Veep, collaborative leadership and the MBA

**Warning.  This blog contains spoilers.  Read on if you’re okay with that. **


Artwork by Jin Kim

There’s no shortage of stuff to remind us that collaboration matters.  Being a good ‘team player’ is shorthand for the qualities needed to work with other human beings and get things done.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Mix up a bunch of people with different skills, experiences, and objectives; chuck in conflicting priorities and time pressures, and what do you get?  It’s the reason shows like The Apprentice are so compelling.  Collaboration is rarely about caring and sharing.  The fact is, proper collaboration – and leadership – is tough.

Politics is a brilliant case in point.  But let’s spare ourselves from partisan ranting and instead, focus on a perfect example of collaborative leadership gone wrong: the finale of Veep.  After seven seasons, former president Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has a shot at a second term in the Oval Office.  What stands between her and returning to the White House?  Her fellow party nominees.  The 2020 national convention is at a deadlock.  None of four candidates have the 2368 majority needed to get the party’s nomination.  The only way to get on the ticket is to cut a deal with another candidate.  They need to sort it out swiftly, or face another four years with President Montez at the helm, and their party pushed to the margins.  It’s a classic opportunity for collaborative leadership.  By working with the other three, Selina can minimise power struggles and increase the odds of a successful outcome for her party. 

Obviously, that’s not what happens.  Selina rejects the ‘simple solution’ of asking her opponent – and personal nemesis – Kemi Talbot (Toks Olagundoye), to be her running mate.  Instead, she makes a bunch of explosive choices which get progressively more divisive and dubious.  Tom James (Hugh Laurie) enters the race as a fifth candidate at the last minute, and Selina quickly rips him from the running by persuading his chief of staff to accuse him of sexual harassment in return for a top job in her White House administration.  She promises to ease fracking legislation in New York state to get the governor onside, and outlaw gay marriage to get Buddy Calhoun (one of the three remaining threats played by Matt Oberg) to back her and step aside.  She makes Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) – described as ‘an unstable piece of human scaffolding’ and a ‘sentient enema’ – her running-mate, to the complete disgust of her campaign strategist and Jonah’s own campaign manager Amy (Anna Chlumsky), who basically begs her not to put such a vindictive narcissist anywhere near power.  And to put some awful icing on this dicey political cake, Selina shops her personal aide Gary (Tony Hale) to the FBI, has him jailed for the misdeeds of her dodgy ex-husband to make allegations of financial impropriety go away, and has it happen WHILE SHE’S ONSTAGE ACCEPTING THE PARTY NOMINATION.


Collaboration in action: consultancy week in Vietnam

I’m not even going to try and pitch this as a morality tale where good triumphs over the most Machiavellian political operators, and bad behaviour gets punished in the end.  The fact is, Selina wins – though the top spot is pretty lonely as she’s kicked all the support from under her on the way up.  No, the point is  there’s never been more of case for collaborative leadership in 2019.  Partnerships and collaborations – especially between sectors – are vital for creating change, and creating social and economic value.  However, collaboration is HARD.  There’s no guarantee it’ll succeed, and no formula for doing it well. 

Jennie Albone (Modular Executive MBA, 2019)

Over the last two years, my Cass MBA colleagues and I have combined full-time work with intensive study.  Our achievements are a combo of results from individual assignments and group tasks.  When we graduate in July, we aren’t just celebrating our own successes; we’re recognising that we worked together to make this outcome possible.  From co-writing essays, to working with Vietnam’s first unicorn tech company on a consultancy project, group work and collaboration was a staple of the course.  You’ll be pleased to hear my experience in no way resembles the brutal hard knocks doled out by President Meyer.  Instead, I had the chance to work with a cohort who bought diverse talent, experience and views to everything we did.  Sure, there were times when it would’ve felt easier if we’d thought a bit less divergently and just got on with it.  But diversity is massively important.  Working with people who approach problems from a completely different place helps you to check your assumptions, reveal your blind spots, and reach a better result.  It’s taught me how to recognise and value the skills others bring even more, which is something I’ll take with me to the next stage of my career.  So, does that mean a Cass MBA the answer to all of our leadership challenges?  Well, no – nothing is that simple.  But opportunities to hone our personal collaboration skills matter.  And for many of us, the MBA’s been an intensive chance to reflect on our approach. 

For an interesting primer on the four areas that make for an effective collaborative leader, try this.  

Find out more about opportunities to study an MBA in London or Dubai and continue your leadership journey here.

