Cass Business School MBAs Take New Approach To Leadership Development

New Expeditionary Society will see MBA students develop their leadership skills through climbs and expeditions in some of the world’s most challenging locations

A group of MBA students, alumni, and staff at London’s Cass Business School have come together to form a new Expeditionary Society, to help students develop their leadership skills through unique stretch experiences.

Around 100 people attended the society’s launch in late September, which featured an exclusive MBA leadership masterclass with Sir Chris Bonington—patron of the society and a British mountaineering legend with nineteen expeditions to the Himalayas and four climbs up Mount Everest to his name.

The Expeditionary Society are already planning for the UK’s Three Peaks Challenge and to make use of Cass’s international MBA electives, attaching expeditions to trips to South Africa and San Francisco’s Silicon Valley.

Archna Luthra was among the group of MBA and Executive MBA students and alumni who came up with the idea for the society after a leadership expedition in Vietnam.

Guided by two Chilean climbers—including Dr Rodrigo Jordan, Cass honorary visiting professor of experiential learning and the only mountaineer to summit Everest by all three routes—the group scaled Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in IndoChina.

Each day, a different person was selected to lead the group. At the end of the day, the group would reflect on how the day had gone, how they worked together as a team, and what they could have done better.

“We were really buzzing when we got back from Vietnam,” Archna recalls. “I’d done Kilimanjaro before, but I found the few days going up Fansipan harder than that. There were bits that were basically vertical!

“The idea behind it is it’s a stretch experience—a bit of a challenge. We were inspired by the trip to see how we can bring a different element of leadership development to Cass.

“While I’d done treks and expeditions like Fansipan in the past, it’s taking time out to think about and reflect on what you’re doing that really makes the difference,” Archna (pictured below, right) continues.

“I work at a really fast pace in my day job and I can be quite impatient. But going up Fansipan, I was probably one of the slowest, and that’s just the pace I needed to go at to be able to get to the top. I realized people need the space to be able to work at their own pace. I’ve taken that particular learning back into my day job.”

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Cass Business School is carving a niche in a crowded business school market, throwing its MBA and EMBA students into exciting experiences abroad—a technology and innovation elective in Israel and Palestine, a sustainability elective in Cuba, entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, and optional leadership development expeditions in the Andes, Iceland, and northern Vietnam.

Dr Sionade Robinson, associate dean of MBA programs at Cass, wants students to develop an “explorer mindset”, with the flexibility and adaptability necessary for success in today’s rapidly changing business world.

“We are strengthening our MBA community with shared stretch experiences as we put our strategy into practice,” she says.

“We push and stretch our students and encourage them to learn how to lead themselves, their peers, co-workers, even their boss. We nudge our students out of their comfort zones and then provide the support to learn from their experiences.”

Matthew McGuire experienced this first-hand during his full-time MBA at Cass, on international electives trips to Dubai, Warsaw, and Shanghai. A self-proclaimed ‘adventure lover’, Matthew went on the Mount Fansipan expedition as an MBA alumnus.

Why does he think such trips are important? “It’s about providing stretch experiences and getting to the crux of your own leadership style,” he says.

“Being away from the urban environment, with no signal and no Wi-Fi is a bit of a shock to the system. There’s no support—you’re completely reliant on yourself and the group around you.

“On Fansipan, what really got to me was the lack of sleep. Being in that situation, being physically tired, and then being asked to lead a group; it’s when you find out what you’re made of.”

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After completing an MBA at Cass in 2011, Matthew transitioned from capital markets to a CTO role at London-based fintech startup Zopa. He’s since carved out a career as an independent consultant.

“For me, the Cass MBA was extremely beneficial,” he says. “It just opened my eyes generally, to all the possibilities in the world.”

Archna agrees. Through the Expeditionary Society, she wants to help more adventurous young professionals experience the same thing. The plan is for society members to take part in an annual sponsored challenge, raising enough money to cover an MBA scholarship.

“The challenge this year is to climb the height of Everest—around 8,800 meters—over a few different trips,” Archna explains.

“We’ve benefited massively from our time at Cass—it’s a way to give something back.”

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