Ask not what your employer can do for you, ask what you can do for your employer.
Approaching your employer about sponsorship can potentially be very difficult; not all companies have established personal development programmes, and some might be concerned about the time and financial investment. However, for those companies that do invest in their employees, it pays dividends, as current MBA student Ben Carroll and one of our alumni Justin Reed tell us.
Ben Carroll works for Whitbread, who are based in Luton, UK. He says “The MD gave a talk about personal development, and mentioned doing an MBA. It might have been a throwaway comment but I decided to approach my line manager and we put together a proposal for the senior execs.”
Of course one of the major benefits of doing an MBA is that “it gives you a grounding in lots of areas straightaway when otherwise you would have to go through rotations in areas such as marketing and accounting”. Studying the MBA has meant that Ben has developed knowledge in these areas much faster and will be going back to Whitbread to manage a strategy team with others who are interested in taking an MBA too.
Ben says that having not really done anything like this before, Whitbread quickly came to see the benefits of a personal development programme, and one which includes sponsoring employees through an MBA. Whitbread have extended their network, and built a relationship with the School, one which has led to Non-Executive Director, Richard Baker giving a leadership talk to the current class as part of the Leadership in Action Series.
It is a potentially risky thing for an employer to do, after all an MBA will open your horizons, and you might not want to come back. However, Ben says that Whitbread kept in regular touch with him, and made it very clear that he’d be stepping back into great role using the experience he had gained.
Justin Reed is an MBA alumnus working as an Investment Banker for Investec in South Africa. He suggests that it could be easier to approach your managers if they can see that you are planning to stay and progress within the company. At the same time, Reed says, be aware that you might come back to the same position that you left before your MBA.
He offers the following advice:
- Be honest about your dreams and where you see yourself. Be sure that you want to stay at the company in the immediate term because the MBA will expand your horizons.
- Start the discussion early. The process of applying and acquiring funding can take a long time, so talk to your managers early.
- Have a strong story that you can sell to the company. Tell them exactly what you will be able to offer them as an MBA, and how taking a year out to study will benefit them.
- Be persistent. It can take a while for senior management to come around to the idea of funding you, but if they can see that there are clear benefits to the organisation they will be more likely to listen.
Finally, Justin suggests that “If your company doesn’t want to sponsor you, find a way to do it regardless. See it as investing in yourself.”