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My MBA: The value of operational experience

By David Alexander - Posted on 6 September 2013

Strathclyde MBA alumnus, Landis + Gyr Quality Improvement Leader in EMEA, David Alexander, discusses his career in the fast-paced electronics industry, why leaders need operational experience and how he’s working with the business school as part of the Strathclyde Business Fellow Network…

Having worked at the leading edge of electronics for the best part of 30 years, I’ve been privileged to meet, and work with, some of the most talented and innovative individuals around.  From the factory floor to the boardroom, I’ve witnessed unrivalled creativity which has transformed the industry, driven the march of technological advancement and changed the way we live.

Change is good, of course, but it’s not without its challenges. Looking at decades of evolution in the electronics industry – from the rise of semiconductors in the 80’s, through the huge advances in processing power and storage in the 90’s and system integration in the  2000’s, to today’s focus on intelligent sensors such as  smart metering – the industry’s rapid development has required all concerned to ascend an ever steepening learning curve.

Our products and processes have become more sophisticated, technical and complex, while the supply-chain needed to support them has grown larger, more connected and increasingly international. When a product leaves our warehouse now, it’s not unusual for each of its component parts to have been manufactured by multiple suppliers, in multiple locations around the world.

When you consider how the strategic forces of increased competition have driven down costs and how environmental and community concerns have made all but the most minimal and cleanest waste unacceptable, the need for attention to detail and diligent operational management is clear.

However, given changes to organisational structures and an ever more challenging business environment, capable operational management is not enough to ensure success. What’s needed is strategy, leadership and the ability to manage change, which is why hundreds of thousands of professionals embark on MBA programmes every year.

My MBA equipped me in several areas. It enhanced my strategic awareness  and my financial acumen , while at the same improving my understanding of how my organisation’s actions fit in a wider context – ‘the big picture’. It also allowed me to grow as a leader and, by working with fellow participants from a range of different professional backgrounds, to gain a new perspective on how to tackle complex challenges.

But an MBA is not a substitute for hands-on experience and nor should it be seen as a fast track to success. Had I not already had the operational experience gleaned from the real world, I don’t think I would have benefitted half as much from the programme.

In order for any leader to be effective, they must understand how to communicate with, and motivate those they lead. Having an appreciation of employees’ individual roles, responsibilities and where these fit in the process is essential to this.

As an executive member of the business school’s Swiss MBA network and as a Strathclyde Business Fellow, together with other industry leaders, I’ve been working to ensure the next generation of business leaders are given this operational experience.

By working collaboratively with Strathclyde Business School, we’ve been able to give current MBAs access to our organisations to improve their experience and skills. In return, they’ve been able to provide a new perspective, analysing and suggesting original solutions to problems.  It’s a win-win.

How important is it for leaders to have operational knowledge? How can we do more to provide business students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience? Let us know in the comments below….

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