One man’s journey from the steelyards of Clydeside to an MBA and beyond

Do you know what the Isle of Cumbrae, an ironman competition and an MBA have in common? Read on to find out more:

You might associate MBAs with the traditional route of an undergraduate degree, postgraduate study and a little experience of the working world thrown in too, but some people take a different path.

Stevie Mitchell left school in 1988 and didn’t go on to higher education, instead, taking up a role as an apprentice plater at Clydeside Engineers – James Howden & Co. Until that point no one in his family had been to university.

Yet Stevie had a thirst to learn. Having completed his apprenticeship at Yarrow Shipbuilders, and while working as a plater, he signed up for and self-financed several courses at evening school including one in computer-aided design.

Just as he completed the course, an opportunity came up for a secondment in the design office using his new found skills. It was a serendipitous move which proved a turning point in Stevie’s career, leading to contract design work around the globe. During the following decade, Stevie built up an impressive roll-call of clients in the engineering, construction, petrochemicals, and oil & gas industries.

Upon applying for a new design role, Stevie was surprised to be offered a job as a project engineer at an oil refinery. The role quickly grew in remit, following new regulations brought in after the Buncefield explosion and Stevie set to work putting the right controls, procedures and management in place, soon making his mark.

Never one to rest on his laurels and always looking to develop his skills, it was about this time that a new idea took root – to study for an MBA. Stevie began his search for a course that would fit in around his commitments and one stood out, the MBA offered at the University of Glasgow’s Adam Smith Business School.

Stevie explains: “From the start, the Business School was interested in what I had to contribute to the course, along with what the MBA would offer me and this fresh perspective intrigued me. Instead of giving me the hard sell, as some business schools had done or simply taking a laissez-faire attitude along the lines of ‘well by all means apply and we’ll see how you get on’, Glasgow took a different approach.

“From my first phone call, the Business School took an interest in me as an individual. Instead of doubting whether I was capable of taking an MBA given I hadn’t been in full-time education for a while and didn’t possess an undergraduate degree – they looked at things differently. The team at Glasgow recognised the value of my experience and helped me to recognise it too – giving me the confidence to study for an MBA.

“I was chatting to the Business School one day – still undecided as to which particular course to sign up for or how to study, maybe part-time, maybe distance learning. I’d assumed I’d work full-time, whilst shoe-horning the MBA in around my job – when someone suggested– ‘Have you thought of studying full-time?’.

“I hadn’t, but focusing on the course full-time really appealed. Not only would I complete the course sooner, but I could give the course my full attention, thereby giving me the best chance of success.

“The idea crystallised and I made my choice – I chose the Adam Smith Business School and to take the leap of studying full-time. I was blown away with the support that had been offered to me and this support continued throughout the course and beyond.

“The School put a lot of thought into who they accepted on the course. We were a diverse group of people, some of whom were local like me, whilst others came from around the world, we all had different things to contribute, yet we gelled really well. I was pleased to find that I wasn’t made to feel like an elder statesman – I was just one of the students, like everyone else.

“Both those leading the MBA and those who’d joined the course became a close-knit community. We still keep in touch now and few days go by when we don’t connect on social media. Those of us based in the Glasgow area meet up when we can.

“Studying full-time when you have the responsibilities of a family or a job can be a challenge, but it also makes you more focused and determined. I was at the library each morning from 7 am, fitting in a couple of hours of studying before lectures began.

“I found this the best way to devote time to the course whilst being there for my family and supporting my children at after-school activities. It’s possible, you just have to be organised and a little bit tenacious, and every now and again accept you’ll have a day when it doesn’t all come together – and that’s okay.”

That same tenacity has seen Stevie enter ironman competitions and swim around the Isle of Cumbrae, for which he spent months preparing, swimming, weight training and sitting in ice-filled baths to acclimatise himself to the sea.

“Aside from the main course content, and our electives, the University gave us a huge amount of support, from mentoring and career advice to CV reviews and you can’t put a price on that. More value was added as this support didn’t stop with the last lecture – the Business School continues to go the extra mile for us.

“Now I am pleased to be reciprocating. I was asked to speak this the next MBA group in 2016 and also assisted the business school in their successful reapplication for both AMBA and EQUIS accreditation. If you’d asked me several years ago if I’d be doing this, I wouldn’t have envisaged it at all. The MBA has improved my confidence no end, I’ve learnt to build a rapport with people from all backgrounds, at all levels of an organisation and as a result my collaborative working has improved too.

“During the course, we completed a consultative project working with a business on a live problem and through this, one of the companies we contacted offered me part-time work on several projects. Several months down the line, I was delighted to receive a job offer from them, which I took up immediately after graduating. It proved a great opportunity to apply what I’d learnt on the MBA.

“My advice to prospective students would be – make the most of every opportunity you are offered on the course – you don’t know where it will lead.

“Today, I am the Programme manager of a £330m+ Energy from Waste Plant EPC project. It’s not a job I’m likely to have been offered without the MBA – in fact, both my earlier experience and my qualifications dovetail perfectly in this role. A lot of the job involves negotiating with a wide range of stakeholders and the Glasgow MBA equipped me to meet this challenge.

“Completing the MBA took my career to a new level – it enabled me to take the leap from a managerial role to working at more of an executive level – which is quite a long way to come for a lad who once worked as an apprentice plater. When I stepped into the steelyard that first morning, I could never have envisaged the path my life would take.”