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In 2019, former Royal Australian Air Force Squadron Leader Matthew Hanley moved his wife and two children from their home in Brisbane to London to embark on the LBS Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy. This life-changing decision catapulted Matthew into a senior leadership role at UK startup Neuville Grid Data. His advice for future Sloan participants? Spend as much time networking as studying to guarantee the best possible results.
The decision to leave Australia and move my family over to London for the LBS Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy was far from easy. My wife had just secured a job in Brisbane after maternity leave, and we had no support system in the UK to help with looking after our children. My wife knew that I’d been wanting to pursue a powerful learning experience like the Sloan – and live overseas – for years. She has always been incredibly supportive and was also excited for the change. It felt like the right time.
Being a student is a completely different experience when you have a family. I wanted to organise the administrative aspects of our lives in London – like where we were going to live – before the programme started, so I flew to London on my own initially. There was a lot to think about, including finding schools for the children, but the LBS website had some really good tips about the best way to find a home and open a bank account, and other useful nuggets of advice and guidance.
Being on my own during the first three months of the Sloan turned out to be an excellent decision; the first term is very intense. There’s a lot of reading to get through and it worked out well that my family had their support network back in Brisbane, while I was focused on settling into the rhythm of the degree programme.
The learning environment on the Sloan was electric. I’d completed a part-time Masters about a decade earlier, but I’d never learned through real-world case studies before – and the diversity of the cohort was a learning experience in itself. There were exciting and thought-provoking debates in most classes, which came about because of the different perspectives, cultures and life experiences of the cohort. Two of my classmates were from Kazakhstan; I’d never met anyone from Kazakhstan before! When the subject of the course or elective was the bread and butter of someone’s career, discussions could become animated. This really added to the whole experience.
The faculty teaching on the Sloan were incredible. World-class. It was a privilege to learn from the likes of Andrew Scott, Herminia Ibarra, Dominic Houlder and Jessica Spungin. Their reputation as leaders in their respective fields is well-deserved.
When it came to choosing my electives in the second term, I found myself naturally leaning towards those with a strategy focus. I suppose it reflected my interests at the time. But I made a conscious effort to mix it up. So, for a bit of variety, I ended up choosing Growing Social Enterprises, Brand Management, and World Economy: Problems & Prospects. Those last two electives really hit the mark for me – particularly the World Economy course, taught by Paolo Surico and Linda Yueh. These world-renowned Professors of Economics took us on a weekly journey into a specific topic linked to the global economy and economic history, including the 2008 financial crisis, the potential effects of Brexit and the recent growth of important markets, including China and India. It really is worth putting yourself out of your comfort zone. You don’t know who you’ll end up connecting with and where the insights will take you – or how you’ll use them in the future.
I’ve always challenged myself, and in my career, I like to actively put myself out of my comfort zone to grow and develop. This was the case when I left the military to work for Virgin Australia, where I managed a multi-million-dollar fleet realignment programme, and then again when I took the post as Head of the Exploration and Appraisal (E&A) team at LNG specialist Origin Energy. At that time, the oil and gas sector was completely new to me, and tasked with managing a team of specialists on technical infrastructure projects to extract methane from coal seams was, quite frankly, nerve wracking. So, in retrospect, picking some left-field Sloan electives in 2019 was probably one of my less high-risk moves.
Speaking of putting yourself out of your comfort zone, I urge future Sloan participants not to spend all their time on academic work at the expense of engaging in social activities and industry events. The power and influence of the alumni network should not be underestimated. It was a chance meeting at a Sloan alumni event at the Windsor Castle pub near campus where I met a former Sloan who became my boss. Networking is gold.
Clarke Simmons had completed the Sloan in 2004. His father had been in the US Marines and we connected over our military backgrounds, as well as our mutual interest in sustainable energy. He’s the founder of Neuville Grid Data, a company deploying innovative hardware to monitor electrical power grids at extremely high-resolution and developing artificial intelligence (AI) systems to recognise issues with equipment before they turn into equipment failures. It will enable operators, such as solar farms, to identify equipment faults and to undertake predictive maintenance early, thereby avoiding costly outages and revenue losses while waiting weeks, or sometimes months, for replacement equipment.
Clarke had lined up a number of contracts with solar farms as well as investors and happened to be looking for someone to execute the programme of work when we met. He sent me a LinkedIn invite the following day and the rest is history. On another occasion at a Windsor Sloan networking event, I met an alumna who worked for a firm that owned shared office space only leasing to tenants operating sustainable businesses. I was employee number one at Neuville Grid Data and I needed to set up everything from payroll to a pension scheme. When I was looking for office space, I remembered that alumna and signed up for office space in her building. That happened to be two weeks before lockdown.
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly slowed things down for us. We had to delay installing our equipment on site and it impacted our suppliers as factories were forced to close. Our Head of R&D is in California and was due to spend the summer in London, which he couldn’t do. It also slowed things down from a business development and an investor perspective, with the latter going into value preservation mode.
But this business is a pioneer and it is the future. Nothing has stopped because of the pandemic. In fact, because of the delay, we were able to mature our product from a data and hardware point of view. Eventually, once we’re established in the solar market, we want to take our product to the big electricity transmission and distribution players, like National Grid, EDF and Western Power. We’re keen to prove that the technology is an essential best practice in the electric power sector.
The LBS Sloan programme was everything I was hoping for and more. My efforts to make connections really paid off – not just with the big leadership role in the sector I’m passionate about and in London, but with the network of friends, acquaintances and professionals I now have that spans the globe. Having joined the London Business School Energy Club, I was asked to chair two panels at the Club’s Global Energy Summit, its annual event, and that enabled me to make eight new industry connections in different parts of the energy sector.
The knowledge and insight from the School’s faculty and research is unquestionable and it’s difficult to express how much I learned. But the LBS network was certainly as compelling. The opportunities to make life-changing work contacts and firm friends were abundant – and that was at least as valuable as the programme itself.
Find out where the LBS Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy could take you.