James Heyneker

Professional background

I studied politics at university and stayed on for an extra year to do a Master’s degree. After graduating, I did some volunteering work with various MPs. I found that while I enjoyed it, what I really wanted to do was have a career in business.

I began by accepting a fairly junior sales job selling consumables in the food and manufacturing industry in a well-established, global organisation. I worked my way up there into a senior sales job managing a large territory selling capital equipment to food, beverage and pharmaceutical suppliers. I did that for a few years and the natural progression was to move into an international sales management role – stepping away from direct sales and moving into international distributor management on a large scale. For the last four and a bit years I’ve been managing a large international territory – Europe, Middle East and Africa – and a bit further afield as well with some very large multinational companies who we manage as key accounts. I spend a lot of my time travelling abroad, recruiting channel partners for our business, managing our distributor network and spending time visiting end users.

Choosing the Global Online MBA and Imperial College Business School

For me, the most important aspect of any MBA is what you learn, all of which is really important for becoming a competent, more rounded business leader and, ultimately, for moving on in your career. But there’s also the important element in the MBA of having a brand attached to your CV. To a certain extent where you study does have an impact as well. My decision on where to undertake my MBA came down to looking at a mixture of the programme content, making sure it’s right for me and my career goals, and also having the brand linked to a world-class university. It may sound superficial but it’s definitely part of the full consideration.

I’ve always wanted to do an MBA and would have loved nothing more than to have done it full-time. However, I’m not in a position to make that kind of time commitment to take a year out of work so I decided early on in my decision making process to do a part-time MBA. I explored lots of different options that were available with various universities to see if I could make anything fit. I travel for work Monday-Friday almost every week and in that situation any commitment to being on campus, like the Weekend MBA, was not possible. There were a few good options but when I came across Imperial and the Global Online MBA, it seemed like a really good fit for me. It allowed me to study from wherever I am in the world, whenever I can. I often study now in airports and in hotel rooms. Aside from the quality of the institution and the course Imperial offered me a modest scholarship, which I was obviously very proud of as an achievement and it made my decision to go to Imperial that little bit easier.

I couldn’t be happier with the MBA. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time – around eight years – so to get here is like a dream come true.

The London factor

I live in London and it was a really important factor in my decision that even though it’s principally an online programme, I could have the student lifestyle again and be able to use the facilities. I didn’t want to do an online programme in any other country. I wanted to be able to use the library, student bars, the gym etc. Second to the programme content and it being Imperial, the next most important thing to me when going for an online MBA was still being treated like a normal student. I really make full use of the facilities, I’ve joined societies and clubs, attend functions in person and love that even as a Global Online MBA student, you are not treated any differently to a student with any other mode of study.

Flexibility and advantages of the Global Online MBA

There is a hesitation in doing an online MBA because it immediately invokes a sense that it’s not as rigorous, robust or impressive as a residential programme. But what it actually does is teach you a set of skills that are relevant to modern business and the modern world that perhaps being present doesn’t. Although I travel frequently for work, I spend 90% of my time speaking to people who are in a different room to me – either via Skype or the phone. Influencing someone to do something who is not in front of you requires a particular skill set, one that is becoming more and more relevant in the business world, and the online version of an MBA programme gives you access to developing that ability that you wouldn’t necessarily get if you’re attending a full-time programme. And at the end of the day, the work you do is the same and the qualification you achieve is identical to the Full-Time MBA.

An amazing cohort of motivated students

I’ve been really lucky to be put in a cohort with really good people who have already become friends. We went out every single evening of our induction week and had a great time. In fact, I’ve just been appointed the social secretary role on the Staff Student Committee for our programme and I’m looking forward to doing my part in building on the social side of our MBA experience. By the nature of people who are doing the Global Online MBA, they tend to be slightly older and more experienced and some of my fellow students are at really impressive points in their careers. To be surrounded by that is quite intellectually stimulating. You’re in a room full of people who are so devoted to their careers that they can’t take a year out or even commit to coming in on the weekends.

It’s not just people who are in impressive walks of life career wise, there are also people who are juggling an MBA and being a parent, it’s pretty inspiring. I was told about the connections you’d meet while doing an MBA. Although I’ve already begun applying what I’ve learnt to my job, it’s those connections and interactions that are really important.  I look around at my cohort and already know that I will still be in touch with many of them in 40 years’ time.

Syndicate group

My syndicate group are genuinely really wonderful. We’ve got a doctor, lawyer, chemist, someone in banking, someone who runs a casino and me. When I was away all week in Italy for work and was struggling to keep up with an assignment, in order to catch-up, I put a message out to ask if anyone is free for a chat to help me get back up to speed. One of them called me that day at lunchtime and absolutely selflessly gave up half an hour of his time to catch me up with all the material I missed.

Three of us live in London, the other three don’t. The three of us in London try to meet up once a week and the others dial in. We’re talking about a trip to the Netherlands in December to meet up with one of my group members and then we’re going to Dublin and Belgium as well next year so we can all meet up throughout the programme.

Work, life balance and navigating The Hub

The workload is intensive and juggling it is a lot of work. With a full-time programme you have the start, middle and end of the day, and you know what you’re doing in that timeframe. If you’re studying a part-time online programme, your learning is more fragmented. There are a lot of readings you have to do and that can interrupt your flow, if like me you take a long time to read academic articles. On The Hub, every time you complete a session you press complete and you get a progress bar as you move along. It actually gets quite addictive! It’s something you would never get in an on campus programme. In your haste to press the complete button, you might be tempted to skip through a 50-page article that you actually have to read properly and digest. Disciplining yourself to take an hour to really read and understand something can be quite challenging.

In saying this, my life was getting quite comfortable so having this new challenge is an adjustment. Waking up an hour earlier to go to the gym, work all day, keep the evenings free to study and not having the weekends to myself but studying. You can fall into the trap of thinking you’re sacrificing your free time, but you’re not. If you look at it through the prism that you’re quite lucky to be here doing it, it’s a productive and great way to spend your time.

What would Paolo do?

I’m not just in one of the best universities in the world, but surrounded by faculty and cohort members who are really inspiring. Having online lectures with people like Professor Johnathan Haskel is amazing. I’d knew about him before I even thought about applying for the programme at Imperial. The Programme Director, Dr Paolo Taticchi, is also great. We often ask ourselves when we have class discussions: what would Paolo do?

Where the MBA will take my career

I’m really lucky that my employer is not only giving me some support with my tuition fees, but that my line manager, other senior managers, HR and peers at Eagle Product Inspection are really supportive of my education goals. They’re really helpful and are there for me when I need anything from help with maths problems (we’re a company full of engineers) to full blown mentoring. I hope upon graduating my MBA that I will be in a position to take on more responsibility in the company and the opportunity to manage larger teams. In the more distant future, I quite like the idea of having my own business one day or taking a left turn into a different industry like finance or consulting. The MBA gives you a range of options and opens doors that you don’t get with other qualifications and life experiences.

Advice for prospective students

If you have thought about it and want to do the MBA, then have a look at what Imperial has to offer. For anyone who wants to be in a leadership position in the future, the Global Online MBA equips you with a certain skillset that you might not necessarily get in a full-time programme. It’s a well-considered alternative that gives you a different experience and skills. Really think about the time commitment and whether the MBA is the right thing for you. If you come to the conclusion that it is, then go to Imperial.

Nationality: British

Undergraduate education: BA Politics and MSc Political Theory, Royal Holloway University of London

Current position: Regional Sales Manager; Europe, Middle East and Africa at Eagle Product Inspection

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