“It’s been like drinking from a fire hydrant all year,” Andrew Harrison-Chinn tells me of his first taste of the MBA program at Cranfield University School of Management. “There’s only so long you can spend doing the same thing every single day. I wanted change.”
Upon reflection, it is clear to Andrew that he made the right choice. The Cranfield MBA has pulled off quite the career switch: he worked for PR companies across London since his move from South Africa as a boy, aged 17, but transitioned into investment banking. He landed a job with Barclays Capital, one of the largest international investment banks, where he rose to the rank of Senior Analyst over a five-year career.
But after leaving his PR-speciality in crisis management, Andrew first worked in retail banking for RBS – the Edinburgh-based subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, which was bailed out by the British government during the global financial crisis in 2008.
“It was very impulsive. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy,” Andrew said. “I had done lots of internships at different public relation houses in London and when I got there it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was.
“So when my six-month contract came to renewal I actually said ‘no thank you’. Do not pass go, do not collect 200.”
Andrew thinks that, although they didn’t say so at the time, the recruiters at Barclays Capital hired him because of his experience in retail banking. Before he landed a job with RBS, he got a foothold in the industry while completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Herefordshire.
In 2007, Andrew moved into the Structured Rates and Inflation Trading desks at Barclays Capital in London – what he describes as “the back office”. Within a year, he was promoted into the exotic lifecycle team, now called Structured Rates. From there, he moved up to the Inflation Trading desk (the "middle office”) and began to take Finance projects over from his colleagues.
His rise through the ranks was compounded by his solely-developed idea to solve redundancy issues at the investment bank by automating a process that had been manually operated for 13 years. He formulated a sole index for non-live books on trades – trades that previously had be reset manually on a daily basis, working with several new departments across Barclays.
The Senior Analyst’s VP originally had doubts and bet him a drink that he couldn't do it. Andrew it still waiting for that beer. “My VP initially said I couldn’t do it and he would buy me a beer if I could,” he said. “We’re meeting up in a month so I’ll get it back from him then!
“But the support that was given to me was fantastic. It was difficult to manoeuvre through different departments. Some people didn’t even know who I was."
Andrew’s progression at Barclays could be considered evident in his opportunity to motivate his colleagues by giving speeches for the Retention Panel on internal mobility. But his desire to go above-and-beyond the call of duty at the investment bank hid a more sinister motivation: he simply got bored.
“It’s that glass ceiling,” he explained. “Barclays’ really were trying to give me projects to do and to keep me entertained. They realised that there wasn’t many opportunities going on. There’s only so long you can spend doing the same thing every single day and I wanted change.
“The problem is you’re limited. Project-work helps, but only to a certain degree. I needed to build my transferable skill sets so I started doing things on the communications panel, on the sports society and charity things to try and build my transferable skill sets.”
Andrew's roles at Barclays Capital included volunteering at the Neighbours in Poplar Project and the Leaside Trust, which delivers inspiring and engaging outdoor activities to young people in East London. He also tutored a Year 6 child in Maths and English at Cyril Jackson Primary School. You sense it was to keep him motivated: that he needed to be challenged.
Andrew thought that with the economy shrinking, and Finance careers losing their popularity, he needed a backup plan. “What happens if ten years down the line, the same thing happens?” he said.
“By doing an MBA, that will build my skill sets - not only in Finance but across a broad remit of industries. That’s what I wanted to get: to hedge my risk in terms of, if this was to happen again in the future, I have something to fall back on.”
While studying at Cranfield, located 40 mins North of London, Andrew has learnt a great deal and he loves the business environment in London – “the mecca of the world”. He would like to return to South Africa at some point – a move he describes as the “final stop”. But not now. There is too much on offer in England’s capital.
The Cranfield MBA wants to try his hand at consulting and is in the interview processes at, among other companies, Grant Thornton. He is also welcome back at Barclays: a safety net that many MBAs would like to have.
With a British passport and an MBA from Cranfield, Andrew is confident he will succeed in London: “A good story is like a circle, they say, so I think I will end up where I began: in South Africa. But there’s still a long way between now and the end of my story. London is just amazing, I’ve not had enough of it yet!”