"The MBA helps you understand yourself; you really learn what motivates you, and why."
Envelope Optimisation (Biofuels); Rhine envelope; Royal Dutch Shell
What is it you currently do and what was your background?
I manage the bio-fuels supply chain for the Rhine Envelope, which is a region that covers most of Western Europe excluding the UK and Nordics. In that role I decide which bio-fuels we blend into diesel and petrol, where we blend, and when, and optimise the end-to-end business, from the point of blending, to the sale of the finished product.
My background is quite technical. I studied biochemistry at the University of Birmingham and have a PhD in molecular biology from Cambridge University. I became a research fellow there and began my own research group looking at how algae can convert sunlight into useable forms of energy. I joined Shell in 2007 in the UK, as a researcher in biotechnology and biochemical engineering and moved to Rotterdam in 2010 into an operations role. Last year I became involved in supply chain optimisation.
It’s been an interesting to move between different working cultures. I used to work in an academic lab that looked far into the future, then in industrial research and development where 80% of what you do will fail, but you do it, just to achieve the 20% of successes! Then I moved to operations, where nothing can fail and your time horizon is the next day, or week, but certainly no further ahead than 1 year. Now, working on a trading floor, I am in quite a different environment to an academic lab! The common thread in these roles has been biofuels, but looking at them through different lenses.
What led you to choose an MBA?
I think the first thing is that my training has been very much technical and I wanted to broaden myself. As my career moves on, I am dealing with people in different roles, with different approaches, and I want a better understanding of what their approaches and motivations are.
The second reason was to spend time with different people from different industries to learn what they do and how they solve problems. In essence, I wanted to get an external perspective on what the other business challenges and solutions were out there.
Thirdly, was networking. The MBA is a good opportunity to spend a lot of time with some great people, who you may be friends with for the rest of your life.
What made you chose RSM?
I chose RSM for two reasons; first, it is a great business school, with good alumni, and a well respected reputation, which is important, because it means it attracts good students, and you become part of that community. Second, it is Rotterdam, which is also where I live and work, so for me the convenience factor played a big role in the decision to go to RSM.
You began the course in January. How has the course matched your expectations?
It has really met them in every single way – I am loving it. You get to know people really well and spend time with them. The classes are interesting and I already see that I approach problems at work differently. A great thing is that you get to learn something at the weekend that you can apply at work the following week.
The learning teams, in which you work on assignments together, intensify the people aspect. The course participants are highly international and for those looking to take on global leadership roles the international nature of the team is especially important, as you learn how your behaviour impact people from different backgrounds differently.
It is a great, energising and fun experience with a lot of hard work; I would say you really get out what you put in. It requires a real commitment, but it pays off.
Could you say more about the theoretical aspect of the course?
The concepts themselves are not necessarily deep, but what the MBA does do is highlight areas around you, which affects the way you deal with people who work in these areas. For example, I have a technical background, but I now understand a bit about economics and finance, which changes the way you think about the implementation of technology, and it changes the way you deal with people in, for example, a finance function. You also get practical case studies that you can relate to your own real-life situations.
The MBA basically gives you a better understanding of the wider world and how what you do fits into that context.
How have you managed the demands of the course alongside your work and family?
You really need the support of both work and family to get the most out of the course. On the work side you don’t just need the consent of your boss, but an appreciation for the work that is involved. I am able to leave my work at 3pm on each Friday before classes, for example, which helps me prepare for the weekend. On the home front, my wife is highly supportive, and she looks after our 16-month-old son on her own for one day each weekend whilst I study. I would say that those that struggle on the course don’t have the support of their work or the buy-in of their family.
What has been the best part of the course?
I would say it is the broadening from your background and the people that you meet. The MBA also helps you understand yourself. It helps you understand what it is you actually find interesting and why that is - I’ve found out I am motivated by complex challenges, and how to solve them, but the actual nature of the problem involved is not so important. I have learnt that I find that the macroeconomic challenges facing Europe just as interesting to me, as the challenges faced in trying to develop a sustainable biofuels industry.