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CEO To MBA: How Business School Helped Me Grow As A Leader

For many, an MBA is a path to starting your own business, or even becoming a CEO. Parveen Rai, however, did things the other way round


Thu Jul 4 2019

“You’re never experienced enough to know everything,” Parveen Rai proclaims.

With 20 years of experience in business, and as CEO of the two companies which she set up herself, Parveen is in as good a position as any to profess this belief.

Business schools often attract students wanting to grow their experience, accumulate skills to start their own business, or even accelerate to the boardroom, Parveen—who had much of this under her belt already—didn’t have an obvious need for an MBA.

However, her decision to undertake the full-time MBA program at Aston Business School has provided her with a growing network and fresh perspectives to help her expand her business portfolio internationally.


Having started a family at a young age, and having been prevented from going to university, Parveen’s life was quickly occupied not just by raising her children but by running two property businesses.

At last, with both children grown up, and the businesses standing on their own two feet, the timing of her MBA was opportune—a “now or never” scenario.

“The MBA was something I had always wanted to do, but finally I had the space and time to do it,” Parveen explains.

She was instantly tempted by the program at Aston, initially signing up for the part-time program, before changing her mind four days before to participate in the full-time MBA.

With her significant head start on most other students on the program, Parveen admits that she was a little cocky at first.

“I thought I’d know quite a lot, expecting to find the practical side of things easy.”

Instantly, her expectations were shaken and she saw her own leadership style growing and developing day-by-day.

The group-centered nature of the program at Aston opened Parveen’s eyes to a far more collaborative way of working which she could easily apply to her own roles.

“If you are looking to become not just a good leader but a great leader, you have to accept that a collaborative approach is far more effective,” she imparts.

The diverse backgrounds of those on the MBA program in particular exposed Parveen to many different ways of approaching challenges. While her own experience may have been more advanced than her classmates', her skill set was quickly broadened by working alongside those from a plethora of professional and cultural backgrounds.

 She has adjusted what she refers to as a “helicopter” style of leadership, to one where she places greater responsibility in the experts she is working alongside.

“Instead of working harder, [I realized] I should be working smarter by utilizing the skills around me,” Parveen says.

Following her MBA, Parveen’s career has progressed in exciting and unexpected directions.

Through her expanded business network from the program, she has become increasingly involved in executive work, including sitting on the board for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in Warwickshire and Coventry, where she represents the private sector.

The LEP board consults on how to allocate capital funding and projects in the local area—an experience which Parveen, as a property expert, can both contribute to and benefit from greatly.

Her long-term goal of launching into international markets, meanwhile, has been fast-tracked, due to the skills she gained from her MBA.

In particular, one course on international business gave her a solid understanding of the trade tariffs and international challenges which companies face when they expand—something which she was able to apply in real time to her business plan.

The project, she hopes, will commence later this year, and she confidently asserts, “I’m not going in with my eyes shut.”

For those MBA students with the same ambitions for the an executive position, Parveen has some strong advice.

“Be humble and be prepared to roll your sleeves up. I don’t think I’m above anything that is required of anyone in my business at any level,” she advises.

From her MBA, moreover, Parveen’s new ambition to keep listening and keep learning to expand her own skill set is something to which any CEO or business owner can pay heed.

“You can only grow your business if you grow yourself.”