South African Alistair Venn had known he wanted an MBA since he was at middle school. He tells us how the INSEAD MBA took him from Africa's diamond mines to an executive role at Rolls Royce in the UK.
The engineer graduated from INSEAD in 2009 and joined UK firm Rolls Royce where he was, until recently, a Supply Chain Planning and Control Executive responsible for the "planning, logistics and supply chain of a $450m factory of 610 employees repairing jet engines for Boeing and Airbus."
Alistair went to school and did his undergraduate in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He had a full scholarship from Siemens and on graduating worked for Siemens in Johannesburg, first as an electronic engineer and then as a product portfolio manager.
He delivered more than 20 projects in the mining, banking, industry, retail and government sectors, and has expertise in working on site on diamond, platinum and gold mines and other high security compounds such as national reserve banks.
He was also a member of Siemens' global product strategy team in Switzerland, defining future geographical and product markets, an experience that strengthened his motivation to do an MBA.
“I have always known that I wanted to do an MBA... There are two parts to my personality: the technically structured part and the part that gets a buzz from working with people. I knew that I wouldn’t be an engineer forever and wanted to equip myself with the skills to bring technologies to the market.”
He narrowed down his choices to two US schools but he was also strongly drawn to the European schools, which are a lot more international. "I am really passionate about leading engineering technology to life and seeing my work make a difference in people’s lives," he says. “Looking back I’m grateful I chose INSEAD. Having classmates from over 90 different countries was remarkable. I was also glad about being able to study cases about emerging markets rather than just American or UK based ones.”
Alistair was awarded the Goldman Sachs scholarship for his MBA, which is dedicated to African students. “The scholarship was really helpful to me as most of my savings were in South African Rand. The application essay was about why doing an MBA was beneficial for me and how I would use it to do business in South Africa.”
Being at INSEAD during the 2008 global financial meltdown was particularly memorable for Alistair. “I vividly remember that it was incredible to watch Lehman brothers unfold in front of our eyes. It was difficult timing for jobs but it was perfect for maximizing the ability to learn from the different backgrounds and industries our classmates and professors came from.”
Alistair worked as Operations Manager for Rolls Royce at the end of his MBA programme leading large teams of people and overseeing large-scale projects involving jet engines for Boeing planes. “At the age of 28 it was a dream come true," he says. "It was an incredible opportunity to put so many aspects of my INSEAD training to use.The most interesting parts involved the people aspect of things such as negotiation practices with trade unions.
"It was fascinating to work on a masterpiece of technology, many components inside the core of an engine are designed so meticulously that they are able to operate at temperatures higher than the melting point of the metals that the components are made of."
Alistair moved on from Rolls Royce last year because he was keen to explore his skills within the Asia Pacific region. “I’ve got a bug for working all around the world. Despite the internet... you do learn so much from moving around. I’m still passionate about working in Asia so I jumped at an opportunity for growth here in Australia.”
Being in Australia gives Alistair the proximity to Asia that he needs to learn to tackle professional problems in the world's fastest growing region. Alistair may well return to South Africa but he wants to take advantage of the opportunity to work in many different environments. He maintains that “the MBA is not a golden ticket to a dream job but its a good way to equip yourself and meet people who help you achieve your goals.”