Category: Modular Executive MBA (page 1 of 3)

An explorer of ideas: from a PhD to an MBA

I have been a life-long student, with an extensive academic career in a lab and a few degrees to my name.

My passion for learning and my ceaseless curiosity has taken me to a variety of places both geographically and professionally. Soon after graduating, as a result of a serendipitous opportunity, I took a job at the California State Senate Committee for Natural Resources and Water. Which, let’s say, is not the standard path for a PhD in Biomedical Sciences with expertise in genetics and metabolic syndromes… But that odd career move that really sums up my career and my thirst for knowledge.

Induction day: meeting my cohort

I am an explorer of ideas, always willing to try completely new things and never afraid to put myself in situations where I need to very quickly become proficient in an entirely new subject area. I now find myself in London, where I currently work with strategy and Smart Cities – can you see the pattern? – and I realize that the fire to learn more and to explore new opportunities has not yet been extinguished.

I have been interested in studying an MBA since finishing my PhD in Biomedical Sciences. However, it wasn’t until the stars aligned that I had the courage to embark on this new two-year journey. I realized that I was growing complacent and needed to find a way to challenge myself again. My hope for the Executive MBA is to unlock greater career opportunities, enhance skills I developed empirically and provide me with a solid foundation to help guide me in whichever direction my interests take me next.

I found in Cass a school which not only accepts my unconventional academic and professional background, but proudly embraces it. Moreover, the Cass philosophy is similar to mine and people here truly believe in lifelong learning, which is something close to my heart.

My Executive MBA has just begun. I am incredibly happy with my cohort and am impressed with the high caliber of the lecturers. They are not only knowledgeable, but also have been able to make the eight-hour marathon sessions we have on weekends dynamic and enjoyable.

First Careers Beers networking event

Although the MBA is a time when one needs to balance coursework, lectures, and personal life, my cohort bonded immediately. We take advantage of the amazing networking opportunities and social gatherings the school organizes. Having an environment and a school that is so supportive and encourages these social interactions is ideal for networking, which is another one of my reasons for selecting Cass.

I don’t know what to expect next in my career, but I feel there is enough gas left in the tank to propel me again into new challenges and exciting situations. I know this MBA will lay down the business foundations I desire to acquire. Studying at Cass will guide me towards the skills I’ll need to once again set sail in my lifelong journey of personal development and fulfilment.

Leonardo G. Alves, PhD

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)

 

 

 

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

You can survive an Executive MBA. Here’s how.

It was with excitement and trepidation that I started my first Modular Executive MBA weekend in April.

The induction weekend the month before had given me a good taster of what was to come and my cohort was split into groups ready for the teamwork required ahead.

Four months on and I can’t quite believe that we’ve finished our first block of lectures and handed in our assignments already. It has certainly been intense, but I’ve already got so much out of it, more than I thought I would at this stage.

However, there have been hurdles I had to figure out along the way.

Find an equal footing

Firstly, due to the intensity of the learning, we bonded within our cohort group very quickly; supporting each other, understanding everyone’s work or personal commitments and identifying each other’s strengths.

It had been a long time since I had done project work where we were all on an equal footing, so it took some adjustment to realise that no one person was in charge and we were all equally responsible for completing the work together.

Be ruthless with your time 

Secondly, I tried to figure out how to fit studying around my work and family life. While I had a study timetable worked out for my readings, the element I hadn’t counted on was the timelines for the group work; an assignment was due around the same time as the next block of lectures which had prerequisite readings.

Learning quickly that I had to be ruthless with my time, I concentrated on what needed to be done and made sure to go back and fill in extra readings if I had the time.

Put weekend activities on hold 

Thirdly, I identified what I needed to change or give up in my personal life to accommodate my new study commitments. As my husband and I have a young child, I knew the majority of my study would need to happen in the evening, which meant I was unlikely to have any time for TV.

However, I soon realised I would need time during the weekends as well. We worked out a schedule where we both had some personal time during the weekends, but this meant I had to give up the baking and gardening I usually did for relaxation. But something had to give. I figured these sacrifices were only for a short period of time and the end result was worth it.

Learn to adjust your sleeping pattern

The fourth thing that suffered was my sleep. While I can function on six hours sleep a night, I can only maintain this for a few days at a time. Thankfully there were only a couple of intense weeks where my sleep suffered in the lead up to deadlines and lecture weekends. I learnt to adapt my sleeping pattern according to my programme timetable.

