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Howard Stone

Life does not stop outside the Henley bubble

Howard Stone - Executive MBA - EM12

The Henley Bubble

Just over three years ago I was looking for a business school that would deliver a MBA with international standing and a history / pedigree not possible with those jumping on the qualification. After looking at a few in London and those local to home, and not being impressed, I looked close to my sponsoring companies head office in Reading.

On the face of it Henley had the ingredient’s I was looking for and after attending a taster day, it was confirmed as the place I wanted to go, especially when I read a blog written by a former Henley MBA graduate. Originally I applied for the distance learning course, which would take 3 years, and it included lecturers every other month. After reviewing my application, Henley then asked if I had considered the Executive MBA, as my skills and experience were more suited to this cohort. Answering no and citing the reasons of time and money, the school asked if I would apply for a bursary, this brought the Executive MBA within reach.

It was during my first day, three years ago this week, that I knew it was the correct decision. There I am with almost 40 people I had never met before playing ice breaking games with a group of extraordinary people. In each stage you are split into learning teams by the Business School, and in my first team, lovingly called the ‘Henley Otters’,was the Chief Test Pilot from the RAF, FTSE 100 CTO, IT Manager from Buckingham Palace, CEO of a Danish Law firm, IT consultant specialising in high-end bank security and a the Head of Marketing for a foreign exchange company. When you have this quality of people around you, you can only perform at their level.

As we worked through the first stage of the course each team’s identity started to develop. At each workshop, one three-day weekend a month, the stakes got higher for the quality of team presentations, and we were all fuelled by the life we had made for ourselves. After the three stage 1 modules, HR, Processes and Finance, and coursework for each, we had an hour exam for each based on a case study. It was at this point when we all pulled together, sharing notes, dividing the analysis and angle of attack.

Stage 2 started with a change of team, which we initially resisted, but it turned out to be one of my lasting memories, working with different people from the cohort. As with stage 1 the quality of team members remained high, but we now had team based course work, which highlighted different ways of working and pressures from the dividing of workload. We called ourselves the Henley Allsorts, as the team included a Lawyer, MD and Dentist. Outside of the weekend workshops communication remained high through emails, teleconferences and LinkedIn as a cohort. With exams looming we split into smaller groups and shared our analysis of the case studies. With the last of our exams complete, it was time for a party.

The final stage offered a step change in our learning. With another learning team, Kingfishers, we embarked on another group project gauging the reputation of a Cape Town, South Africa, based charity. Initially we worked from afar and then spent a week working alongside the charity, interviewing their benefactors, funders and founders. This was an amazing experience, to help a charity so far removed from our everyday lives and pressures. Last on the course was the Management Challenge, the Henley name for a work based dissertation. The ‘MC’ gave us all the opportunity to research an area of business that we could see an opportunity or failing. For me this put me back in the world of academic research where I have spent time, so the task was manageable, but it still took focus and discipline.

So 21 months later, MC submitted and the exam board has verified the grade, its done. So you think, but now is the task of applying this new qualification in an environment and at a level that you set your targets on. You now have access to a badge that you can wear or choose not to wear, depending on your preference and self-belief that you have done it, delivered on what you set out to do some time earlier.

What are there as lasting memories? For me it is all about the people and the interaction with people that you would not meet in your early day life or career. The laughs from presentations that did not go as planned, the tears from disagreements and the euphoria of graduation and the changing of your email signature and business cards. Also, there is the network of people you now know, of course former learning teams give your primary network, and it is felt that you can phone these people at any time with a problem and they would help.

A result not expected at the start was the personal change seen in other people and the intensity that self-reflection can bring. Throughout the course Henley supported us with mentors and personal development led by Chris Dalton. His ability to grow our self-understanding and insight was remarkable and the ethos change of hardened capitalists was astonishing.

What else is there to say? For this is the ‘Henley Bubble’, but, for all of us, life does not stop outside the Bubble. The range of cohort experiences includes all aspects of life. Would I do it again – hell yes. Would it be the same? No. If you have the drive, want the badge and want to know more about yourself – Henley is the place for you.

The last word must go to our partners who have not directly been part of the experience, but have put up with late night working, weekends of us not being there and the frustration of ‘sorry’ I have to work on the MBA. For this we are forever indebted.

My future predictions

Turbulence is certain for the future looking at global politics, wars and financial markets.

In the short term we will continue to consume the natural resources of our amazing planet, and the divide between rich and poor will widen. Giving rise to the extremes that we see.

As for the medium term, all humans need to release that there is only so much this planet can take, before we have used it all. And what does this say to our children and future generations...

Beyond this we, everyone on this planet, have to change our habits of 'fear and consumption'. When animals are scared they consume as they believe lean times are coming.

What can we / you do now?

Be aware of your surroundings and make decisions that are tolerant of each other, and limit the spread of fear and therefore reduce your consumption...

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