Some of the things offered by an MBA program you could feasibly get elsewhere. You could read the books, scour websites for free lectures, and even build your network if you set your mind to it.
However, what it would be difficult—if not impossible—to replicate on your own are the close connections to industry you get on a full-time MBA.
The prospect of a cohort of experienced, motivated professionals all in one place brings employers and experts from across industries swarming to business school campuses and, for many schools, their ties to industry are a formative part of their MBA curricula.
This is the case at Cranfield School of Management in the UK, where industry links have played an unusually prominent role since the very beginning.
For one thing, the school didn’t start life as a university at all. Rather, it grew out of an RAF airbase that was set up on the site in 1937 and was active throughout the Second World War.
The airbase became the basis for a College of Aeronautics shortly after the end of World War II, and in 1953 the Work Study School—which would later become Cranfield School of Management—was born.
The legacy of these beginnings of the school is far-reaching. Cranfield is the only university in the UK to have its own fully-functioning airport; it produces 75% of the UK’s postgraduate aerospace engineers and, according to Stephanie Hussels—former director of the Full-time MBA, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship, and director of Cranfield’s Business Growth Program—it offers a uniquely intimate connection to industry for aspiring business leaders.
“The school was set up by the government to be very applied—to create and nourish talent that could help rebuild the economy after the War,” Stephanie explains.
“When you look at how the MBA was set up in 1964, it was always very industry-focused—I think that runs through the DNA of the school, whether you’re studying management or even technology.”
Indeed, Stephanie says that big multinationals like Rolls Royce and Airbus frequently give grants for research to be conducted at the university, and the school offers a roster of customized programs where big companies like Jaguar Land Rover, L’Oréal, UNICEF, and more help to create a course that is tailored to their needs.
“The mission of the university is to put knowledge into action,” Stephanie says. “What makes us stand out is that we’re encouraged to work with business as a faculty.
“That’s also reflected in the graduates: 95% of our graduates are in relevant employment three months after graduation.”*
This high rate of alumni employment is partly due to corporate exposure offered through the MBA program. MBA students at Cranfield get the chance to take part in a real-life consultancy project, as well as multiple specialized and general recruiting fairs, presentations, and assessment simulations throughout the year.
Another key element of Cranfield School of Management’s continuing ties to industry is an engaged alumni pool.
The school have many big names under their belt, including Warren East, the CEO of Rolls Royce; John McFarlane, current chairman of Barclays bank; and Charlie Mayfield, the chairman of John Lewis Partnership.
Stephanie says that many successful alumni choose to return to the school to help out current cohorts—for instance to undertake a temporary role as an ‘executive in residence’.
“We have very senior alumni who come back for one or two days a year, and students can come in for mentoring and feedback—a sounding board to see what the steps forward are for them,” Stephanie says.
These alumni ties help to keep students close to the heart of industry in the UK and beyond, as well as endowing the school with resources not always available at such relatively small schools—it was an early alumnus who helped to facilitate the creation of Cranfield as an entrepreneurship hub.
Cranfield MBA alum, Tim Bettany, is the founding benefactor of the Bettany Center for Entrepreneurship at the school, which has helped to turn out many successful MBA entrepreneurs.
The center runs networking events with Cranfield alumni who are now running their own successful enterprises—opportunities which serve as a complement to the MBA course, which offers both compulsory and elective modules in entrepreneurship and new venture creation, led by Stephanie herself.
For Stephanie, this is the most exciting part of her job: seeing entrepreneurial instinct ignite in her students, whether they plan to launch their own startups or go into a job with one of the school’s corporate partners.
“I get to go into classes and teach people—some who are entrepreneurs, some who’ve never thought about entrepreneurship,” she says. “You plant the seed and then they come out with the confidence to start a business and go through fundraising—that is the exciting bit that gets me out of bed in the morning.”
For any prospective MBA, access to all levels of industry, from small startups to Fortune 500 companies, should be a high priority when selecting a program. Cranfield School of Management appears committed to maintaining the connections of the last 50 years into the next half century.