All in all, I am impressed with how much I have learned over the last few months and the connections made with my cohort. I’ve noticed I am more confident in dealing with things outside of my comfort zone at work and look forward to the year ahead!

Katheryn Needham
Modular Executive MBA (2020)

Leadership and innovation in a war zone

As I am crossing at the Qalandya check point between Israel and the West Bank, the huge red sign shocks me: “The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and is against the Israeli law”.

It looks like something from a movie scene and you are not quite sure what to expect on the other side. We cross, and all I see is unfortunate reality of the region and conflict between these two territories, thoroughly reminded of my childhood in Yugoslavia.

On the Israeli side we saw the prosperous modern society, full of life and colours that are reflected in almost everything from streets, to people and food. On the Palestinian side our first impressions are the ruins, wall murals of past leaders, abandoned cars and chaos.

Israel and Palestine were my choice for the Cass MBA international electives. The focus of the elective was on Innovation and Technology, which comes as no surprise with Israel being known as the start-up nation. The first month into my Cass MBA, I learned that one of the international options for study will be Israel. I knew in that moment that this will be my choice of an elective – working in technology and financial crime, my interests spans across cyber security and regtech and fintech world.

International electives are intense. You go on a trip abroad and visit numerous locations and companies daily, whilst meeting and learning from founders, owners and investors. You travel from city to city and you cross borders, or in our case – check points.

Many won’t know that a large number of successful businesses materialised from Israel, such as Viber, Waze and Mobileye. The country prides itself as the start-up nation mostly driven by the uncertainty that seems to run through their DNA due to political and economic factors surrounding them. Success on the Israeli side, but what is going on behind the literal wall on the Palestinian Territory?

The western world often can’t understand why there are conflicts between people ‘somewhere far away from us’, and don’t really want to engage in that conversation. Most of my cohort was also confused as to why these two nations can’t be one. It just seemed logical that working in unity would be beneficial for both sides. The Palestinian side suffers a lack of infrastructure, lack of water and many other resources, yet they are as resourceful as Israel is!

The streets may look empty, but don’t let that fool you. Palestinian residents know how to live. On our first night we enter a restaurant and it is buzzing inside, the whole restaurant is packed with families and young couples dining and smoking shishas.

Our night ends in a famous bar packed with kids of American expats living in Palestine. Bizarre, you think? So did we. They are young, happy, dancing, and invite us to join them. We were not that cool to wear bandannas and lose ourselves to the sound of music, but nevertheless we did enjoy our night – we were useless at playing darts, but we proceeded to do so until late at night.

 

We met many successful entrepreneurs during the two days in Palestine. The Palestinian society is a lot more progressive than we are lead to believe. For example, the CEO of Bank of Palestine has fully eliminated the gender pay gap within the bank, insisting on this change himself.

There are in fact a number of factors working in favour of Palestinians. The Palestinian society has a high number of highly educated individuals, and it seems that its diaspora can fuel the culture of innovation and finance it. Of course, the circumstances of country’s occupation are also helping to kindle the creativity of Palestinians.

Speaking to a young entrepreneur at one of the events in Palestine, he mentioned the collaborations between Israelis and Palestinians. Whilst the countries are in conflict, the people seem to be less so. ‘We work together with our friends from Israel’, he said, ‘and our business is thriving.’ Of course, software has the unique ability to flow through wires and borders, but perhaps even more surprising was that he was talking about a medical business, moving people across borders and offering them medical help when needed.

I got home two days before the American embassy moved to Jerusalem. The news were full of horror stories coming from the region, and I was thinking – could successful cross border businesses help build peace in the region? Is it the organised chaos that is prevalent in the region that we need in order to innovate successfully?  Perhaps.

I wouldn’t want to attempt to predict the future of the region, but I hope that these two nations find a common language in innovation – after all making innovation happen is a collaborative process on many levels, from nations to countries, to companies, to military and teams.

Nina Kerkez
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

What makes my MBA

“I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me” is blasting from my radio as I’m driving and all I can think of is Vietnam. Why, you ask? Well… that is how we closed our trip to Vietnam, in the dodgiest karaoke parlour in a private room, somewhere in the middle of residential Hanoi.

