Wednesday, 23 September 2015

What is an MBA?

Good golly time flies.

It’s hard to believe the sun is setting on my year at Cranfield.  Twelve months ago our class was wandering around Cranfield’s School of Management, trying to get our bearings and remember names, settling into a brand new life.  Now, while we all move into new locations and jobs, a new group lands on campus and begins the process again.

There’s one thing I’ve been wanting to write about for some time now: “What is an MBA?”  While applying for business school I tried to answer that question quite a few times for friends and family, as well as for myself.  Fellow engineers often served as the toughest audience.  An MBA isn’t really like an engineering degree, focussed on technical skills.  In fact, it’s not really like any other degree that I know of at all.  It doesn’t necessarily qualify you for any specific jobs (with some exceptions).  It doesn’t necessarily mean you become more qualified than future un-MBA’d peers.  Most of the leaders I respect the most in business and the community don’t have one.  Some of the most impressive people don’t have any degree whatsoever.

So, what even is an MBA?  I’d like to answer that by outlining what I’ve done over the past 12 months as part of my MBA at Cranfield.

  • Completed a financial due diligence of GSK (the world’s 6th largest pharmaceutical company).
  • As a Venture Capitalist, negotiated investment terms with several (actual) emerging companies.
  • Written a complete business case for a revolutionary innovation in managing household supplies (look out for MyShelf somewhere in the future… patent pending).
  • Completed a study of Product Stewardship, its potential as a model for sustainability, and created a number of tools for understanding the management of stewardship programmes.
  • Outlined a business case and created a strategy for the launch of Premier Inn into the Australian hotels market.
  • Waxed lyrical over the role and responsibility of business and profits in modern society.
  • Evaluated the financial options for expanding a manufacturer’s warehousing capacity.
  • Provided economic policy recommendations to the Government of Zambia (a great learning exercise, but ONLY a learning exercise).
  • Created a 2 year strategic plan for the expansion of Netflix in the UK.
  • Analysed the financial impact of the high profile bailout of General Motors by the US Government.
  • Examined the strategic approach of Glock, a leading gun manufacturer in the US, amidst a highly charged gun control debate.
  • Created a detailed plan for expanding a UK civil contractor into the Zambian construction market.
  • Helped a Zambian civil contractor restructure key supply contracts and working capital to help complete a remote 109km road.
  • Provided legal advice to businesses facing cases of contract breaches and negligence.
  • Analysed Apple’s global supply chain, to see how it uses its influence in the global consumer electronics industry to drive quality, innovation, and profitability.
  • And lastly: I’ve reflected.  A lot.  A real lot.

Now some of these things I could have had a go at prior to the MBA.  Logic, rationality and curiosity get you a long way on most strategic issues.  But I certainly couldn’t have done all of these things.  And if I did have a go at them, I would have seen it as just that: an engineer “having a go” at someone else’s game.

My MBA has expanded my thinking.  It’s expanded my thinking of the world, to consider many more economic and human issues than I would have previously.  But ultimately it’s expanded my thinking of myself, and where I fit into the world.  Ask me again 10 years into my post-MBA career, but right now I think that’s pretty darn valuable.

~ Craig

Monday, 29 June 2015

Muli Bwanji

Muli Bwanji?

We saw white rhinos, giraffes, elephants, hippos, gazelles, wildebeests, buffalo and aardvarks.  And this wasn’t even Woburn Safari Park.

I have just returned from a phenomenal trip to Zambia, where myself and 23 others completed various consulting projects with local companies.  The premise of the International Business Assignment, part of the MBA programme, is to place our learning in a global context.  Working in groups of 4 over the course of 5 days, between us we helped seed companies write new business plans, helped construction companies develop new project management toolkits, helped insurance companies develop more sophisticated customer databases, and helped solar energy companies set a platform to grow their business.

The idea of a major UK business school going to sub-saharan African to help local businesses may suggest a context of charity or teaching.  Let me blow that perception out of the water.  The local businesses we worked with were, without exception, ambitious, inspiring, professional enterprises by any standard.  They were led by equally ambitious, inspiring, brilliant leaders.  If there was any teaching to be done, let there be no misconception: we were the students.

