Prize-winners set new standards

The MBA Student of the Year awards reveal the diversity of students' skills. By Kathy Harvey
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The Independent Online

The winner of this year's MBA Student of the Year awards could probably add his own chapter to any book on crisis management. While studying part-time for his MBA, Mike Goggin held a job as a Railtrack programme manager. His brief? To improve train performance and motivate fellow managers during a traumatic couple of years for the industry.

Despite illness and being a victim of the Selby rail crash, Mike Goggin made it to the end of his course with good academic results. "His enthusiasm and determination were incredibly impressive," says Tracey Rutledge of Goldman Sachs and one of the judges. "Everyone agreed that his well-rounded approach to management would stand him in good stead in any business sector."

Mike Goggin's fellow award finalists also demonstrated that as the number of people choosing to study for an MBA increases, so do the reasons for their decision. Catherine Stevens, who has just completed the two-year full-time MBA at the London Business School, came from a marketing job with an international charity and is now working for a strategic management consultancy.

For her, the MBA was a chance to shift gear: "I wanted to do a two-year course because I felt it would give me time to think and to focus on my long-term goals". While studying, she led several projects on social responsibility and business, and developed a new case study which is being used internationally.

The two other runners-up chose to do their MBA courses in Spain. For Nadia Ammar, the number-crunching aspects of the MBA were the biggest challenge. "I knew how to get round the corporate world, but lacked the knowledge of finance and business," she says.

Now, at the end of her course, she is unlikely to follow some of her fellow students into banking or consultancy. "It's the last thing I want to do," she says. "Not all MBA students want to become the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. I may decide to work for a not-for-profit foundation."

All the candidates nominated by business schools are judged against nine wide-ranging criteria, from academic achievement to team leadership, and whether the MBA has enabled them to make significant changes. The Association of MBAs, which sponsors the award jointly with The Independent, is also looking for someone who can act as an ambassador for the qualification. Paula Glayson, the association's marketing manager, believes the competition has highlighted the breadth and depth of students' achievements in the four years it has been running. Finding MBA students who are ambitious and driven is not difficult, she says, but the competition is designed to single out those people who will really make a difference in their chosen field. "It's all about being well-rounded and having a sparkle that sets you apart from your peers."

The fourth runner up this year cites a desire to experience other cultures as a major factor in his decision to study for an MBA abroad. Jo Flemming had already worked as a management consultant when he took two years out to go to IESE business school in Barcelona. "I benefited hugely from studying in Spain," he says. "There are lots of ways of acquiring an MBA, but I decided that cultural difference was an important aspect for me". In an uncertain economic climate, MBA graduates are likely to find themselves facing stiffer competition for top jobs, but the message from this year's candidates seems to be that the qualification has fulfilled personal as well as professional goals.

"The days when the MBA was an automatic ticket to a huge salary may have passed, but for many people there is a lot more to this," says Barbara Stephens, chief executive of the Local Government Commission for England and one of the judges. "The MBA is still the essential qualification for becoming a good manager. If this year's award demonstrates anything, it is that MBAs are now in every walk of life, from the voluntary to the corporate sector."