MBA success stories: from business graduate to maths teacher

James Murgatroyd lives in Bradford UK and is training to become a maths teacher supported by Transition to Teach after Covid caused his job in the construction industry to end. Transition to Teach is a Department for Education funded service delivered by Cognition Education helping eligible career changers into teaching, with a revised focus for 2020 on those at risk of redundancy.

Where and when did you achieve your MBA?

I graduated from University of Bradford Management School in June 2011.  I started the course at the beginning of 2006 and could have completed it earlier, but the pressures of life in general meant that it took me 5 years to finish.

Why did you want to study for an MBA in the first instance? And why did you choose to do an MBA at this particular School?

I left school at 16 as I was desperate to earn my own money and found the lack of a degree held me back a little in my early career.  I was working for a high street bank at the time and was constantly told that graduate entrants were more worthy of management opportunities despite having no practical experience.  Being honest, I was resentful of this and decided to get a degree as soon as finances allowed.

When I changed careers in 1996 to local government I was offered the chance to study for a BA (Hons) in business management which I completed over four years.  I moved to national government in 2005 and was given a further chance to be sponsored through my MBA and I leapt at the opportunity.  I love learning generally and always have, whether it is languages or playing the piano (badly).

I chose Bradford for three reasons; it was highly rated, it is my local university (the campus is less than three miles from my home) and because it offered a distance learning route.  These last two reasons may seem to contradict one another, but at the time I was working in London a couple of days a week on average and could not be sure I would be available to attend lectures, so being able access studies remotely at a time that suited me was a real benefit.

What is the most interesting thing you learnt from your MBA?

The MBA I completed was a modular programme and the topic I enjoyed the most was the one on leadership.  I physically attended the university for a week and met fellow students from all over the world and we worked both independently and in groups. One of the things that came out during one group session was the idea of leadership through service. The idea that the leader does not have to be this charismatic figure who decides everything and drags everyone along by sheer force of will, but that sometimes the most effective leader can be the enabler, the person who gives each individual the resources and the support they need to achieve their potential and through this the organisation, or company, or society progresses. It was based on studies done into leadership in native American tribes and I found it completely fascinating. I think about it regularly, it is something that I recognise in other people more and more and something that I try to do myself.  I really believe that it is an underestimated quality.

What were some of the challenges you faced when studying for an MBA?

There were plenty, it was a pretty turbulent time in my life.  I started the course in January 2006 shortly after getting divorced and in September 2007 I was made redundant when the programme I was working on ended.  I set up two businesses as a result – a management consultancy and a short lived landscaping/garden design practice – and I also was a single dad with 50:50 custody of my three children who were teenagers with GCSEs and A levels and bags of hormones flying around.  Looking back now I am not entirely sure how I managed to keep all the plates spinning – lots of coffee, I suppose!  The distance learning route for the MBA and self-paced study definitely made things easier.

How has the MBA made a difference to your career path and leadership journey?

My MBA has made a difference in ways that I could never have imagined when I started out on it.  At the time, I had just moved to working for the national government on a labour market project and my career path would likely be moving into the civil service or something similar. During my studies I decided that I wanted to be my own boss at some point in the near future and redundancy just brought that forward.  I have used the knowledge and skills I gained from my MBA in work completed for many clients, large and small, in public, private and not-for-profit sectors, and I know that it has opened doors for me. Having an MBA says to your potential employer or client that you are capable of some fairly high level study, that you have a theoretical framework you can employ to solve problems and that you are serious about continual personal and professional development.  It has made me a better and more thoughtful leader – less prone to flying by the seat of my pants.

In what interesting ways have you taken what you have learnt in your MBA into the organisation for which you work?

At the beginning of lockdown I had the first chance in years (in fact maybe ever) to think about what I really wanted to do – I was working as an operations manager for a construction firm and suddenly all the sites were shutting – and I realised that I am happiest when I am doing something meaningful and so, aged 50, I applied to train to become a secondary school maths teacher. I have just started on my journey into teaching, but my management experience and MBA have already been mentioned as real positives by the school that I am working in and by the different agencies who are available to support career changers like myself.  

For example, there is a UK government backed organisation called Transition to Teach who are supporting me this year and next once I, hopefully, qualify.  Obviously, I am back to being a student again and have no managerial role, but Transition to Teach has already given me the confidence that there will be many schools that will be eager to employ someone with my experience and qualifications and help me progress quickly in my new career.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about studying for an MBA?

Do it.  You will never regret learning new things and gaining a qualification will stay with you for the rest of your life.  I actually found my MBA easier than my bachelors degree, because you have the opportunity to not only put into practice the things you learn, but you also have the chance to reflect your own experience back into your academic work and to offer new ideas and insight in a way that you don’t have at undergraduate level.

Transition to Teach is a Department for Education funded initiative that supports eligible career changers into the teaching profession, with a renewed focus for 2020 of supporting those who have been made, or are at risk of, redundancy. The project is part of the UK government’s commitment to invest over £10 million to support career changers into the teaching profession. The Transition to Teach programme was developed to promote, identify and support new career opportunities to successful professionals interested in changing their careers. The scheme focuses on encouraging potential teachers to recognise how their existing skills and experience can be applied to the classroom environment, to make a positive impact on young people and to provide an outstanding level of education across the country. Transition to Teach is delivered through Cognition Education.

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