Military Scholarship Lands Former Fighter Pilot A Place On Australia’s Top-Ranked MBA Program

The AGSM @ UNSW Business School Military Scholarship gave former fighter pilot Tim Willetts the chance to grow his business knowledge with a Full-Time MBA

One of the benefits of a great MBA course is the opportunity to network with and learn alongside people with diverse business experiences.

Whether you’re looking to go into tech or textiles, a small social enterprise or a big corporate, skills like leadership and the ability to compromise translate across industries, and MBA colleagues from a variety of backgrounds bring a wealth of knowledge to the table.

Tim Willetts, a current Full-Time MBA student at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), is one such unconventional student.

Tim had always wanted to be a fighter pilot. He'd grown up listening to his grandfather’s stories about being a child in London during the Battle of Britain, so when he finally joined the Royal Australian Air Force, he knew he had landed his dream job.

That’s why he joined the military—but why he stayed was another matter.

“Joining the military gave me a lot of really unique experiences and challenges,” Tim says, “but as I got into leadership roles the military gave me an opportunity to be a leader in an environment that you just don’t normally get to be tested [in].

“[You get to face] quite complex pressures and ambiguous environments where there’s no clear right or wrong solution, and a lot of times where you haven’t faced that situation before.”

This is undoubtedly a strong introduction to leadership. For Tim, the switch from learning how to lead in a military context to a business school classroom was a logical progression—and one made all the easier by AGSM's Military Scholarship, which Tim was awarded for his service in the Air Force.

The Military Scholarship is one of AGSM’s long-standing award offerings, but the school has also recently expanded their roster of scholarships to include an array of Leadership Excellence awards.

Designed for outstanding leaders in their communities and businesses, the Leadership Excellence Scholarships focus on academic merit and leadership potential as well as the possibility for career progression—all valuable traits to be found in an MBA class.

Like the Military Scholarship, the Leadership Excellence awards aim to broaden access to AGSM’s MBA curriculum—ranked number one in Australia by the Financial Times—and to the C-Suites that lie beyond for promising graduates, with new offerings for LGBTI and sport leadership.

For Tim, the scholarship was the starting-point of his business school journey.

“The Military Scholarship was a really good way to feel like I’ve got something I can offer to the class from my leadership experience,” he says. “I felt a real opportunity to contribute, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to learn from a broad segment of the business community—to take those leadership lessons and apply them back into a military context.”

Indeed, the transition from the Air Force to the Australian Graduate School of Management was not as challenging as one might think.

Tim says that the discipline, structure, and teamwork abilities that the military gave him set him in good stead for joining the Full-Time MBA class. In fact, it is this latter ability that has flourished during the MBA, particularly learning about cross-cultural co-operation—for example, on the MBA’s international exchange program.

Perhaps naturally given his background, the most memorable part of the MBA for Tim has been the Complex Adaptive Leadership course: a military-style three-day adventure, during which MBAs are taken into the Australian outback to test their teamwork and leadership skills.

“We went out and were put into a physically strenuous environment with not much sleep,” Tim explains. “We had to function in small teams and that was fantastic because that was deliberately set up to make us have to react to a complex environment, to change our plan, reassess the environment, adapt—and come up with a new plan!"

This experience, along with the core teaching on the MBA, has taught Tim that trusting your team and your ability to plan is the key to success, whether that’s in a warzone or a corporate conference room.

“[In the military,] we’re often required to be leaders under really stressful conditions and people are at risk of losing their lives, so it puts your leadership under a magnifying glass,” he explains.

“You see the best and worst of people, and I feel that those techniques and experiences translate across all business environments—how to motivate people, how to give them purpose and a direction, and just having that confidence and calmness that if we follow the plan, it will work out.”

Evidently, the Full-Time MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management has taught Tim how to meet professional challenges, and now he’s looking forward to applying this knowledge when he returns to the Air Force after his MBA.

“I think I’ll take the experience from the MBA and apply that world’s best practice to the military, because I feel like having seen those exemplars, I’ve learnt a lot that I can bring back—I’ve got a lot to offer there,” he says.

Find out more about AGSM Scholarships here