After 18 years at the same company, Alison McMurtrie longed for a change and the opportunity to become an entrepreneur.
To expand her professional horizons without having to sacrifice her family commitments, she turned toward an online MBA—enrolling in the Distance Learning MBA program at Warwick Business School (WBS).
The flexibility of the program facilitated her entrepreneurial ambitions, and she’s now heading two successful companies in consulting and cybersecurity.
Choosing a flexible program
Although she loved her senior manager role at oil and gas services company Schlumberger, which allowed her to travel all around the world, Alison eventually arrived at a stage in her career where she felt she needed something new.
But she was worried that after almost 20 years at the same company in a specialized sector, her profile wouldn’t be particularly interesting. “I was at a crossroads, because I wasn't really sure how marketable I was in the mainstream and outside of the organization,” she recalls.
An MBA seemed like the perfect solution. It would allow Alison to learn new skills, consolidate her existing expertise, and explore different aspects of business.
But she knew she wouldn’t be able to commit to a face-to-face program, as she was still working full-time and had to look after her two kids when her husband was working overseas.
While looking into online programs, a friend of hers recommended the Distance Learning MBA at Warwick Business School, which is ranked first in the world by the Financial Times’ Online MBA Ranking 2021.
“I just thought, ‘Right, let’s do it, let's just put in the application form. If it's meant to be, it will,” Alison says. She got accepted, and started the program in 2019.
Building a global network online
At first, Alison was apprehensive about how isolating the experience of online study might be. But she was pleasantly surprised by how virtual connections were built into the program.
Through immersive group projects and interactive lectures, the Warwick online MBA connects students from all over the world, allowing them to meet people that they would have probably never crossed paths with.
The online MBA cohort not only interacts on the WBS online learning platform, but also has a variety of WhatsApp groups on different topics, where members can share job opportunities and ask questions.
Sometimes, Alison even gets to meet her classmates in real life when traveling. “You can say, ‘Hey, I'm going to be in Doha over the weekend, does anyone there want to catch up? ‘“ she says. “It's just really nice to have this big global network of people that you have this commonality with, and everyone's so helpful and supportive.”
Launching an entrepreneurial career
Alison also became much more confident in her business acumen over the course of the MBA.
She was able to refine the management skills she already had and expand her knowledge on strategy, for which she discovered a real knack.
It became clear to her that her 18-year experience with a multinational firm in roles including HR, operations, sales, and technology management, combined with the new strategic thinking and technical skills she was learning during the MBA, would be valuable to businesses.
“While I was doing the MBA, I kind of realized that, yes, I am saleable, and I do have credentials that are of interest outside of oil and gas and district,” she says.
So, she decided to create her own management consulting company to use this expertise to help others.
The flexibility of the program—which allows students to watch archived sessions and access teaching materials whenever suits them—enabled Alison to carve out the time it took to turn this project into a reality.
She used her MBA dissertation, which analyzed the impact of the Brexit negotiation period on the startup ecosystem in Ireland, as an opportunity to do market research.
She found that small to medium-sized businesses in Ireland don’t get enough support and guidance, which forces them to move to the US or elsewhere in Europe.
“I really want Ireland to be an ecosystem where startups can grow and develop, because we have such an amazing talent pool here,” Alison says. “I felt that my analysis showed that we could really bolster the economy by keeping the companies here.”
In July 2020, she founded Idunn Consulting, which focuses on helping Irish SMEs and startups digitize their processes and scale up.
But Alison didn’t stop there. In August 2021, she co-founded Cyberpie, a cybersecurity startup that provides subscription-based educational content to businesses with fewer than 10 employees about how to protect themselves from cybersecurity threats.
“It's really a one-stop shop for the SME community and specifically the micro-business community, so that every month they can build up resilience,” she says.
Both ventures are passion projects for Alison, and she’s looking forward to building up the companies’ capacity to help the small business community in her home country.
By providing high-quality business education in a flexible format, Alison’s online MBA enabled her to channel her entrepreneurial spirit into these two successful companies.
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