MBA: And the winners are...

CHARLOTTE RENDLE-SHORT, 50, nominated by Durham University Business School, undertook a part-time MBA while holding down a job as head of Sunderland High School, an independent, coeducational day school. During her time studying for the MBA the school continued to thrive - student numbers increased by one-fifth.

Elected class representative by her MBA peers, she organised social events such as the MBA Ball and was good at initiating and contributing to class discussions.

"I decided to do the MBA because I wanted to be challenged and in touch with ideas but also because the management of schools is a complex business and requires the skills of general management that an MBA gives people.

"The programme gave me insight into ways of looking at a school as a business across all the disciplines that are part of an MBA - financial management and accounting, people management, understanding the organisation and some skill-based things such as marketing. All these apply in schools. Even little things like learning about operating systems, batches and flow-throughs apply in schools just as much as in Nissan.

"You can't do anything else unless the bottom line is right, because you've got to be able to invest. I am now deputy chief executive of the Church Schools Company, which runs Sunderland High School and six other independent schools.

"Taking the MBA has given me a much broader and more secure understanding of business and a basis for asking questions."

SARA HADLOW, 32, was nominated for the award by her fellow students at Aston Business School. Awarded a distinction and the Tomkinsons Prize for best full-time student in her year, she funded herself entirely, selling her car to bring in extra cash.

Her project - a marketing strategy review of Royal Brierley Crystal - was one of the best Aston had ever seen.

"Before the MBA I worked in the consultancy branch of Lucas Industries. There were a lot of bright people in there who had undertaken MBAs.

"I saw there was something important to learn but as soon as I started the course I realised the benefits were far greater than I had ever anticipated. I gained a broad understanding of how businesses work. It was like opening a window, seeing beyond my own discipline of marketing and actually understanding how that fits into a broader context. I underwent a fundamental change in my thinking, my outlook and my prospects.

"The MBA was a big financial commitment - it cost pounds 8,000 - but probably the best investment I have ever made. I'm now working for Brintons carpets in Kidderminster, earning 15-20 per cent more than before the MBA.

"I chose it because I really liked the organisation, the people who head it up and I felt I had the opportunities to use the skills I had learnt."

RICK CHAPLIN, 39, (above) flew over from Ontario, Canada, to take an MBA at the University of Bath's School of Management having spent 13 years working for his family business - a large vinyl manufacturer - and in other jobs in Canada.

Staff student liaison officer on the MBA, he conscientiously sought out students views' of the programme. According to Bath he was careful not to dominate the discussion, patient with and respectful towards his peers, and always supportive of fellow overseas students.

"I chose to come to Europe for my MBA because I wanted the kind of international experience that you just can't have in your own country.

"My family owns controlling interest in Canadian General-Tower Ltd which employs approximately 1,100 people. My contribution to the enterprise has been considerable, but I found that I was hitting the glass ceiling in my career.

"I was in need of a modern management toolkit and a comprehensive understanding of the language of business. I came with my partner, Alison, who was also accepted by Bath to study chemistry and materials science.

"The MBA was great. The teaching was good and the 50 or so people on the full-time MBA gelled very well.

"What I got out of the MBA was self-confidence more than anything. It validated what I already knew. I learnt some tools and it broadened my language.

"I am now engaged in re-engineering the business but I am prepared for it. I am trained up for the job."

ANGELA JENKINSON, 31, (right) nominated by Kingston Business School, did her open learning MBA with her husband.

She gained a distinction and was student representative for her year.

Kingston said that coming from the voluntary rather than the business sector she brought a fresh perspective to the programme. She is dedicating her award to her father Bob Jenkinson, a former primary school head, who has just died. He always told her to do something properly or not at all. That is what she did with the MBA.

"All my career has been spent working for the public and voluntary sectors. I have worked in social services departments, managing a home care team and dealing with mental health and HIV clients.

"Later I worked in training, introducing NVQs into domiciliary care.

"Then I became manager of the day centre for adults with physical disabilities at North Surrey Group Scope.

"When I joined I made it clear that I wanted support for a management qualification to help me progress and to validate what I had done before.

"They agreed to help financially and in other ways.

"It was hard work. I was determined to do well, so I put a lot of pressure on myself.

"I gained a range of specific skills - operations, marketing, human resources, finance and strategy - which I can now apply to my work.

"During the course I was promoted to chief executive of North Surrey Group Scope. Doing the MBA certainly helped me to get that job. It has changed my whole way of thinking."

EVE POOLE, 26, (below) worked for the Church Commissioners before her MBA at the University of Edinburgh Management School. According to Edinburgh, she developed rapidly as a major contributor to discussions and led a student team that produced a case study from scratch.

Her teachers were so impressed that they will be using it in teaching next year.

"Before enrolling, I did an interesting project working as part of a team reorganising the Church of England.

"I started getting interested in the idea of doing management more formally. The MBA was brilliant, very hard work. I did my thesis on Machiavelli for management. I now have a job working for Deloitte Consulting. I think my former employers at the Church Commissioners are very curious to see what I'm doing. They're quite proud of me.

"I like doing consulting because I like problem-solving and helping people out. But the public sector is where the help is really needed. They don't have the resources and have to be much more creative about problem-solving. Ultimately, once I have worked for a few years in the private sector, I would quite like to get back into focusing my efforts in that area."

ALICE OWEN, 30, (left) is still doing her part-time MBA at Manchester Business School on a scholarship. She's just completing her second job move since starting the course, having moved first from ICI to the Field Studies Council, an environmental education charity, and then to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority as head of conservation and policy.

"After my degree I worked for ICI as a graduate engineer. I had some genuine concerns about environmental performance. I was environmental operations manager on Merseyside.

"My motivation for doing the MBA was to get credibility as an environmentalist working in business. The MBA has tested my assumptions very hard and has given me a different range of tools and techniques. It's also given me a wider perspective on the different ways of doing things outside a single sector."

SUE SHIPLEY, 41, (right) funded her way through a full-time executive MBA at Ashridge. Her commitment and hard work paid off: she gained a distinction and was awarded the KPMG excellence prize for her project on Mothercare.

"Before my MBA I worked for Dixons Stores Group. I was ready for a change; my job was not challenging me.

"My aim was to go into consulting. At that stage I didn't feel I had too much of a say in what was happening to me. I thought it would be enjoyable and tough - and it was. The course was excellent. You start working with your sponsor more or less from the beginning.

"What you're learning in the classroom you're taking out into your industry straightaway. I gained a lot of confidence and a broader perspective of business. Now I'm about to start a job with Gemini Consulting."

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