From technical expert to skilled people manager
"I’ve always loved aircraft and wanted to learn about them. Right from the beginning, even before I graduated from college they’ve fascinated me. So my career has always been strongly technical - I’m first and foremost a technical guy. I spent a long time in aircraft systems engineering with BAE, and that’s where the early days of my career were focused. But as I moved up from technical positions to higher-level management roles, I noticed some obvious gaps in my skill set, really crucial things like the need for a stronger and more inclusive leadership outlook and the ability to take a wider strategic perspective.
What did I want out of an Executive Education programme? In essence, I wanted to learn how to improve business and, importantly, how to improve people within the business. And alongside that, I wanted to find out how to shift my focus away from things that weren’t important. In the end, I actually enrolled in two very complementary LBS programmes – Essentials of Leadership, and Executing Strategy for Results (ESR). Doing the two together enabled me to cover what I needed, all in one go.
The ESR programme certainly gave me a big value-add - I learnt to tailor strategic plans to suit our business needs in a challenging environment where things evolve very quickly. And I’ll be honest, prior to the programmes I wasn’t good at managing people. That growth in self-awareness was a big learning curve. I used to stick very much to my own viewpoint – I’m inherently stubborn anyway - and was quite blind to the opinions of others. My technical background meant I was always trying to manage like an engineer, getting things done quickly but without recognising the human side of things in my attempt to move strategic plans ahead.
Lack of flexibility like that can be costly. But learning alongside highly international participants, people from everywhere from South Africa to South America, meant I started comparing their experiences to mine. I gained invaluable exposure to different ways of doing things; it opened my eyes to business practices that wouldn’t otherwise have crossed my mind.
In total, there were around 10-15 different sectors represented, but one particular colleague was involved in building airports. Given my background in the space and defence sector, I found that fascinating – I’ve worked in the industry for years as a systems engineer, but I simply wasn’t aware of the fundamentals needed to build an airport, or of the politics involved! The kind of insight that comes with the diversity that participants bring is just a huge value-add.
Learning how to manage people more effectively was a priority and I definitely achieved what I wanted. I’m more flexible, more relaxed now. If something doesn’t work one way, I know there’s another way to do it and I’m not afraid to try it."