Natalie Pullin

Programme: Weekend MBA

Undergraduate education: BSc, Sociology with Management, Royal Holloway, University of London

Current position: Business Development and Marketing, Corporate Communications, Radley Yeldar

Natalie Pullin is a Weekend MBA class of 2016-17 student. When joining Imperial College Business School, Natalie was working in Business Development and Marketing, Corporate Communications at Radley Yeldar.

Professional background

After graduating university, I traveled for a year before starting work in a recruitment role. I developed an aptitude for this, and ended up working for a small recruitment company where I was eventually asked to be a director and help run the company. This was a good experience for me, working at a company of around 20 employees where we recruited specialist engineers from around the world. During this time, I was always interested in how we could be a good employer in terms of  roles, training, company culture etc. I wanted my company to be different from a lot of low-quality agencies that existed, so I instilled this mindset in everyone that worked for us. After the Global Financial Crisis, our staff numbers greatly reduced, and when we started to emerge from the Global Financial Crisis, people still didn’t need recruitment agencies, so I made the tough decision after three years of working there that I needed a change.

I had always been interested in how people communicated with each other and enjoyed coaching my candidates in interviews and career advice, so I thought about doing communications. So I moved to a small design agency that was in marketing and sales. I was brought in to develop a marketing and sales plan and to help get it off the ground (the company had only been in existence for a couple of years). They couldn’t really afford me and I couldn’t help them as much as I needed to, so I moved to a bigger design agency, which was fun but not very rewarding. I felt like I needed to move back to London (I was in Birmingham at the time). I managed to secure a role with Radley Yeldar, a communications agency who work with large companies (generally complex, b2b companies), helping them develop communications for investors, customers, employees and stakeholders. I started off in business development and marketing which I still do as quite a bit of my role. I also work with client services staff on developing clients in spotting opportunities and challenges in relation to what’s going on macro and micro (which is a bit more strategic). I work with the board and R&D as well, helping to look at things like strategy, people and processes (which has come about from my MBA).


Choosing the Weekend MBA

I had become disillusioned with how businesses were run and their impact on the world. This was especially highlighted to me when working with the really large organisations I encounter at work: I’m exposed to the impact they have on natural resources and their employees. I decided I wanted to work in a field that’s responsible. I’ve always been a greeny and always tried to do my bit in terms of recycling, not wasting things and trying to be a considerate person. This led to me thinking that I need to do something that is part of what I am, something that aligns with my values and passion as I had moved careers several times and was still not happy.

I considered doing a Sustainability Master’s at the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leaders, which is very specialised and there’s other qualifications similar to that. I sought quite a bit of advice and was in two minds, I thought at the end of the day I’m not going to be able to change the business world unless I know how the business world talks. I need to understand  how they make their decisions, so I need to do an MBA. I’d always fancied the MBA from the ego perspective when I was younger and I do love learning. So I decided I needed to change careers and accelerate, although the acceleration might not come in my first job. I love the thought of going back to school. I didn’t appreciate it the first time around, but now it’s my choice, I’ve paid and worked hard to get on the programme in the first place.


Choosing Imperial

I had looked at Cambridge and Cranfield before a friend said to look at Imperial because of the massive cross-sections of disciplines available and because they’re known for sustainability. I attended an information session where the Dean started by saying Imperial teach responsible and sustainable business, which made my mind up, along with the amazing brand that is Imperial. Everyone knows the reputation of Imperial.

Another key motivator for me was to become part of the Imperial club for life by joining the  alumni network. Once you’re on the programme, you’re part of that network and I love meeting new people and learning new things.


Experiences of the Weekend MBA

I have found it all epic and rewarding! The learning has been incredibly rewarding and I’ve learnt an amazing amount. Studying the MBA and the learning I’ve achieved from it has given me a lot confidence and I’ve learnt that you’re never too old to learn. One of the things I was worried about before I started was that I was too old – I have proved to myself that I’m not.

The MBA has not only made me better at my job, it has made me better at life as well, because you are forced to deal with many different considerations, you are pushed to the edge in terms of balancing work and life. It is also rewarding in terms of realising you can do a lot more and fit more into your day than you think you can. You’ll never complain of not having enough time in your life again.

I’ve also developed my ability over the last few months to be able to look at something, work it out, do it, and then dive straight into something else. You’re multi-tasking the whole time on the MBA because you’re studying lots of different courses at the same time and you have to be able to switch from one thing to the next, which is helpful generally in life. This is also a challenging part of the MBA, being able to fit everything in, being able to cover off all the learning and doing a good job, while not annoying your partner, family or friends because they don’t see you.

Another good thing about the Weekend MBA is because you’re at work, you can apply what you have learnt on the programme straightaway in the real world, reinforcing the content. I’ve been very fortunate in my role where I’ve worked for communication consultancies that a lot of the things we learn could potentially be applied to our clients’ projects we work on.

This is great for me as one of my motivations for doing the MBA was because I knew businesses I worked for weren’t run the way they should/could be, but I didn’t really have the evidence or knowledge to do anything about it. By doing the MBA though, you learn everything there is to know about running a business and it teaches you so many skills and principles. You also learn that there is a better way of doing things.


A real mixed bag of brilliant people

My fellow Weekend MBA students are a real mixed bag of brilliant people all shapes and sizes. There are people from all over the world from all sorts of industries and roles such as engineers, finance, communications, products, entrepreneurs and that’s the great thing about the course; it’s got a real  mix of people. The youngest is 24 and the oldest might be 45, so it’s a real range of people which helps to blend different perspectives.


