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)

 

A ki(Cass) MBA!

Everyone is at some stage of their journey – they are either beginning a new chapter, ending one or going through the climax of theirs. For some, it could be a mixture of all these.

After having worked in the travel industry – yes, Cass MBA has a very diverse set of students, ranging from backgrounds in baking to dentistry – for a few years, I jumped ship to apply for the MBA in search of a fresh challenge. With Block 2 about to finish, I can safely say that the experience has been nothing less than eye-opening, sometimes jaw-dropping and a little nerve-wracking.

As we near our first lengthy break, you can start to see the changes the full-time MBA has already made in a short span of three months. Self-awareness would be one aspect of the immersive experience, where you get time not only to reflect on who you are but what you want to be.

Realising where you are and where you want to be

The programme will challenge you to step out of your comfort zone, but it does so in a way that makes you less frightened and more excited by the opportunity. It is competitive, but in a collaborative way. It can become stressful, but not in an unhealthy manner.

Presentations at the end of Block 1 are more likely to reveal to you how you work under pressure – trust me, it is very different compared to how you normally perform day-to-day tasks – and how collaborative you will be with your peers in stressful situations.

When there are huge stakes involved or when it concerns other people, I can be a bit scared of taking responsibility, which is understandable since I have never been in an outright leadership role in my professional career. But this is where Cass has been amazing. It lets you adapt and experiment. It lets you focus on what you want, but also enables learning in areas you thought were beyond you.

An example would be the presentations during the integration week. I preferred working in the shadows, stepping back from presenting in front of 70 people. However, what it taught me was that here is where I could experiment and learn in a safe environment. Hence, I was more than willing to take on the challenge when it was presented to me again in Block 2. I never realised that I would change so soon. But the drive was building up and went into full throttle as the transition began.

With my risk-taking and confidence moving in the right direction, I was selected as President of the Women in Business Society as I looked to focus on extracurricular activities as well as use the platform to expand my network and take on a leadership role for the first time.

At the same time, the programme is designed in a balanced fashion. It lets you experiment and is highly rewarding, but doesn’t let you get too comfortable either. While we may choose friends in our lives and who we hang out with at work, team members are often assigned. At Cass, you will be assigned to a group, to function and work on deliverables. It may need getting used to since there will be no outright leaders although everyone would be trying to make a mark one inch at a time.

As dynamics work out, and you feel settled, Block 3 and 4 will present themselves to ensure you stay on your toes. The change helps you increase your adaptability while ensuring that productivity doesn’t take a hit.

Courses and the revelations

During the immersive integration week, studying individual companies and the problems they face takes you back when the course Organisational Behaviour was being taught. During the lectures you may feel you know quite a bit about the topics before you realise that major companies are often faced with the same issues. Why, then, are such topics and issues not treated with respect?

This course was one such step into the realms of cruel truths that one takes for granted. Lectures and personal reflections throughout those 16 hours were interactive and taught more about engagements at work than years of experience would. This is why an interactive course was much more important than just a theoretic one and Cass ensured it was delivered that way.

Why Cass is highly ranked

One particular trait of a good graduate programme is how it helps you gather more self-awareness and, in my case, workshops on different skills taught me more about my strengths and weaknesses than long-time friends and family members would have.

For example, I know I immerse myself in self-doubt and this causes me to be short of confidence. The situation is made worse when I do not get feedback, which is often the case in academics and everyday life. However, the experience at Sandhurst, where we engaged in physical exercises to achieve common goals as a team, taught me the importance of self-reflection and it did wonders for my peace of mind, even as the body ached.

While I have always thought of myself as a good follower, the experience also taught me more than a thing or two about my leadership abilities – a path I want to work on for future career progression. My team members showed confidence in my abilities even when I didn’t. This helped to combat my self-doubt.

The future path

It may sound daunting and challenging as I type it, but I want to be able to build productive teams and successful products. My aim is to harness potential and create products that are innovative and make a positive impact – yes, I am aiming for a career in product management.

I hope that I can work towards inclusion in the workplace as well as the gender balance cause.

While I may have said that I ‘think’ a few weeks ago, I can now safely say that I know I am on the right track in developing my interpersonal skills, while gaining technical knowledge related to my field of interest during the electives and my BMP.

