Rob Hales

Robert Hales

Nationality: British

Position pre MBA: Head of Operations

Programme: Modular Executive MBA 2016

What motivated you to do an MBA and why did you choose Cass Business School?

I had several reasons for doing an MBA.  I wanted to develop and refine some technical skills, comparing what I had learned in business with best practice tools. I also wanted to increase my knowledge of different industries and cultures, working with a range of colleagues and faculty.  The qualification was important but I also wanted to increase my learning curve after spending several years in industry.

I chose Cass because of its brand and reputation, London location, international diversity and EMBA structure.  I needed a programme that I could complete around a challenging role, so the long weekend structure was attractive.

What are your career goals and what do you hope to achieve after you have graduated?

My career goal is to lead medium-sized businesses through periods of rapid growth or transformation. In the short to medium term, this means taking P&L and operational ownership for a smaller business, potentially within a larger group, and building my experience of general management.

How would you describe your overall experience of the MBA so far?

The MBA has been an intense period which I will probably only fully appreciate after some reflection time.  I have worked with a wide range of people - one group of six had nationals from South Korea, China, Turkey, Morocco and the UK. I have also made some good friends, having shared nearly two years of fun and hard work.

The core classes were the most challenging in terms of time pressure, with a lot of ground covered in the first year. The second year elective classes have provided an opportunity to consolidate the first year learning and go deeper in specific areas, which has been a rewarding experience. The international electives were highlights, with a chance to enjoy a different working culture and environment.

How do you balance you work and personal life with academic studies?

My best advice is to be very clear about the compromises you will have to make, especially with your close family. My wife gave me a huge amount of support and I couldn't have completed the MBA without her help. You will have to make sacrifices and we all spent less time with friends and family than we would like.

At work, it is also crucial to be clear up-front on expectations. Your colleagues must know that you have to attend class and will sometimes need support during busy periods. Personally, I tried to do classwork during the week, starting very early before work and often finishing late after work, so I could keep weekends relatively clear.

From personal experience, I wouldn't recommend you change role, move house and have a baby in the period running up to the second set of exams.

What has been the most rewarding experience for you so far?

I have described the group work as the most challenging aspect of the MBA, but for the same reasons it is also the most rewarding when you get it right. Building an effective team in the MBA environment is really tough, but hugely satisfying and great fun.

This is particularly true during the electives, as you will only be working together for a single class. By this time you have more teamwork experience and know your classmates a little better, and you can see this expressed in the speed with which the team starts to perform.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging element of the MBA so far is the group work during the first year. You will be covering new subjects for some or all members of the group, working with people of different nationalities, cultures, ages and gender. You will all be under time pressure with the MBA, work and family. You will all have different routines and prefer to manage your time and workload in different ways.

The group work requires you to work constructively and productively despite all these issues, and having had very little experience of working together. There is also no boss to impose his / her decision - you are all equal. Being able to perform in these circumstances is a major challenge and will test every member of your cohort.

How would you describe your fellow cohort?

My cohort is very diverse in terms of nationality, culture, industry background and age. We have around 45 people, many of whom still work overseas and commute to London for each Cass weekend. They are all motivated and driven, often giving up even more time outside Cass for voluntary causes. And there were a few surprises - don't be fooled by first impressions during the opening weekend!

What has the learning experience been like? How are classes and taught and what sort of expertise do the academics bring?

The learning experience is driven by the nature of the class and background of the academics. The core classes tend to be more content-focused - there are only so many ways you can teach finance and accounting. Some classes make more use of cases and class discussion, depending on the subject matter.

As you move into the second year, the electives are typically more case-based and based on classroom discussion. You may also have simulations or play different roles during the weekend, as you analyse a case from different perspectives.

The academics range from career academics who have worked their entire careers in global business schools, to former practitioners who have spent a first career in their chosen field. This shapes their teaching style, with former practitioners typically more focused on real-world examples and cases.

What are your thoughts on living and studying in London and does Cass’s location bring any added benefit?

My experience of Cass changed during the first year, as I moved away from London to take on a new role. The experience of coming into London for the Cass weekends was valuable, as it gave me a chance to catch up with colleagues and classmates after class.

Cass's London location is helpful because it attracts international talent and gives a connection to speakers and events. One regret for me is that I wasn't able to make the most of all the events organised at Cass during the week.

What advice would you give to a prospective student thinking of doing an MBA at Cass?

Be prepared for the commitment and make sure you have the support of your family, friends and colleagues.

Make sure you know why you are doing an MBA, but don't be surprised if you what you value most from the MBA is not what you expected at the start.

Make the most of your classes. Do the preparation and participate in the discussion - you are giving up your own time and money so it is your decision how to get the best from this investment.

How does your weekend look when you are in London for your course?

I typically arrive on Thursday night and do final preparation for the class on Friday. The classes run all day from Friday to Monday - you will often find yourself working on some of the evenings if you have to present back to class during the weekend.

We usually organise events for the weekend - sometimes this is a dinner or night out for the entire cohort, sometimes just some drinks with your working group.

By Monday afternoon you will always be tired and ready to head home, while realising that you haven't yet started your working week and have a lot to catch up on!