Preparation for a Weekend MBA session

I’ll come off the back of one weekend session and spend the first couple of days reviewing what was learnt, whether it be listening to lectures again on my commuter or working out what I need to do to prepare for the next session. I would then plan that preparation including meetings with my groups and course work. You have to make this plan for the next 3-4 week period as the work is constant and can’t be left to the week before the next session. My personal regime is listening to and reading content on my work commuter on Monday-Thursday and then studying one day on the weekend except when it’s close to the next weekend session. It’s also great to meet up with fellow students in between classes.


Juggling study, work and life

It was difficult in the first term because it’s the most amount of work in the first term and you are still adjusting to having to do this course while working. My family and work colleagues are potentially making sacrifices because I can’t be at work all the time and I can’t see my family and friends all the time. At the end of the day, I had to keep telling myself it was my choice to do this, and I think you have to keep that in mind, especially when you’e really tired or struggling. I would say that I’ve had to be very good at prioritising. At work, I’ve had to be much more specific about what I’m doing and when. I don’t go out with my work colleagues anymore, I have to get up early and try to do extra work in my lunch hour. You can’t get through everything, it’s about trying to find a way to organise what you have to do and keep communicating with everybody.


Imperial opportunities

I attended a Sustainability Business Club event around tech start-ups which was very interesting. I’ve been to many of the leadership talks which have all been interesting from an inspirational perspective. A lot of them are retired or not in a business/industry I’m working in, so there is nothing to learn in particular for me, it is more about the inspirational element. The recruitment staff do a good job of getting businesses to come in and do career talks, with a view to hiring people. There’s quite a lot going on which is useful.


Great career support

Personally I’ve found the Careers & Professional Development Service  useful and I probably need to start making a bit more of it. The careers coaching on offer and the fact that you get access to the careers team whenever you want is great, and I’ve had a couple of sessions with them which have been useful. They can help you in all sorts of ways. We’re always receiving emails about opportunities, jobs and talks by companies who are looking to hire.


Looking ahead to the rest of the Weekend MBA

While I am hoping to acquire new knowledge, skills, networks and opportunities in a broad sense, there are several areas that are a key focus for me. General competencies around negotiation and leadership are two areas I really want to develop. These are skills that are crucial to working effectively in teams. Most businesses need really good leaders and I believe a lot of businesses fail because they don’t have good leadership in place.

I also want to develop my problem solving skills. In the  Innovation & Entrepreneurship module, we have gone through design management principles with the Royal Academy of Art which has created problem solving processes which can be applied to any business scenario. I think a lot of businesses would be run a lot more effectively if they were using some of these problem solving principles across the board. I really hate inefficiency; wasting time, money and resources, so I want to understand how this can be minimised.

Aligning with my initial reasoning for undertaking the MBA, I also want to acquire the understanding at Imperial, so hopefully this will continue throughout the programme.


The Imperial advantage

From going to open days at other universities, what’s great about Imperial is the brand, the innovation and entrepreneurship modules, the innovation Hub, the grant from the Institute for Climate Change and the KPMG Data Observatory. These are all amazing institutes and Imperial often makes number one in the world for research. There’s all these different things you can get involved in and I think they’re fairly unique compared to other Business Schools. Imperial College Business School is part of a bigger university, whereas London Business School is London Business School, LSE is LSE, but at Imperial you’re on campus with all these other great institutions, which makes it fairly unique. Also technology, business and science is such a good mesh which will make the world a better place, and the combination of these at Imperial makes it unique.

While undertaking a Weekend MBA is a lot of money, I think it is a really good investment. People look at the money and think they can’t afford it, but it is an amazing programme and the reason you pay a bit more for the Imperial  MBA because you pay for the brand and career service that you don’t get at other schools. It’s been such an amazing experience for me in terms of learning and meeting people. You become part of the lifetime alumni and you’re surrounded by other people who have done an MBA and know the intense experience you have been through.


Top tips to prospective students

Before applying for the programme, I found it useful to attend an information session where we were informed about Imperial, the Weekend MBA programme and an alumni spoke about her career post-MBA. This was followed by a networking event which was useful. I also attended a women’s specific event just before I signed up which was helpful.

There was a panel of existing MBA students who were there to tell you about the programme, the opportunities and the work-life balance. It helped me gain a feel for the school, how it’s run ans the types of people that go. Once I was admitted to the programme, there was a welcome evening and drinks for all the admitted students two weeks before the programme started. This was a nice icebreaker and chance to meet your fellow cohort.

In terms of the programme itself, do the pre-study modules as soon as possible. I logged on to The Hub two weeks before the course started which was not enough time to get through all the pre-study modules. If you can, I would recommend allowing 4-5 weeks to study this material. The modules contain quantitative and accounting material which is incredibly valuable. We were told that the people who have an easier time in term one are those who have completed the pre-study modules and this was absolutely true. All this content appears in the first term and again in Corporate Finance in term two.

The thing about the MBA is that it isn’t so much that each subject is incredibly difficult on its own, but you’re doing 3, 4, 5 subjects at the same time, so you haven’t got much time to learn something before you move on to something else. So if you have done as much preparation as possible, then it makes the learning easier. If you do the pre-session readings, it makes the classroom sessions a bit easier and makes your learning more effective.

The whole thing is about trying to be as organised as possible within the capacity of your life. Be patient and kind with your loved ones, because it’s mayhem and you’re trying to find time to spend with each other. You need to be considerate of your other half, family and friends.

Programme: Weekend MBA

Undergraduate education: BSc, Sociology with Management, Royal Holloway, University of London

Current position: Business Development and Marketing, Corporate Communications, Radley Yeldar