The MBA programme is inspiring and engaging, to say the least. It lets you go beyond your boundaries – something that limits us all our lives before we discover that we can push ourselves.

Lina Rahmanian,

Full-time MBA (2019)

You will NEVER think the same way again

‘Tis the season of winter warmers, twinkly lights and Strategic Leadership on Cass Business School’s Executive MBA (EMBA) programme.

As I sat in a coffee shop, sipping my Choca-mocha-glitter latte ― the trendy hot drink this season ― with my fluorescent highlighter to hand, I began to read the case study for my next class with Professor Novelli.

The cold Cola war

Reflecting on last week’s case study, there was more to the Pepsi and Coca Cola war than I’d first thought.  The analysis, the controversies – it  astounded my brain cells! Most importantly, it undermined my conviction that there was a difference in taste between the two drinks – a bubble-bursting moment! Oh, how I was learning new things at every moment on this EMBA!

As my mince pie was served, I pondered what had compelled me to spend nearly £10 on a fancy-pants latte and mince pie. Was it the experience of sitting in a cosy chair, of having a place to read? The quick customer service? Or the brand?

As I continued sipping away at this costly warmth, I noticed this coffee shop had a new layout. The counter was now split into two sections. Now there was a Click-and-Collect service for coffee― how millennial! I was reminded of Dr. Kocabasoglu-Hillmer’s Operations Management class. Responding to consumer trends is key to business and this coffee shop had clearly adapted to changing market trends. Customers no longer tolerate waiting in long queues, so now they just download an app, place their orders, pay online, walk in and collect: ingenious!

I was intrigued, also, by how they forecast their inventory. They were selling many Christmas delights, so what effect did these new additions have on the supply chain? How did they source their coffee beans? Was the company sustainable for the next 10 years? What was their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policies? All these questions were buzzing around, so I Googled whilst munching the mince pie.

Later, as Michael Bublé greatest hits came to an end, I took my final sip and concluded my reading of the case study. I prepared to go to class, looking forward to seeing my cohort.

Coolest cohort

At present, we are forming friendships, enjoy debating in class, and the plurality of characters and characters and backgrounds is stimulating. Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies: whether it’s the chocolate rice cake connoisseur, the skateboarding CEO, the passionate Greek or the cyclists with their love of sushi and pension funds. We learn from each other’s interests, heritage and worldviews. An MBA is not easy; sometimes you can feel overwhelmed. But with mutual support and such a wealth of viewpoints, hardly any challenge feels truly insurmountable.

In Professor Novelli’s class, as I waited for my lecture to begin, I reflected that a few months into the MBA. It was evident that my studies were already paying-off. After taking my place in that coffee shop, I realised that my entire outlook on the world had now changed.

Nushma Malik
Executive MBA (2020)

Going beyond theory: Putting my Cass MBA into practice

A trip to the library is a very good way to learn different theories about one field. On an MBA, this is magnified as myriad fields are studied in a very short span of time. In the blink of an eye, you have finished three modules and you have a new set of tools at your disposal.

The bad thing about theory? It is quickly forgotten if it’s not put into practice immediately. That’s why you should make any reasonable effort (and more) to apply the theory you learnt to your day-to-day work. It will not only reinforce the concepts you’ve learnt, it will help you deepen your knowledge in the areas you are interested in and provide immediate returns in your career.

A good way to exercise this is to identify existing problems in your work and apply what you’ve learnt to solve them, or at least to flag the problems and propose a course of action. This proactive approach is always welcomed from companies (and most welcome if you work for yourself) as it shows your willingness to take the lead in improving the area you are effecting.

Managing change

At work, I am experiencing first-hand a transformation process of an R&D-focused, fast-paced startup becoming a commercially ready engineering company capable of fulfilling moderate to big orders from utilities.

Before starting the MBA, this process might have looked scary to me, but I now understand what I should look for during this transition, how to anticipate foreseeable problems and be prepared to step in when required.

Applying the concepts learnt in Organisational Behaviour and Operational Management, I can help the company in its course to establish a robust supply chain to process the customers’ orders and shape the organisational culture moving forward.

