In these days of global, 24-hour communications, it is all too easy to forget that not long ago overseas postings felt much more, well, overseas.
"Even making a phone call involved booking it ahead. It was a trunk call and at busy times, such as Christmas, you had to book three weeks in advance," recalls BNFL group chief executive Michael Parker of his first job in 1968.
Parker spent two years in Freeport, Texas, as an organic process researcher for Dow Chemicals. Now 59, he eventually rose - via a Manchester Business School MBA course - to become chief executive of the company, leaving in 2002 on the back of a spate of poor trading figures, a departure that still obviously rankles. He describes himself as having been "removed" from the company. At one point he wondered whether he would ever work again.
A year later, in 2003, he landed the BNFL job. Last November Tony Blair launched a review of Britain's energy needs, a move that could pave the way for a new generation of nuclear power plants, and Parker has suddenly found himself in a high-profile, and politically charged, position.
"I would like to see a balanced energy policy with a role for natural gas, clean coal and for renewables," he stresses. "But renewables cannot be used for baseload electricity supply. There is a role for nuclear, as it can provide baseload supply."
Back in 1970, MBAs were in their infancy, at least in the UK. "At Freeport I had met a number of people who had done MBAs in the US and had been very impressed by their knowledge and understanding of business," says Parker, a Liverpudlian by birth.
But when he explained to his employer that he wanted to go back to Britain to spend two years at Manchester Business School, rather than taking up a posting at a new operation in Germany, Dow weren't impressed.
"At that time Dow did not value MBAs. When I told them, they were pretty disappointed. But they finally agreed to give me two years' leave of absence," Parker recalls.
What was attractive about the Manchester MBA, he says, was its focus on looking at management behaviours as well as the nuts and bolts of finance and business. "As a chemical engineer I was already reasonably analytical, so numbers came easily to me. What I enjoyed was the emphasis on behaviour and looking at who you are," he says. "I've always been interested in the importance of how you work with people, what motivates them."
Would he encourage his junior executives today to take time out for an MBA? Yes, but not straight away. "I do not think that doing it straight after university is the right way to go. You need to have a few years out. Two years, as with me, is probably the minimum," he explains.
As to how his MBA has helped him over the years, Parker is clear about the key benefits. "It was simply about getting a greater understanding of all the various aspects of business. It was having the ability to talk the vocabulary of business. You learn more, understand more and you are able to dig deeper."Reuse content