MBA Masterclass: How to move up in the world
The MBA is back in vogue. Business schools across the world have seen a resurgence in the number of managers and potential managers applying to MBA programmes, after a four-year slideIan Wylie
In its latest Application and Enrolment Report, the UK-based Association of MBAs (AMBA) – one of the three major business-education accreditation bodies – found global growth of 5% in the number of applications to AMBA- accredited programmes in 2014-15. In the four years prior to 2014, application numbers had decreased by 14%.
Notably, the UK is bucking this global trend, with applications and enrolments in business schools here continuing to fall – applications to UK MBA programmes were down by 7.9% in 2014-15.
“The UK was particularly affected by the 2008 financial crash, during which record numbers of people applied for and were enrolled onto MBA programmes,” explains Andrew Main Wilson, AMBA’s chief executive. “So the decline we’re seeing now can partially be attributed to the subsequent recovery and period of economic stability.”
A number of UK business schools also had close links to the public sector – austerity measures and changes in government policy mean there has been a reduction in the number of managers from public-sector organisations applying to study for MBA programmes.
However, this latest research does show that UK business schools and MBA programmes continue to have by far the highest percentage of international enrolments, with students coming from a range of countries worldwide.
“A mix of nationalities and cultures on the cohort means that students have the opportunity to gain a wide and rich understanding of the diverse business practices found worldwide,” says Main Wilson, “and they can explore methods of working effectively across linguistic, legislative and cultural barriers.
“Diversity creates strong management qualities, by exposing students to the experiences and skills needed to work in today’s global and interconnected economy, regardless of industry.”
There is very little information on how business schools, and their student-body diversity, will be impacted when the UK finally exits the EU and the single market. “It’s too soon to predict what the potential risks are,” warns Main Wilson, “but, given the international standing of UK business schools, their global reach and their connections and collaborations worldwide, it seems unlikely to me that there will be any drastic and immediate problems.
“In our increasingly complex, competitive and global world of business, it is more important than ever to gain the very best senior management. The MBA remains by far the most globally respected and recognised management qualification.”
Krisztina Almási, a senior business analyst at McKinsey, who is embarking on an MBA at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, reckons a good MBA programme will equip her with experiences, skills and a network that she can’t get anywhere else.
“The level of group work during an MBA can give you lifelong lessons on how to manage diverse teams, how to motivate them and how to achieve common goals,” she says. “It’s also an opportunity to take a bit of a step back from day-to-day life and work, and think about yourself. It’s a good get-to-know-yourself and motivation cruise.”
For Sarah Pascaru, who worked for more than 10 years in financial services before doing an MBA at Imperial College Business School, the programme has already opened new doors, “from meeting exceptional people and building an amazing network within the MBA cohort to being aware of my own capabilities and strengths”.
Pascaru now has a new role at a fintech startup, working as a business development manager.
“The MBA has taught me how to produce quality work in very short deadlines as well,” she says. “It has also given me a different perspective when applying for jobs and interviewing – I can easily talk about new ways of getting things done.”
“Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today,” says Archana Dhankar, a digital marketer who’s taking an MBA at Warwick Business School, “and I look at my MBA as an investment in a brighter and better career path for the future.”
Can you afford it?
The cost of studying for an MBA varies widely. Tuition fees for London Business School’s two-year full-time MBA starting in August 2017 are £75,100, but the fee for the Bradford University distance-learning MBA, which can be completed over six years, is £17,000.
Cost depends on everything from the duration and delivery of the course to a business school’s position in the various rankings.
The amounts sound daunting, especially taking into account lost earnings if you choose a full-time course, not to mention the living costs, course materials and exam fees that also need to be paid.
Santander has agreements with a number of UK business schools to lend students up to £20,000, but the growing reluctance of other banks to lend to prospective MBA students means other support options are now emerging.
A range of scholarships and bursaries are available, often targeted at certain sectors and demographics. Most business schools will list details of scholarships on the fees and nance section of their websites, including those supported by companies and foundations.
An alternative to bank loans is peer-to-peer lending. Prodigy Finance, a business started by three MBA graduates, works with several UK and overseas business schools, raising capital by inviting business-school alumni to invest in bonds with a guaranteed return, and then lending to student borrowers based on their future earnings potential rather than their credit history.
Your existing employer may be willing to contribute towards the cost of your studies, particularly if you’re applying for an executive MBA. However, sponsorship often comes with the condition that you return to the company after graduating.
For most students, embarking on an MBA means relying on savings – and sacrifice.
“I strictly followed a savings plan for more than a year, and then I emptied my bank account and sold my Car – a beautiful Alfa Romeo,” recalls Stefano Maggioli, who now works for Amazon in Italy, following his MBA at Warwick Business School.
“I was a fortunate recipient of the Cranfield Australian Alumni Scholarship, which covered the full cost of tuition and housing,” explains Andy Smith, who served in the Australian Army and then worked for oilfield services provider Schlumberger, before enrolling on an MBA at Cranfield to enable a move into management consulting. “But, because I brought my wife and three children with me, the flights and other costs of living have been funded by savings and selling most of our possessions in Australia.”