Jennifer Albone
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

 

 

Real-World Consultancy and Expert Insights

Studying an MBA is a big decision and a huge investment. The reasons for doing an MBA are varied, but I have found one common thread: the desire to build a successful career! Prior to starting the degree, I was working in insurance in India, primarily in Product Development and Management. My motivations to pursue an MBA were to gain international experience from a top school, to bolster my technical knowledge, and to increase my business acumen. After months of research into business schools, I selected Cass Business School and I must admit, this is the best decision I have ever made.

Cass has taught me many things. As a top-ranked school, especially renowned for its expertise in strategy, academic rigour and excellence are high. Apart from the world-class faculty members teaching us, we also have the privilege of having renowned academicians and industry experts from around the globe give guest lectures. I was gobsmacked when Professor Robert M. Grant, author of the bestselling strategy book “Contemporary Strategy Analysis” conducted one of our strategy sessions. This was one of the many amazing external sessions we have had so far during the course. Gaining insights from experts is not only beneficial for our learning but also it highlights the credibility of the institute in the outside world.

Nikesh Das and cohort meet Professor Robert M. Grant

London is a place where there is no dearth of opportunities and Cass has the great advantage of its location between the financial and tech hubs of the city.

Arriving here from India, the biggest cultural difference I noticed in a professional context was the importance of networking and presentation skills to land a dream role. The careers team at Cass does a fabulous job in ensuring that the tenets of successful networking and effective public speaking are ingrained within us from the day we start our course. The team organises networking sessions, presentations, and public speaking training sessions and events. One such event was the ‘Tallow Chandlers Contest’ where we were asked to present solutions to a challenging strategic issue facing British Petroleum (BP) without the help of any slides or hand-notes. To my good fortune, my team won the competition!

Many business school candidates aspire to work as consultants. If the opportunity arises, I too would like to work in consultancies because of the variety of project opportunities you receive. Here again, Cass has an upper-hand! We recently concluded our International Consultancy Week in Dublin, Ireland. It was an exceptional opportunity for us because we did consultancy for innovative products and service offerings for different Dublin-based start-ups. In an educational setting, this is one of the most practical consultancy experiences one can get. The challenges of a start-up are unique because their products and services are novel and therefore lack historical data. Delivering a solution for a complex problem as a team, within the short span of five days, is a perfect simulation of what to expect in any big consultancy firm.

Nikesh Das and his MBA cohort

So far, my journey has been enriching. Learning from experts, developing personally, and solving the very real and complex problems of start-ups are the kinds of thrills I was expecting from my MBA. If “Extraordinary Calling” had a face, then it is Cass Business School for me!

Nikesh Das (Full-time MBA, 2019)

My eye-opening experience on the UAE study tour

I had just dropped off my children at school. Pulling out of the school’s driveway, I took a right turn, abandoning my familiar route to the office. Fifteen years after my first degree, here I was, driving myself to school too. I relocated to Dubai in 2017 as an expat from my home country, Nigeria. Shortly afterwards, I enrolled at Cass Business School for the Executive MBA in Dubai programme.

My cohort recently completed just over one year of “academic workouts”. I have to say, writing exams with a pen after a decade and a half of using computers required “workouts” on a digital level (think finger digits), not to mention juggling work, studies and family commitments.  I was all too glad that the first phase of the MBA was over, and we were moving on to international electives, such as the UAE Study Tour.

Members of the Cass Executive MBA in Dubai cohort on the UAE Study Tour

This elective presented an opportunity to gain practical insights into how businesses operate within the UAE’s cultural, economic and regulatory environment. Being a resident of Dubai, I was quite familiar with the general cultural and regulatory framework. Therefore, I was more interested in learning about the economy of the UAE. The UAE stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best countries in many aspects, including tourism, security, infrastructure and leadership. I was curious to learn more about how they did it in a relatively short space of time.

Not long after handing over my car to the valet service at the Roda Al Murooj hotel, I bumped into Professors Steve Thomas and Roy Batchelor in the hotel lobby. The duo would chaperon a class of 20 odd MBA students, on an exciting four-day tour of selected parts of the UAE. Rain showers on the first day, a rare occurrence in these parts, set the ambiance for the week, peeling off the rustic silhouette of dust from the surrounding Arabian desert. The first two days were spent gathering first hand insights on the Dubai and Abu Dhabi brands, products of cleverly integrated branding, innovation, marketing, strategy and investment principles.