We are not really sure whose idea it was, but nights in Beer Street and endless amounts of beer or other alcohol will do that to you. It was a long week for all of us; our exam results came in just before Vietnam and thankfully, the whole cohort has passed.

We also just finished our International Consulting Week with various Vietnamese companies and we were ready for celebration. Not that we needed an excuse for it.

When you start exploring an Executive MBA as an option for the first time, nobody prepares you for what it truly is. You hear that it is the hardest thing people have done in their life. You hear that a lot, as well as that you need a lot of family support, work support and plenty of hours of study a week.

If you are exploring Cass, you also hear that you will get a lot of international exposure through International Consulting Week and electives. That is all true. You need plenty of time to work with your groups on assignments and you definitely need a lot of support from your surroundings.

Then, 38 professional adults get to go on a consulting week to Vietnam, supported by their families. You are placed into a new working group from your cohort, new country and new company, all you have to do is figure it all out within a week and deliver amazing results. Really, not much of an ask (sarcasm intended).

Vietnam – a country that we learned is struggling through high level of instability, a country that is culturally hierarchical and extremely different to our normal environment. With such differences from our world, we were not sure what to expect in the business environment or how to navigate it, but most importantly when we had expectations, the reality turned out to be completely opposite.

Not only are you navigating thousands of motorbikes on the streets of Vietnam, but you are also navigating the unknown working environment and language barriers.  But don’t let that dishearten you! All the difficulties we faced, proved to be a challenge that we all wanted, and we came out on the other side with a very positive feeling.

Vietnam is a very fast developing country, and with that so are the companies that we have worked for. With growth come challenges, and many of the things could have been addressed within businesses. Scoping our work was probably the hardest thing we had to do, but once it was agreed between us and the hosts, we embraced it and we delivered. With the pace of change in Vietnam, the scopes can change daily too, yet that is all part of the fun that this week brings to you.

The day before our presentation to the business’s directors, we had a sudden lightbulb moment and decided on a scope change at 4pm. When you are a part of an MBA group, you most likely don’t like to make things easy on yourself and embrace any challenges thrown your way, so we buckled up and continued working as a group till’ after midnight.

In the end, we delivered an extremely successful presentation the next morning, and our company loved us, they want to adopt us, or perhaps just permanently employ us.

 

But let me focus on my cohort for a minute. My friends, rather. The most amazing, the most resourceful and fun group of people I have ever come across with. It comes by no surprise that most of us share ambition and drive, but all of us have different backgrounds, and yet again most of us are very alike. We work hard and we party even harder – the quiet ones will always surprise you.

We also argue and disagree more than you would think, at times we don’t like working with each other and we think that we would get things done much quicker and easier if we could just finish them on our own. But, the reality of things is that we can’t. So we learn to be patient, be there for each other and love each other regardless of what happened five minutes ago in that team meeting where we annoyed each other.

My MBA friends are there when I need them, they are there for the highs and the lows on this crazy journey and we sympathise with each other as we are going through this collectively. If I had to pick one thing that made my Vietnam week, or even my first year of MBA, then it would definitely be the people around me. I thank Cass for bringing us together and placing us in the most random of places where we could go to the dodgy karaoke bar for a song or ten.

After all, we are all each other’s wonderwall.

 

Nina Kerkez
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

 

Cass International Consultancy Week: Providing real companies with real solutions

Early Saturday in Hanoi, the tropical heat starts to build up on the streets, MBA students wearing suits and pushing their carry-ons roll out of the international terminal at Nội Bài Airport, heading to a five star hotel in the central area, south of the Old Quarter.

It’s been 12 months since this group first met in a cold and grey London morning. Twelve incredible months of constant challenges and big achievements, all in preparation for this moment.

We are in Vietnam!

Some of us arrived a couple of days earlier and the pictures shared on a messaging app look very promising. The remaining group just landed from a connection in Doha and that is the group I am looking for at Hanoi’s international airport.

My trip followed a different route, through Dubai, where I dealt with life and taxes, met friends for the first time since I left one year ago, and generally had a good time. I arrived in the country the night before in Ho Chi Minh City and after yet another sleepless night in an airport (oh so many), landed in the domestic terminal some 30 minutes before my cohort.

After a stroll between terminals I meet our local contact, Chris, Dean of the British University Vietnam. Slowly, familiar faces passed through the terminal gates and joined us in the lobby, everyone displaying a mix of tiredness from the long trip but also a certain freshness. The excitement was visible.

