Leveraging Continuous Professional Development for Career Success

INTERVIEW FOR WORKBOOTH MAGAZINE

Can you please introduce yourself, where you work and what you do?

My name is Funke Amobi, I am currently the Country Head of Human Capital for Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC (a member of Standard Bank Group South Africa) charged with the responsibility for leading, defining and managing the human capital strategy as well as the delivery of human capital services, policies and programs across the eleven subsidiary companies which make up  Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC.

My board membership includes serving as a non-executive director of Stanbic IBTC Asset Management Limited, a member of the Dean’s Council/Advisory Board of Lancaster University Management School UK (LUMS) as well as a member of the advisory board of WISCAR (Women in Successful Careers) in Nigeria.

What do you find most satisfying about your work?

I like my work in general, I like what I do, I like the strong people interphase, I like the fact that my work has a higher purpose for the overall organization and the individual employees. I particularly like the fact that the people matters I tend to deal on a daily basis forms the core of the organizations ability to succeed. 

So, I find that there is a greater purpose for everything I do, so it’s not just performance management, it’s not just setting the right culture and enabling environment for employees to thrive and attain their highest potential. I feel that it’s more about enabling the aspirations, potentials and innate talents of our employees and by doing these I see that I am also enabling families to achieve their fullest aspirations and ultimately national development.

Tell us a bit about your educational background?

I hold a first degree in Economics from the University of Lagos Nigeria, where I graduated with second class Honors Upper Division. Following the award of the prestigious British Chevening Scholarship, I proceeded to study for an MBA at The University of Lancaster, UK where I graduated with a Distinction and was awarded the Dean’s prize. Thereafter, I obtained a post-graduate certificate in Talent and Career Management from the University of Surrey, UK, and a post-graduate certificate in Organizational Development and Psychology of Change from the University of Bedfordshire also in the UK.

I am a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) United Kingdom and I was recently awarded the prestigious Chartered Companion status. I am a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management Nigeria where I lead the Professional Development & Learning Committee as a  Council member.

Why did you choose to study an MBA?

An MBA is a professional masters, and it is different from a traditional masters in the sense that it gives you breadth rather than simply depth. An MBA equips you with a broad set of skills including but not limited to finance, business management, operations, marketing, strategy, human resource management, accounting etc. I was a well experienced manager and had been an HR professional all my career life. I had however gotten to a point where I wanted to embrace general management in a multinational organization and it was clear to me I needed a different set of skills required to function at that level. It seemed an MBA was the answer. I thought a single masters would simply help gain specialist skill in that area and I felt I needed more than that to take on my next leadership passage seamlessly. Again, I deliberately elected for a British education essentially because I was fascinated by their standards and the quality of their curriculum. So, I set off to look for what I referred to at the time as a “mature MBA’ in other words I didn’t want to simply learn the theory I wanted some application to theory. With the support of an education advisor from the British Council, I became aware of the Lancaster MBA and went through the curriculum which satisfied my description of a “mature MBA” and I eventually secured an admission.

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How important is an MBA to career success?

I choose to study an MBA specifically as a critical part of my career progression enabler. The Lancaster MBA became a critical part of my career progression to general management. It enabled me to acquire a range of skills in a short time from cultural skills working with team members from different countries to business skills relating to corporate finance, strategy, marketing, and operations – essentially what it takes to run a business and most importantly leadership skills. These subsequently helped me to differentiate my practice of HR in the corporate world. On my return to work, I transitioned rather seamlessly into general management and my career took an upward trajectory to executive management across the industry.

My MBA education also helped me to become a more effective leader. We had a couple of Leadership modules on the MBA, one was compulsory called ‘The Mindful Manager’ whilst the other was an elective that I took. The Mindful Manager module on the MBA was filled with practical learnings that I still draw on regularly through its emphasis on the reflective capability. I find the learnings from the leadership modules on the MBA consistently relevant and useful in my career.

I think an MBA is important to career success because it is designed to build your general managerial capabilities and prepare you for transition into general management and executive roles with what is required to function at that level. Ideally, after your MBA studies, you should feel capable of running a business. I certainly did.

Is there a difference between a full time and a part time MBA?

