MBA Stories part 11: Phil Waknell

 Co-founder of Ideas on Stage, Phil Waknell, is one of Europe’s leading experts in the new art of presenting, and speaks regularly at major corporations and conferences about better business communication. He teaches business presenting at HEC Paris Executive Education, where he previously gained an Executive MBA. He is co-author of The Business Presentation Revolution.

‘An Executive MBA (EMBA) is a big investment for any budding entrepreneur, but in the long term it’s definitely a smart investment.’

‘Before I began my Executive MBA at HEC Paris I had dreams of starting a company, but felt neither ready nor able to do so immediately. My original intention was to gain an academic grounding to go with the business experience I’d built up as European sales director for major accounts at HP, after a 12-year journey through the world of IT that had started at Procter & Gamble. I wanted to learn about strategy, finance and leadership, and then to take on a more senior role in my company. I ended the course as CEO of my own company, and manager of my own destiny.’

‘Living in France, HEC was naturally on my short-list. The Executive MBA is a highly flexible programme and was strongly recommended by people I trust. The one-week-a-month-in-Paris modular structure made it easy to schedule my business travel around my studies.’

‘If there was one key moment that ‘sold’ it for me, it was when one of the admissions people asked me to think not what I could take from the course, but what I could contribute to it. That was a fundamentally different way of thinking. The teaching was of the highest quality, but a fair portion of what I gained from the course was from exchanging with the other participants. From their points of view on the case studies to the experience they shared, their different perspectives opened my eyes to new ways of thinking. We built an exceptionally strong team spirit that still lasts today.’

‘Alongside support from the School, it was my classmates who opened my eyes to where my real passion lay and encouraged me to turn it into a business. Through the Executive MBA I had the opportunity to take the ‘entrepreneurship & innovation’ major. Everyone was inspired to start their own business, but what I hadn’t expected was that I’d be one of them.’

‘In class, my own contribution was to make regular presentations in English as ice-breakers, and this led directly to their encouraging me to start a presentation agency. Six years on, I run Ideas on Stage, a global specialist in business presentation coaching and public speaking. My company helps entrepreneurs and CEOs – even TEDx speakers – across Europe, North America and the World, to move beyond the boring, ineffective presentations to inspire, motivate and transform their audiences using the arts of storytelling, visual design and powerful speaking.’

‘None of this would have happened without the Executive MBA. Although my company is not a tech start-up, the exposure to the tech world and fundraising strategies was a great complement to the nuts-and-bolts accounting and financial planning, enabling me to make a success of my venture. I’ve also learned to be a much better communications consultant. The programme didn’t just beat my expectations: it blew them out of the water.’

‘I’ve also been able to give back to the business school, providing presentation skills training for Executive Education students. The EMBA course is not an end: it’s really only a beginning.’