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Taking A ‘Career Change MBA’ To Move Into The Third Sector

Ben Pawson used his MBA to make a drastic career change, from technology strategist and project management into the charitable arts education industry

Ben Pawson has an MBA from Grenoble Ecole de Management and says he was the only person in his class who at the end of each lecture would ask how the lessons were applicable to the third sector.

Liverpudlian Ben Pawson grew up in London and as an undergraduate studied interior architecture at art college, a course he says is “architecture for people that cannot do maths.” After five years in the interior design industry his career mutated after doing some web design for the company. “This was in 2003 and right at the beginning of search engine marketing and the Google Ad Words boom, people realised they could make money out of Google and my career changed into project management.”

After meeting his wife in Grenoble and surviving a long-distance relationship for 18 months they decided that Ben should decamp permanently to Grenoble. “I got a job working for a marketing company with clients such as Hewlett Packard, in management and IT project management where I stayed for about five years. I negotiated for them to sponsor my MBA and they kept saying yes but next year due to time or financial restrictions. Eventually I decided to make the change on my own, a difficult decision.”

Living in Grenoble and with one of the top French business schools on his doorstep meant Ben only applied to Grenoble Ecole de Management. The city of Grenoble is the second most international in France and there is already a culturally diverse mix of people.

Ben says that for him the MBA was a career change MBA, he went into the MBA knowing he wanted to work in the arts section and the MBA clarified exactly what he wanted to do. At Grenoble there are a series of four personality tests; “that all said the same thing – that I am the kind of personality that needs to be passionate about what they are working for, and I looked back at my past career selling computers and realised this didn’t get me going even though it was a great job.”

Ben knew his passion was in education and the arts and says he was always the guy in lectures who raised his hand to ask how the lesson applied to the third sector. The career change was always the motivation and Ben was spurred on by someone advising him that an MBA is an education not a training. “You look at an entire organisation and work effectively in any part of that organisation. It is flexible that you can repurpose it to be about just about anything.”

In a class of 46 students from 22 nationalities, being voted one of the two student presidents was “a bit like being the Kofi Annan of my MBA class. But I liked the notion that a complaint is just a badly worded suggestion.”

Ben was also involved with the entrepreneur club at Grenoble, which was in its infancy but had some great events and good contacts with some VCs in Paris who were easily lured down to the Silicon Alps. The club also made associations with students who were doing a Masters in entrepreneurial skills.

Modules that were the most instructive were leadership, “which walked us through finding your passion and gave us a goal to aim for.” But the most educational were the team work modules which gave Ben a new confidence as opposed to the individual work in quants which he says is his weakness. Grenoble also gave the management consulting specialisation cohorts the chance to present live pitches to prospective clients.

With his interest in the third sector it made sense to write a thesis relating to this passion, the subject was on fundraising in non-profit organisations, and many journals are looking to publish the paper.

The Grenoble careers service were proactive Ben says, and with his finely tuned elevator pitch he was surprised how many arts and museum jobs came through. People knew that Ben was the guy at Grenoble with an interest in arts and education. After graduating from Grenoble and working in their admissions office, Ben’s wife was offered a job as a recruitment manager at the University of Edinburgh, and they have set up a new home in Scotland’s capital.

Ben is now using the networking tools which he was taught on the MBA and in particular from a career lecturer, Daniel Porot who gave a 12 step plan to finding a job. “I am talking to people without asking for a job, doing careful cold calling to selected companies and volunteering for Out of the Blue, a charity who organise community arts events.”

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