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Part-time study, full-time benefits: the Executive MBA

By James Brewster - Posted on 31 August 2022

Having completed his MBA via part-time study, James Brewster reflects on why he did it, what he got out of it, and if he’d do it again. 

Prior to starting the MBA I worked for a large engineering design consultancy, predominantly in oil and gas but I also gained experience across nuclear, renewables, biofuel, and whisky industries. My background has mainly been in risk management and safety engineering and my undergraduate degree was in Mechanical Engineering, also from Strathclyde. 

For the last 15 years or so, I have helped clients in high hazard and regulated industries around the world understand how to reduce the potential for significant accidents; ones which could result in high severity events with multiple fatalities such as fires, explosions or toxic/narcotic gas releases, or significant environmental events – such as large releases of oil to the sea - which could result in damage to the natural world. It's been a fun and interesting way to learn alongside teams of multi-discipline engineers. 

I started the part-time MBA at Strathclyde for three main reasons: 

1. Career resiliency: The industries I have worked in are subject to cyclic boom times and downturns. It was unsettling to be bringing up a young family and be in a very niche field of engineering. Also in hindsight, it was also unsettling to be working for a large organisation that was subject to cyclic consultation processes, internal politics and the typical merger and acquisition activity that many large organisations are subject to. 

2. It seemed a bargain: Despite the career uncertainty, I worked for a really good company and my boss encouraged me to study the MBA part-time. The company also agreed to pay a third of the course fees. Strathclyde then awarded me a bursary, which I encourage anyone who is eligible to apply for one. This meant that I really only had to foot a third of the costs over the 2 and a half years of study. A bargain - on reflection! 

3. I really enjoy learning: Being encouraged through a fixed syllabus seemed a good way to push myself to read more and get the opportunity to meet new people. Also, one of my favourite mentors when I was a graduate in Shell in Aberdeen was studying an MBA part-time. He sowed the seed and it was always on my radar to do it one day. 

The MBA was fantastic. Overall I'd say the part-time course was one of the best things I did in terms of my career. The continual useful learning, whilst striving to keep an open mind and educate yourself, is something I think everyone should be able to do.   

I really enjoyed all the topics on the course. I particularly liked the exposure to a broad range of core subjects and electives which gave a good grounding in the foundations of business. 

Highlights in terms of the subjects for me were the world of strategy including scenario planning and making strategy, the consulting skills and game theory modules, and the study of organisational culture. 

Another noteworthy highlight was the calibre of the people on the part-time course. All engaged in local industry, managing busy lives outside of the lecture hall and all of whom were really friendly and fun.  

They were really valuable friendships during a difficult time in my life. I lost my Dad suddenly in 2018 shortly after my second son was born. It would have been difficult to get through it without having such good people around me. 

Doing the MBA via the part time route also gave me the ability to learn something during the working week; it gives you a different lens on situations in the workplace. And also allows you to bring real work applications to class.  

It also meant that it made the experience last longer, which was fun.  

Setting up my own business post MBA, wasn’t all that well planned – it was more to do with the circumstances at the time. Lockdown and COVID arrived in the world and there was also a significant project in my day job, that I was the technical lead on, which looked like it was going to get shelved.  

I saw a fair bit of uncertainty in the staff role and, after discussing it with friends and my boss, I was encouraged to give 'Mostly Consulting' a go. I was also keen to apply the methodologies I studied on the course and try my hand at management consultancy, bringing variety to what I do in the world of engineering.  

It felt like a good opportunity to launch a business off the back of the MBA. And it's been a whirlwind ride and a lot of fun in doing so. Not without a fair share of highs and lows but, like many good things, it’s been worth the hassle on reflection. 

The degree gave me a good understanding of more elements of business than I had prior to the course. It also provided me with a lot of good contacts and perhaps a bit more confidence to give self employment a go. Life is too short not to go for it! 

Over the last two years, I've really had a broad range of experiences and opportunities to try some of the things we studied on the course - facilitating strategy workshops and helping assess, define and develop an organisational cultures has been fun. 

I also spent a good bit of time helping find and develop opportunities for a client to work with oil and gas companies, mainly to help them get involved in the energy transition and pursue Carbon Capture and Storage and Hydrogen projects in the UK and around the world. 

Being self-employed gave me the opportunity and flexibility to do some different things, which has been a privilege. The core of the business I am involved in is still consultancy and safety engineering and risk management, which is where my key experiences and passions lie. But it’s been fun to complement this with other consultancy work and work towards other career aspirations; such as part-time university lecturing and working in the third sector... 

The last four years of my life, with the MBA and start-up, have taught me a lot about myself, my priorities, my motivators and my career more broadly. I am a firm believer that you will regret inaction more than you will action. So, if you have an enthusiasm for learning and meeting new people, I highly recommend that you jump in with both feet and give it a go! 

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