Mastering the art of business leadership

Growing up on a farm cultivated Jenna Ross’s passion for the environment and agriculture.

When an environmental science project piqued her interest, she decided a Master of Business Administration degree would help realise her ‘agripreneur’ ambitions.

“I was keen to build on my leadership skills, as well as learn more about the commercialisation process of my new business concept,” Ross explains. “I also thought the MBA would make me a more rounded person and open up my perspective on life and business. I’m now in the process of spinning out my biopesticide research into a business, focusing on the biological control of molluscs [slugs and snails].”

Ross completed her MBA with distinction at Robert Gordon University’s Aberdeen Business School and this year was chosen to be part of the Nuffield Farming programme, which fosters agricultural leaders of the future.

“I am currently in Portland, Oregon, learning about the dairy, seafood and hazelnut industries,” Ross explains. “Next week I travel to Washington DC, to meet with various US agricultural leaders at Capitol Hill and House of Representatives.”

Robert Gordon’s MBA programme aims to ‘improve the career trajectory’ of its students in their existing industries, branching out into a different sector or launching a new venture.

“We develop managerial skills, behaviours, competencies and knowledge, to enable greater confidence in strategic decision making,” says Ian Broadbent, the university’s MBA director.

“We use real-life examples from a range of organisations and industries, and encourage students to use what they learn in the classroom in their everyday careers by providing practical examples. The course culminates in our consultancy project module – every student completes a project for a real-world client on a live business issue, with the overarching aim being to develop recommendations for the client.”

Stevie Mitchell, a project manager from Glasgow, wanted to pivot his career towards management and believed an MBA was the route to follow.

“I’d worked in the oil and gas industry as a project manager and had more than 25 years’ experience,” says Mitchell. “My thinking was to complete the MBA and go back to work in the oil and gas industry at a more senior level. This has happened as I’m now the programme manager on a £330m build programme at a chemical plant in Cheshire.”

Mitchell believes his MBA from The University of Glasgow’sAdam Smith Business School helped secure his current role at Rolls-Royce.

“I had never worked for a company of this stature before and believe the MBA helped me gain this post,” he says. “My perspective has changed on what I can contribute to a business now. I believe I can and should be contributing more to a business and at a much higher level.”

The Glasgow MBA at Adam Smith Business School is a oneyear programme focusing on decision-making under uncertainty, business strategic management and developing managerial skills.

“It equips students for a challenging future characterised by uncertainty, where they’ll need to change, innovate, make well-rounded decisions based on data and trends – and think outside the box,” says Javier Yanez-Arenas, the school’s MBA director and senior lecturer.

“We continually review and update the curriculum to ensure learning is centred on students becoming effective leaders, managers, entrepreneurs and decision-makers. And that they’re committed to developing sustainable business opportunities driven by triple-bottom line results.”

Students are trained to take a holistic approach to any organisation, Yanez-Arenas adds, so they can propose and implement strategic long-term plans that respond to a particular context – whether economic, political, social or cultural.

An MBA was also the obvious choice for IBM systems engineer Vijay Mukhi when he wanted to move into management.

“When I was at IBM, I used to look at the work of the managers and senior executives and think how challenging it looked,” says Mukhi, who already has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Application from the University of Lucknow in India.

“My manager saw how interested I was in managerial work and over a period of three years, allowed me to shadow him and various other executives. Given my wish to do a Master’s degree and my interest in managerial work, the best option for me was to do an MBA.”

Mukhi chose the Stirling MBA at The University of Stirling, which covers the functional areas of business that are essential for management, including accounting and finance, marketing, operations, economics and human resources.

The Stirling MBA was established in 1985 and is designed for those who want to excel in their current role, move up the career ladder, move in a new direction or start their own business.

“MBAs are particularly important in the current climate because of the level of uncertainty and complexity surrounding every organisation,” says Professor George Burt, Stirling’s MBA programme director.

“One of the first modules in our MBA programme is designed to take students out of their comfort zone. We put them on a context they’re unfamiliar with and put them with a client who wants to understand that situation. The students then come back with conclusions that address the elements of uncertainty that are faced.

“For example, they might be told the United Nations Development Programme is interested in understanding the evolution of the 17 sustainable development goals to 2030 in one of the former USSR countries: Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Very few people know anything about these countries and by completing this module, students are able to make the link between the past, present and future – and understand the chosen country’s unique challenges and uncertainties.”

Raquel Wing, 31, from California in the US, was working in wealth management with investment banks Morgan Stanley and UBS when she decided to change direction and start her own business.

“Midway through my wealth management career I developed a passion for using natural beauty products,” Wing explains. “I could see there was a need to provide small, independent brands with a virtual hub to collectively amplify and support them for doing the right thing. So the idea of The Clean Hub – the world’s first dedicated business accelerator for clean beauty brands – began to take shape.

Wing already had an undergraduate degree in International Studies with Spanish from California State University of Long Beach and decided the Edinburgh MBA at The University of Edinburgh Business School would help her pivot.

“I looked to the MBA to give me the broad skills base I needed to start out on my own, and plug gaps in my knowledge in areas like marketing and entrepreneurship I hadn’t been exposed to in my career to that point,” Wing says.

