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Moving on up: from submarine officer to leadership in business

By Claire Jenkins - Posted on 5 May 2022

Not everyone who does an MBA comes from a typical business background - Claire Jenkins was in the military before deciding to do an MBA and now is on a path to leadership in business. 

Before I started the MBA, I was a Warfare Officer on submarines in the Royal Navy. Primarily, my role involved navigation, analysing intelligence, operational planning, and coordinating the operations team whilst on the surface and dived. I had reached a stage in my career where I felt my personal values no longer aligned with those of the organisation, and I recognised it was time to move on. 

I was unsure what direction I wanted to take my career after leaving the navy. I knew whatever I transitioned to would be a substantial change and wanted to equip myself in the best way possible. I have a lot of team and leadership experience from being in the military, but my wider business knowledge was seriously lacking. After speaking with MBA alumni from various universities, I knew that it could provide me with an opportunity to acquire new knowledge, whilst also transitioning to the civilian world. It was important to me to have structure on leaving and a place where I could begin to translate my military skills into civilian language. 

The experience of the MBA has taught me a great deal about myself, and the way that the military and my experiences have shaped me. In my undergraduate degree (and I can be honest about this now!) I did not put in the effort to achieve my full potential. I know that whatever happens on the MBA, I will have done my absolute best. This change in attitude is something which must have happened very gradually over the past seven or eight years without me really noticing. Only now, with something as huge as the MBA to measure myself, am I really able to see the “before” and “after.” The leadership, self-discipline and time management skills I developed in the navy have been priceless on the MBA, allowing me to stay comfortably ahead of deadlines throughout, and effectively help manage and direct group projects. 

Before I left the navy, I had experienced a relatively narrow range of leadership styles. Undertaking the MBA has exposed me to so many different approaches to working in a team. Some of this I have learnt through formal teaching, some through workshops, and a great deal of it through group work. I have found this to be the most challenging aspect of the course. In the military there is little room for flex or to be accommodating, and often there is seen to be a limited way of doing things. Learning to bend and adapt to others’ ideas and working styles – particularly in my role as class representative – is preparing me for my future in the civilian world of work. 

Returning to in-person classes has really helped me to bond more with others on the MBA. We also recently got to take part in our first industry visit which was to ACS Clothing in Glasgow. It really opened my eyes to the feasibility of being sustainable in everyday business, and I enjoyed seeing a locally grown business have such a significant impact. I also feel we have been lucky to have so many industry experts and SBS alumni connect with us as a class to speak about their areas of expertise and answer our questions. 

The MBA was something I had not even considered a year ago, but it has certainly equipped me with knowledge and skills I would not have otherwise gained. There is often a perception that the MBA is only for those with a “classic” business background, but that is far from the truth. In fact, having an unusual work history really helps to add a unique perspective when it comes to group discussions. I recommend pursuing an MBA for anyone looking to further their career, or make a change, regardless of their background. 

A few weeks after starting the MBA, I applied for the Amazon Pathways Program – this is a 5-year leadership development programme for master’s graduates and for ex-military personnel, starting as an Area Manager and with a view to graduating from the programme as a Senior Operations Manager, in a position to be a General Manager.  

Even before I decided to pursue an MBA, I had made up my mind to apply for the Pathways Program. I conducted my interviews in the months leading up to Christmas, and in late December received the news that I had been offered a role. A lot of ex-military work for Amazon, and for good reason – they actively seek to hire and support ex-military, recognising the skills we bring. I knew I wanted to work somewhere where I would be challenged on a daily basis, and have the opportunity to develop new skills, but also move within the company in the long-term, if I wished. I tend to plan ahead on everything I do, and for me it is a huge relief to be able to undertake the second half of my MBA knowing I already have the next stage of my career in place. 





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