I would respond to this question by stating that your context determines which MBA is right for you. The most important factor is applying what you learn during the programme into action within the workplace. I choose to do a full time MBA because I wanted the entire experience, and my context at the time enabled me to do so. It would be different if I had to make the call now.

I decided I would like a full-time experience in the UK which meant I had to quit my job for a year and my employer at the time assured a return to work. I also won the British Chevening scholarship award and this was a key turning point because it was easy to proceed to the UK to fulfill this dream because the finances were already taken care of in full. I would however say a differentiator in selecting which MBA programme to elect for should be the curriculum and the pedagogy i.e. how will these be taught? 

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The Lancaster MBA had three consulting interventions built into the delivery as well as an international exposure to study another economy and I choose South Africa where we spent 2 weeks in the classroom as well as several private sector engagements. The practicability of the modules were also very interesting. The three consulting interventions afforded exposure to real business problems where you had an opportunity to work with an organization to solve their problems and this sort of gave you a feel of whether or not you could apply your learnings when back at the workplace. 

What do you remember about your first week as an MBA student?

It was a mixed experience for me – for one I had been to the UK severally on holidays and business trips prior to my MBA so there were no shocks culture/weather etc. Interestingly, arriving the management school was a very pleasurable and memorable experience. On arrival, I realized the class had 75 students from 25 different nationalities which gave my class an eclectic mix. It was exciting because immediately I could see the impact of the cultural diversity and the challenge of adaptability and I knew I would love the learning. As I was handed my box of books and my laptop I was even more excited – excited because I could see that my expectations were not only being met but they were being exceeded. We had indoor and outdoor team building sessions and a detailed induction where we were schooled about the learnings of the UK education system – it was a full 1st week and it awakened me to the scale of work required to complete the MBA.                                                             

What was your best course on the MBA and why?

I really loved Corporate Strategy and Organisational Behaviour and I scored some of my highest grades in these two modules. Strategy because it serves to commence your thinking on why an enterprise exists which is its strategic intent and how the organization positions in the market place to achieve this intent which is the differentiating capabilities. I like the understanding of “competitive advantage”, it could be the Economist in me, but these learnings remain my default thinking now even as an Executive at work. 

Organisational Behavior was taught by the leading Professor on the subject in the UK at the time and the learning was profound so much so that when I was invited recently to lead the faculty for Organisation Behavior & Management in the Executive MBA Faculty of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier University, I was a good fit for the role and it has been a very fulfilling assignment serving as a Lecturer for Organisation Behavior.

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What changed for you at work when you returned from your MBA, were you able to immediately relate the learnings from School to your post masters work experience?

I think I did a lot differently as a professional when I returned from the MBA, as I mentioned earlier, I was already a successful HR practitioner but what the MBA did for me was to transform me into a successful business general manager. So returning home I could actually see things from the perspective of a business manager – so I could look at a business problem and not just be able to dimension the HR implications but more broadly I was able to dimension the business implications from strategy to finance to people and operations it enabled me think through the end to end the business value chain. I also found that I was now able to feature on strategy teams and business cross-functional teams in a more valuable way. My UK exposure also gave me an opportunity to work in 3 international firms and that exposed me to best practices which I used when I returned to work.

Are there any grants or scholarships that can support post graduate studies?

There are many options you can consider including the British Chevening Scholarship and the Common Wealth Scholarships which would usually be full scholarships. Universities also give scholarships in part to fund post graduate studies and this can be accessed by engaging the University directly.

What advice do you have for professionals thinking of pursuing an MBA?                                

Studying for an MBA is a lot of work, it is intense in its construct and demanding of long hours of study in a short space i.e. one year especially when undertaken full time. 

Three pieces of advice, firstly, I would advise that you are deliberate about your study patterns. It works better when you have a dedicated regime of hours of study and keep to these strictly. Secondly, join a study group so you can draw on one another’s strengths, support one another and strengthen your grades. Lastly, the scale of work required to complete the MBA is huge and can be overwhelming. The good news is that it is well worth it and a good investment in your career so I would encourage you to put aside all distractions and concentrate over the period of study to get the best value from the learnings i.e. fully embrace the body of knowledge. 

I do believe an MBA can be the beginning of an accelerated career progression if properly leveraged over your career life.

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