The MBA belongs in the boardroom

Dr Kellie Vincent, MBA Director at Westminster Business School

 With 2017 being ‘The Year of the MBA’ in celebration of the 50th anniversary milestone for AMBA at Westminster Business School we have taken the opportunity to place the MBA as a learning experience firmly where it should be – in the boardroom.

In our view, to be a transformative experience it is not enough to simply view what happens in management practice, you have to be part of that practice and be given the time and opportunity to reflect on and refine your approach so that you appreciate what it really takes to perform to a high standard. As ambitious individuals, MBA participants typically have the boardroom in their sights. The nature of how they work in a board context is specific to the individual whether this is working ‘for’ boards in the capacity of a senior leader, or working ‘with’ boards possibly as a consultant or being directly ‘on’ a board either in a start-up or in multinational corporate (MNC) setting.

The MBA is an ideal opportunity not only to look at integrated business issues and understand the nature of organisations but to also better learn where as an individual you personally perform at your best. For a long time Business Schools have focused on blending theoretical concepts with their applicability to the real business world and using an integrated approach to complex organisational behaviours. Capstone projects where holistic understanding of complex issues can be applied, consultancy projects with real organisations and immersive field trips and bringing in experienced practitioners are used extensively. These are all great and very much at the heart of the essential development of the leaders of the future. The only issue is that in order to fully make the most of learning opportunities mistakes have to be learnt from, responsibility has to be felt and further opportunities to practice and improve have to be taken. With one off projects, visits and discussions, there simply isn’t the time to practice, refine, repeat and subsequently improve.

In designing our new MBA we considered what attributes are needed by directors operating in our volatile, complex, uncertain and ambiguous (VUCA) global business world. The ten attributes are used throughout the programme as performance framework so that our MBA participants can identify their ‘board readiness’ at each and every stage. Just as we all have our own aspirations, we also know that it is unusual to perform at our best in all contexts - some roles and contexts of course will suit some participants better than others. By providing an opportunity to work with a series of real organisations from varied business contexts we have designed in the ability to move through a cycle of performance review and improvement. Our MBA participants will work as Shadow Advisory Boards for real host organisations, meaning that both personal responsibility for a specific role becomes an important learning experience, but equally important is the holistic 360 degree perspective generated from working as a board. The ability to identify whether a corporate, not for profit, international or entrepreneurial board context is the preferred post MBA place is possible. Demonstrating to employers that MBA graduates have the skills and attributes required to be a successful board director is possible because they have not merely been ‘studied’ but fully ‘experienced’ as part of our MBA programme.

The final ingredient in a ‘route to the board’ comes as a result of spending time not in a classroom but in an actual MBA boardroom. We are currently working with architects to design a space where the behaviours of the boardroom can be captured and perfected. Demonstrating you can perform in any kind of boardroom is essential for career agility. It has been illuminating to review different styles of boardroom - corporate culture and brand identity seem to seep into the fabric of this very special space. Ranging from Google’s quirky Granny’s Headboard and Flower power style boardrooms, to high tech virtual boardrooms enabling VR and online collaboration right through to the traditional highly polished wood dominated luxury, it clear that the board room is an incredible space where learning comes to life and into practice . It is exciting for us that very soon aspiring directors will be able to take their place in our own MBA boardroom and master the art of performing as a director from day one of our programme.

 Further information about the new Westminster MBA preparing you to work for, with and on Boards can be found on