Category: Executive MBA (page 1 of 3)

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)

 

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)

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)

 

Driving social impact with a Cass MBA– here’s to embracing the ‘unconventional’

‘Don’t be intimidated by conventional ideas.’

Those were the words of our Course Director at our Cass Business School Executive MBA induction dinner.

There’s one conventional idea that I’ve found particularly hard to swallow: the primary purpose of business is to make profit.

Sometimes this narrative is explicit and direct, and sometimes it’s more subtle or nuanced. But it’s lurking. So it’s promising to see Cass starting to take steps to bring it into the limelight for some critical reflection.

Of course profit is essential for business sustainability. Businesses require capital to grow. Raising capital requires investors and investors require returns. That puts investors (and the profit needed to deliver the required rate of return) in the driving seat.  So yes, profit is essential for business sustainability. But profit no matter what?

The problem is not profit per se. The problem is profit as an end in itself, and the bigger problem is the pursuit of profit with disregard for the impact it has in reinforcing our social challenges and systems of inequality (or ‘negative externalities’ in economic terms).

The issue is how profit is made and how profit is used.

I’m not talking about isolated instances of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), ‘ethical duties’, greenwashing or developing morally conscious branding campaigns to appeal to millennials (while in the background the fundamental nature of the core business continues to have negative impacts on society). I’m not talking about being pressured to respond to a heightened awareness in popular culture of environmental and social issues in order to attract staff and customers (and therefore make more profit). I’m talking about building social purpose into the heart of business: elevating social goals to a strategic level, from ‘bolt on’ to ‘built in’.

This is of course already reflected in an array of existing business models in the ‘fourth sector’ like social enterprises, benefit corporations, community businesses, cooperatives and models of community ownership, which are growing in the UK and around the world. These alternative structures are part of the vision of a ‘social economy’, and there are forms of both debt and equity finance cropping up to support them, like social investment and community shares.

The problem is, these alternative models upset the neoliberal, capitalist apple cart that our current economic system is based on.

As our economics textbook put it: the ‘clear risk’ in governments becoming shareholders of banks following the financial crisis is that they could direct banks to prioritise social objectives over commercial ones. How outrageous!

Critical theory would have us ask: why are things the way they are, and whose interest does that serve?

Traditionally the corporate sector is paid enormous executive salaries and bonuses to deliver profits to shareholders, which works as a beautiful self-reinforcing cycle allowing the wealthy at the top to become wealthier.

Meanwhile, 14.3 million people live in poverty* in this country– that’s 22 per cent or one in five.

One. In. Five.

Sixty per cent of those people are in in-work poverty (they remain in poverty even while working). Is it just me that finds that profoundly shocking and completely unacceptable? Never mind the housing crisis, the environmental crisis … this list goes on. These aren’t faceless ‘negative externalities’. They are real people. Real lives.

Most people start with government and the welfare system as the solution to social challenges, but while there are many opportunities for change in Westminster, the government only controls around 40 per cent of GDP. The rest is in the hands of business, and it’s our interactions with business that dominate our day to day experience.

There are positive signs of a shift in conventional thinking. Blackrock’s recent letter called ‘A Sense of Purpose’ said that ‘companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including the communities in which they operate’. In a similar vein, Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends survey showed that businesses are no longer measured solely on their financial performance but on the support they give to the communities in which they operate and their impact on society as a whole.

There is indeed much businesses can do to realign spending priorities away from bonuses and dividends to shareholders already firmly within the 1 per cent. For example they could: increase wages for their lowest paid staff, reduce prices so more people can afford their services, offer apprenticeships, cap the wages and bonuses of executives, procure from social businesses in supply chains, abolish zero hour contracts, and create affordable childcare for working parents.

Of course none of those suggestions come without complex trade-offs, but many of these options can generate a win-win. Take Michael Porter’s concept of shared value, where, for example, supporting marginalised communities to produce coffee beans on fair wages generates a sustainable and affordable supply chain for a coffee company while lifting a whole community out of poverty.

Two of my classmates recently asked me for ideas on how they could support charities, specifically disadvantaged children, and it got me thinking about we can do at Cass as students and faculty.

One of the reasons I applied for the MBA was to bring the principles of good business into the third sector and share them with the network of 600 community businesses we support at Locality.

Because the third sector has an unfortunate ‘conventional idea’ of its own – that business is greedy, uncaring and often corrupt. I’ve heard many a snide comment about ‘people in suits’, some of which were very justified and others which were simply a regurgitation of an accepted narrative without reflection. There is work to do to change the perception of business from a self-interested vehicle for free market capitalism to an agent for change.

But importantly, the education process can also work in reverse. We need to bring the social principles from the third sector into the world of business.

Because there are indeed things that business can learn from the third sector. Doing good and doing business can in fact be intrinsically interlinked. It doesn’t have to be either/or, it can be both/and.

What would happen if we removed the separation between ‘business’ and ‘not-for-profit’ and explored the grey space in between? As the Director of the Community Shares Company said: ‘the economy is not simply made up of charities and hard-nosed capitalists’.

The ‘social sector’ doesn’t have to exist in some kind of parallel universe far away from the world of business with the only bridge being CSR initiatives. CSR (done genuinely and well) is great, but there’s no net benefit in a business giving a cash hand-out to a food bank when it doesn’t pay its staff the London Living Wage; or a bunch of corporate volunteers from a bank going to paint a fence when the interest rates they’re charging on the charity’s loan means the charity can’t afford to hire a painter; or a confectionery company that sponsors a children’s charity when it’s core products increase childhood obesity.

In fact, this only reinforces and embeds the structural causes of our social challenges. It also keeps the third sector small – Dan Pallotta’s Ted Talk sums this up well.

The business models that foreground social impact need to be discussed and explored not just in third sector echo chambers, but in business schools. Not only to create new start-ups, but to adapt and transform current business models to build in genuine social purpose and explore what responsible business looks like in practice – to improve people’s lives and make profit.

(Needless to say I was thrilled to see a whole lecture dedicated to social business in our corporate strategy module!)

As MBA students, we can ask why things are the way they are, what can be changed, and how this can be done.

Rather than abdicating responsibility for business’ contribution to social challenges Milton Freedman style, or seeing the solution as a hand-out to charity, we can look inside our businesses to create more fundamental change.

We can challenge the conventional idea that profit is an end in itself. We can grapple with the complexities of realigning business models to include social outcomes. Then we can get to work in changing our own organisations to start giving business a genuinely deserved reputation as an agent for positive change.

Cheers to that!

*Living in poverty is defined as having ‘relative low income’, that is, people living in households with income below 60 per cent of the median in that year, after housing costs.

Tara Anderson
Executive MBA (2019)

 

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