As for my team, we were working with one of Zambia’s biggest (and youngest) civil contracting companies: Build Trust Constructions.  We met with directors Aka and Brian, on Monday morning.  Their biggest project currently is a US$40m, 109km road connecting Itezhi Tezhi to the arterial M9 motorway.  Projects of this size always face difficulties - that’s a global phenomenon and this was no exception, with issues relating to cash flow and capital management.  Our project was to investigate the latter, and to determine the outcome of different strategies for managing under-utilised equipment.

On Tuesday we did the 5 hour drive from Lusaka to Itezhi Tezhi, and met with the Project Manager, Richard.  Richard is one of the most impressive people any of the 4 of us has met.  Our conversations with the PM were several of the most interesting conversations we’ll ever have - every MBA topic would have been touched on every 2 hrs.

By Wednesday we were touring the various work fronts along the 109km stretch, understanding the construction process and equipment inter-relationships, and trawling through utilisation and breakdown records.

By Thursday we were modelling the cost and schedule implications of 5 alternative strategies by which equipment could be managed, and compiling our analysis into a presentation (until the early hours of Friday morning).

Finally, on Friday morning we presented our week’s work to Brian and Aka and 4 other head office staff.  It was clearly a mutually beneficial process.  We learnt a tremendous amount and had a truly unique experience, while they were clearly grateful, kindly expressing how impressed they were that we seemed to have understood their business so well, and developed such meaningful insights, within 5 days.

What struck me so clearly was rate of progress and the level of opportunity for Zambian businesses.  The Zambian economy will inevitably emerge as a sophisticated, developed, global presence, and that emergence involves development and growth in every sector.  This was most clearly illustrated in talking with the directors of the company to which my team was consulting.  With the company just 6 years old, they’re increasing revenue from their core civil contracting business by tenfold per year.  But not only that, they’re also in the process of purchasing heavy road construction equipment to set up an equipment lease aspect of their business.  And they’ve recently purchased farmland and established Build Trust Farms as a subsidiary.  AND one of the directors has purchased an area of more remote land to develop as a tourist destination.  Tenfold annual growth plus all of that…?


Oh, and we may have visited Victoria Falls over the weekend…

Other Cranfield students visited Sri Lanka, China and Japan.  They all made the wrong choice.

Zikomo, Ciao

~ Craig

(I didn’t learn how to say goodbye…)

Thursday, 28 May 2015

A Day in the Life

The Cranfield Australian Alumni recently held their annual meeting, keynote presentation, dinner and award presentation for the 2015 CAASF Scholar.  Twelve short months ago I was at that event, thoroughly (though unnecessarily) intimidated by the personalities, reputations and achievements within the room.  So much has happened since then!

At any rate, I put together a short video "hello" for the Australian Alumni, and I thought I'd share it here.  If you enjoy bad costuming, poor acting, and continuity editing errors, then this could be right up your alley!

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Great Globalisation

Lo siento, yo no hablo español.

Term 2 is complete - fin!  Finance projected, ethics pondered, people management mastered (to no degree whatsoever), and the macro economy hypothesised.  Macroeconomics was my favourite part of the course so far - a massive highlight.  I would have called myself an “economics enthusiast” prior, but now have a much fuller understanding - my news reading will be all the richer for it.  Cue a shameless plug for Cranfield’s recent rating among global MBA’s for economics - 2nd in the world, ahead of big like guns Harvard, Yale, Oxford and LBS.  But the purpose of this blog is not to talk about Keynesianism, Monetarism or the circular economy, so I’ll drop those terms and leave them there.

Now it just so happens that I’m en route from Seville (Spain) to Lisbon (Portugal).   An international trip is a pretty big deal for most Australians, probably more so than your average nationality.  And despite a preference for presenting a nonchalant, self-possessed aura of cool, under the surface I’m no exception.  International travel is amazing!  So what better time to focus on the internationality of the Cranfield MBA.

How international are we?  Well the cohort is an obvious place to start.  We are comprised of something like the following.

