Midwest Mandy Uses Her MBA For Social Business
Mandy Varley wants to stay in the UK and eventually set up her own social enterprise
Mandy Varley gained her MBA from Lancaster University School of Management in January 2011 and now works for the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The 28-year-old American talks about her time at Lancaster and her plans for the future.
Mandy was born in Columbus, Ohio and grew up in an “idyllic American suburb in the Midwest which is most known for cows, corn, American football and family values”. This, she adds, has had a strong influence on the way she does business; she values the balancing of work with home life, is honest and straightforward even in ruthless business situations but says this “doesn’t mean I’m overly naïve and trusting – I’m just a strong advocate of fair play”.
It is apparent from Mandy’s CV that a large portion of her career has been spent in the charitable sector. Mandy says that although she has been interested in charity for a long while she is actually more interested in social business. Having worked at Phoenix Outdoor and Asheville House, which are both for-profit programs for at-risk adolescents, Mandy knew she wanted to work for companies that had a social aim.
She is currently working at NCVO which is more of a traditional charity that supports British charities by providing information, bespoke support and advice, sector research, training and consultancy.
Mandy decided to study for her MBA at Lancaster having studied the Financial Times’ business school rankings and decided that a British MBA was less expensive and takes less time, meaning fewer years of foregone salary.
The Lancaster MBA class was made up of 75 students from 20 countries. “I had expected a very competitive environment (and it was at times) but even still we all worked together and helped each other on different points. Another American described it as “supportive competitive” which sounds like a contradiction but an accurate one that worked quite well for our class.
“I never liked working in teams before doing this course and now I couldn’t imagine trying to do projects completely on my own again. Working with a team just makes every idea so much richer.”
I asked Mandy how she had found her time studying for her MBA and she said “I loved Lancaster. The courses were great, the faculty was very knowledgeable, the staff were so friendly and welcoming. I also really enjoyed living somewhere outside of London while I studied. It was easier to stay focused and gave me a broader sense of what the UK is like.”
For Mandy the highlight of her year was handing in her dissertation “What a labour of love! I’m so glad I did it and was even happier when it was over. I even used my findings to start writing articles for charity publications. I was very keen not to undertake new research and then simply not tell anyone else about it.”
The dissertation involved collecting real-life data from a UK-based charity “and in return for allowing me in to gather data, I organised my findings to make strategic recommendations to the organisation based on what I learned from their staff members.
“It was a wonderful experience and really cemented my confidence in being able to suss out organisational problems in interviews and provide solid strategic insights back to the organisation.”
One of the most interesting modules for Mandy was called ‘The Mindful Manager’ which was led by a former captain of industry-turned-professor, “I really appreciated the fact that he told us the truth about being a manager. Basically you will have ambiguous circumstances and limited information to make decisions that your superiors will judge you on. You won’t be able to control anyone else but your performance will be judged on how you motivate others to do what you need them to do for you to be successful in your project.
“Essentially he described the work environment and told us to mentally prepare ourselves and now I feel like I was able to get up and running much faster knowing what to expect at a higher level of management.”
A recurring theme when talking to MBA graduates is the importance they place on time management if you want to get the most out of the programme. And Mandy recommends: “Being honest with yourself about what you really want out of the programme. I spent a lot of the time finishing my work and showing my face at the local pub. Even if I didn’t have a drink I got to meet lots of new people and build relationships.
“Basically my whole course involved a lot of networking. Not the shark-y kind that people who hate to network always cringe at, but what networking is at the heart – meeting people, getting to know them and finding ways to help one another.”
Mandy wants to stay in the UK and ultimately to start her own social business. She says that until that is possible she wants to build up a large not-for-profit client base and help them with their marketing, training and strategy needs. If she was to move back to the USA she thinks that even if certain US employers are put off by “an MBA whose brand they are not familiar with. In the end I think there will be plenty of businesses that will simply want the candidate to have an MBA and the skills and tools that brings regardless of where it came from.”
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