Sally Taylor

Programme: Executive MBA

Nationality: UK, British

Education: Bachelor of Arts, French and Italian at the University of Bristol

Job prior to Imperial College Business School: DMM Harrods of London (Private Label)

Executive MBA 2018-19

Professional background

I always knew I wanted to work in the business side fashion rather than design. I started working on the high street and from there I moved to luxury fashion, working for Burberry. From Burberry I moved to Harrods in 2010, starting out as the womenswear buyer for the Harrods Private Label. After two years I was promoted to oversee the entire private label, moving from a strictly buying role to a more managerial position. In that role I oversaw everything from design, merchandising, buying to technical. I then left Harrods to go on maternity leave. I have very recently returned to Harrods, working in strategy.

Choosing Imperial and the Executive MBA

The first time I really thought about doing an MBA was years ago when I first started at Harrods and my boss at the time asked if I had ever thought about doing one. From then, it was always in the back of my mind. My motivation for doing the Executive MBA was to progress in my career. We tend to become quite specialised in our careers and to make that leap into really, really senior management roles, you need to be a generalist. What the MBA signals to people when you’re applying for jobs is that you have that ability. It shows that one, you have the drive to go off and do something like this because it’s a huge commitment and two, you’ve been accepted to a world-renowned university to do it.

I was most interested in Imperial because of the innovation side of the programme and how the Business School doesn’t have too many candidates from a fashion/retail background. I quite liked the idea of being a bit of a fish out of the water and being a minority in terms of my career path. I applied for the Executive MBA initially for the 2016 intake. On the day it was due to start, I had my 12-week scan! I thought job, baby and Executive MBA might be a bit too much to take on at the time. I stayed in touch with Imperial the whole time throughout my pregnancy and the first year of having my baby and they were really great and supportive. The idea of doing the MBA never really went away, I just knew it needed to go on hold for a while. I started the Executive MBA when my daughter was 18-months-old and I was working at the time as a part-time consultant instead of in a full-time role.

An incredible cohort

What makes the Executive MBA so special, without a doubt, is first and foremost the cohort. On the Executive MBA, everyone has so much experience, but we’re coming to the MBA saying we’re not completely well-rounded, or we’re not where we want to be in our careers and we still have more to do. So there is this humbleness that everyone brings with them as well as a wealth of experience and huge amounts of knowledge and expertise. I’m in the lower age bracket on the Executive MBA and I love the fact that there’s so much diversity and experience on the programme. Every month that we meet on campus is the most exhausting and exhilarating weekend of studying and socialising. It’s intense but I look forward to it and seeing the people I am on this journey with.

New learning experiences

The most rewarding part of the Executive MBA has been studying subjects that I always considered myself not to be very good at. Things like Accounting and Corporate Reporting Analysis and Managerial Economics. My biggest concern coming into the programme was that I didn’t really have the academic rigour for those subjects and I was going to be really challenged by them. I was challenged but I managed to succeed in them, and for me that’s been the most rewarding thing and also the biggest lesson.  I mustn’t rule things out because I’m not good at them, and actually if I put the work in I can apply myself.

The four core modules in the first term, two were subjects that I had experience in and were my natural ability and the other two I was absolutely petrified about doing. For our Marketing Management core, although I don’t have direct marketing experience, it’s quite close to what I’d done professionally with my background in retail. It was great to deepen my theoretical knowledge on that and really consolidate it. The same applies to Organisational Behaviour. I’d have to say Accounting and Corporate Reporting Analysis has been my favourite module so far, which I’d never thought I’d say. It was really satisfying, going into that subject knowing very little to now feeling like I could contribute at quite a high level of conversation about business finances. I actually relish the idea of contributing to those conversations rather than backing away from them.

Working in syndicate groups

Group work has been a really great experience for me. My syndicate group is fantastic, we get on really well and have a good working relationship. We enjoy spending our time together. I have always worked in predominantly female industries and I’d say around 95% of my colleagues in the past have been female. On the Executive MBA, there is a lower representation of women and my syndicate group is male except for me. Seeing the differences that I’d never really experienced between working with men and women in the workplace has been really interesting. And of course you can’t generalise just from one syndicate group, but it’s challenged the way that I work. I’m definitely a perfectionist and probably a little too critical of my own work. My group are very good at saying it’s good enough and let’s get the assignment in, that’s been the best learning from working in the syndicate group for me.