12 Indians
8 Russians
1 Portuguese
2 Lebanese
2 Turks
1 Cypriot
5 Chileans
4 Nigerians
1 Zimbabwean
1 Egyptian
1 Pakistani
1 Chinese (sadly under-represented)
1 American (gladly under-represented)
1 Japanese
1 Australian
1 New Zealander
1 Thai
1 South Korean
1 Colombian
1 Venezuelan
1 Uruguayan
2 Indonesians
8 Brits (who relentlessly fight for a more specific designation, usually one that explicitly excludes Wales)

Of course, I don’t really have anything against Americans.  It’s just fun to have a go at our one, Ben:

Then besides the cohort, there’s the teaching.  An Englishman, an Irishman, an Italian, an American, an Indian, a Nigerian and a German all walked into a lecture room…  That might sound like the start of a long winded joke, but in our case that’s the start of Strategy, Macroeconomics, Finance, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Accounting and Human Resources, respectively.  

And now the real sales pitch: the travel opportunities….  Living in the UK is something of a right of passage for Australians, and it’s well documented that it gives unprecedented access to amazing travel opportunities.  I won’t labour the point too much, but Chloe and I have spent weekends in St Albans, London, Stratford Upon Avon (Shakespeare), Bletchley Park (Alan Turing and the enigma code cracking), Oxford and Cambridge.  Head outside the UK and things just get better!  We’re in Portugal now and were in Spain yesterday.  Over Christmas we got to Prague and Vienna.  We head to Paris in May for a sort of MBA olympics.  In June I head to Zambia as part of the MBA, while others head to Sri Lanka, China or Japan.  Then in September it’s back to Australia (briefly).

And I’m still not quite done.  We also have optional Spanish and French classes for people keen on learning a second, third, or nth language.  I now regret giving up Spanish classes in Term 1 due to workload.  Still, with a bit of practice I can rally enough amateur Spanish to get myself into trouble.  “¡Buenos dias, señor!  Un jamòn y niño emparedados, con una botella de vino Rio Tinto, por favor.”

Adios, mujers y hombres.

~ Craig

Monday, 16 February 2015

Kitto Model of MBA Infographics

*Niche Humour Warning*

Wow.  This is exciting.  After a lot of inspiration over the last 4 months, I shall right now share with you my first original thought-leading work in the field of strategy and business.  I'm excited for both of us.

For me, there's the prestige, the book publishing deal, the subsequent book award ceremonies, the book signing events, the inevitable speaking circuit, the honorary degrees, the Time magazine cover, and the whispers of certain Swedish prize named after a certain Swedish Alfred.

And for you?  There's the thrill of having the inside scoop on the next generation, nay, Paradigm, of thought.  You'll recognise this thrill if you happened to read The Life of Pi before it was a movie.  Or if you had a beard prior to 2011.  Or if you liked Mark Ronson before Uptown Funk.  Or if you still like Radiohead.  You're ahead of the curve.  You have Cultural Capital.

And here it is...

The Kitto Model of MBA Infographics

Some critics of the Kitto model have pointed out that a 2 x 2 Matrix contains, by definition, 2 variables - no more and no less.  To such criticisms I reply:

"You're smart, and you have a keen eye.  But we're not in engineering school anymore, buddy.  If you're issue has more than two parameters, you're just not doing it right."

Let me explain via the BCG Matrix, one of the most traditional 2x2's (yes, they can be abbreviated thus).  If we're entering unfamiliar waters now, Wikipedia or your local MBA-administering institute of higher education can help.  With the BCG Matrix we find Relative Market Share on the x-axis (horizontal), and Market Growth on the y-axis (vertical).  Two parameters.  A 2 x 2 matrix.  A perfect fit for the Kitto Model.

But what is the BCG Matrix really considering?  Let's dig deeper.

Relative Market Share
 - Current product revenue
 - Total cash sales of all competing products

Market Growth
 - Past performance
 - Current economic climate
 - Future economic climate
 - Customer preferences
 - Any effects of technological change
 - Personal intuition
 - Any number of other factors...

Now occasionally the 2 x 2 can break down.  Luckily, in these instances we have the line graphs of Micro- and Macro-economics to fall back onto.  And if we're really stuck, Porter's 5 Forces can at least provide a credible framework from which to admit defeat.

So there you have it.  See you on the other side of fame.

~ Craig

Friday, 16 January 2015

Filling Some Blanks

Aaaaaaah Christmas.  You wonderful, magical holiday.  This year, gone is the family, heat, cricket, beach, prawns, and paradoxical winter paraphernalia of an Australian Christmas.  Here are the friends, snow, European getaways, mulled wine, shrimp and fireplace-warming reality of a UK Christmas.

