Growing your small business: How an MBA helped WJ Law prosper
David Law is the executive chairman of the 112-year-old family business WJ Law, one of Northern Ireland’s leading house builders. He decided to study for an MBA in 2012 – six years after becoming its chief executiveDavid Law
The recession and the property crash sent a seismic wave through the Northern Ireland economy. House prices halved, the number of buyers fell from 120 per year to 45, and our turnover fell from £30m to £8m.
Since then, I have led the organisation through this period of profound change, and moulded it into one that is now lean, customer-focused, outward- looking, collaborative and once again profitable. Instrumental to this was my decision in 2012 to study for an MBA at Ulster Business School. I had several reasons for deciding to do this.
Having weathered the storm of the great recession, there were signs that customers were back in the market and that there were opportunities for both growth and land acquisition at a favourable time. Despite being terribly weakened by the recession, I knew that we had the capabilities to deliver high value through house building.
But the company lacked the resources to buy new land and the climate for bank lending to Northern Ireland property was non-existent. The business needed equity capital. To add credibility to the WJ Law offer, as personified by myself as its executive chairman, I believed that I should gain an MBA qualification.
I knew I would enjoy the academic rigour as well as benefit from the knowledge. I wanted to be able to better frame business concepts in my mind, to be less intimidated by some financial aspects and to utilise these skills in business. I achieved an MBA with distinction in 2014.
Studying at Ulster Business School and repositioning the business has been highly valuable.
In the first instance, the market has improved. Crucially, the company has found an equity partner who appreciates our culture. In common with many family businesses, WJ Law hold a long-term view; and it is these qualities along with our customer and quality focus that were attractive to our equity partner. There is a good cultural fit. The credibility and the knowledge that I derived from the MBA programme were central to the diligence process of coming together with our partner.
The outcome is a company that now has both the competencies and the financial resources for growth. We are creating shareholder value. There’s no doubt that my MBA has played a critical role in this process.