Programme: Weekend MBA
Undergraduate education: BA Languages and International Studies, London South Bank University Postgraduate Certificate in Economics, Birkbeck College London MSc in Economics, Birkbeck College London
Current position: Managing Director, Africa Business Advisory Ltd.
I worked in the British Diplomatic Service as an Economist for 17 years. Working in government has given me several other opportunities, including four years on secondment to the European Commission working on EU external economic policy and a year in HM Treasury contributing to the design of the post-crisis regulatory framework, drawing on and collaborating with international partners. I also spent four years on a diplomatic posting to South Africa and three years in the private sector as the Director for Political Risk in a boutique consulting firm. I recently took a sabbatical holiday from the FCO. Alongside the Weekend MBA I am developing an entrepreneurial project, Africa Business Advisory, to connect clients interested in conducting business in Africa with locally-based analysts who give them advice.
One of my proudest achievements was to increase the international focus on corruption in my final two years in the FCO. My team worked with others across the UK Civil Service to realise the first Anti-Corruption Summit hosted by a head of government (David Cameron) in 2016. In the follow up, I led on developing a multi-million pound programme of activity to implement the conclusions, the first programme funded by a newly created UK Prosperity Fund. These initiatives have given political and financial backing to anti-corruption champions across the world and developed an agreed international agenda for tackling corruption.
My biggest personal achievement is my family. I am raising two lovely and delightful daughters with an unbelievably lovely wife.
Choosing the Weekend MBA and Imperial College London
I am doing the Weekend MBA to explore alternative career options. An FCO career is about living abroad, which is more difficult with a family. The Weekend MBA is my opportunity to learn more about business and the private sector, explore some entrepreneurship projects, diversify my network and shape the next phase of my career.
Imperial College Business School offered the best combination of convenience (weekend lectures), affordability and content (entrepreneurship focus).
The Weekend MBA has already made me a better leader, father and friend. I hope it will give me a lifelong relationship with the lovely people in my cohort and other Imperial alumni. I expect to draw on all I have learned during the Weekend MBA on every day of my future career.
Weekend MBA experiences so far
The most useful skill I have learned on the Weekend MBA is how to structure my thinking in problem solving, incorporating a range of skills, viewpoints and frameworks. In our group work, it is always fascinating to see how much more effective it is to have a diverse, multidisciplinary team. Each subsequent project draws on learning from across the breadth of my Weekend MBA courses. This sense of how different disciplines connect in an organisation will be my key takeaway from the Weekend MBA.
On the content, I have a much richer set of quantitative and analytical tools and frameworks that I have applied to the many projects and case studies we have had on the programme. I am a lot more comfortable with developing strategy, making it happen and improving my chances of making it a success. Almost all the courses that I have taken are contributing to making me a more strategic leader.
Expectations for the rest of the Weekend MBA
I am making a lot of progress on applying the core skills I learned in the first year to more specialised electives such as Sustainable Business Development, Design Management and Entrepreneurship. Being able to identify, validate and value a business opportunity will not only be useful in entrepreneurship but for every creative idea that I decide to take forward in my profession.
Preparation for a weekend session
About a week and a half before a weekend session, I collect all the reading material together and decide what time I have to study and what are the most important things. I quickly learned to devote more time to the most important readings and skim the less important ones, although I make the skim good enough to extract and write down some key points. I usually organise my reading into two or three two hour sessions. Sometimes I need more time, but I have got faster and more discerning of what I can skip as the programme has progressed.
Juggling the work life balance
This has been tough. At first, I studied for two hours in the morning and two in the evening after work. But this was sometimes squeezed out by work pressures and I needed more time, particularly ahead of assignment deadlines. Since I have been working for myself, I have been able to manage my time more flexibly, but I am still spending most of my time either studying or working. The key is to make hard choices about what I really need to do and how much time I can afford to spend doing it. It has also been crucial to have good principles in group work. Meetings should run to schedule, and people need to deliver what and when they promise or make a new arrangement as soon as possible. It has worked most of the time.
As a parent, balancing MBA life with children has been challenging. I have ring-fenced activities with my children such as Saturday morning swimming, breakfasts and school runs. Keeping the children entertained on weekday evenings has been more of a challenge and they have taken more to playing on screens more than they used to. For the first time, my wife and I started using a shared diary and I put all the Weekend MBA commitments and deadlines in it, so that it was clear why I was not engaging in my family life whenever there was a pressure point. I also tried to set phone calls with my group for after dinner and before breakfast and did as much as possible over the phone rather than devote extra time to travelling to face to face meetings.
My advice to other parents would be to confirm with your partner/family that you have enough joint time to cover your parental responsibilities before going into a Weekend MBA. Have a set of projects and priorities to engage the children in and treat these as importantly as your assignment deadlines. The two year period of your Weekend MBA is developing you as a rounded person not just a leader. Family needs to come first. It’s important to remember that.
My cohort is diverse by educational and professional backgrounds – we have doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers and investors. Most people are between their late 20s and their mid-30s and they love a good party. I find most people in the group bright and refreshingly keen to engage and contribute in lectures. We are a supportive group and have all had something to contribute and share to help us all grow. We look out for each other, sharing useful pieces of information and forming study groups.
I am the MBA President for the Africa Business Club, which organises events to promote the careers and opportunities for students interested in Africa. We have brought people with experience of work and business in Africa to share their experience with students looking to do the same. We also partnered a Private Equity firm to host an Africa-focused event that allowed for a lot of learning and networking. We are now organising our annual conference, which should promote lasting professional contacts and opportunities for our members and partners.
I have found the guest lectures by entrepreneurs and leaders very illuminating. I have sometimes met up with speakers after the talks and stayed in touch.
Tips and advice for prospective students
My top tip would be to enjoy the learning experience and not overburden it with concerns about how to get the highest grades. Focusing on the learning experience would draw you to the most relevant bits of the reading for you. Try to find as many ways as possible to start using and talking about the material from day one. One way of doing this would be to work with and help as many people on your course as you can. Have a reputation for being reliable and thoughtful as you have to form your own groups later in the course. You won’t be popular if you have tended to drop balls or free ride on the work of others in the earlier courses. Working supportively with your colleagues also builds friendships. My top tip would be that the Weekend MBA is mainly about the people.
Another useful piece of advice is to attend an information session. I attended an open day that gave me the opportunity to speak to outgoing students and understand the relevance of the content, the time pressures involved in doing the programme and the many ways that they have benefited for the Weekend MBA.