Why MBA: Open University Business School 2

You can’t rely on army experience alone warns former Colonel, who is now Chief Executive of Derbyshire Police Authority

Former army Colonel Simon Bate, OBE, is now the Chief Executive of Derbyshire Police Authority and firmly believes there is a need for service personnel to invest in retraining and education: “You have got to prepare yourself, especially nowadays as the market is very competitive and getting more competitive with increasing numbers of people scrambling after fewer jobs. You have got to be able to separate yourself from the others when the competition is so great.

“I suggest that you are making life harder for yourself if you rely solely on your experience in the military. I think as a general principle, and I’m not saying this is the same for everybody; that you might be a bit naive if you think that you can walk out of the army and step into another job. If you do then that is fantastic - but I think that you will have been lucky and you will be one of the few.

“I left the army in 2007 but I wasn’t actually planning to leave. I had just reached that 50 year milestone in my life, working in Brussels, dealing with Africa, Sudan and Darfur when I saw the position advertised. I thought I’d dip my toe in the water to see if I was employable as one never knows how easy it was going to be when the time comes to leave the army.

“I was shortlisted, invited to the interview, completed psychometric tests and offered the job. I loved the army but I had to make the decision as to whether I stayed or pursued this new career. My decision was based on a number of factors. My position at the time in the Army meant that I was working very long hours with a great deal of separation. Whilst I got tremendous satisfaction out of what I was doing I was aware that it was also quite demanding on my family. We had two teenage boys approaching that stage in their education when one was changing schools and the other was moving onto A Levels. Therefore when I was offered the job back in England on an attractive salary doing something that I thought was adding value and would be personally demanding, but more importantly, that offered that stability for my family I made the decision to leave. Even though I miss the army, having served for 32 years, the time comes when you have to put the family first, and I recognised that the time when one has to leave the Army would approach me as it would for others; my decision was deciding when that would be and I decided to leave on my timetable as opposed to someone else’s.…..and for the first time in my life the bricks and mortar around me are now my own.

“I think one of the great successes particularly in my MBA, and the way the course is devised, is that you have to use your own employment to help you in completing the course. So it’s very much a win win exercise on both sides. When it came to doing my final year of my MBA you had to pick a thesis or project and mine was the redesign of the Police Authority. By pulling together the theory and the practice I was able to stand up in a real life situation and sell the new structure to the Police Authority.”

The delivery of the programme suits the armed forces, as the flexible mixture of online materials, DVDs, course books and online or face to face tutorials enables students to learn no matter where they are. Over the ten years that Simon has studied with The Open University he has served in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Africa and even though studying was challenging at times he was determined to continue.

“I found that when I went away on operations, particularly the six month tours, there was a lot of dead time where you’ve got time to sit down and actually the studying can be quite therapeutic. It allows you to totally switch your mind away from the day job. For example in Northern Ireland back in the 90s I was serving in North Belfast. When we came in off the streets we were effectively just waiting to go back out again, waiting for the call, so being able to sit down and do some reading, filling my time constructively, I found really quite useful and good for the soul!.

“The MBA gave me confidence, so that when I went for a chief executive role I understood strategic planning and decision making, stakeholder management and communication strategy, HR and finance and balance sheets. These were areas that I had some knowledge of from my time in the army but using different language. My MBA helped me understand the questions I was being asked at the interview, to respond in a similar style and also to help demonstrate my enthusiasm for the appointment.”

“When I was appointed I had a blank canvas to work on. The individuals that had been providing the executive support to the Police Authority were ‘double hatters’ as employees and part of the county council; this was proving not to be sustainable. The previous Chief Exec of the Authority was the county secretary. The treasurer for the Authority was the county council treasurer and I was being appointed as the Chief Executive with the task of building up the team around me to fulfil these functions and more. So by using my MBA experiences to build a business plan I was able to devise a structure I felt was appropriate for the Police Authority. I have since reviewed what I put in place two years ago and as a result I am now appointing a deputy chief executive and a performance analyst to build on my original structure. I couldn’t have done that with the background I had as purely a military solider. The MBA helped me enormously. If I had a regret I would say I wish I had started this earlier as I know that my MBA experiences would have added value to my professional capabilities as a soldier.

“My MBA tutor groups, during my years in Brussels, were very multinational and there were very differing approaches being taken by some when considering the same issues. I found the mutual support you could get from each other within the tutor group really excellent and this is all part of the fun of The Open University. The support that you also get online from the other students and the sharing of information is also so much easier now.

The value of Simon’s MBA is clear in terms of his career change and personal development. But now, as an employer, he explains how he sees potential employees who are also Open University students: “I’d look at the person in a slightly different light as they would be demonstrating some form of commitment and determination. I think that in itself gives you an indication of the character of that individual particularly if they have a track record of succeeding.

“If they’re in their first year of study, yes I’m interested but if they’re in their third year then they’re demonstrating that they are well on their way and that tells you a lot about that individual; distance learning can be seen as a useful indicator.”

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