Memorable stops in Dubai included visits to the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, a digitally advanced city branding and marketing company that promotes and regulates all tourism related activities in Dubai, and the leadership institute/innovation center of Majid Al Futtaim, the leading retail and leisure pioneer across Asia and the Middle East. In Abu Dhabi, First Abu Dhabi bank (FAB), impressed strongly with its Aa3/AA-/AA- credit ratings by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch respectively. We also visited the Emirates Aviation College where I got to play pilot for a few minutes.

Emirates Aviation College.  Inside a simulator

The other two days focused on the Arab consumer, Dubai real estate, and the Islamic economy. The ingenious expansion of Dubai’s coastline, and other man-made land-marks like palm Jumeirah and the world islands left me with zero doubts about the relentless efforts to diversify the economy, creating a model for the region.  It was eye-opening to see how concepts in marketing, big data, economics and strategy were being brought to life at dizzying speeds in virtually all aspects of the economy. Visits to the Dubai Expo 2020 site, Dubai Islamic Economy Development Center (DIEDC), and Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), made me understand more clearly the role of the government and their plans to remain relevant in all aspects of life and living.

The UAE is definitely a reference point for countries in terms of articulating and actively following a focused development agenda. They are so far on track to meet or exceed the development objectives laid out in the country’s 2021 and 2071 master plan.

The awe-inspiring Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

International Consultancy Week: Discovering Dublin

Dublin International Week

As the end of the Full-Time MBA programme approaches, my cohort and I visited Dublin for a week-long consultancy project. International Consultancy Week gives MBA students the opportunity to apply the academic theory we learned over the previous four modules in a real-world setting. My cohort and I were on hand to consult for a pool of start-ups and larger organisations and help them resolve issues as diverse as business development strategy, human resources, marketing and operational challenges.

During the initial selection of companies, it was no surprise that The Project Foundry, a professional project management services provider and the firm I selected to work with, was among the most sought-after projects. The business was seeking an optimal market entry strategy in the cloud-computing space within existing parameters such as budget restrictions.

This project was of personal interest to me because I created and executed a market entry strategy in a new segment for my previous company. I was excited about the opportunity to broaden my understanding of the niche field of cloud computing.

Meeting the The Project Foundry team

My team: strength in diversity

This project’s success ultimately hinged on the team I had and the various skill-sets and expertise we could collectively leverage. We had Filippo Capirone, whose knowledge of the telecom industry and cloud computing were key for our understanding of the market. I also got the chance to work again with Lina Rahmanian, who had been a part of a gruelling three-month long strategy project team in which we developed an award-winning project. I had also worked previously with Rhiannon Ludlow, who was part of my team during the professional development training workshop at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and is someone I knew I could count on under strenuous circumstances. The only person I hadn’t worked with previously was Steve Le, but his expertise in the finance world along with his PowerPoint skills won my trust. Based on the diverse skill-sets and industries represented by my assigned team, I was confident in my team’s ability to deliver a solid project.

Meeting our client

Our initial contact with our client came via WebEx a week before we flew out to Dublin. Declan Ryan, Managing Director of The Project Foundry, gave us a better understanding of the project scope and the deliverables. We also started doing background research on the cloud computing market under the guidance of our faculty supervisor, Dr Senem Aydin, to get an accurate idea of the industry.

Once we arrived in Dublin at The Project Foundry Office, we had the chance to meet Declan and the rest of his team. We met the Director David Laird, who helped us get a strong understanding of the company financials and projections; Mark Carragher, Chief Technology Officer, whose industry expertise on cloud based platform gave us great insight on future of the business; and Sai Srinivasan, who helped us with the coordination of the project as the rest of the team was constantly on the move. We also had the chance to chat with a few members of the project management team and The Project Foundry’s marketing agency to get their insight on the business.

The project

During the initial few days, we started by identifying strategic issues faced by the firm, identifying the key industry trends, conducting competitor analysis, and rounding off with the strategic approach and financials to support our findings. This research was done in conjunction with the input we received and the conversations we were having with TPF. We drafted up an action plan for TPF for the way forward, looking at both the long-term and the short-term picture. By Friday, we had an amazing presentation deck (thanks to visual expertise of Steve Le) ready to present to the TPF team. We had a great discussion with the TPF team following the presentation to get their general feedback and answer any queries they had. This was an intriguing session where each member of the group pitching in to lend their expertise and helped wrap up an amazing consultancy project. Special thanks also goes to Dr. Aydin who offered us useful advice during our daily meetings – enabling the development of the recommendations!

