John Peters has come a long way from the Royal Air Force lieutenant who was shot down over enemy territory on an airborne mission during the Gulf War.
He gained his MBA from Leicester University in 1997, and went on to build his expertise in the field of performance improvement. He was recently appointed Director of Performance for the Executive MBA at Aston Business School.
John designed a new program that will be implemented from this fall. Its focus is on business leaders improving themselves and taking the lessons learned back to their places of business.
The School has also released a new round of funding for its Executive MBA programme and there are 25 scholarships available, worth £3000 for each individual.
John spoke with us about the motivations behind the revamp and what participants can expect. We also couldn’t resist asking a few questions about the hostage situation!
I'm sure you get this all the time but can you tell us what happened when to you in the Gulf War?
My partner and I were flying into Iraq. We attacked a target and were just coming off it when we were hit by a missile and other anti-aircraft weapons. We ejected into the dessert and wandered through it for two days. We were captured by enemy soldiers and taken to Baghdad, where we were held in captivity and tortured. We were burnt with cigarettes, my hair was set on fire, put through mock executions, in solitary confinement, blown up six times. Eventually we were released. My partner and I wrote a book about it and we were famous for two weeks and then that was it.
So when did you get your MBA and why?
I completed my MBA in 1997 and at that point I was still in the Air Force. I had been contracted to stay but I wanted to have the cards in my own hands. I knew I wouldn't be in the army forever and so I wanted to keep my options open. I also wanted a chance to understand business. I wasn't terribly impressed by business education until I was on the MBA. It gave me so many tools and allowed me to grow up quickly.
What has influenced the new focus on performance engagement and employability?
It's all about achieving results. People tend to do a lot of talking but can they walk the walk?! We decided to focus on performance because we believe that if people can improve themselves then they stand a better chance of imparting similar changes in the teams they lead.
The MBA provides you with many tools to create change and achieve better results, but often people don't know how to wield them or don't have the right mindset and outlook to apply them in messy situations. So, it is really about a personal journey about getting to the point where you as a leader don't only provide the solutions but can effectively guide your people to solve these problems for themselves.
It's something I think of as an agile executive. I'm writing a new book on leadership and many of the thoughts, principles and concepts in the book are included in the programme.
How do you plan on measuring the performance improvement of candidates?
One of the unique things about this course is that we really want to engage with the students' understanding of performance. Defining what is good and bad performance is something people on the course will have to do for themselves.
I expect that this will be one of the challenges of the program since people from different backgrounds and experiences have to come to some consensus and agree on what standards to take into the future.
What special activities do you have planned for the participants?
There will be classes on negotiation skills; media awareness; presentation skills; cooking, which is something that builds team work; horse riding, to enable people respond to change; Tai Chi, because there is a lot of stress in the business world and business leaders need resilience; and an overseas consulting trip for a firm that will assess and grade the participants' work.
We've picked these experiential mediums because we want people to engage with experiences that reinforce and complement all their other knowledge. We also want the entire experience to hold as much meaning as possible for each participant.
What kind of people has the program attracted thus far?
We've had a cross-section of people represented in our applicants. People from business services, a lawyer, and a Russian businessman. We want the classes to be small with valuable face-to-face time from a very international cohort.
Apart from me, we've had some very talented people involved in creating the programme because we want our participants to come out with real insight. We'll be starting in October and the program can be completed within 27 months.
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