For marketing professional Jim Davies, studying for a part-time MSc in Marketing and Leadership at Cranfield School of Management was the catalyst for making a bold career move after more than a decade spent working in his ‘comfort zone’.
As well as achieving an executive-level apprenticeship qualification, he gained the confidence to apply for and subsequently secure an exciting new role at McCain Foods, where he now leads on digital transformation.
“The organisation where I was working at the time gave me the opportunity to study the Cranfield Senior Leader Apprenticeship+ Marketing and Leadership MSc, paid for by its apprenticeship levy,” he explained. “I didn’t take the decision lightly – I had quite a busy role and I’ve got young children as well. I did a lot of research into the detail of the course and the commitment, and went into it with open eyes, knowing what I was taking on. I was aware of Cranfield’s reputation as one of the top institutions, and knew it was a desirable place to go and study, with a really good connection to industry.”
Starting his course in September 2020, Jim quickly bonded with his fellow students, who were all grappling with the dramatic changes that were taking place in their business as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been lucky to study at an interesting time, as the world adjusted to the pandemic and its resultant ways of working, including increased digitalisation,” he reflected. “I had been at my company for 12 years, and always worked around agriculture. To be with 13 other people from completely different backgrounds and hear how they were dealing with opportunities and challenges at work during the pandemic and homeworking, and how they were motivating teams, was really interesting. You’re able to benchmark yourself and see that the same challenges are applicable across all businesses, regardless of sector.”
“My strength is on the communication side,” he continued. “But some of the wider marketing skills I had studied at a lower level before, so it was good to get up to speed on those, especially as we have experienced pretty dramatic changes in the past couple of years.
“Prior to the pandemic, I was heading up a marketing and communications team which supported the wider business in putting on around 1,000 physical events a year. During a six-week period, we switched to about 770 webinars and suddenly all our delivery was online. Nothing stopped – we just all had to change our ways of working. To hear from other members of the course about their experiences and techniques they had used to deal with similar challenges was really powerful.”
For Jim, it was this wider outlook and insight into other sectors and industries that was among the main highlights of the course.
“We had some really good debates on different topics,” he said. “There’s a real freedom to speak on the course, and it’s pretty interactive. Despite the fact that everything was done on Teams because we couldn’t meet face to face during the pandemic, there was a really nice dynamic, because we all brought different things to the party with our different disciplines and areas of expertise.”
“It’s also really powerful being away from the office and having time to stop and think about your day-to-day practices,” he continued. “Having that birds-eye view on what the business is doing and time to step back and consider is really valuable, because in the day job you’re full speed amongst it.
“I definitely learned a lot about managing remote teams and how to check in and make sure people were supported and motivated working at home. Some people in my team had health and family challenges, and I found the methods from the course helpful in supporting them, as well as hearing how my course peers were addressing similar challenges.
“All the key skills and behaviours I learned have been so relevant to my work. The MSc really makes you think about what you bring into the workplace and what you’re achieving, and helps you capture and document that. It’s not just knowledge that sits in the back of your head – you formalise it, refresh bits you haven’t visited for a while, sense check what you’re doing and develop your ideas with the help of the lecturers and your peers.
“I’d definitely encourage others to pursue a management apprenticeship. You’ll get so much out of it: really grow and develop, and build a new network. Do it with open eyes, because it is a big commitment and you will need to find time outside of family and other commitments at times, but it’s worth it. If you have the support of your employer, which I did, and really embrace the opportunity, then you have the chance to gain a completely different, really refreshing outlook on business, which is just fantastic.”
Studying for the Cranfield MSc in Marketing and Leadership gave Jim the confidence to change role and pursue a career in digital transformation with McCain Foods.
“I had been in my company for 12 years,” he said. “I had done various roles, including heading up the marketing communications team for more than five years, and I was very comfortable.
Jim pictured dining with classmates of the Marketing and Leadership MSc.
“The business was downsizing, my team had shrunk, and budgets were going down company-wide, so I joined the ‘great resignation’. I’m usually pretty risk-averse, but I decided it was time to make a change and do something different. I handed in my notice without any plan of what I would do next, but the morning after my last day I had two job offers.
“My thesis that I’m working on for the MSc looks at the factors that enable successful digital transformation, and that’s exactly what I’m doing at the moment at McCain. The business is going through significant digital transformation, so I’m working with teams worldwide. My boss is in Manitoba, and I’m learning about different time zones and accents and cultures. I haven’t done anything on this scale before, so there’s big responsibility and some learning for me, but it’s a good challenge.
“I think I was absolutely ready to make a move, but the MSc gave me the confidence to take the leap.”
Learn more about our Senior Leader Apprenticeship+ portfolio, with specialisms in Marketing, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, and Management here.