Umar Mahmood and his consultancy team hard at work

Discovering Dublin

The Dublin Consultancy Week was not just about work! TPF hosted many fun social occasions, and Dublin is a young, vibrant and cosmopolitan city. Highlights for me were seeing the sights the city had to offer such as Trinity College and watching football matches in the historic Temple Bar Neighbourhood.This trip did culminate in a self-guided tour and a group dinner at the Guinness Storehouse. All groups got the chance to talk about their experience working with their companies and delivered some memorable presentations. This was also when the realisation sunk in that this was probably the last time all of us would be in the same room together, as just around the corner our international electives and the BMP Project are set to begin.

The International Consultancy Week will be a cherished highlight of the Full-Time MBA programme to me. Specifically, it was great to work with a fast-growing start-up and to learn more about how business is conducted in Ireland. I got the chance to work with an amazing group of individuals. Despite the hectic work schedule and the sleepless nights that came with it, I wouldn’t trade this dynamic experience for anything.

Fun in Dublin

My top three insights from International Consultancy Week

  1. There will often be times when you have to work with limited information – making a “decent” plan based on existing parameters is often more prudent rather than waiting for the “perfect” plan to develop, as the situation continually evolves.
  2. In the spirit of Leading the Adventure: always keep an open mind and be willing to learn something new, or have your viewpoints challenged.
  3. A unified team makes even the toughest jobs enjoyable.

Umar Mahmood, Full-time MBA (2019)
Contributions from Oliver Yogananthan, Full-time MBA (2019)

Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership at Cass

Nina and her cohort

My MBA experience is coming to an end. I am about to graduate this summer. Reflecting back, I can only say that my experience was mad – good and bad and crazy and intense and really like a roller-coaster. But I wouldn’t have changed it for anything, it was exactly how an Executive MBA is supposed to be. Except, my class had a higher proportion of men to women. Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion for a minute.

I am a proud recipient of the Women in Business Award by Cass. A few of my cohort members are. My school is extremely supportive of female leadership starting from a female dean, female board members and offering many scholarship opportunities to women applying to various programs. As with many schools, during the application process we are given an opportunity to apply for a multitude of scholarships, and us women have an opportunity to go for the diversity awards. Like in many boardrooms, business schools seem to struggle to entice working women to join the classroom part-time on top of their full time careers as professionals, and most likely even fuller time careers as mothers and wives. Therefore, many business schools will offer various awards to supports future female leaders and our prospect achievements in our individual fields. What a tremendous opportunity for us, but are we discriminating men? Who cares, you are thinking, women have been discriminated for years, it is our time to rise and shine!

#CassWomen

Hey, I don’t disagree. Give me an opportunity to shine and I’ll take it, nobody can stand in my way. Except, I don’t see the world with ‘men vs women’ eyes. I see an opportunity to grow personally and professionally, perhaps competing against other people, but their gender doesn’t bother me. I see an opportunity to shine, not because I am a woman, but because I have a unique perspective, and unique experience and knowledge that I bring to the table. That is what others should see too. Those that are incapable of seeing past my gender are not worthy of my time, and certainly organisations that recruit me because I am a woman and they ‘lack female leadership’ are not the places I would fit in. Not because I don’t bring a female touch to anything I do, trust me, I am emotional and I don’t hide those emotions, but that is also my choice. These are not the places for me, mostly because they care that I am a woman, and don’t care that I am an experienced professional. That is where I want equality.

I recently read an article in which a personality scientist states that if you are a woman and you popularly ‘lean-in’ you will become a dysfunctional leader. This scientist further states that most people have little insight into their leadership talents, and those that believe that are the best leaders are in fact the most incompetent leaders lacking self-awareness. Statistically, those leaders are most likely to be men – whether women have chosen a different path, chose to stay at home or were just not interested in leading, we are still working in a male dominated business environment. So if we are to lean in, and mimic the behaviours of these dysfunctional leaders, won’t we become dysfunctional as well? That is not my goal. My goal as female leader is to be humble but also to utilise my strengths: communication, passion, endurance, emotional intelligence, empathy, the ability to listen and connect, and the ability to think about my bigger picture, but also to think about the picture of the people I touch and bring on the path with me.

Nina Kerkez (Modular Executive MBA, 2019)

Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani education advocate, who at the age of 17 became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, is a true inspiration in leadership for me. She has overcome adversity, she is standing up to her rivals and she is overcoming diversity, whilst fighting for girls to pick up the books and pens, and get the education that they deserve. There are many things we could all learn from Malala, but as I talk about diversity and inclusion, in words of this wonderful woman it is important for us to remember: “Dear brothers and sisters, I am not against anyone… There was a time when women social activist asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it for ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on the women to be independent to fight for themselves.”

