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From Rolls Royce and RAF Engineer Officer to Henley MBA

What does a Mechanical Engineer do after a career in Rolls Royce and the RAF? Pursue an MBA at Henley Business School of course!

Tim Mann spent several years both as a Rolls Royce engineer and as an Engineer Officer for the Royal Air Force (RAF), before pursuing an MBA degree at Henley Business School.

 Henley ticked all the boxes: it had a great reputation, convenient location and flexibility to suit Tim’s busy schedule while he was stationed overseas. The MBA degree also enabled Tim to formalize the extensive knowledge he had acquired from the RAF and to translate it to a form that was universally recognisable.

Tim goes on to discuss his career path, his views on management, leadership and their connection to the military as well as his experiences on the many different countries he has been stationed so far.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at that stage in your career?

At that time I was coming up to retirement from the Royal Air Force after nearly 30 years of service and I had set certain goals. Firstly, I wanted to obtain a relevant and current qualification to demonstrate to future employers basically that I am not yet past it and that my skills are relevant to them.  I also aimed to prove to myself that I am still capable of successfully achieving a demanding academic qualification despite (or maybe because of) a career in military service.  Lastly, I wanted to bring myself up to date with current business thinking and to identify the delta with my own knowledge and experience.

What separated Henley Business School from other business schools?

Henley was one of the business schools of choice for the RAF about 15 years ago when I first had the notion of doing a MBA.  It was triple-accredited, had an excellent reputation and was conveniently located.  When I finally found myself in a position to actually apply, I was overseas and unable to take a year out.  I therefore needed a very flexible course.  Several business schools offered international or distance-learning courses, but out of my shortlist, only Henley offered a course that only required a single annual week-long residential workshop followed by truly remote, online learning.  The price was also within my budget, so I applied.

What are the main takeaways you got from the school's program?

In terms of change management, HR, financial and resource accounting and business techniques, I discovered that many of the initiatives undertaken by the RAF over the past couple of decades are current, well-understood and recognised by the business world.  For me, it was an opportunity to formalise the quite extensive training that I had received from the RAF in all these areas and convert it into an externally recognised qualification.

A surprise ‘takeaway’ for me was the Henley emphasis on introspective Personal Development.  To begin with, some found this rather painful.  I too found it awkward, but eventually most enlightening and try to continue the approach now, whenever possible.  I hope that it helped to improve me as a person.

You are a mechanical engineering graduate and have worked for Rolls-Royce for several years. You ultimately decided to pursue a career in the Royal Air Force though, first as an engineer and then in management roles as well. What led you to this decision?

I completed a full Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce and UMIST and went on to be a Service Support Engineer for the RB211 engine and then a Performance Engineer.  However, I realised early on that I was going to find it difficult to stay in one location for the whole of my career.  I came from an RAF family, I had a strong interest in aviation and it seemed a natural step to become an RAF Engineer Officer.  As you have seen, I have worked on most aircraft and engines in many parts of the world.  However, all roads lead to management, and as an RAF Officer this is particularly true.  I have been particularly lucky and served in a number of Command positions where I have had direct responsibility for the output and performance of my Squadron or Wing.  The culmination of my career in this regard was my overseas operational tour as the Commanding Officer for 901 Expeditionary Air Wing. 

When thinking of the military, managers are probably not the first thing that comes to mind. What can you tell us about the role of MBA graduates in the military and what do you most like about your job in the Royal Air Force?

I am surprised that people might tend not to associate managers with the military.  The line between management and leadership is often blurred and I would suggest that both are important in the military just as they are in business/industry.  Regarding my career, no two jobs have been the same.  I started as a Junior Engineer Officer on the Jaguar at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, but I have served as a Project Officer for the introduction of the Tornado to RAF Leuchars, I have been the engineering authority for major aircraft systems and the deputy head of Propulsion for Air Combat Command in the USA.  All of these have really been management positions.  

However, I have also been a squadron commander twice, including my stint in the Falklands as Officer Commanding Aircraft Engineering Squadron, and a wing commander twice, once looking after the RAF UK-based, deployable repair and crash recovery organisation (Forward Support (Fixed Wing)) as well as the overseas operational command as CO 901 EAW that I have already mentioned.  These posts are biased to the leadership side.

None of these positions need the MBA qualification per se as the military training covers most of the necessary areas.  However, seeing things from different perspectives and being able to apply alternative useful models and paradigms to everyday working situations will always be advantageous and I do believe that it would have benefitted the RAF to have me do my MBA earlier.  The sometimes subtle differences between military and civil methodologies can frequently provide different and better ways of doing things for each other; I have already found that to be the case on numerous occasions.

Since I have retired from the RAF, I have taken up a contract post with the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO).  In the same way that the MBA would have benefitted me earlier in my RAF career, it also benefits me in RAFO.  RAFO are keen for their senior officers to have Masters degrees that demonstrate their higher level abilities, so the MBA has certainly benefitted me here.

During your military career you have been stationed in the UK, the US, in the Falkland Islands, in Oman, Qatar and the Saudi Arabia. Did you get a chance to experience the difference in cultures and do you perhaps have any interesting anecdotes you would like to share?

I experienced the different cultures in all of the overseas locations that I have served and, indeed, that is one of the main attractions of serving overseas.  My family accompanied me on most of my overseas tours, so they were also able to witness at first hand the different cultures that you mention.  In most cases, the experience was very enjoyable, although there have obviously been a few less pleasant ones.  Overall, we have all enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity that we have been given to see so many parts of the world, meet such diverse, interesting and pleasant people and experience the customs and mores of their fascinating countries.  You have put me on the spot regarding anecdotes, and I guess I could fill a book with my experiences, but without context it would be difficult to choose any one that would do justice to the people concerned.  Suffice to say that I have always been welcomed wherever I have been and that I have essentially had a blast in a lifetime of service in a ‘global’ career with Rolls-Royce, the RAF and RAFO.