If you’re a UK engineer looking to advance your career by taking an MBA, the Sainsbury Management Fellows' Society may be able to help you.
In the 1980s, Britain under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party was experiencing an economic upheaval. The “80s boom” was sandwiched between two major recessions which saw the decline of the UK manufacturing industry and unemployment rise to levels not seen since the Great Depression. By contrast, the economies of countries like Japan and Germany were enjoying a period of huge growth.
At this turbulent time David Sainsbury (now Lord Sainsbury of Turville) was finance director of a supermarket chain known as J. Sainsbury Ltd. It dawned on him that many companies in these economically buoyant countries were highly successful primarily because their boardroom executives included people with professional engineering and science qualifications.
Engineers can make highly successful boardroom executives
While UK boardrooms were replete with financial and legal whizzes, their Japanese and German counterparts comprised people who had both the knowledge of how things are manufactured and management skills. Lord Sainsbury recognised that the key to a company’s survival and growth was for its management to include people trained to have a broad perspective in risk analysis - an integral part of the skill set of professional engineers.
To this end in 1987 Lord Sainsbury set up the Sainsbury Management Fellowship (SMF) to help bring about change in British business culture and encourage UK engineers to become leaders in industry. In 1993, the alumni of the Sainsbury Management Fellowship also formed an association to promote networking amongst members and the business community.
The SMF awards scholarships to engineers with leadership qualities to enable them to gain a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). Today the SMF has over 300 members all of whom have graduate degrees as well as their MBA. About 89 per cent are employed in industry or services to industry and the majority work for UK firms.
One such Fellow is Chartered Engineer (CEng) Daniel Rynehart. In 2006 having spent over seven years working in engineering and management at Bentley Motors, Reinhart realised that he didn’t really understand how the company’s business departments operated.
How an MBA can broaden your skills – and opportunities
“The more responsibility I gained the more I realised how little I knew about business in general. I decided that an MBA would not only broaden my skills but I’d also be able to draw a line under my technical career and use my business acumen as leverage to push myself into management,” Rynehart recalls.
Having been accepted into the London Business School (LBS) Rynehart started to ponder how he would pay for his course and stumbled upon the SMF while looking for sponsorship on the Internet.
SMF scholarship criteria
Criteria for the £30,000 SMF scholarship includes that candidates be a UK citizen, with a first or upper second class honours degree in an engineering subject, have CEng status, and have the potential to achieve senior management responsibility early in their career. It also helps if you’re multilingual and have had experience working overseas – although that is not a prerequisite.
The SMF award also depends on the candidate independently obtaining a place on a full-time MBA course at business schools including LBS, IMD in Switzerland, IESE in Spain, INSEAD in France and Singapore as well as American business schools such as Harvard, MIT, Wharton and Columbia.
“Aside from the financial aspect what appealed to me about the organisation was that it promotes engineers in industry and builds engineering expertise into the upper echelons of management,” explains Rynehart.
“As I was already a CEng and had a place at LBS I had fulfilled the SMFs’ initial requirements so could apply. I was invited for a dinner talk and then had a fairly rigorous presentation and interview session – and then was awarded the sponsorship.
“The SMF paid for the first year of my course so I could stop worrying about how I was going to support myself and really focus on learning. The MBA enabled me to learn about all of the core business functions – sales, marketing, strategy, finance etc. and it also then opened my eyes to a plethora of business opportunities.”
Midway through the course Rynehart got an internship with a global strategy consulting firm then called Booz Allen Hamilton that offered to sponsor the second year of his MBA with a full-time position at the end of it. In 2008 he went to work at the newly demerged Booz & Co. as a generalist in strategy consulting on a broad range of projects - defence organisations, travel and tourism, oil and gas – all across Europe, UK and the Middle East.
After two and a half years in the upper echelons of management Rynehart took his much varied experience to TalkTalk where he now works as change manager supporting the chief technology officer in developing, shaping and driving TalkTalk’s strategic agenda for its next wave of improvements after the launch of its new internet TV service You View.
“At my interview one of the features that my boss at TalkTalk liked was that I was able to combine a good set of expertise from engineering with more strategic experience,” Rynehart says. “I keep going back to really core skills and behaviours that were built on in my career in engineering – being rigorous, analytical and structured about how I approach and tackle problems.”
MBAs are great for entrepreneurs too!
Of the 300-plus SMF members, 60 own and manage small to medium sized enterprises. One of these is Mohit Midha, who graduated with a BEng in computer science, did an MBA in entrepreneurship and private equity and is now chief operating officer at Mangahigh com - the developer and publisher of the first curriculum-compliant maths games for 11-16 year-old students.
Midha found the SMF through the LBS website that lists all scholarships and bursaries available to MBA candidates. The organisation paid for one year out of Midha’s two-year course, which totally changed the outcome of his MBA.
“I was able to graduate with a lower debt than most students, which enabled me to embark on my entrepreneurial path a lot sooner than would be normal for most graduates,” Midha explains.
“I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur so an MBA in entrepreneurship seemed logical. It isn’t strictly necessary but it certainly helps you reduce risk and puts you on a fast track. Specialisation in private equity was a deliberate choice to learn how the investment world operates and to make connections with venture capitalists. That definitely proved to be a powerful combination – my first job post MBA is coo of a fast growing business and we've already raised US$3m for our startup.”
Industry initiatives to support professional engineers in the corporate world
In addition to awarding bursaries the SMF is involved in a range of industry initiatives including mentoring young engineers, a manufacturing roundtable, and ‘re-engineering the board’ – a project designed to encourage ceos and HR directors to become au fait about the role of professional engineers in the corporate world, and consider them as prospective board members.
The latter initiative appears to be having some kick. According to SMF president David Falzani currently “almost 15 per cent of FTSE100 executive board members have an engineering degree, and 60 per cent of companies have at least one qualified engineer on the board of directors.” However, despite the burgeoning uptake the SMF is continuing in its quest to convince the UK industry that engineers have what it takes to make it to the board.
Considering an MBA?
Meanwhile, engineers looking to sell themselves outside of the industry would do well to consider an MBA – as Rynehart can attest.
“When I was at Bentley looking for my next step it became clear to me that there’s quite a barrier for an engineer to sell themselves as a person who can take a leadership role unless it’s within the engineering industry. The MBA really helped me break through that barrier – it was the single best thing I did,” he says.
As for taking an MBA under the auspices of the Sainsbury Management Fellowship?
“Applying to the SMF is by far the best thing one can do if you are serious about breaking away from an engineering role to a more management position,” states Midha. “Doing an MBA or not might be a consideration depending on your current career trajectory, but applying for an SMF scholarship is a no brainer if you are eligible.”