Becky Le had always dreamed of working in strategy. In her early 20s, she moved from her home in Vietnam to pursue a master’s degree in strategy and innovation in Europe.
But, when she graduated in 2009, European firms were still recovering from the effects of the global financial crisis. Linda needed to send money back home to help her family so she took the first well-paid job she could find, joining Phillips as a market analyst based in Eindhoven.
Several years on, and Becky was ready once more to pursue her career dreams. She chose Lancaster University Management School—the Lancaster MBA is ranked number one in the world for corporate strategy by the Financial Times—over both Warwick and Imperial College for her MBA.
There, she was one of around 50 students each year to go through the Lancaster MBA’s core Strategic Management module—featuring the popular Corporate Strategy elective course—led by strategy experts Martin Friesal; David Pettifer, a former partner at PwC; and best-selling author Gerry Johnson.
For the Corporate Strategy module, Lancaster MBA students work in groups exploring case studies on the strategic issues faced by real-life firms. Becky and her group analyzed Ocado, the British online supermarket, whose low profit margin—Becky suggested—could be improved by a more diverse portfolio of products and a focus on B2B.
“The way it’s structured and the pace of the course makes the Corporate Strategy module one of the best on the Lancaster MBA,” Becky explains. “You get given an assignment; you go out with your team and work on it; then the next day you present to the class—that’s exactly how it works in the real world.”
An emphasis on real-world experiences extends throughout the Lancaster MBA program. Becky took up a three-month placement at Grant Thornton as part of the MBA’s Consultancy Challenge, followed by an MBA internship at Vodafone in London where she drafted a strategic plan for a new Vodafone innovation team.
Becky went into the Lancaster MBA determined to land a job in strategy. Less than a year after graduating, she got one. She now works as a lead project manager at UK chemicals company, Johnson Matthey, heading up a new team with a project management capability she built up from scratch. “One of the reasons they employed me was because of the Lancaster MBA,” she says.
Joaquim Vermelhudo is another Lancaster MBA grad putting what he’s learned on the Corporate Strategy module into action. Since graduating from the Lancaster MBA in 2016, he’s worked as a real estate project manager in his native Portugal, responsible for finding and analyzing new business opportunities in the Algarve.
“I’ve been analyzing our competitors, the kinds of products on the market, and how we can build products that stand out,” Joaquim explains.
“I remember that on the Corporate Strategy module at Lancaster, we had analyzed Debenhams; its competitors, where the company was doing well, and where it was not doing so well. What I did when I studied the real estate market in the Algarve was exactly the same as what I did then for Debenhams during the Lancaster MBA,” he continues.
“I’ve brought all those tools to what I’m doing now—the mindset, the analysis; it’s the same.”
Peter Magpantay, a current MBA student at Lancaster, has just finished the Strategic Management module—one he was looking forward to since his application. “It didn’t disappoint,” he says.
“One thing I’ve really enjoyed is that it’s not all pure academics. Our professors have real industry experience. To be able to interact with someone who’s been a partner at a top consulting firm for many years and have him teach you about corporate strategy, I don’t know if I’d be able to get that without an MBA.”
For the Corporate Strategy module, Peter’s team analyzed the success of ASOS, the UK’s largest online fashion retailer. One of ASOS’s main attractions is its free returns policy, but this comes at a cost. As ASOS has expanded, returns have only increased.
To combat the issue, Peter’s team recommended that ASOS acquire a tech startup which could help make reliable product recommendations online, allow customers purchase the right clothing first time around, reduce returns, and reduce costs.
Peter’s post-MBA plan is to get into a strategic planning role. He’s looking at management consulting firms like Accenture, Capgemini, and Deloitte. “The MBA has given me the tools that I can apply in the real world,” he says.
Like Peter, Joaquim says he chose the Lancaster MBA specifically for its number one ranking in corporate strategy. “It’s first because it’s the best you can get
“In Sun Tzu’s The Art of War he says: ‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat’,” Joaquim continues. “It’s the same in business.
“You need strategy to look at the market you’re operating in, define where you are and where you want to be in two years’ time, and how to get there.”