s the areas you’re most comfortable in where you’re side-lined and realise that you have much more to learn.

The Imperial community

The programme content is exceptional but the people who I’m actually mixing with on a day-to-day basis when I go into lectures – the cohort – are absolutely integral to the programme. Without their ideas and discussion points the lectures wouldn’t be the same. For me, it’s been really rewarding to work alongside such a high calibre of students. We also help to support each other and feed off each other’s ideas – one of the guys in my cohort presented at an event earlier this year so a number of his fellow Executive MBAs went along to watch and support him.

The faculty are great and they encourage us to really socialise our ideas together. We have group working sessions and we’re encouraged to get involved with all of the other resources and the facilities that Imperial offers to existing students. It’s great to be back in a university where I can use, not just the Business School’s, but Imperial’s facilities and have access to the tools and research capabilities.

There’s as many projects and extracurricular activities as you want to get involved with. The main constraint you have, particularly at Executive MBA level, is your time. I have been able to go to some of the events held by Imperial. I’d love to go to more of the extracurricular activities, it’s just difficult to cram in!

Building credibility

You learn so much on the MBA, and being able to immediately put some of your learnings into practice is really beneficial. As well as the academic learning, there’s a lot of informal tools and techniques that you’re taught along the way. These vary from how you focus on your leadership style to how you work with teams and groups and cover a whole range of softer skills.

I’ve been putting these into practice already and, particularly with techniques around negotiation or operations at different levels of seniority, this has helped quite significantly in building credibility at my business. Throughout the programme you have access to executive coaches and staff faculty members who are there to provide you with tips on specific individual cases that you might want their advice on.

There is also the Careers advice and loads of Professional services that we’re encouraged to make use of. That’s been hugely helpful for my career already.

The balance between work, life and study

Studying while working full-time is obviously difficult. I don’t think that anyone who takes this on is under any illusions that it’s not going to be a significant jump in workload and time commitment. I’m really lucky as my employers are tremendously supportive. It’s really important to have those conversations really early on – with your family members, your friends and your employer. To make sure that they understand why you’re going to have a lot more time commitments and that they’re willing to support you.

Everyone is different and has different circumstances. It is a juggling act but you just have to keep being really structured and prioritise. That’s something the MBA teaches you – that you can only do your best at prioritising and learning how to keep up with what you need to on that day or week or month. There will be stressful periods, the exams are particularly busy and I was lucky I had been forewarned about that so I was able to take some time off. You also need to be aware that your schedule may not always go to plan, for example, I’ve been hit by big transactions that threw me into work when I should probably have been doing MBA study.

MBAs and mental health

Something that people maybe don’t think about enough is the impact an MBA may have on mental health. There was a piece in the FT about how MBA students, particularly at EMBA level, need to structure in safeguards around stress and anxiety and you need to help your cohort. I sent the article round to the rest of my cohort to highlight how this could be something we’d need to help each other with. Imperial have actually been very good at that, providing training sessions ahead of exams on how to revise and how to structure your time because it’s very easy to just forget about all of that until the time when you’re most likely to be under pressure and stress. Your wellbeing is really important so this should be factored into considerations from the beginning.

A blend of online and on-campus learning

For each module, we have a series of online pre-reading and materials to complete via The Hub, the Business School’s online learning platform. These have been set into a digestible format with attached time estimates. This really helps you to plan how much preparation time you’ll need to allocate before the weekend sessions. I work through that activity stream during the month ahead – and try not to leave it all until the last minute, naturally!

The blended learning format with online preparation means that you all come to the lectures with the same assumed knowledge and then you can really jump into the discussion and forum points. I come to each on-campus lecture with my own ideas of how I want to move the discussions and that’s really encouraged. Within the Executive MBA people are heads and tops of their fields so they can bring really colourful and interesting insights to class. It’s beneficial not only to our cohort but also to the lecturers and the way that we’re discussing the key concepts.

The Hub online learning experience

I find having The Hub really useful. It’s a really helpful tool and the Business School have spent a lot of time and consideration into trying to make it intuitive to use. When you’re travelling, and some of our cohort are flying in from all over the world, to have an e-format where you can read class notes and get up to speed really quickly in the airport, on trains etc. helps with the flexibility of the MBA. We’ve also got a very open two-way conversation with the Business School about what works and what doesn’t with the online Hub to help them enhance the platform.

The Hub involves a mix of features that help keep your attention. There’s a combination of video content, questionnaires and reading. It’s not text-dense information that you’re just trying to consume, it’s very interactive and there are forums in the Hub where you’re able to give your own feedback and views on any of the concepts that have been discussed in the online preparation material. The forums are monitored by Teaching Assistants who can then provide their views on what you’ve written and check that you’re heading in the right direction and will flag anything that’s unclear. There’s everything that you need, in any format that you like, to help and encourage you to talk about what you’re learning.

Enriching your global perspective of business

As part of the Executive MBA we go on three international residencies to locations across the world. These are really useful trips to help you increase your knowledge of operations in business environments across the globe. We spent a week in Hong Kong and mainland China in the summer, have another trip to Berlin coming up and will also be going to America.

During these trips, not only are you hosted by local business schools who give you lectures on all of the cultural and operational aspects of business in the region but it’s a great chance to be on the ground and witness for yourselves how business environments work. In China and Hong Kong we were taken on trips to manufacturing facilities, to logistic plants and a whole range of different start-ups. Whatever area you’re interested in you can then pick up relationships and information from these residencies and choose to pursue them if you like.

Becoming a mentor for women considering business education

I had a lot of questions when I came to the MBA and I think women naturally worry about all of the constraints whether it’s work or home life. It’s so important that women who are looking to do MBAs see other women studying and succeeding. Part-time MBAs seem like quite a full-on proposition so being able to hear from other women at the Business School, in what is traditionally quite a male-dominated sector, is really helpful.

As part of the programme I’ve also been heavily involved with the 30% Club, an amazing organisation. I am fortunate enough that the 30% Club have enrolled me in their mentoring scheme so I have now been assigned a mentor of my own. The work they do around mentoring and inspiring a lot of women to go into areas of business that they feel are out of their depths (which they definitely are not by the way) is so valuable. Having an organisation that champions across every area of business and can help encourage women to take senior roles is something I feel really passionate about. I think we all have a duty in our businesses and business schools to really help men and women who are looking into careers that might be out of their usual disciplines or just want to understand how they can juggle everything.

Top tips for prospective students

Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve. It will help you going through the programme if you’ve got general aims and objectives of what you want to come away with, but be open and curious to what other opportunities there are and not too rigid in your thinking process. I think everyone has a plan but you’ve got to be flexible to make the most of the experience.

Role
Executive MBA
Nationality
United Kingdom