My Executive MBA Took Me From The Royal Marines To Managing Teams At Amazon

Simon Lockley transitioned from the battlefield to business with an EMBA at Cranfield School of Management

Simon Lockley joined the Royal Marines at 16. He was deployed to Iraq and fought in the First Gulf War at just 17.

Over the next two decades, he toured Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, and specialized as a physical training instructor in the Marines, before taking up a new role as a logistics officer in the Royal Navy.

Then, in 2015, he decided to bolster his business skills with an Executive MBA at Cranfield School of Management – a UK-based school with close ties to the military. Halfway through his EMBA, a persistent back injury forced him out of the Navy, he was released on medical grounds, and forced to change career track.

Today, Simon runs one of Amazon’s delivery stations in Worcester, UK, managing everything from accounts, health and safety, and a team of up to 30 employees. We spoke to Simon about his Executive MBA, life in the military, and how he made the transition from the battlefield to business.

Why did you decide to pursue an Executive MBA at Cranfield?

I wasn’t expecting to leave the military at that point. As a logistics officer in the navy, I was getting involved in a lot of areas – like finance and accounting – that I thought an MBA would help supplement.

Cranfield was a military-sponsored route open to me. When you speak to people and you say you have an MBA, the next question people invariably ask is ‘where from?’ I looked at other business schools, but I knew Cranfield had a good reputation.

Cranfield also had a strong focus on observational behavior. I’ve always been fascinated by teams; how they interact and what they do. I wanted to learn more about myself in an academic environment; how I interact with others and how I can influence other people.

How did the Cranfield Executive MBA help land you a job at Amazon?

The MBA was a real game-changer in terms of my resume and what I could bring to the interview.

Amazon is a company of metrics and data analysis. Before I started the MBA, I think I would have struggled with the amount of data that I now have to interpret and analyze. My ability to interpret data, to go into it in fine detail, to look at trends, to do correlation analysis - all the things I learnt during the MBA – helped me stand out.

What advice do you have for MBAs looking to do the same?

Find a company that shares your values and beliefs. I needed somewhere that would give me with autonomy and creative freedom. I’m not big on rules and adherence to schedules. I can do that, but it’s not my happiest form. Amazon’s 14 leadership principles resonate with how I see the world.

How else have you profited from your Executive MBA experience?

The MBA has been transformational for me in lots of ways. After a long time in the military, you can think that you’re very rounded as a leader, but there’s always other things you can look at. I always thought that the soft side was a strength of mind. The more I did the MBA, the more I realized where I may have been going wrong or falling short.

Now, I can look at a person and I know how I can extract every bit of talent they’ve got and get the best out of them. That’s been the absolute gold dust of the MBA for me. It’s helped me realize what other people need to perform.

I sit in meetings now and I feel like I can genuinely add intelligent points to a conversation. Whether the topic is PR, economics, accounting or community engagement, I have ideas and opinions that are formed and valid based on the MBA.

How has your career in the military prepared you for a career in business?

There are a lot of linkages. Leading large teams, decision-making, people skills; all these cross over easily. The big thing the Marines gave me is self-belief; understanding what you’re capable of as a human being. And going from the Marines to the Royal Navy made me a better manager.

I miss the Marines considerably; the camaraderie and the professional excellence of the people I worked with. In the Navy, I found myself being stifled. I don’t miss the rules and the strict adherence to process. I’ll always consider myself a marine. Do I miss the Navy? Honestly, no. I haven’t looked back since I left.

Now, at Amazon, I’ve never met a bunch of people so committed to their work. I recently asked for volunteers to do a task. I thought I might get 5. I got 86. People here are so driven. The environment is so dynamic, fast-paced, and changing all the time. In that way, it reminds me of the Marines.

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