We are all here for one reason: to climb a mountain. It’s a rite of passage that marks the culmination of a year of learning. It is International Consultancy Week.

Our mission is to help local companies with diverse challenges, from Human Resources Management to Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Finances, Innovation and Digital Transformation. There is something for every background and interest.

So much to do, only one week to go.

If I had to pick only one life lesson from the first year of my MBA studies, it would be that front-loading pays off, always, and that was the force behind our engagement strategy. By the time we arrived to our client on Monday morning, we have had a couple of conference calls with our project’s sponsor, defined and clarified the scope of our study and had learned a lot about the country and the business, their cultures, challenges, and opportunities.

Hoffstede’s cultural dimensions, Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT and PESTEL analysis, the voracious consumption of industry reports and our secondary research enabled us to touch the ground running. By the end of the first day we had our hypotheses lined up, our primary research planned and the data to backup our analysis on its way.

In the pursuit of helping the company to move forward with their mission of benefiting the Vietnamese society, we leveraged our knowledge of Economy, Business and Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Finances and Organisational Behavior.

From the group dynamics perspective, we accelerated the group transition stages through our pre-engagement preparation which helped us understand our individual strengths, styles and preferences, allowing us to split the work so each one of us was challenged and confidently capable of delivering significant value. Some of us focused on secondary research, the elaboration of financial models and preparing the presentation, while others went to the client’s office daily for a series of stakeholders interviews that allowed us to form a firm grasp of the issue at hand.

In this process we used proven frameworks and cutting-edge knowledge, balanced with the realism and pragmatism that only a deep immersion in the business of our client could provide.

What followed was hard work, more learning, more hard work and the resulting satisfaction of knowing that our input was not just valuable, but potentially transformational.

The rite is complete

As a smart and quirky man once said, there is no honest way to explain the edge because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over it.

These words feel very appropriate to describe my experience with the International Consultancy Week. As a rite of passage it successfully marked the transition into our second year of studies, and as a life experience it pushed us into a new realm where we can all feel confident in our ability to bring positive change to our companies, our host country’s economy, but most importantly to society.

Postscript

On a not-so-early Saturday in Hanoi, the freshness in our eyes was replaced by dark circles and, in some cases, a well-deserved hangover. The sense of accomplishment is visible.

Some of us left the night before, heading to Sapa to climb another mountain, the Fansipan.

As for me, I’m off to explore beaches and tombs, the old and the new, the north and the south of Vietnam, from Hanoi and Ha Long to Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, all before departing towards Singapore and London in a few weeks… but I’ll tell you that story another time.

 

Luiz Grzeca
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

Vietnam International Consultancy Week: where theory meets practice

Having arrived in Hanoi via Hong Kong at 8.30pm the group set out to see Hanoi in its evening glory.  The cacophony of sounds greeted us – the call of street vendors and music from bars to the chatter of crowds drifted over us. A barmy breeze carried the scents of food and smog that arises from densely populated cities – it was the moment to savour the city.

We are here for International Consultancy Week – a highlight of the MBA curriculum.  The aim is to give students an opportunity to consolidate what they’ve learnt from blocks one and two and apply this to a real-world setting, but in a completely different context – political, economic and cultural.  We would be working with one company on a business challenge for one week, and present our recommendations at the end. 

This process begins a few weeks earlier when we are asked to choose from a list of companies and the proposed scope of work.  For me, it was an opportunity to stretch myself and identify an area that I am not familiar with to get some real experience in. 

My top pick was Bao Viet – the number one insurance company in Vietnam with 25 per cent of the life and non-life market.  This was Bao Viet’s first engagement with Cass and the business challenge was to develop a marketing strategy to enable the company to maximise a new online sales channel to generate growth and revenues.

I was pleased to secure my first choice and felt it lent itself to helping me achieve some personal objectives to apply my learning in both a new context and different industry.

As new groups formed based on the choices the cohort had made, we moved to quickly ensure that we were positioned to prepare ahead of us leaving for Vietnam. Working full-time and managing family commitments does make it a challenge to coordinate and ensure that group meetings take place; this is especially the case as the International Consultancy Week comes quite quickly after the block two exams and we have other modules sandwiched in between. 