So, in my view, my MBA class was extremely diverse containing people of all genders, many races and nationalities, and many professional backgrounds. It consisted of a group of 38 amazing individuals, each and every one of us unique in our own way. We have learned from each other and built relationships that will last us a lifetime. Perhaps, I am finding it harder than I thought to be at the end of this journey. But those connections built in the two years of classroom activity, travel and, let’s face it, pub activity together, give me the feeling that this is not quite the end.

Post-study drinks

UAE Study Tour : A Gleaming Exposition of the Emirati Model

“An easy life does not make men, nor does it build nations. Challenges make men, and it is these men who build nations.” Such words, stated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, could not more succinctly encapsulate the ambitious spirit of Dubai. As a city, in the Sheikh’s words that was “founded on trade, not oil,” Dubai has joined the ranks of other premium global destinations like Singapore in becoming highly competitive and deeply globalised – boasting high living standards within a relatively short time span. Such was certainly witnessed by myself and my fellow MBA classmates who embarked on the Cass UAE Study Tour in February 2019. The impressive Emirati Capitalism was plain for all of us to witness and appreciate over the duration of this tour. Whether it was admiring the scope and the grandeur of the Burj Khalifa, or enjoying the sumptuous buffets at various hotels – it was clear that this city had burgeoned into an economic behemoth in the Middle East. This growth came to be through its citizens leveraging the myriad of strengths and expertise of a large and ever-growing expatriate population. The boom of highly-skilled expatriate communities is predicated on a state-driven investment strategy that is focused on trade and export in sectors such as logistics, healthcare and financial services ultimately enabled by ambitious leaders.

Oliver and his MBA colleagues in Dubai

True to the Cass MBA’s motto of “Leading the Adventure,” the tour was nothing short of an amazing experience for all those involved. Over the span of five intense days, the tour treated my colleagues and me to countless interesting highlights – namely site visits to organisations which facilitate and sustain the success of the “Emirati Model” such as Expo 2020, Nakheel and Emirates Aviation College.

MBA students visit the Emirates Aviation College

Expo 2020 was one of the key facets of Dubai’s competitive growth that the cohort witnessed in the context of the tour. The theme of the Expo was “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” and focused on three distinct factors: opportunity, mobility and sustainability. This in turn will enable multilateral collaboration between Dubai and the world. This collaboration spans a gamut of areas of expertise, from logistics to communications to 5G networks. The building plans of the Expo were breath-taking – both in the layout and in the proposed architecture of various structures. The building plans symbolized an homage to the heritage of the UAE and Dubai as well as an image of a bright future for Dubai.

MBA students visit Expo 2020

The next facet of the tour that struck me as interesting was the site visit to Nakheel, which is single-handedly responsible for extending the coastline of Dubai from 70 km to more than 300 km. Nakheel is the state-owned development company which famously constructed the Palm Jumeirah. My colleagues and I witnessed how the company is making headway with other large-scale real estate projects such as Deira Islands, the Palm Jebel Ali and the famous “The World” island development. More impressive still was the emphasis Nakheel placed on its developments being sustainable and eco-friendly – especially in the way the foundation of the Palm Jumeirah was turned into an artificial coral reef.

The final part of the tour that stood out was how it showcased the significant role tourism plays in Dubai’s economic development. This was especially evident during the visit to Emirates Aviation College – Crew Training. Emirates places great emphasis on developing a cabin crew that is dynamic, multilingual and always prepared to go above and beyond to offer excellent in-flight customer service. Through rigorous training, the cabin crew plays a pivotal role at Emirates in attracting, retaining and subsequently growing its network of customers.  The lengths through which the airline made customer loyalty a cornerstone of its brand image gave me a clearer understanding of how Dubai will continually be made into a viable destination for tourism. Through this attention to detail, Dubai is able to consistently transcend cultural boundaries in order to optimally cater to a customer’s need.

Students take on the desert with a safari tour

Besides the company visits, the cultural activities further enriched the experience of the tour. Specifically, the UAE Tour culminated in a desert safari which entailed the conquest of desert dunes in 4X4 SUVs, along with an evening of shisha and belly dancing. Although Dubai has grown exponentially, the city’s and its people’s deep connection to the desert and traditional Arabian values cannot be understated. The enriching and exhilarating nature of the tour could not have been made possible without the support of the students and the staff members of Cass in Dubai.