Establishing the supply chain proved to be an easier process in the sense that it is driven by qualitative comparison of different partners, although establishing the criteria to be applied is key for a swift, overall process. Understanding concepts like reducing waste in the processes, establishing a Corporate Social Responsibility framework and Just-In-Time manufacturing helped us approach this task with a very clear idea of what the outcome should be and be confident in the result that will be obtain.

Overcoming resistance

Created as an engineering startup, the recruitment efforts (so far) had been focused on boarding people capable of working with minimal supervision, with a high degree of creativity and flexibility to react to changes in the environment.

Transitioning into a fully-fledged engineering company able to serve orders of thousands of units to utilities in a highly-regulated market presents several problems apart from the mere logistics and certifications. Typically people that thrive in an R&D setup are not equally fitted to working to tight-deadlines, deterministic, streamlined mode that is normally required to fulfil medium volume orders.

The transition period is the most delicate. Hiring enough personnel to create a completely new division to handle the operations – while the original team remain focused on R&D – is not really an option until the orders are received and cash flows generated.

Keeping balance

This limitation forces us to divert the existent resources into these new tasks, which are more tedious, and the current workforce feels less motivated to work on them. Balancing these tasks and R&D activities is important so as to keep morale high while attaining targets. In the longer term, there will be hires to carry out the bulk of the delivery and support activities, but for the next few months we will be busy keeping the current staff able and willing to perform these tasks.

Organisational Behaviour is a major enabler to understand the psychology and team dynamics. It doesn’t provide you with a universal recipe to handle all (or any) situations; rather, it opens your mind to better analyse each situation and know what the different theories say about them and what the pitfalls are, so you can be prepared to react if something doesn’t work as you expected. It did make a huge difference for me when I had to face these issues.

Alberto Perez Sanchez
Executive MBA (2020)

A top-tier Block One experience: Baking to learn strategy

Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s Block One – finished! I am still asking myself: “Where did the time go?”. We all put in a lot of hard work studying, but it is not only about the academics, there have been many skills to learn along the way, and the Cass Full-time MBA has a few unexpected ways of teaching those skills to us …

1. The Great Cass MBA Bake Off

For our Strategy module, we step outside the classroom for a baking competition. Yes, you read that correctly. We have been given all the ingredients, now it’s up to us to put them together and make something from them.

This is the general idea at least. In practice, we are given too many of some ingredients, too few of others, and no recipe. We can seek advice from others, including a professional (though we would need to sacrifice some ingredients in exchange), and we can try to find additional ingredients and barter with the other teams.

An hour is a very long time to prepare a cake batter usually, but it feels much shorter when you do not know how to do it. So, this is where the skills come in, assessing what we need to do and how we can go about solving it.

We have:

  • Various ingredients, including lots of raisins;
  • Some vague memories of watching the Great British Bake Off – Cake Week;
  • Even more vague memories of watching family members bake cakes;
  • Seven people determined to bake the best cake Cass has ever seen.

I think it was the last asset that made the biggest difference. However, using all of these we worked out what type of cake we thought we could bake, what ingredients we didn’t need, what ingredients we did need and how to acquire the missing ingredients. There was just one thing missing – we weren’t 100% sure how much we needed of each ingredient, though we were sure it needed to be precise.

A key skill in teamwork is identifying expertise, and if you don’t have it within the team, seeking it out. We worked out the most valuable question we could ask, gathered up our spare ingredients to pay with, and spoke to the baking professional. Her guidance on quantities was the final piece of the puzzle. The team rallied together, furiously mixing ingredients, and writing out baking and decorating instructions.

 

I don’t know if Paul Hollywood would have given us a handshake, but happily our vision for a spiced fruit cake worked in the eyes of the judges.

2. Integration Week

We have been given all the ingredients, now it’s up to us to put them together and make something from them.

Hold on … I think I’ve heard that before … it sounds so familiar.  And it is. Except that instead of flour, sugar and raisins, we had Strategy, Accounting and Organisational Behaviour.  The team is given a consulting-style question on Monday and have to present the solution on Friday, using the knowledge learnt in the modules in Block One.  So, by the time the details have all been confirmed, we have three and a half days to identify the problems (there is never just one!), come up with options, pick one option as the ideal solution, explain how to implement it and its effects, and present.

The techniques to successfully complete this challenge were not so different from the Great Cass MBA Bake Off.  We had already picked our team coordinator (we choose a different team member for each project), and in the course of our research it quickly became clear which topic each team member would specialise in.