Great faculty and support

Our professors are so varied, they have so much experience and they are so open if you’ve got a concern in your personal work or an assignment, I’d have no hesitation to reach out to them and meet for 30 minutes to an hour for extra support. In terms of our programme managers, they’re also incredible. They have everything running in the background. I feel very relaxed that if I did need to approach them for a problem or issue, they’re available because they get the challenges that we’re facing.

Global residencies

Our first global residency to China was amazing. The thing that’s been most incredible about it is that I’m interviewing at the moment and in every interview I’ve referenced the trip. I am able to speak so fluently on the impact China is having and will have on the global economy and future innovations. Without that trip, I wouldn’t have this practical expertise. Everyone is talking about China and to be able to go to an interview and say I was there a couple of months ago and answer with real-world and academic application has been the best part of the residency. It is so useful for my professional career.

Being part of the wider Imperial College London community

It’s been so good being a student again. I graduated many years ago from my undergraduate degree and it’s so nice to get back into student life, albeit part-time. What’s great about being part of the wider Imperial College London community is there is so much going on. I live very close to campus so I’m frequently dipping in and out of speaker series and presentations. It’s something that will be more and more useful, particularly as we get into our final project knowing that there’s all these different faculties that you can call upon. Even though we’re part of the Business School, I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out to other faculties around the university. I look forward to being an alumni and also having access to the whole of the Imperial College London upon graduating. That will be invaluable as I progress my career.

Practical application of my Executive Leadership Journey

I have drawn upon my Executive Leadership coach a lot and the practical services that are offered as part of it. For me it’s been less around the reflection and development side, and more about the practical application and getting back into the workplace, particularly after maternity leave. There are huge amount of challenges for women after maternity leave getting back into the workplace. I have access to sources that many women in my position who are trying to get back into work just don’t have. I’ve been to see Careers consultants about my CV, to have interview practice, and had meetings with my coach to just discuss where I want to go next and what I’d be suited to. That practical application has been invaluable for me. As we continue into the second year, the Executive Leadership Journey will be more about the leadership development.

I am already using my Executive MBA. I have just returned to my former employer but in a more senior role. . The MBA is really attractive across all industries, and particularly my industry where not a lot of people have MBAs and it sets you apart. I won’t be waiting until after I’ve finished, as soon as you start your Executive MBA you can begin using it.

Balancing family and the MBA

Initially when I started the programme, I was working, my daughter was only 18-months-old and it was difficult in the first instance to compartmentalise and say I’m not going to be with my daughter and I need to study. In the end I realised that I couldn’t sacrifice spending time with my daughter – that was non-negotiable. So I have had to sacrifice my social life and I don’t watch TV anymore – but these sacrifices but it’s totally worth it. You also have to figure out what you prioritise and what the non-negotiables are.

The most challenging part was getting into the new way of life. Once you do, it’s fine, but the adjustment period at the beginning takes some getting used to. What’s been great is because of the age of my cohort, lots of the people on the Executive MBA are in very similar positions to me. They’ve been great to get tips and advice from, finding out where you can cut corners and where you can’t. If you were doing the Executive MBA on your own and not communicating with others it would be really challenging, but the support of the cohort has really helped with that.

Advice for prospective students

There’s never a good time to do an Executive MBA so don’t try to line-up all the different components of your life, whether that be marriage, kids or career. Just go for it. It’s the most incredible experience and you will never again have this opportunity to think about yourself, where you want to go and time to re-calibrate. You really get to take stock on your career with world-renowned academics, a huge support system and a fantastic cohort, it’s a unique experience. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to do an Executive MBA, then I highly recommend it. Just be aware that it’s not without its challenges and there are sacrifices to be made, but in my opinion the sacrifices are far outweighed by the benefits.

Programme: Executive MBA

Nationality: UK, British

Education: Bachelor of Arts, French and Italian at the University of Bristol

Job prior to Imperial College Business School: DMM Harrods of London (Private Label)