James Laurie
James Laurie is an Executive MBA class of 2018-19 student. After graduating from Imperial College Business School, James accepted a role as Senior UX Designer for Sainsbury's.

Professional Background

I have been working as a designer of digital products and services for the last seven to eight years.  I’m a User Experience Designer, also known as ‘UX’. My job is to design the human experience of a technology. I’ve designed software for organisations and companies such as the NHS, Airbus, Hitachi, and BP. I’m currently working with Sainsbury’s in the food industry. About three years ago I set up my own business and I now offer consultancy services as a contractor to the companies that I work at. Before I became a UX Designer, I worked in the charity sector.

I’ve studied a lot since leaving school, completing degrees in History of Art and Fine Art, Psychology and an MSc in Human-Computer Interaction. I realised I wanted to study business when I began to understand the importance of the broader business contexts of the projects I worked on.

Why Imperial?

I went to different MBA open days in London and spoke to people on those programmes. I wanted a programme that I could apply to the world I work in. When I came to Imperial, I was particularly impressed with the way they tried to do that. The electives are very relevant to my world. There are electives in Design ManagementDigital Business and Leading Social Innovation, which are perfect for the area that I have been working in. We also have experts come in to talk to us about subjects such as Blockchain, the future of manufacturing and AI.

Aim to Gain

What I am particularly interested in gaining from the Executive MBA is a really thorough understanding of business, to develop myself and my leadership abilities and to understand the way the world works in a deeper way.

On the Executive MBA, you learn Accounting skills and get a background in Managerial Economics and Corporate Finance. Alongside this, you get to develop soft skills as well, such as understanding how organisations work, how to lead, inspire and manage people and projects. For instance, in the Responsible Leadership and Corporate Success and Organisational Behaviour modules, we have explored topics such as negotiation and charisma. These soft skills are fantastically valuable for any aspect of one’s life.

Modules and faculty

It’s hard for me to choose my favourite module because the subject I thought I’d hate the most was Accounting and Corporate Reporting Analysis, but actually, I really enjoyed fundamental concepts and discovering that the machinery of a company really operates around the balance sheet and income statement. With a background in psychology, I enjoyed Organisational Behaviour and I am currently enjoying the Responsible Leadership and Corporate Success modules because it takes my broad knowledge in psychology and applies it to very specific areas, relevant to business success. I have also found the faculty excellent so far, I have enjoyed every lecture and all the content has been delivered in a very good way. The teaching has been excellent all round.

Beginning the programme with zero background in Economics and Accounting and hardly knowing the difference between ‘gross’ and ‘net’ was an incredible challenge. However, the most rewarding thing was sitting in those exams and realising I could do it and how much I’d learned.

Global Residencies

Our first global residency to Hong Kong and China was a brilliant week for so many reasons. It was fantastic because I learnt so much about China, Chinese business and the Chinese economy, and also about the challenges of international business.  At the same time, I deepened and developed those relationships I have with my cohort and just had a very enjoyable week filled with so much practical learning and practical skills building.

Group learning experience

I am very lucky to have an excellent syndicate group, I have really enjoyed these relationships developing as they are the closest relationships of my Executive MBA programme. It’s been a learning experience sitting down in a room for an evening after a hard day at work, to write an essay with people who have completely different skills, but I’ve learned much from them, in terms of how they approach problems and the skills that they are using.

Executive Leadership Journey

I think everyone on the Executive Leadership Journey is at a different place in terms of their own self-knowledge. There is a lot you can learn from other people on the programme, some of whom are further on in their careers. It’s valuable to learn how different people operate and the way they approach leadership problems. It’s been valuable for me to support others around me on that journey.

Juggling family and studies

When you do an MBA you are forced to use your time in the most efficient way possible. Before I commute to work, I will make sure I have downloaded all of the readings for that week and will sit on the bus or the train with my iPad and read them. Then coming home in the evening, as soon as dinner is finished and the children are in bed, I will sit down for an hour before bed, and just spend some time going through my studies.

Setting time aside on the weekend is absolutely necessary, I have definitely reduced the amount of social time with friends and family, but the time spent with them is richer and used in a much better way because I realise how valuable it is.

Looking at the future

I am thinking reasonably short-term at the moment about getting to the end of the Executive MBA, then I will take some time out afterwards to really work out what it is I want to be doing. I’ve got various options that the Executive MBA has opened up, in terms of going into consulting, or starting my own business, and multiple other areas. Overall when I look at my life, this year I would say I have become much more productive and learned self-management skills and time management skills. They will be very valuable as I move forward in life. I am looking forward to finishing my Executive MBA and taking a rest, but now that I have this kind of work ethic, time management skills, and a better understanding of my potential, I know that the momentum will continue into the coming years of my life.

Advice for prospective students (from a technology and design industry background)

As a designer and someone who has worked in the tech world, I wanted an MBA that I was able to apply to my working life and allow me to think about business in the context of the modern world, combining technology and the challenges that society faces. I would say to anyone who is in the design and technology world who has a thirst for knowledge and is curious about developing a career in the best possible way: an Imperial MBA is an excellent thing to do.

What I think happens to a lot of designers or developers within the technology world is that they develop a skillset, get very good at it, but then find they can’t progress any further. Then you ask ‘what do I do next?’. Imperial’s Executive MBA suddenly opens a whole new world, where you can continue doing your speciality at a higher level with greater insight, knowledge, and understanding of the context you are working in – but you can also move into setting-up your own business or working in senior management. I would definitely say that if you are a designer like me, or if you are in the technology world in any way, then the Imperial MBA is the best programme I have seen so far.

Executive MBA
United Kingdom
Education :

Bachelor of Arts in History of Art and Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, Post Grad Diploma in Psychology at Birkbeck, Masters of Human-Computer Interactions at University College London

Job prior to Imperial College Business School :

Senior UX Designer, Sainsbury’s (Consultant)