We came up with a plan, always making sure we were answering the key questions, challenging each other the whole time, so that when we presented, we could be confident and know that we could answer almost any question asked by our professors because we had asked it of ourselves.

3. Sandhurst

After Integration Week we all need a bit of fresh air and activity, which was ideal as we were off to The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for three days. We were put into new teams and given new challenges, focusing on teamwork and leadership.

Understanding where the skills of our team lie was crucial during every challenge. Some of the challenges were practical, hands-on challenges, so it was the team members with good hand-eye coordination and balance, or strength and speed, who led us successfully completing all the challenges.  Some of the challenges were problem-solving, so our team members who could riddle out a puzzle led the way there.

But then of course there were the challenges that involved both the mental and the physical. On our last day we had a race, a bit like a mini-assault course. It poured with rain the whole time, but I have to say, the rain made it all the more enjoyable! The challenges round the course required us first to work out how to do it (cue puzzle team members) and then actually do it (cue hands-on team members).

One of the challenges was moving a ‘Tower of Hanoi’ – simply put, you have a tower of pots on top of each other, getting smaller as it goes up, and you need to move the tower from one spot to another. However, there are only three spots you can place a pot, you can only move one pot at a time, and a big pot cannot go on top of a small pot. A member of our team had seen this puzzle before, so with their guidance on what to move where and when, the other members formed a tag-team, sprinting in and out moving the pots one by one, so as soon as one person got back, the next person was off! The whole team pulling together.

I think the ‘Before and After’ photos for our time at Sandhurst speak for themselves.  In the ‘After’ photo, we may be muddy, soaking and exhausted, but we are wearing smiles even bigger than the ones in the ‘Before’ photo.  I expect this transformation will not be unique to Sandhurst during our MBA.

Rhiannon Ludlow
Full-time MBA (2019)

From Wardroom to Boardroom – Lessons in Leadership

“CEOs exist to LEAD, not MANAGE Companies”. Such words couldn’t have rung truer during the recent Cass Business School MBA strategy lecture with guest speaker Mr. Federico Minoli.

The former Chief Executive Officer of the esteemed motorcycle brand, Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A – Mr. Minoli played a decisive role in steering the company from the brink of bankruptcy to setting the foundation for Ducati to enjoy sustained, superior growth in 2001.

Key facets of Mr. Minoli’s management doctrine include, but are not limited to, leading with passion, a strong focus on research and innovation, along with an indomitable spirit to continually challenge existing paradigms. However, the key message of this briefing was that an organisation’s external growth is predicated on the fostering of a strong, unique company culture first.

Introducing General Holland Smith 

True to the overall Cass  ‘Leading the Adventure’ slogan, Mr. Minoli’s message and his leadership style recalls me to the four year contract I recently served as an officer in the US Navy.

As a veteran making the transition from the ‘Wardroom to the Boardroom’, Mr. Minoli’s experience and his message to the Cass MBA class shares various aspects with the leadership lessons of General Holland Smith.

General Smith

General Smith is revered in the Marine Corps as the ‘Father of Amphibious Warfare’ – bringing the US Marine Corps its own unique identity in the face of change and uncertainty during the Second World War.

General Smith grew as a passionate and committed leader within the ranks of the Marine Corps, during a time when the US Armed Forces were dominated by the ‘flag ranks’ of both the US Navy and the US Army.

These in turn viewed the US Marine Corps as a secondary, subordinate branch. General Smith challenged this subordination of the Marine Corps through not only his relentless advocacy for marines to lead amphibious assaults on foreign shores – but also through his strong demeanour, wherein he fostered a culture of intensity, motivation and camaraderie among the marines he led.

Whilst this aggressive advocacy and ‘unconventional’ strategy ruffled many feathers within the senior ranks of the navy and the army, these traits won General Smith the blessing of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz to create an ‘Amphibious Corps’.

This in turn helped the Marine Corps grow into a military branch of its own – with its own distinct leadership and organisational culture that in turn is centred on an overall strategy of taking any fight to the shores of enemy nations.

Although marines in modern America come from all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures – they distinguish themselves every day through a commitment to the mission of the Marine Corps and a fierce loyalty to their brothers and sisters in arms.

