From Soldier to Operations Director: My journey through an MBA

01 March 2016 -


Read Neil Cufley’s journey as he talks about his experiences moving from military intelligence and logistics to a Chartered Manager working as Operations Director in a school in the South East of England by way of an MBA from the University of Derby

Guest blogger Neil Cufley


In January 2016 I graduated from the University of Derby Online Learning (UDOL) MBA programme and joined the ranks of their alumni. Originally launched at Harvard more than a century ago, today an MBA is recognised globally as the world’s most popular business qualification, in demand from both prospective students and their future employers.

This worldwide recognition of achievement is a key reason that led me to investigate what an MBA is and how it might impact upon me, my professional development and my future employability.

I wanted a credible qualification and achieving an MBA demonstrates one’s ability to engage with both theoretical and practical research to output a credible piece of work, and to think logically and strategically, all while managing and leading a large organisation.

Many universities and business schools worldwide have now made their MBA available via distance learning, enabling students to achieve their qualification while holding down a full-time job, and this is one of the major factors that drew me to the UDOL course.

What made the UDOL MBA programme especially attractive was the ability for me to study at my own pace, with the ability to work wherever and whenever I chose to do so thanks to 24/7 access to their online learning materials.

Initially I considered the MBA purely for my own professional development and the improvements it might have on the multitude of strategic decisions that formed part of my daily life as a manager.

My early working life was spent as a soldier, initially in military intelligence and more latterly in logistics. Having served for two decades in the Army, I decided that it was time for a change and began looking for a different career.

I was fortunate to apply for and subsequently become the Director of Operations at an independent school in the South East of England, with business management at the heart of my new career.

Early on in my new appointment I realised that I had the bulk of the experience and knowledge to succeed, but I wanted to take my learning to the next level by cementing my previous learning and experiences and I saw this being an option through an MBA.

While most people tend to specialise in one aspect of business, such as finance or marketing, my MBA was a modular programme that was underpinned and accredited by CMI as a follow-on from the CMI Level 7 qualification in Strategic Management that I had studied several years earlier.

The University of Derby Online Learning MBA programme was about providing a top-level view of business activity, encouraging students to see how the different elements of business fit together, all moderated through a modular programme and a final research project and thesis.

I wanted the ability to come at problems in a structured way and I had already learnt a lot about general management and leadership through my military career.

The next level of learning came with the CMI qualification, which ultimately led to the award of Chartered Manager and Chartered Fellow.

Those qualifications were not just about operations or finance but looked at the holistic view of business and management and gave me the ability to move onto the final step – the research project and thesis.

As Director of Operations at an independent school I decided to focus on a particular problem within my market sector and used my employment to my advantage.

Studying with UDOL was made quite simple, predominantly because of my supervisor, but also because of the flexible nature of the course and the speed at which I could operate.

My research project and thesis took a little under a year to complete and I graduated with an MBA (Merit) in January this year.

Before embarking on this educational journey I had a pre-formed view that I would increase my knowledge, understanding and business acumen but I had not realised to what extent.

Choosing the particular route described in this article was key to my success and I was hugely pleased with the recognition I gained from the CMI qualifications, while the course also allowed me to continue to the next level of study.

My research project taught me a great deal about my current employment, but also about depth research, critical analysis and how to look at problems in a different way. I was very well supported by my employer through my studies and for this I am ever grateful, especially as I could study without worrying about any impact upon my daily activities.

For those wishing to gain a greater understanding of business, leadership and strategic management I cannot recommend the MBA enough, especially the modular and online route that was so key to my success.

Juggling a busy career and a family is a difficult task in itself without the addition of Master’s level study, but the CMI and UDOL set-up allowed me to achieve what I had first set out to do.

As a Chartered Manager and an MBA graduate I feel that I have the confidence and ability to talk authoritatively about my trade, as well as having the credibility that the qualification provides.

Neil Cufley is Director of Operations at Ashford School

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