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Going back to school: learning skills to improve business development

Abstract

Wendy Furness is a partner at Scarsdale Vets in Derby. With an increasing role in the management of the practice, she completed an Executive MBA, combining studying with her work as an equine vet.

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As a business, Scarsdale Veterinary Group has always encouraged excellence from a clinical perspective and I wanted to extend this to include business development. I wanted the challenge of pushing myself in an area where I had increasing management responsibilities within an expanding practice. Because of this, I enrolled to do an Executive MBA at the University of Nottingham Business School.

What was involved?

The course was modular, which allowed me to choose how much I could achieve each year.

There were eight compulsory modules in all – finance and accounting, economics, strategy, marketing, managing people, entrepreneurship, sustainable decisions in organisations and operations management.

On top of this, we could choose four elective modules that complemented our business interests. I chose venture capital and private equity, advanced strategy, leadership and change management, plus a study tour at the United Nations in the USA.

Each module comprised around 100 hours of study, of which around 35 hours was completed at the university.

Each module was assessed in two ways involving either group presentations, individual projects, group projects or examinations.

Many of these could be tailored to real-life business scenarios. For example, I based one of my projects around capacity and work-flow analysis in our veterinary hospital, and another on referral marketing.

At the end of the course, we had to complete a management project, either a business plan, an original piece of research or an analysis of a business problem. This aimed to pull together what we had learned in a piece of work that could be up to 20,000 words long.

I chose to look at maximising the impact of digital marketing in the veterinary business. Although it was great to finally finish this last project, it alone generated more than 30 business projects for the practice.

Financially, I was lucky to be supported by my business partners at Scarsdale as the cost of doing the MBA was over £20,000 (although I did obtain some government funding).

Being off-rota for the time spent at the business school obviously had an impact on the business, but the rest of my study was done during evenings and weekends over a three-year period – it was very time consuming.

The university’s academic team had strong commercial backgrounds and were excellent. My tutor Paul Caulfield really pushed me to get the best out of my projects. I am also grateful for the support of my family, friends, business partners and work colleagues who all helped me to achieve what I have.

What are the benefits?

I found doing the MBA academically stimulating and practically beneficial – it has given me a lot to think about. I have a different perspective and I question things more.

It made me question things more and see the world from a different perspective

I have also learned how to work quickly and effectively with new teams to get a good outcome, as we were constantly working in new groups.

I’m quite a competitive person, so maximising the effectiveness of each new team was important to me (as was getting good marks in the projects).

The MBA has given me a window into a wider business world, introducing me to people across a huge spectrum of industries. I benefited from their insights and thoughts on business issues, coming as they did from a diverse range of backgrounds – from working in the NHS to mining in Zambia, and from architecture in India to marketing in the UK.

Exposure to these experiences has benefited the practice too. As well as using the projects to develop areas of our business, they have expanded our business capacity by introducing new skill sets.

Doing an MBA has also made me much more reflective. This was an important element, particularly in the second half of the course.

There were opportunities to be in put in situations we wouldn’t usually be exposed to in veterinary practice. I’m thinking here about my time at the United Nations, which I found inspiring. As a result of the experience, I have adopted the UN’s sustainable development goals – they are on my desk and I apply them daily.

Advice for others

Seize the opportunity to push yourself and learn new things. Take opportunities that are presented to you.

Seize the opportunity to push yourself and learn new things

To do an MBA you need to be ruthless with your time, learn to delegate and trust others to get things done. That said, the benefits are many.

You will end up full of new ideas and the inspiration to implement them. More importantly, you will have the skill sets to do so.

I would also recommend trying the things that seem the hardest or that you don’t understand – get out of your comfort zone. To give an example, one of my economics essays was on the ‘Contribution of game theory to the interaction between oligopolistic firms’. I had to spend a long time reading around the topic before I even understood the subject matter. But once I was familiar with it, it gave me a great insight into what is happening in our consolidating industry.

I would highly recommend doing an MBA for the experience and for what your business will gain from it.

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