Tracing its roots back to 1919, when The University of Edinburgh introduced of one of the UK’s first Bachelor of Commerce degrees, the Edinburgh MBA attracts students internationally. This year’s cohort of 44 includes 22 nationalities from Palestine to the Philippines, 57 per cent of them women.

“The boutique nature and diversity of the programme, together with international treks to China, Hong Kong and Columbia, has been carefully designed to ignite their global ambitions to share experiences with – and learn – different cultures,” explains Professor Wendy Loretto, Dean of The University of Edinburgh Business School.

“As well as pursuing careers with leading companies from Accenture and JP Morgan to Deloitte and EY, recent graduates have gone on to start their own businesses, enter the third sector or continue their studies with a PhD.”

Jay Manton, an electrical and civil engineer from Canada, completed the Strathclyde MBA at Strathclyde Business School, part of the University of Strathclyde, after deciding he wanted a change.

“I had been working in the Canadian oil and gas industry as a civil engineer for a heavy industrial contractor for more than six years,” Manton says. “I loved the work but hated being away from home. I started looking for a change and thought an MBA would position me to make this shift.”

After some soul searching, Manton knew he wanted to be in the outdoor adventure recreation industry.

“The MBA helped me influence my existing skills from my construction experience to excel in a new industry. With help from my brother and father, we started two separate zipline tour businesses back in Western Canada. Between both businesses, we employ about 40 employees full-time on a seasonal summer basis.”

Irene Aitkenhead Taylor, career and professional development manager at Strathclyde Business School, believes the key attraction of an MBA is the range of different subjects it covers.

“The MBA is such a broad degree that it teaches you about all aspects of business – including human resources management, economics, finance and strategy,” Aitkenhead Taylor says. “So choosing an MBA is one way of ensuring you’re versed in all aspects of business and have a strong broad-based knowledge.”

Alongside four core modules covering governance, operations, strategy and personal development, the Strathclyde MBA offers more than 20 different electives taught by subject specialists. Previous topics have included digital leadership, talent management, business economics and managing sustainability.

Students also complete an MBA project where they examine in depth a managerial, organisational or environmental issue of their choice over an extended period of time.

“Students can use their project as a way to enhance their career or move sideways into a different arena,” Aitkenhead Taylor adds. “They may choose a company to work with and carry out several months of consultancy work with them – which has often led to employment.”

Barry Edwards, a procurement manager for hospitality group Whitbread, studied the Open University’s MBA and found it related directly to his day-to-day job.

“I’m coming up against issues in my job such as change management, stakeholder management, sustainability and finance – all of which you learn from the MBA,” Edwards says. “And it’s the critical thinking skills that come with post graduate study that really set me up for advancement in my future career.”

Launched 26 years ago, the Open University’s MBA can be completed in two to seven years and is practicebased, with a focus on professional development.

“Our MBA enables students to maximise opportunities from new technologies and new business models in the digital economy,” says Michael Ngoasong, Masters teaching director at the Open University Business School. “This includes effectively using big data and analytics; flexible working and ‘boundary-less’ careers.

“We also look at crowdsourcing and crowdfunding; open source networks and problem-solving; distributive manufacturing and digital fabrication – alongside the movement to continuous revenue streams and collaborative and network working. It will also allow students to strategically engage with the emerging gig economy in a way that’s both profitable and socially responsible.”

The MBA route is increasing popular for people who want to become successful entrepreneurs, Ngoasong adds.

“We have a portfolio of specialist elective modules in creativity management and entrepreneurship that can take students through the whole enterprise life-cycle.” Adema Zhanassova, an economics and politics graduate from Kazakhstan, studied an MBA at Heriot-Watt University’sEdinburgh Business School to enhance her career opportunities.

“When I completed the MBA, various energy companies were interested in discussing career opportunities with me,” Zhanassova says. “I believe the MBA instilled a confidence in me when negotiating my next move.

“I accepted a job offer at a consultancy in Edinburgh, which mainly focused on oil and gas projects based in Kazakhstan, and then in the business development department at Shell Exploration and Production UK in London.”

Zhanassova now runs her own consultancy, advising businesses on their strategies in new markets.

Edinburgh Business School pioneered one of the first distance learning MBA programmes and has campuses in Dubai and Malaysia as well as the UK.

“Making the move from functional or technical roles to senior management successfully requires people to develop skills in a number of key business areas,” says Craig Robinson, director of learning and teaching at Edinburgh Business School.

”The world is an uncertain place and the labour market has become increasingly dynamic and unforgiving over the past decade or so, Robinson adds. “Businesses and organisations change rapidly – and the most successful people need to be able to take advantage of that change,” he says. ¦ May 2018 INSIDER 49 My thinking was to complete the MBA and go back to work in the oil and gas industry at a more senior level. I’m now the programme manager on a £330m build programme Stevie Mitchell, project manager (below) I was keen to build on my leadership skills and thought the MBA would make me a more rounded person and open up my perspective on business ‘Agripreneur’ Jenna Ross (above) We use real-life examples from a range of organisations and industries, and encourage students to use what they learn in the classroom in their everyday careers Ian Broadbent, Robert Gordon University MBA director (below)

This article provided by NewsEdge.