Ducati’s ‘turnaround’ artist 

Similarly, Mr. Federico Minoli turned Ducati from a brand on the brink of bankruptcy within the motorcycle industry into a key player, with approximately ten per cent of the global market share at the time he left Ducati.

Whilst Ducati as a company was never lacking a strong product, the company in the past did not properly develop the brand image. Mr. Minoli decisively changed this for the better through the introduction of his ‘tribal’ company culture. Mr. Minoli envisioned the product of his company – the Ducati motorbikes as a ‘totem’, which would unite all the company’s customers through their loyalty to the Ducati motorbike.

Similar to the culture fostered in the US Marine Corps through General Smith – members of the Ducati ‘tribe’ come from all cultures and backgrounds, but are united in their passion for Ducati’s unique motorcycles.

These ‘tribal’ changes extended to the management ranks of Ducati – wherein motivation and a passionate commitment to the Ducati brand became traits that were screened in the hiring of potential managers.

This change in the management culture not only created a fierce loyalty to the company, but also empowered managers to serve as catalysts for positive change within Ducati. This in turn empowered employees of all ranks to work to become a part of something bigger than themselves.

Mr. Minoli’s strategy enabled Ducati to maintain its brand identity after it was acquired by Volkswagen Group in 2012. Despite being considered as an ‘underperforming’ brand by the company and talks of sale following Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal in 2015, Ducati has successfully proved its resilience to forced external changes through the strength of the ‘Tribal’ culture developed by Mr. Minoli.

This overall message of building a strong internal culture in order to grow an organisation is not a novel, nor a groundbreaking concept in the context of an MBA education.

However, as MBA students at Cass Business School, the examples and the legacies of both these outstanding leaders will continue to inspire my classmates and me to be catalysts of positive change as we enter the business world as leaders.

Written By: Oliver Yogananthan
Edited By: Bilal Ahmad, Nathan Griffiths, Cai Ling Soh and Tom Wooltorton.

Submitted on behalf of the Cass Full-time MBA class of 2018

Cass MBAs consulting in Colombia

There’s an old adage which goes something along the lines of ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.

For the past year I’ve felt a little bit like said above. Drastic life changes, meeting new people, learning things which have little relevance to old Claire etc etc. It’s almost like undergrad, but on a different planet where everyone speaks using interpretive (and extremely cool) dance.

The International Consultancy Week was a chance to showcase everything we’ve learnt for the past year. As its name would suggest, it’s a week where we worked on a business strategy project within a diverse range of industries, designing solutions for business development issue.

It was essentially going to be a week of hell, with the addition of a small holiday on the back. In Colombia. In their winter.

The cohort were divided into groups which were pre-auctioned, and I managed to land the most awesome group consisting of Lizzy, Kylie, Dipen and Pascal. Our company were a ‘small’ coffee producing company called Cafetal De La Trinidad (CDLT), who were looking to access the international market post ‘Colombian crisis’. Previously, CDLT were one of the largest producers in Colombia, dating back to the early 1900s. After a hiatus, they were back in the market with their first harvest of high quality coffee due in August. Our duty was to offer advice and consultant them on the international market.

Anna and Alejandro have to be two of the most impressive, persistent and slightly mental people I have ever met. With over 400 hectares of land, the farm has an undeniable spread of lush landscape and potential. Their plan is simple; producing high quality coffee using the very best techniques. As an aside, do you know how much WORK it takes to create a simple cup of coffee?

Here are 10 steps for all us novices out there:

  • 1) Plant coffee tree/s in vast amounts.
  • 2) Pray for rain (or wait on a horse–and preferably not being eaten by said horse)
  • 3) Wait for two years (preferably here, in a comfortable hammock).
  • 4) Pick berries.
  • 5) Depulp in big machine.
  • 6) Do some technical stuff.
  • 7) Wait some more time whilst beans dry.
  • 8) Do some more technical stuff.
  • 9) Pray again (pose for pictures)
  • 10) Celebrate your first green bean harvest!

 

(There are quite a few more steps before, during and after this, but those are semantics)

Another thing no one actually tells you in business school is how incredibly hard it is stepping outside of your comfort zone. Everyone may have their own specialist remit, but when you’re trying to consult to people who have been in their industry for years – you have a large chance of getting caught out pretty quickly. Which is why it’s incredibly important that the clients you acquire have the graciousness to accept your views and thoughts. That shows business and human acumen.