 

Oliver Yogananthan, Full-time MBA (2019)
Contributions from Lynal Low, Full-time MBA (2019)
Zafar Hassan, Full-time MBA (2019)

Building a bright future

International Consultancy Week in Dublin

Typing down a reflective essay could take a great deal of time! And why not? After all I was scrupulously penning down a yearlong journey of my MBA at Cass Business School that concluded on 22nd January this year. Collecting my degree as a Full-time MBA with Distinction in the presence of my cohort of qualified MBAs and Executive MBAs from Cass Business School, family, friends and other postgraduates from City, University of London was truly a proud moment. The Reception party organised by the School was equally quintessential.

From classroom lessons to leadership training week at Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and Digital Innovation elective that included a notable Design Thinking seminar at Stanford University in San Francisco, Cass MBA proffered a plethora of experiential learning at each stage of the programme.  Some of these learning experiences culminated into great successes and were directly entered in my resume. Working with the C-suite as a Strategy Intern at a London-based travel company and as an external MBA consultant at a health-tech company for my International Consultancy week (arranged by Cass in Dublin) are a few to list. The icing on the cake for me was getting a chance to learn about the different industries in which these companies operate.

People make the difference. Cass Business School made me feel this much more than I had thought. The school’s fantastic academic staff assisted me round the clock for all official activities, well-qualified professors offered exceptional teaching in core MBA subjects and welcomed after class discussions; and well-trained external faculty from iOpener Institute offered personality development workshops on when and how to lead and follow teams. Jorgen Sundberg’s session on ‘How to Build a strong and an attractive LinkedIn Profile’ and David Ohrvall’s ‘Crack the Case’ session were truly skilful and elucidating to leverage my professional profile.

To top it all, MBA classes were a complete fun with an energetic cohort of 70+ people from 23 countries. How could I miss bringing up here ‘The Great Cake-Baking Event’? It was the most frenzied way to learn strategy while baking cakes in groups. Besides giving weight to group exercises, the Cass MBA geared me to look at the business world with a unique lens through its Business Mastery Project. My project demanded understanding of concepts from several subjects – strategy, operations and digital innovation and the MBA programme had underpinned this right in the first half of the course year with its four learning blocks of 12 subjects and 6 electives where I covered all managerial subjects from HR to Corporate Strategy.

Study tour in San Francisco

For obvious reasons (MBA fun – activities, classes and exams), time flew very fast in those 12 months but that same clock ticked unrushed at the very end of the programme aka the job-hunting process. To make this process seem quite effortless, Cass Careers department provided me with copious amount of guidance and motivated me how to key-in my tech experience with management studies for various consulting roles. I’d like to give a special thanks to Laura Levy, MBA Relationship Manager for this! Starting with getting my resume and cover letters apt for these roles to preparing me exhaustively for assessment and partner rounds, the team helped massively before I accepted a role in a Big Four professional services firm in London. Ever since I’ve been on the job, the combined learning experience of the MBA networking events as well as the classrooms sessions of Digital Technologies and Business Innovation, Operations, Analytics and Corporate Strategy have been immensely useful.

Cass FTMBA is a fast track MBA in its complete sense. It opens up a whole new set of interesting alumni benefits, such as attending one free elective per year, which is rarely offered by other business schools. It has brought a great opportunity for me to learn something purely for my own personal interest or curiosity. Just last week, I started studying an elective on fast track venturing. As my learning continues – be it on a new role, project or industry, I look forward to build a positive future in the business world!

Finally, we graduated!

Prerna Thitme
Full-time MBA, 2018

 

What to expect from an EMBA at Cass

What made me choose Cass?

Located in the heart of the City of London, I chose Cass Business School, not only due to the reputation of the high-calibre leadership team on the Executive MBA course, but the opportunity to be part of a fantastic network of professionals and leaders represented both on the course and the alumni.

My background prior to joining Cass is predominantly as a professional chartered accountant. I have previously represented clients in financial services, biotechnology, life sciences, manufacturing, hospitality and agriculture. I have worked with FTSE- and AIM-listed global companies as well as SMEs. Currently, I am the Group Financial Controller for an offshore hedge fund based in the U.S. and Cayman Islands. In pursuing an MBA, I am looking to take my career to the next level and continue building my network internationally.

This is my insight into what to expect in the first few months on the Cass EMBA program.

Shivan Bhatt and fellow EMBA students

 

The first term

As the first term comes to an end, we have completed our first six modules, covering strategy, finance, accountancy and business analytics to name a few. The cohort has established its newly formed groups, working together to complete numerous and challenging assignments set out at a frantic pace by our well-seasoned lecturers.

