February 2013

February 4th, 2013 by Winnie Armah

The past two years has been a whirlwind adventure, leaving me with scars and memories which would stay with me for the rest of my life. I, boldly or foolishly, embarked on a two year Executive MBA (EMBA) programme at Cass Business School whilst on maternity leave.

With my baby sixteen weeks old, and my eldest three years, I left home for a 3-day induction at a naval base in Portsmouth as part of a teambuilding exercise with my cohort. The excitement died down and reality sunk in when I collected my military boots and bedding and was directed to my room. It was small, cold, with dirty walls. There was a single bed perched in the corner with the mattress propped against the wall. Shower and toilets were at the end of the dark corridor flanked by rooms on either side. The ceiling and walls of the toilets and showers were like an insect dance hall, covered in intricate cobweb designs with a variety of bugs perched or caught in the webs. After two days of naval training exercises, I still barely knew my cohort; I ached all over and couldn’t wait to get home. I leaned against my seat on the train home and quickly drifted off to sleep in exhaustion. The EMBA journey had started and truth be told, after the Portsmouth experience, I was uncertain about what to expect.

The course took me to far-flung places I might never have been otherwise. We went to Brazil on a consultancy project. Incidentally, I remember more of hard core partying and the local drink Kashasa leaving most of my cohort legless than I do of the consultancy project. The study tour of China was no doubt very insightful but one of my most cherished memories was of the women in the cohort sitting in the revolving restaurant at the Raddison in Shanghai talking about balancing family, work and school.
The course challenged me in ways I never expected. Skyping study mates at 11:55pm in a rush to submit course work before midnight, having heated debates with team members over the validity of a proposition and waking up at the crack of dawn thinking about a lecture.

Outside the EMBA bubble, life was happening. I had gone back to work very early on at the beginning of the course and it was hectic. Like most UK SMEs, the economic climate made it very challenging and uncertain. Managing cash flow was even more critical as the recession deepened and corporate clients scaled back and changed their plans. Being at the helm of the finances, lectures were not the only thing that woke me up at the crack of dawn!

A year and a half on, life was also happening with family – the 16 week old baby was now walking and talking and the 3-year old toddler was now asking whether she would see me at bedtime or whether it was a school night, in which case she would not see me for a few days. She had an early lesson in geography and knew about mum’s trips to Brazil, China and the UAE. Her questions became more and more detailed until I had to give her an equally detailed itinerary of each of my weeks.

Last Thursday, the EMBA journey came to an end; my entire cohort graduated in a ceremony of academic pomp and pageantry. As I and two of my dear girlfriends on the course camped on my living room floor for the night after the event, I finally took time out to reflect.

We all had different reasons for taking the EMBA plunge. Was it a springboard to the much sought after promotion and the minimum 25% salary increase? Was it to open the corporate doors for ambitious business brains to enter high-powered jobs? Was it to inspire a new crop of audacious entrepreneurs? Did the end result match our initial expectations? The EMBA has led some into new jobs, others into new roles, others remained in the same job as they mulled over what next. In the midst of career planning, life was still happening – partners had changed, some had tied the knot, others had relocated, babies had arrived and some were on the way.

Incidentally, the FT MBA rankings were published in this week. Cass Business School came 1st in the UK, 2nd in Europe and 4th in the world for career progression post graduation. As more people continue to take the EMBA plunge, I will be bold and say “Life will happen” so if the end result is all you are after, you may lose out on the richness of the journey.


Comment By Comment Given
Wasif Wow, this blog has refreshed my own memories of the last two years! A great blog and I enjoyed reading it! Well for me China and UAE were the highlights. It is good to see that Cass is ranked quite well in terms of career progression post graduation...
Robbie I loved your Blog. Inspiring. I had no idea that you started in a Portsmouth Boot Camp! Wow. What a shock. I would probably have given up there and then. Well done Winnie!
Racheal Joseph Very uplifting blog. I enjoyed reading it. I am now off to find a challenge of my own. Respect to you Winnie
George Pretty chaotic years ... nothing but the best ahead for you Winnie :)

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