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Strathclyde Business School

Using an MBA to switch careers

By Jay Manton - Posted on 12 April 2018

Strathclyde MBA graduate Jay Manton talks about how he used his MBA to switch track in his career and move from engineering to starting up his own business venture.

There I was, 33 years old, and had been working in the Canadian oil and gas industry as a civil engineer for a heavy industrial contractor for the past 6+ years. During this time, I had mostly worked the camp life on a rotational schedule, flying back home every couple of weeks to spend a few days with my fiancée. I loved the work but hated being away from home. Call it what you want - a change of pace, a mid life crisis or just wanting more for my family, but I started to look for a change and thought an MBA would position me to make this shift.

I am a born and raised Western Canadian and I had had a diverse career up to that point in my life. Out of high school I did a diploma in wireless communication and worked as a telecom technician for a couple of years, before going back to school to get my electrical engineering degree in my mid twenties. 

During my summers in school I worked for construction companies, moving dirt and pouring concrete as a labour foreman. I never worked as an electrical engineer though and became a Professional Engineer in civil. After getting my engineering degree, I held positions of a superintendent, project engineer, and operations manager on job sites of $10M (CAD) to $200M+ (CAD). My thoughts going into the MBA was maybe it would help me move into a corporate position based from home, instead of in the field on the road.

When I started looking at the various MBAs, I realised that most of the Western Canadian programmes were a two-year commitment and were heavily influenced by the Oil and Gas industry. I expanded my search geographically and narrowed my focus to flexible 1-year programmes that were also reasonably priced.  The MBA also had to provide a broad strategic outlook of various industries to provide me with a more well-rounded education while still ranking competitively against the best in the world.  

The Strathclyde Business School MBA checked all of these boxes plus more and helped me influence my transferable skills from my construction industry into another industry.  But what my job title would look like was still yet to be determined…

Well, fast forward almost 5 years since I started the full-time MBA programme at Strathclyde and my life is a lot different now. I successfully completed the MBA, expanded our family to have a two-year-old daughter and, with the help from my brother and father, we started two separate zipline tour businesses back in Western Canada. Kokanee Mountain Zipline was the first business which started in the summer of 2015 in Nelson, BC and the second zipline park, Mineral Mountain Ziplines started in the summer of 2017 in Fairmont Hot Springs, BC. 

Between both businesses, we employ about 40 employees full-time on a seasonal summer (six month) basis. During these summer months I work seven days a week from dawn until dusk, but this leaves me the winters to enjoy some down time on my skis and with my family. It’s not that the work stops over the winter (financial year ends, marketing, hiring, strategic planning, etc) but it can be done on my time around my fun.

Doing an MBA gave me the time to reflect on who I am and what I wanted my life to look like after I had established a new career. After some soul searching, I knew I wanted to be in the outdoor adventure recreation industry and the MBA helped me influence my existing skills from my construction experience to excel in a new industry. The SBS MBA provided me with some fundamentals tools that were needed to bolster areas that my previous experience was lacking.

Two fundamental courses in the MBA that really made a difference in my knowledge was in Marketing and Finance. In my previous roles I had done a lot of cost-versus-budgeting but not been involved with the big picture financials such as understanding money lending and effects on the business, or how to read Year End Statements efficiently. 

As for my marketing experience, I think ‘non-existent’ would sum it up but through some of the courses in the MBA I got the exposure to understand how and why I may want to access my customer. I even took a Social Media elective which enriched my understanding of the power of the online marketing world. I now spend over half of my yearly budget on our online presence and we are seeing great returns.

The SBS MBA third semester is all around strategic planning and is really the heart of the programme. I utilise the tools we learn in this semester regularly to help navigate through the varying visions that each of the shareholders has on the business. As I always say, “My father wants to build the Taj Mahal and my brother would run the business out of a tent. I am there to find the compromise.”  

So, by filling some of my gaps with MBA, I feel I am a more well-rounded general manager and I am able to make informed decisions on which direction we want to grow our businesses. It is never easy starting or growing a business, but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun!


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University of Strathclyde
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