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Flexibility the key to making the MBA work

By Nicola Aitken - Posted on 23 May 2019

You can still do an MBA if you have lots of home and work commitments - Strathclyde's flexible MBA can offer the ideal solution, says flexible learner Nicola Aitken.

I joined my husband's family timber business Gilmour & Aitken in 2015 after having our son. My previous job working in food and drink exporting involved too much travel and his company could offer me a part time job working on various business improvement projects which needed delivered but which the directors didn’t have time to fully focus on.

In springtime 2017 Cameron Aitken MD asked if I would be interested in doing an MBA. He had done one himself in Canada 40 years previously and found it very helpful for shaping his thoughts on the future of the firm. I was up for taking on the challenge as although I had had good business and project management experience, the MBA offered a mix of new courses such as finance and strategy theory which I knew would be helpful for the future of the firm.

After agreeing in principle to do the MBA, I researched where it was possible. I needed to have a course with flexibility; being the main carer of our pre-school son and with my husband’s hectic travel schedule I simply couldn’t do a full time MBA. Strathclyde, as well as geographically close to me, importantly offered me part time and weekend seminar flexible study options which really suited my working and home needs. It is highly regarded both globally and by my peers so it was a very simple decision.

The courses have added value for both me and for the business. Gilmour & Aitken is a fifth generation small business where succession change is inevitable and run by a small management team. I have done several assignments based on the firm now where we have critically assessed various aspects of the business which have been helpful internally.

I have found the strategy courses in particular immensely helpful and I can see using these well into the future. Giving structure to thought and improving the quality of the conversation is a very strong positive from this course. It helps move management debate towards a structured academic thought process which everyone can be involved in.  

An example of this is the 15 year framing exercise done in Exploring the International Environment (EIBE). This was an enlightening process to look into what changes to your business may occur over 15 years due to changing dynamics.

The strategy analysis and evaluation course which makes you consider why your business is unique was very helpful as it allows you to challenge existing thought processes and really think about what is, or could, affect your business.

From the Managing People in Organisations course, I am already implementing the four frames and academic processes within change management in the business for an imminent business wide IT upgrade.

The programme has been a good mix of the key subjects discussed at a senior level within businesses. The subjects covered are taught by very high quality lecturers, most of whom have experience of commercial consulting which makes the learning very real and up to date.

Group work for assignments is probably one third of the MBA score and that brings rewards in terms of meeting some really good people but also challenges with balancing people’s timings and different ways of working.

Having done four assignments based on Gilmour & Aitken Ltd, I've gained a lot of knowledge both about the business and also how other people view the business. I'm extremely grateful to those who were happy to focus their assignment on our firm.

It is a highly complex course to arrange with so many students and such flexibility built in but it all runs seamlessly. The weekend schools work very well for me as it minimises childcare issues mid-week if my husband is travelling. Many of us who chose the flexible route have children so there's good understanding of the need for flexibility in the group work. Most of my assignment group work has been done via Skype, rather than meeting up physically which works very well when you live quite far from the Business School.

Choosing to do an MBA while working or while having young children means people are opting in, really wanting to invest in themselves and learn. It's why they are there. Particularly after several years of working and gaining experience, the MBA is a great way to reflect on that experience and move it up a gear for the future. The MBA allows you to learn subjects which are important to know in a senior management/board room position but difficult to get the experience of if you are working in one particular role - finance is a good example of this.

I would absolutely recommend this programme to anyone who is looking to self-invest in business learning for their future. It's not easy to balance work, life and study but everyone on the course is in the same position. Should work pressure get too much or a life event take over, the course is flexible enough to cope with it and the administrators are highly supportive.

The Strathclyde environment is one which is positive and supportive. Many people are different in terms of what courses they enjoy or do well in so it can balance quite well in a group situation across the different subjects.

Find out more about the flexible learning Strathclyde MBA here



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 sbs-adviser@strath.ac.uk 

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