And thus Term 1 has ended.  Amazing.  While I rest on the couch, having reacquainted myself with leisure reading and exercise, it occurs to me there are a few things I’ve failed to properly document over the last 12 weeks.  With time now on my side, I’ll try to fill in a couple of the blanks.

Two short weeks ago our heads were glued to textbooks.  When they weren’t, our hands were glued to our pens, and our pens to our exam papers.  The glue didn’t help.  At all.  

To what was our attention affixed?  Here are a few highlights.

A traditional MBA foe.  More difficult, yet much more interesting, than it’s often credited (or debited).  With a steely determination and a dextrous calculator hand, we balanced balance sheets, reported income, stated cash flows, documented variances, priced transfers, and ratio’ed ratios.

Decision Making and Data Analytics
We waxed lyrical about multiple and serial regression.  We formed and subsequently rejected null hypotheses with a scientific level of pragmatism.  Over the break I read Freakonomics, which is probably the absolute perfect epilogue to both this subject and:

Economics of Organisations and Strategy
Hawks.  Doves.  Lines, curves, axes.  Within these runes are a clear articulation of supply and demand, of elasticity and marginal cost, of predatory and limit pricing.  A subject fit for Hermione Granger herself.  (Over the break I also read the final Harry Potter, and I would appreciate the withholding of judgement.)  Some formal learning in economics was one of the major things I was looking forward to about studying an MBA, and it didn't disappoint.

Other Highlights
 - Negotiating venture capital agreements with real start-up companies,
 - Creating a marketing plan for launching Premier Inn in Australia (featuring Karl and Susan Kennedy from Neighbours),
 - Turning our study group’s idea for a household inventory management system (patent pending) into a detailed business plan,
 - Placing 3rd with Frank, Aya and Ben at the European final of the AT Kearney Global Prize (picture below), and
 - The workload.  While not an academic topic in itself, this one aspect has been the most defining part of the experience, and deserves a bit more explanation.

The Workload
The last post was about a WAC - an original Cranfield form of assessment over 24 hours.  Fortunately, we only get two of those a term.  So a normal day is presumably a bit more manageable, right?  Well, no, actually.

An average day (for me) starts on campus at 7:30AM with a learning team meeting.  Here we discuss the case studies and readings that form the pre-work for the morning’s lectures.  Those lectures typically run from 8:30AM to 12:45PM, and generally are more discussion-focussed than formative.  Hence the need for pre-work.

In the afternoon there is typically an extra curricular activity (coaching, careers events, guest speakers, etc) for a few hours.  Squashed around this, the afternoon/evening needs to be spent on preparing for the following day’s lectures - reading course material and case studies, discussing in study groups, etc.

Then there’s assessment work.  This gets shoe-horned somewhere in amongst simply ‘keeping up’.

All considered, my routine (and it’s different for others) generally sees me packing up around midnight.  I live off campus, so have a brief drive home before starting again the following morning.  The reality is, there could be another 6 hours in the day and I probably still wouldn’t get everything ‘properly’ done.  Needless to say, managing self and workload is vital.

Now, all of that varies day to day, but that would be an average day for me in Term 1.  I’m aware some of my colleagues put in less time (i.e. they are likely smarter than myself), while others put in more time (i.e. they are presumably more diligent than myself).

Yes, it’s intense.  Seriously intense.  BUT, it’s amazing!  When the alarm goes off in the morning I’m pumped for another day.  And as my Christmas break winds down, I’m impatiently awaiting the beginning of Term 2.

Hope you’ve had a great Christmas, and a happy new year.  Cheers to 2015!

~ Craig

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Good, the WAC, and the Ugly

Sure, I probably said last blog that I’d dedicate this post to a discussion of our timetable.  But I can do that any time.  Today is a special day, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to provide some direct insight into a Cranfield mainstay:


The WAC (Written Assessment of Case) is essentially a 24hr assignment, handed out 4PM Friday afternoon and due 4PM Saturday afternoon.  It’s an achievable 1500 words (excluding appendices), but the biggest challenge seems to be in coming up with valuable insight, keeping under the word limit, and collating meaningful appendices.  The WAC’s reputation precedes it - I’d heard plenty about it before arriving here.

With that short introduction, I’ll attempt to give you a quick hourly update over the next 24 hrs.  Wish me luck!