And to pay homage to my fellow ICW’ers: here are a few shout outs that I must mention:

Laura – thank you for putting up with me #RoomieFromHeaven

Adam – Hope you saw a GP back in London.

Pascal – thank you for being my spirit animal.

Greg – #RunRussianHorsieRun.

Ola AKA David Bailey #ThankYou.

For everyone who came to ICW (and I’m sorry I didn’t mention you all – I ran out of word count) – thanks for being awesome; you really are and you really were all the best memories I have.

And for those of you who didn’t come, here are some pictures for you to enjoy!

  • Saturday: Long day...
  • Saturday: Long night...
  • Sunday: Started by praying for a good week...
  • Followed by a tour
  • You can take the man out of Malaysia...

 

Claire Georgeson
Executive MBA (2019)

 

Why I went back to school (and chose the Cass MBA)

My long-term professional goal is to become the CEO of a large financial institution. For that reason, I spent some time researching common traits leaders possess that have climbed up the corporate ladder.

I found that they are all driven, hardworking people that have persevered throughout adversity but the commonality that truly stood out, is that at some point of their lives they all made a decision that transformed the course of their careers.

I knew that I shared these traits with them; however, I was yet to take that life-changing step that would put me on track to fulfil my ambitions. Doing an Executive MBA was that next life-changing step to take, so here I am, on track and ready to squeeze every opportunity on my way up.

My journey before Cass

My name is Natalia Lopez and my dream has not always been to score that top job in the banking industry. In fact, I left school in Spain without qualifications and, having landed in the UK without speaking a word of English, the minimum wage was the first thing that I learnt in this country.

Today I am part of the FX trade technology team at a global custodian bank in Canary Wharf. Given a set of requirements, I configure clients to trade FX products across a number of platforms, carry out test trades and ensure the system architecture is correctly set up to allow the flows.

So, you might be wondering how did I end up having such a cool job in an expanding industry and, more importantly; why is it that I would like to become a CEO? I will reveal all in the next post.

Having obtained an Economics degree from City, University of London, and mentoring for the University, I have worked closely with Cass Business School students for three years. This meant I have been aware of the School’s great reputation for a long time; therefore, I decided to attend MBA related events to explore their programmes (on a side note, this is something I highly recommend if you are thinking of applying for a programme).

First day jitters

I have to be honest though, even after accepting my offer I still felt a bit nervous when I was on my way to the recruitment events. But after five minutes of interacting with the incredible bunch of people that makes up my cohort, I was certain I was in the right place. Have you ever had that feeling? It is great.

During the first week, we were allocated into teams that we would be doing projects with. Sally, Saj, Gemma, Ahmed, Mike, Guillaume and I are Team Cook. We come from different backgrounds which is perfect as each one of us brings something different to the table. We have only been working together for a few weeks but I already know we are going to smash it through the next teaching block.

That is us having a great time at the welcome dinner. I am on the second right 😊

The day after the welcome dinner, we had a masterclass on mind mapping and speed reading. I took this as a hint of the workload we will be given! In only a couple of weeks I have already attended a two-day workshop on presentation skills and another on executive presence (to be continued), both of an excellent quality. So far, I have signed up for Insights into Leadership and the Executive Media workshops, which I am looking forward to it!

I wonder how I will feel when I read back to this blog in two years’ time. At the moment, all I know is that it is going to be a very exciting time in my life and I am going to enjoy every moment of it.

Executive MBA (2020)

OMG it’s been over two months since I started my Executive MBA

OMG it’s been over two month already…

The week long Executive MBA induction started off with having our photos taken, doing workshops that introduced and taught us a great many tips on how to survive the upcoming year, sitting in on an executive presence workshop, nicely rounded off with an induction dinner at the impressive Bleeding Heart restaurant. Oh and let’s not forget Sunday morning’s workshop on mind-mapping.

It was already the start of week two and I needed sleep, a week’s worth of laundry was waiting and I needed a hot dinner that was not a Pret A Manger sandwich.

Here I was thinking I was only committing my part-time MBA to two days a week, but it felt far more than that. A realisation hit me; this was the lifestyle change I had heard about, one that I had expected but wasn’t quite prepared for.