During case discussions, the mix of backgrounds, expertise and diversity across the cohort is clear, with conversations often drawing on experience from different industries and world markets. This can often lead to heated debates, particularly where there is more than one correct answer or approach. Whereas some of us approach an issue with cold logic, others prefer to use intuition, but the true answer lies somewhere in between. This does, however, benefit the cohort as a whole as it enables us to learn from one another and my fellow MBA candidates have taught me so much already.

By December the MBA is in full swing, with high expectations for the January exams adding to the pressure. As the Christmas period approaches, we connect with our mentors who are recent EMBA alumni and have been in our shoes. We discuss successful revision strategies, and the mentors share insights into the upcoming examinations, students and alumni coming together as peers to utilise all available resources to maximise our potential.

The Christmas break is warmly received by the cohort, giving us time to reflect on all our learning from the past three months in the run-up to the exams. On our return, peer support increases, an environment of constructive learning emerges, with teams organising revision sessions, mentoring one another on an individual basis and preparing for the first big test in only a matter of weeks.

The exams pass by at the usual, frantic EMBA pace, leaving us looking back, reflecting on where the first month of the year has gone. The end of January brings us to our first week-long break since starting the course. Many take the opportunity to celebrate together in the city, before the ‘achieving your potential’ away weekend set up by the Cass careers team. The weekend comprises of two days of self-reflection on our current careers, an evaluation of our core strengths and team-building activities. The weekend ends with executive coaching sessions with external facilitators to focus us on what we want to take away from the EMBA experience.

Looking ahead

The EMBA has already provided each member of the cohort a new, wider network of professionals, with an array of opportunities for the future. We are all extremely excited for the second half of the year, particularly our group consultancy project to Colombia in July. Given the achievements of the first half of the year, this too one would assume, will be just around the corner…

 

How four female fund managers broke the glass ceiling

I knew when I made the decision to study for an MBA, I’d be required to take on challenges that would feel uncomfortable. I expected that the structured path on the course would guide me through, and over, certain obstacles. I wanted to face barriers head on, and improve upon them.

Kylie Poole

In my role as a sales and marketing executive I was used to speaking in front of small groups of people when giving product demonstrations, or meeting new customers for the first time at one-on-one events. I felt relaxed and in control in those types of engagements. But I wasn’t regularly required to speak to much larger groups of people.

My sister, who’s an excellent public speaker, told me that preparation and practise were the keys to success. With that in mind, I was both excited and extremely nervous about the prospect of running an event for the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme which would require me to mediate a panel, in front of a large audience.

On the one hand, it was a huge honour. I’m so proud to be involved in a programme that’s asking tough questions and looking to improve female involvement at all professional levels. On the other, I knew it was unchartered territory – what if I lost track of time or struggled to help conversation flow amongst the panellists?

The good thing about hosting a panel is that actually, the stars of the show are your panellists. They do most of the talking and it’s their insights that make the event special. The difficult thing is that you can’t over-practise – you don’t know which direction the conversation is going to go in, and you have to stay flexible.

On the night, I got to the premises quite early – I wanted to see the space in the room and get in a few more run-throughs. By that point, I’d practised my introduction and questions many times over. I was trying to concentrate on the pace and tone of my voice when speaking – I naturally speak quite quickly and knew I had to deliberately slow that down.

Kylie Poole hosting the Global Women’s Leadership panel

I met the fantastic panellists for the first time about 15 minutes before the event began. I was lucky enough to be hosting four seasoned and highly experienced women from the fund management industry, who’d also grown together in their careers, becoming great friends. Their warmth, obvious rapport and intellect had a very calming effect – we were already talking amongst ourselves about some of the topics I was due to bring up and I could see how engaging and knowledgeable they were.

Once the crowd had arrived, there were about 50 people in the room. Some of my friends and my partner had come to support me. When I gave the introductory speech, I tried to picture speaking to them. The rehearsals I’d done in preparation paid off – I was familiar with the script and was able therefore to devote my concentration to remembering to speak in a deliberate, relaxed manner.

The panellists were as I’d expected them to be – absolutely brilliant. The chemistry between them was fabulous – one of my friends after the event commented that it was like being a fly on the wall as four friends from a fund-management version of Sex and the City talked to each other at dinner. It felt intimate, and genuine.

Time seemed to fly by and on reflection, I can remember four messages the most clearly – I’m sure for people in the audience there’d be other topics that resonated. Each point I think is inspiring and helpful to both men and women.