3:30PM Friday afternoon.  We receive the WAC in 30mins.  Work on other topics started this morning at 0730 after a late night, so things aren’t optimal.  For the next 24 hrs I’ll be relying on my years of studying Strategic Coffee Consumption in the Global Business Environment (SCC).  I hope to gain a professorship on that topic in later life.

With 30mins to go I’ll quickly brush up on cash flow statements, ratio analysis and variance analysis.


WAC received.  Topic = consideration of hostile takeover of GSK by KKR (both are major pharmaceutical companies).  Report required for CEO and board of KKR, analysing 2013 annual report of GSK and financial statements.

Our team has split up for 60mins to read the case material.


Still reading.  Annual reports are long...


Team has regathered, had a few clarifying questions, tried to fumble out some meaningful insights, but did more fumbling than 'insight'ing. Will start calculating all the ratios we can think of, because that seems the logical thing to do.


Team has preliminary values for most fundamental ratios. A couple of points to clarify. All off now for stream meeting to discuss with 31 stream mates. Hoping to corner the accountants in our class for help.  Will either bribe or threaten them... Haven't studied Negotiations yet...


Reasonably successful stream meeting. Haven't shared notes with everyone, but clarified a few technicalities, got a couple of ideas for additional insights, and verified that we're not too far off the money.


Separated into groups. Gary and Ranjit clarifying ratios and compiling calcs. Craig, Anuradha and Michel working on appendices - showing working of ratios and citing assumptions.


Tensions rising. Some members' work more complete than others (probably due to workload, but objectivity lost at this stage), and wanting to move on. Some members unwell, and a level of snappiness has set in.


Team review of final calcs complete. Not necessarily complete team cohesion. More work required on presentation of calcs for appendices, but generally all happy(ish) with the numbers.


Calling it a night. Remaining appendix work split up. Some more numbers / formatting work to do in the morning, but suffering from a late night the previous night.  Driving home to bed.


Took some time to unwind after getting home. Checked the Aus news to help take my mind off things. Australian politics hey? Zzzzzzzz






Zzzz WACS!!!! Zzzzz


Zzzz CV!! CAREER!! Zzzzz




Zzzz ALAAAA- *snooze* -AAAAAAAAARM!!!!!


Breakfasted. Showered. Travelled. Claimed computer. Cursed Macbook (separate grievance). Gary's found a possible calculation error. Coffee.


Calculation error reviewed. Agreed on one correction. Not agreed on another. No time to argue, finishing touches on appendices to complete.


Appendix work done, although waiting on final input from others. Where have the last 2 hours gone??? Haven't written a word of the report; realise priorities haven't been well managed.  How do these numbers become words??? Will read last WAC quickly to get in the writing mindset. Coffee.


Report writing commenced. Additional time spent collating appendices. Reasonable report structure complete, basic intro section written, opening sentences of each other section drafted.


Reasonable progress on report. Written 600 words, although will edit heavily at the end if time permits. Busy morning. Lunch break. In fact, after mindfulness session yesterday, am calling this a Lunch and Smile Break. On some level this is a lot of fun. Spring in step on the way to sandwich purchase.


Lunched. Coffee'd. Chocolate in hand. Saw 2 people at lunch who were reviewing their final draft. Swore at them.* Realised again my priorities haven't been optimised. Need help from some kind of Optimised Projects consultant...


Report coming along. Other students also coming along. Loudly, and in groups. Impatience rising. Moved to quieter location. Gave fake congratulations to another classmate casually strolling past having finished. Swore at them.*


Getting there getting there getting there. Exec summary drafted. Final appendices in. Focussing on completing essential tasks before trying to fine tune. Couple of good ideas won't fit into the report. Nobody will read about the interesting z-value!!!


Not now.


Stop stop stop! Must upload!


Uploading to Turnitin. Submit? YES YES!


Oooooooooooooooh baby! Well that was crazy. No word from teammates for a couple of hours. Did they make it?

You know what? This is a fun way to do assignments. Well, 'fun' is not the right word. It's good though. Intensive, but now it's 4:05, heading to pub for a pint with other spent souls, and am pretty happy with the final submission. It won't change the world, it contains good and bad bits, but it's a satisfying result under the circumstances.


London Stout, you little ripper!

*References to swearing are for effect.  I'm a professional.