Organisation is key!

Week two started off with our Organisational Behaviour module, taught by Queens Park Ranger supporter Professor Cliff Oswick. The dynamic and captivating Professor brought to life the human and competitive nature of teams and the likelihood of dating Leornado Dicaprio via Vroom’s expectancy theory.

On week three we had our Accountancy and Finance lecture, and for the accountants amongst the cohort, it definitely seemed like telling them to ‘suck eggs’. But for the majority, it was the stretch that they had warned us about; this one was the down dog you would do in yoga – rather painful at first but you knew it had its benefits.

By week four my cohort was beginning to look like one big happy family – hanging out at the coffee station during the 20 minute break where the canteen offered hot dinners. But it wasn’t all frivolous chatter; we already had coursework on the horizon.

One thing for sure is, while working your day job and doing the Executive MBA, you are definitely challenged in a way you never would have thought. It’s one of those challenges you want to overcome with a big smile on your face.

Why I hear you ask? Because you eagerly want to learn from one of the UK’s best business schools that will nourish you and equip you with a skill set needed to reach your goals. You are among a diverse range of people selected from different fields and walks of life, all coming together like a fruit salad. Individual, colourful and some fruitier than others – but that’s what’s so wonderful about the Executive MBA.

Nushma Malik
Executive MBA (2020)

What to expect on your first month of the Cass Executive MBA

 

This September it really was back to school.  A new satchel, calculator and some weighty textbooks proved useful accessories to distract from the natural apprehension of meeting new classmates. A round of 60 second introductions only whet my appetite to find out more about my forty-five or so fellow passengers on this much-anticipated journey.

Time is tightly scheduled from the beginning on the Cass Executive MBA (EMBA). The whole induction journey has been well choreographed.  It is no accident that a personal development workshop and Organisational Behaviour module are timetabled upfront to ensure study groups bond quickly.

The first professional development workshop built on a pre-course question to identify our strengths. Strengths are defined as the underlying qualities that energise us, and that we either excel at, or have the potential to excel.

These strengths may overlap with technical skills, but also recognise that you may not always thrive on your technical competencies. You may have the capacity to be detail orientated, though it could be nurturing external relationships that puts the spring in your step.

Awareness of our strengths helps to manage performance and helps team-mates spot warning signs of strengths tipping into overdrive. For example, an overwhelming focus on future scenarios and a strategic perspective could mean current realities are overlooked.  Sharing this snapshot with our new study buddies was an effective ice breaker!

The lectures that followed on team dynamics, motivation and leadership provided a rich theoretical framework to reflect on our respective team roles. Belbin’s theory describes nine team roles clustered under three headings: action; social or thinking roles.

Overlaying our Belbin scores onto Strengthscope scores and patterns started to form; a Monitor-Evaluator carefully noting scores in the Excel spreadsheet; a Shaper encouraging those who had missed a session to find out their scores; a Plant seeing the patterns between the two reports; and an early warning that we are short on Completer-Finishers!  Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, the popular personality test completed the trio of ‘type’ tests.

Early on we were invited to suggest a collective noun for a group of MBA students. The winning entry was a ‘muscle of MBAs’.  It is already evident embarking on the Cass EMBA is going to require a lot of heavy lifting in terms of textbooks, time and commitment.

It is clear the motivation for many is not the extrinsic reward (Herzberg’s theory of motivation) of a higher salary or corporate sponsorship but intrinsic drivers of personal growth and accomplishment. The textbook example of intrinsic reward is a mountaineer which is fitting as we have heard how Cass aims to cultivate an explorer’s mindset: there is even a Cass MBA Expeditionary Society.

Our cohort reflects a spirit of enquiry and respectful challenge. Executive presence sessions working in small groups and one-to-one provided immediate feedback on how I show up. It also provoked early reflections on what leadership looks like, and could look like for me.

When people ask me why I wanted to do an MBA, I explain it is to kick start my career after working part-time while my daughters were young. It is also an opportunity to brush up on technical skills; Accounting and Financial Reporting is underway. More than that, embracing the spirit of adventure and trusting in the process – I am ready to explore how I can reach my best potential.

The alchemy – in the truest sense of the word – has already begun.

Executive MBA (2020)

 

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