Dagmara Fijalkowski emphasised the importance of practise and preparation for workplace engagements. After she said this, her friends on the panel described her as the most prepared person in the room, despite her vast knowledge and many years of experience. Dagmara explained that she still puts hours of thorough research and rehearsal into all of her presentations. This may at first sound like common sense, but I found it reaffirming to hear how hard work and determination can still often be a differentiator.

The second point I remember highlighted was the importance of following and choosing paths in your career that lead towards what you’re passionate about. This was raised by Jane Lesslie who’s had a fascinating journey into fund management from journalism, through government service and economics. She pointed out how hard it is to lack confidence when talking about a topic you love, or lack motivation in an area that invigorates you.

This discussion of how careers can grow, develop, and flourish over time lead us to talk about the multi-career life. The panel challenged the audience to put less pressure on themselves about whether or not they were exactly where they wanted to be in their careers at this exact moment. They highlighted how every step contributes unique learning, and that it’s all part of a longer career journey.

Global Women’s Leadership scholars

Lastly, the panel described that despite fund management’s reputation as a male oriented career (backed up with a consistent under-representation of female talent applying at entry levels), it doesn’t at all live up to the image of shouting and bravado on trading floors. Instead, it’s a measured, calculated, research-oriented environment where everyone’s performance tends to be measured in a meritocratic fashion (long term returns).

Once I’d brought the panel to a close, I went out into the reception area and could see pockets of people energised by the event, expanding on the conversation amongst themselves over drinks. I knew I’d achieved a personal milestone with the type of public speaking I’d just done, but I was almost happier to see the inspiring effect the event had had on the audience. For that mostly, we and Cass have the star panellists to thank.

Competitive advantage at Cass

Competitive advantage

Three months into the Executive MBA programme, a flurry of deadlines passed and now the frenzy of exam revision. The Strategic Leadership module with Professor Elena Novelli was a real highlight of our first term. Each lecture divided into theoretical concepts and rigorous application to an industry or company case study. Professor Novelli’s choice of case studies (wine, travel and online dating) certainly made the content stick.

My group chose to assess Nvidia’s competitive advantage. With my gaming experience limited to Donkey Kong and handheld games (now museum exhibits), Nvidia’s graphic processing units were revelatory. But sometimes not ‘knowing’ an industry can lend itself to objectivity. After mastering a slew of four-letter acronyms, I was gripped by this story: Nvidia leverage their GPU dominance to create strong footholds in complementary markets, such as data-centres, artificial intelligence and ADAS (that is Advanced Driving Assistance Systems – I now suspect those acronyms are a device to beat word-counts).

Over the short Christmas break, I headed to the in-laws in Sydney. At Bondi Icebergs bathing pools, I realised I had begun to integrate the EMBA content, as my fellow lap swimmers became a metaphor for competitive advantage. One well-aged Iceberg swimmer, who has swum for decades without a wetsuit, moves out of the mainstream to carve his own niche in a side lane. The MAMIL (‘Middle-Aged Man In Lycra’) then emerges as the dominant incumbent, powering up and down the pool in front crawl, competing at speed. New entrants with ‘Ironman’ caps and waxed chests signal their emergent prowess – you have to be bold to enter their lane. Others extend the technological frontier with hand-paddles and flippers. With aspirations to swim the bay, I needed coaching in new techniques to cope with the surf conditions.

What is Icebergs’ business? Swimming, the original core proposition, draws a key customer segment from the community. But in the summer months, the tourists arrive – intent on snapping their requisite selfie at the famous pool boost gate receipts. Yoga, gym, a cafe, massage and swimming school provide additional revenue streams. The pool entry price is a modest $7, whereas a poolside soy flat white will set you back $5 – a significant cross-sell.

The EMBA is creating the space and honing the skills to sharpen my professional competitive advantage. A career break for kids and the dive-in confidence that comes with taking time out, tempted me to compete on cost. Early discussions with the Careers Teams refracted my past experience through a new prism, revealing a consistent theme: innovation of commercial roles in organisations and industries points of change. A theme that will be explored further at the Achieving your Potential retreat.

What of Cass’s competitive advantage, then? Consistent performance in the MBA rankings is reassuring. When I applied, the real pull for me was the proximity of the campus and faculty to the City of London. The Cass faculty regularly work with industry, so discussions are always current and the Cass brand well-respected externally.  Those lecturers we met in the first term prioritised dialogue and debate. Time to catch my breath before the next wave of revision!

#LeadingTheAdventure

Hannah Gilbert
Executive MBA (2020)

 

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