However, the group was able to meet remotely a couple times to prepare and we were also very fortunate that we could reach out to our main contact at Bao Viet – Tam and our ‘on the ground’ contact, Chris. Speaking to Tam helped us refine and agree a scope before we went to Vietnam and speaking to Chris helped us understand the culture and expectations and ways of doing business in Vietnam.

I would certainly encourage future cohorts to do the same if there is the time as it will stand you in good stead.

The individuals we were working with at Bao Viet were excellent and while we had a translator, Phoung, to help us, we were fortunate not to require her translation skills as much as some of the other groups required. Nonetheless, we considered Phoung an additional member of the team from whom we sought advice that helped us position our presentation effectively with our client.

On our first day, we focused on getting to know our client and ensuring that the scope was clear.  There were high expectations from our client and we were both excited and a little anxious about this.  Simultaneously, we were figuring out how to work as a group and get a sense of each other.  While we know each other, most of us hadn’t worked with each other before but there wasn’t time to go through a process of storming to form! 

It was five intensive days of getting to grips with the problem, splitting into smaller groups to conduct primary and secondary research to respond to key questions and then come up with a credible set of proposals to present on the Friday afternoon.

The experience was quite unlike anything I have been through before due to the different context, but also insightful about how to identify and draw on individual and team strengths.

For example, following some discussion, we all agreed to be involved in the presentation. Of course, there were momentary speed bumps, but this is part of understanding how to work with different personalities. We worked very well as a team and I believe this was down in part to some of our earlier preparations.

Other areas of learning, included how to make a positive impact early and ensuring that we made a good impression so that we had some currency to draw upon when we needed help from our clients. 

With our excellent Bao Viet colleagues, Phoung and Professor Cliff Oswick

As a group we were keen to ensure that we provided an insightful and useful product for our client and Bao Viet was keen and interested in our recommendations. In some respect we were able to validate some of their early thinking on how to progress this project and we were able to provide some ideas that they hadn’t considered yet. 

None of us were insurance specialists, but the MBA equips you with the necessary principles, theories and frameworks that enables you to consider and resolve problems.

Radhika Narasinkan
Executive MBA (2019)

 

I climbed the highest peak in Indochina to test my leadership skills

The leadership expedition following the International Consultancy Week is part of a Cass MBA programme initiative to develop an explorer mindset – one that encourages students to respond to changing business environments.

These principles alone intrigued me and I was keen to experience this learning outside of the typical ‘office environment’ where the rules are relatively familiar even if there is change.  The adventurer in me was certainly up for putting myself in an unfamiliar situation.

Mount Fansipan is the highest mountain in Vietnam and the Indochina peninsula, located in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.  As you make the climb – and if you are in any state to enjoy it – the views are incredible; the climb is well worth the effort just for this.

Amazing Views

The expedition is segmented into two: a day trek in SaPa, climbing through rice paddy fields; followed by a climb to the summit of Mount Fansipan.  Our expedition leader, Fernando Yáñez, made us organise ourselves, so that we all had the opportunity to lead during the trek.  With 11 in the group, it was a shared leadership endeavour and particularly pertinent when operating in an unfamiliar environment.

My opportunity to lead came on the first day of trekking up Mount Fansipan.  As a complete trekking novice and urbanite, the experience was enlightening and stretching, both mentally and physically. It is amazing how far the journey can take you physically and mentally in three days.

For all us there were different lessons and it is fantastic how one experience can add different dimensions to our individual and team learning.  Some of my key learnings from this experience, which could translate into any business environment are as follows:

  1. Communicating with others was fundamental to motivate, keeping spirits up so that the next step is not impossible to take.  In these times, humour and fun were integral to maintaining morale.  Instructing and sharing information to ensure team progress and decisions provided confidence and belief that we would make it!
  2. Being decisive was key in some of the situations we were in.  This isn’t just because we were empowered due to the position we were given, but required an actual willingness to take on the risk of decision making with the information we had.  In a situation where there is shared leadership, it was important to minimise debate, forget about egos and make decisions best for the group.
  3. Teamwork – it goes without saying that being a leader you are also part of a team and recognising the strengths that others bring.  As the leader, it is fundamental to ensure you are drawing on these individual strengths so the team is positioned to do the best it can.

