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Mike left the Household Cavalry regiment of the British Army after six and a half years, and in 2009 made a successful application to London Business School to study for the MBA. He was awarded the School’s military scholarship of £20,000 for the MBA graduating class of 2011.
I wanted to do something other than a full-length army career, and having seen some friends struggling to be appreciated by the civilian labour market, unable to prove their transferable skills, I felt that an MBA would be an ideal way of transitioning, by catching up on lost business experience, and making myself saleable.
I’m married, and I live in London, so I wanted to study in Europe. In addition I wanted a two-year programme, because I’d heard that when you have less business experience, it’s important to have the time to reflect on what you want to do, and not feel rushed into making decisions. So the London Business School option, where I could be in the same city as my wife and have two years of study, seemed the best. Looking back, it was definitely the right choice; after an army background, your eyes are really opened up to all the possibilities out there and it takes time to figure out the opportunities.
I was going to apply anyway, and then the military scholarship opportunity appeared on the website - it just seemed like perfect timing.
Having military experience has given me the softer skills, such as leadership, management, running a team and motivating people, and I’m sure they’ll come to the fore when I leave and get a position of responsibility. However, it’s the MBA that’s filling all the gaps, in terms of fundamental business concepts and academic tools that enable you to do a job in a business environment.
Everyone asks me, but I haven’t found the transition from my role in the military to the business school environment particularly difficult - you go from one closed community to another! At London Business School, you become part of a community very quickly, and there are lots of people from all kinds of backgrounds, so it’s not that hard. The big difference is getting used to the amazing diversity of culture, nationality and experience in the student population, because the British Army deals with much the same kind of people all the time.
The only other thing that’s different is that you go from doing, to learning – which feels like a real positive. It’s really good to feel you’re being developed.
I can’t deny that winning the scholarship has been an enormous help, but my advice to anyone applying for this programme is to make sure you want to do it, and if you do then don’t worry about the finances; they’ll take care of themselves! I’ve had a small loan from family, my wife is working which helps, and the army gives leavers £1,000 per year for two years for academic study. In addition, the company I’m interning with this summer will pay something towards my second-year fees if they offer me a full-time job in September (with a view to starting in July 2011). I know that doing the MBA was definitely the right decision to make, in terms of future salary and benefits, and I’d have done it even if I’d had to take out the whole loan.
My current post-MBA plan, with a year still to go, is to try and get a job at a consulting firm (which is what I’m doing for my internship), bringing all my transferable skills together, and giving me a lot of experience in a short time frame. Then, eventually, I want to go back into a leadership role where I can combine my military career and business experience - that’s a fairly well-trodden path for former army officers. My recommendation to someone leaving the military and considering an MBA would be to make sure you look at the long term and really have a hard think about where you want to be in 10, 15, 20 years time. It would be easy to take a short-term route, and just accept the first job you’re offered – I could have done that, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s almost as if the course is designed for someone who’s left the army – everything is taught from scratch. Obviously, the learning curve can be steeper than for everyone else, but you’re therefore getting excellent value for money and catching up with your peer group.
The best thing about London Business School is the extracurricular clubs, activities, talks and speakers – there’s so much out there you can learn by involving yourself with all these and that’s how you learn what you want to do. If you did a distance learning MBA you wouldn’t get any of that.
It’s challenging, stretching - and enormous fun!
Mike Harley was a recipient of the MBA Military Scholarship (LBS Fund)