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Kieran Doyle

Executive MBA 2009

Kieran Doyle

Kieran Doyle is currently European Operations Manager of The Oilgear Company and Managing Director of Oilgear-Towler UK Ltd. He has held various commercial and operational roles as General Manager and Managing Director and is a graduate from University of Bradford School of Management’s part time Executive MBA in 2009.

With little by way of qualifications from a disrupted secondary school education I feel very lucky to have gained a Craft Apprenticeship at Mather & Platt Pumps Ltd (Manchester) in 1979. I say lucky because the welfare programme of this company from the outset ensured all employees were involved in the bigger picture of ‘how the business was doing’ and it was this welfare policy that encouraged me to engage with the business and become top apprentice in consecutive years. This company’s commitment to investment in people meant that I was encouraged to take up a position in Project Management and also to be included for sponsorship on a business degree (BA Hons) which I completed in night classes 1990-1994. Consistent with company ethos, my bosses noted my ambition and continued to challenge my academic and professional boundaries.

As an EITB Apprentice, I was technically competent but it was this business degree that presented me with a passport to apply for senior roles within the business as I developed my understanding for how to manage high value capital equipment projects.

How do you go from being able to manage teams/projects/departments to being able to run a business?

For the next 10 years I held management positions in Project Management, Manufacturing and Operations departments that saw me travel worldwide on a variety of capital equipment projects. It was at this time I realised I had hit a ceiling in my ability to truly lead an organisation. I knew I could run departments effectively but I was struggling to engage with senior leaders and didn’t have the tools or capability to understand why, and this had become a real constraint to my learning how to run a business. In 2005 I joined an executive advancement programme where a career coach arranged for a 360 degree feedback process that was to be significant in terms of improving my self-awareness. Learning to listen would help me engage with those who would mentor me, but I also realised I needed more academic business tools to progress as a business leader.

In 2007 Sulzer Pumps agreed to sponsor my enrolment on an MBA programme. My ambition to lead an organisation was set in my mind and I believed the additional business tools offered by the MBA would be a door opener to the top levels of management which I was struggling to reach. Having now done an MBA I can see that it is not an automatic passport to the top on its own. I see too many MBA graduates who don’t already have years of managerial experience trying to lead businesses. I believe the best time to do an MBA is when you have learnt your craft and become a specialist expert so that you can relate your experiences to the theory – this cocktail produces more successful authentic leaders.

How do you choose the right Business School to do your MBA at?

For me, it was firstly about reputation. My Managing Director (at Sulzer Pumps) confirmed University of Bradford School of Management as one of the top international Business Schools and hearing its ranking mentioned in the same sentence as Cranfield was sufficient for me coming from an engineering arena. But when I went to visit Bradford, my decision was made largely on the fact that it felt like a perfect fit. Despite being an extravert, I was conscious that I wasn’t a natural academic and that I may be viewed as being under-qualified but in fact the opposite was the case. When they heard about my background and experience, I was told I was the ideal candidate and I was made to feel like I had already achieved something special. This ‘feel good factor’ was a defining part of the MBA journey for me. The academics were incredibly personable and really ‘got’ the industry I was coming from, they were always eager to come and visit the businesses we were working in and had an innate ability to make us step out of our comfort zones, which was very refreshing. My peers on the course were all experienced managers working in different business sectors which gave me a whole range of new perspectives.

How does an MBA teach you to be a leader?

What I learnt about myself on the MBA was as important if not more important as the academic side. Ultimately, what it taught me to do was listen – not only to my manager, customers, suppliers, staff, end users – but also to the entire business. My prior 360 and leadership 1:1s confirmed I had failed to listen but I didn’t understand until I did my MBA just how the business talks to us and that there are many ways to listen through words, observations and by studying the numbers. This skill now allows me to lead teams to be ‘best in class’. I now know to value the achievements of my team over my personal achievements and the power of mentoring and spending time with people from across the business to understand exactly what is going on and give them the chance to challenge things. Today, as well as communicating a vision and a strategy, I see my role as the ‘glue’ that bonds departments together, the ‘oil’ that makes the business run smoothly, and the navigator looking out for ‘ice bergs’ while the team propel the ship forward.

The very fact I had an Executive MBA got me to four final interviews for Managing Director positions. What I learned on the course helped me convert these interviews into lucrative job offers.

Who needs management theory to run a business?!

I believe that my main strength as a business leader is my ability to make the best possible use of data and management information. I still regularly undertake literature reviews and encourage my team to as well. MBA level Economics taught me to read the business through the numbers, forecast over the long term and measure performance from a financial point of view while the Operations element gave me a whole toolkit of models and techniques for maintaining a ‘lean’ business. But I don’t just apply these models as they are; I have learned to adapt different models to different parts of the business where I can see a fit. For example, using Michael Porter’s Value Chain combined with Elijah Goldratts Theory of Constraints helped me to coach my team as they stretched their productivity frontier delivering huge improvements in on-time delivery, halving the cost of quality and increasing capacity with no change in headcount .

I don’t always go around telling people I’ve got an MBA but it’s the proudest thing I’ve ever done and I genuinely do use what I learnt on the course every single day in my career and in my life. An Executive MBA might not be right for everyone but if you’re a project/team/department manager who needs to take the next step, there is no better one to take – and you will kick yourself if you wait until it’s too late.

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