A bit of courage and great team work

Empowering others to take on responsibility and roles became important to share the workload.  With the guidance of our expedition leader, we came to realise how little data and information we had to begin with and we needed to find a way of tracking progress such as pace and time, organise sufficient breaks on that basis and discuss these with the guide to make effective decisions.  By allocating roles that helped us collate this information, we were able to achieve this.

Courage and humility underpin it all.  There will be times as a leader we will not know enough about the terrain in front of us and there will be moments of self-doubt.  Our companies could undergo a merger or acquisition, have a new or unknown CEO at the helm or be going into a major efficiency drive.

The best that we can do is accept this situation quickly and adapt so that we can help our teams and individuals around us. With integrity and honesty, we can share what we do know and with humility to accept our limitations in such situations, asking for the help that we need to be better leaders.

And of course, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that with your team you have managed to achieve your goals.

Making it to the Summit

 

Radhika Narasinkan
Executive MBA (2019)

 

From the classroom to the board room

Diversity is a topic that is riding front and centre –being acutely debated in the corporate context– whether it be the gender pay gap or women, black and ethnic minority representation in the board room.

At Cass one of the most important threads consistently woven into every module by every Professor is, to draw on the privilege of having access to the diversity and depth of global experience from the cohort. An Executive MBA cohort size of 39, comprised of 18 nationalities, 33 per cent women as well as individuals from a range of industries –advertising to transport, private and public sector– certainly affords that opportunity; and was certainly one of the most compelling reason for me choosing Cass.

Coming from a non-finance background, I was surprised when the Corporate Finance module took a reflective turn. One of the sessions turned to the lack of diversity in the Boardroom having a negative impact on maximising shareholder value.

The value to bring people together –from different cultures, background and perspectives– to encourage diversity of thought is not a new concept. But it is Lord Davies report of February 2011 which resulted in a tacit target that women should make up at least a quarter of FTSE 100 board membership by 2015; and Sir John Parker’s review of 2014 on whether company boards were keeping pace with the UK’s diverse workforce which have continued to make deadlines.

By 2016, the Female FTSE Report written by academics at City, University London, Cranfield University and Queen Mary University London, showed the percentage of women on FTSE 100 and 250 boards had increased to 26 per cent and to 20.4 per cent, respectively.

Sir John Parker recommended that companies should implement structures to help promote black and ethnic minority employees to the top; and all FTSE 100 firms should appoint at least one director from a minority background by 2021, and FTSE 250 companies to do similarly by 2024.

It was therefore heartening to read in the FT this month, that 27 investors, with £10.5tn of assets, announced they were committing to “engage actively” with companies that do not make progress towards the 30 per cent Club’s target of 30 per cent of women on FTSE 350 boards and in senior management at FTSE 100 companies by 2020. The signatories include Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the world’s largest pension fund, and other leading global investors such as JPMorgan Asset Management and BlackRock.

It appears that the business case for gender diversity has been made –investors are actively engaging to ensure that companies that don’t have sufficient representation of women and BME are making progress towards targets.

Adding to this fervour are the new rules requiring Europe’s largest companies to disclose their boardroom diversity policies. These polices have the potential to reshape investors’ asset allocation decisions, according to market analysts. There are investment products which are being indexed to companies’ equality criteria. This means that there is a real risk for investors not taking diversity into account; and companies need to be cognisant that diversity may have a real impact on their performance.

And indeed, this is supported by a McKinsey study, published in 2015, of large publicly listed companies which found that those in the top quartile for diversity were 15 per cent more likely to produce better returns than their local peers.

Bringing this back to my cohort, we have debated and discussed challenges –as well as positive developments that we are facing in our workplace– to bring real examples to apply the theory to. Therefore, this has not been esoteric pontification about some abstract state that one cannot relate to. As a group of future leaders, we are testing and learning how to adapt and challenge confidently. It is our diversity that is our underpinning strength and we are gaining a richer EMBA experience for it.

Radhika Narasinkan
Executive MBA (2019)

 

References:

https://www.ft.com/content/a22a4906-fb77-11e7-a492-2c9be7f3120a

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/11/02/ftse-100-boards-do-not-represent-ethnic-diversity-in-the-uk-park/

https://www.ft.com/content/c81d422c-05a3-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5

 

More:

Women break up groupthink, says champion of workplace diversity

Former mining chairman Sir John Parker wants a better gender and ethnic mix on boards

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