Ritesh Kotak is funding his MBA at the University of Edinburgh through personal savings, but points to the importance of family too. “Obtaining an MBA is an investment in myself,” he says. “But, although I did work hard to save up, it wouldn’t have been possible were it not for the strong support I received from my family, which provides me with a financial safety net if needed.”
Meet the Students
The prospective student
Lauren Adamson, an engineer who works for a Canadian pipeline company, is about to begin an MBA at Warwick Business School.
Why do you want to do an MBA?
I think an MBA will give me far more flexibility and career choices. I’d like to change my career focus from a strictly technical one to one that allows flexibility. I love being an engineer but I’d like to broaden my career to include a business focus.
Areas that interest me include working as an investment banker focused on the energy industry, and helping fossil-fuel companies diversify into clean energy through mergers and acquisitions. Climate change will be the single greatest challenge my generation will face and I’d like to work in a sector that can have a large impact on this.
How will you fund the cost?
I’ll be funding the cost of the MBA myself with the help of a scholarship from Warwick Business School.
What are you looking forward to most about doing an MBA?
There’s a huge amount of information on business that becomes available in the news every day. I want to understand this information and how it’s affecting my life. I’m really excited to start this new phase of my life, travel in Europe and meet some new and interesting classmates.
And what’s your biggest concern?
I’ve been working in industry for five years, so I’m a little apprehensive about going back to classes, homework and all the other university activities. At the same time, I am also looking forward to meeting my fellow classmates, learning about their experiences and studying with them as we work towards an MBA.
What were you looking for when researching different MBA programmes?
I was looking for a university in England because I wanted to experience life in a different country. My focus was to find a one-year MBA programme that had a strong emphasis on leadership development and career guidance, with an international student body.
I also wanted a reputable university with a relatively small class size. I consulted a family friend who was familiar with the schools and universities I was considering. I was also able to talk to alumni. After all the research, my decision to go to Warwick was easy.
The current student
Suzy McClintock worked as a TV producer on shows for National Geographic and the BBC, along with branded content for corporates. She is doing an MBA at Imperial.
Why did you want to do an MBA?
I could see the changes that were occurring in my industry at an ever more rapid rate and I wanted to put myself in a position where I could influence that change either in my industry or another. I see the MBA as a way to fill some of my skill gaps and give me the opportunity to move into a strategy or innovation-focused role.
What have you enjoyed most so far about doing an MBA?
On the Imperial MBA, there’s a real focus on innovation and new methodologies. I think it’s the only course, for example, to offer ‘design thinking’ as a core module. There’s also an emphasis on the business applications of big data, and I’ve been lucky enough to be selected for an initiative to lead teams of data scientists working on a real-world business problem for KPMG clients.
What has been the biggest challenge?
I’m the type of person who enjoys working hard but I have at times felt like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Fortunately, the time-management skills that I developed in my career have allowed me to get through the work and do well in my exams.
What has surprised you about the experience so far?
I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve learnt about effective leadership and teamwork, particularly when it comes to harnessing team members’ strengths and creating a cohesive environment.
How are you funding the cost of your MBA?
I was lucky enough to receive a large scholarship and to have been saving for a rainy day for a while. I’ve also been doing some consulting work for companies that I’ve worked for in the past.
And what are your plans post-graduation?
I’m currently looking for internship opportunities and would ideally like to move into a role in innovation, strategy or technology consulting, either in-house or at a consultancy firm.
The recent graduate
Before his MBA from Cranfield, Alok Kumar was a senior manager at Kotak Mahindra Bank in New Delhi. Now he works for Channel Capital Advisors in London, focusing on client origination and relationships.
Why did you want to do an MBA?
Having worked for more than nine years in wholesale banking in India, I felt I needed to expand both my knowledge and network to take my career to the next level. After a lot of discussions with my seniors and mentors, I decided to pursue an MBA from an institution of repute outside India.
What did you enjoy most about doing an MBA?
The multicultural ethos and focus on self-development. Studying in a classroom with exceptional talent from 17 different countries and sharing a house with people of another five nationalities not only helped me make new friends, but also enabled me to appreciate differences in cultures and cuisines. Thanks to the MBA, I’ve started enjoying souvlaki, feta and Campari as much as chicken tikka masala.
And what was the biggest challenge?
The main challenge was dealing with people who were so sharp and different. The constant urge to keep up with others is tough and frustrating but it’s what made the MBA experience so enriching and valuable.
What surprised you about the experience?
Doing a top-tier MBA is not for the faint-hearted. The discipline needed can test your limits: 24-hour assignment submissions followed by 24 hours of partying can be mentally and physically taxing.
How did you fund the cost of your MBA?
I was awarded a partial scholarship by Cranfield but a major part of the fee was funded through a loan from Prodigy Finance.
How has the MBA helped you since graduating?
I’ve been fortunate enough to see some immediate benefits. I got an offer to join a reputable investment management firm in London immediately on completion of the course. Without the MBA, switching to an investment management role in London from a commercial banking background in India would have been unthinkable. Another immediate benefit is the visibility that an MBA gives you in the broader alumni community.