Tom Cowley

Tom Cowley - Full-Time MBA 2017-18

Professional background

I graduated from the University of Bristol where I studied chemistry. I spent the summer, post-graduation, at JP Morgan Asset Management, before leaving to work for Energy Invest Group, a company that focused on fund raising for project developers in the global energy space. I worked as an Analyst, helping with investment proposals, conducting both technology and financial due diligence for around seven to eight years. Five months prior to the MBA, I undertook an internship at Octopus Investments – where I am now – with the intention of moving into energy focused private equity energy.

Choosing an MBA at Imperial

I chose to study an MBA because I felt that I wanted to improve some of my financial literacy, explore some of the “unknown unknowns” I might have had about the business world, and increase my network. Also, I felt it was an important requirement for me to get into the private equity industry in a full-time role.

Imperial College Business School is housed in one of the top universities in the world and my preference was to stay in London. Imperial has a significant focus on the energy sector with institutions such as the Grantham Institute and Energy Futures Lab at the main College, dedicated to solving the our addiction to fossil fuels and promoting renewable energy. The School also seemed to promote entrepreneurship more than other schools and also had a dedicated lab with experts on hand to develop new ideas across any number of sectors.

Being part of the wider College community

I was drawn to the Business School because of opportunity to work with the wider Imperial College London community, especially on interesting energy related technologies emerging from the science and engineering departments. During my programme I was fortunate enough to work with one particular ground breaking energy technology company from the College as part of my Entrepreneurial Journey (EJ) module. Cheesecake Energy Limited was a company set-up as a joint venture between Imperial and Nottingham University to develop a technique for storing electricity using compressed gas. We were brought in as part of our EJ to improve the commercial proposition and explore key future customers within the energy sphere. Our work helped refine the investor pitch and focus on the route to market.

Connections to STEM

I think what makes the Full-Time MBA at Imperial unique has to do with the fact that it’s linked to a world-class science, technology, engineering and medicine School. There’s so much collaboration with that side of the university that most business schools don’t have. As we move into a more entrepreneurial environment with a focus on clean technology, having that resource there means you get access to cutting-edge technology and ideas that you wouldn’t otherwise see at other business schools.

 Great modules, electives and guest speakers

Probably my favourite elective was on Clean Technology Investment with Dr Charlie Donovan who is an expert in that area. I come from that background, so I understand the industry, but it was nice to hear it from a different perspective and from someone else who has also worked in the sector. Working on the pitch where we had to come up with a business proposal for a new and innovative clean technology was one of my highlights of the programme academically.

The guest lecturers on the Private Equity elective were also a highlight. We had a number of partners from well-respected private equity companies come in and speak about their experiences and what they look for in a candidate. I found that really helped me understand what is expected of me as part of a private equity company, similar to where I now work.

Working in groups – challenging and rewarding

The most challenging part of the programme was probably working in groups. We had to make sure the group was cohesive, that everyone was working hard and doing their part, while at the same time managing potential conflicts. It was rewarding but also difficult. If you’ve got a group of six people and you’ve got to coordinate everyone’s work, it can be quite a challenge, however, it’s something you get used to and learn to refine over the year.

I had a great syndicate group and we’re still chatting on our WhatsApp group even now that we’ve finished the programme. We now have one member in America, one in Mexico and one in Belarus.  Throughout the year we figured out people’s strengths which helped us divide the work efficiently. Having said that, if team members wanted to try different aspects on the work, we were very supportive of that. We had a nice thing going all year where we would have a surprise cake for each member of the syndicate group on their birthday. I’ve definitely made some long-lasting friendships on the MBA and it was a pleasure to work with people from all around the world.

Global learning experiences

The European trip to Berlin was well organised – we met with a number of different companies and had numerous lectures from some very exciting startup ventures. Most of us stayed for the weekend afterwards, which provided us with a great opportunity to bond as a cohort in this great city. We had just had a few weeks off for Christmas so it gave us a chance to hang out and catch up with each other. I think it was good timing in that respect. It allowed us to reconnect as a cohort ready for the second term.

Our Global Experience Week to Chile was fantastic. After we finished exams, Imperial gave us two weeks to travel as a cohort. I travelled with ten people from the programme to Brazil and Argentina before arriving in Chile. The focus of the group work while in Chile, was to suggest and present to the cohort an industry or technology that Chile could develop based on its global unfair advantage – we discussed the advantages of lithium battery technology development based on the large reserves of lithium in country. During the trip, we met heads of industry and globally recognised companies that helped us develop our ideas for the group work.

Career beyond the MBA

While the Imperial College Business School Careers service didn’t help find my current job (as I had already done an internship at the company), they were helpful in negotiating aspects of the contract. I also had a number of chats with them earlier in the year about possibly going into consultancy and they gave me information which was very useful. When I asked for assistance, they were very receptive.

The MBA opens doors to many different industries. No longer are you siloed into one particular industry because of your background, the MBA allows to explore opportunities in sales, investments, marketing or consulting etc. All future employers are responsive to a CV that has an MBA on it. For now, I work on the “buy side”, but I might want to get into consulting in the future and I think that having an MBA will be very helpful.

Taking opportunities

I was Vice President of the Energy Club which meant I had the opportunity to host events, which I had never done before, and it was a great excuse the call up and meet experts in the energy sector that I otherwise would not have been able to do. It also enabled me to chair and moderate a number of events, which I really enjoyed.

I was also involved with MBA Connect where I advised a group of PhD students at the College on their new business idea/technology. At the time they were pitching across six different competitions to raise investment capital and we would meet to help refine the presentation and discuss more effective ways to communicate their message. All the work from the MBA was useful in doing that. This experience again opened my eyes to new technology and further allowed me to practice my business pitching skills.

Public speaking – practice makes perfect

Public speaking is one of those tasks that people must do more and more the more senior they become. In past I’d managed to do it, but I’d never felt very comfortable doing so and used to worry about it. Nowadays I look forward to public speaking opportunities and there is no doubt that the best way to improve is through practice. It is also a great way to stand out from the crowd as many people shy away from public speaking engagements. I felt like every week we would get up in front the cohort to present our ideas. I found that was really good practice for the future.

Advice for prospective students

You get as much out of the MBA as you put into. Don’t just do the bare minimum, put all your effort into everything that’s on offer and that’s when you get the best results. It’s all there for the taking so my key takeaway is to join as many clubs and do the things you’re scared of doing as possible. That is what this year is all about. It’s a safe place, it doesn’t matter if you mess up as you can always correct it. Try everything!

For me, the Full-Time MBA at Imperial was 100% worth it. I got a lot out of it and gained a lot of confidence. It just opens up so many different doors you didn’t possibly expect to be there. If you’re looking for a career change or to move companies even within the same sector, the MBA can make the difference and really separate you from the crowd.

Nationality: British

Undergraduate education: BSc Chemistry, University of Bristol

Current position: OEAM Thermal Team

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