Preparing for the board  

October 3, 2018

A recent graduate of Durham University Business School’s full-time MBA describes how one five-week exercise has left her with invaluable insight into business at boardroom level

Natalie Chapman is a recent graduate of Durham University Business School. She previously worked in the NHS and industry as a finance manager, qualifying as an accountant (CIMA) before deciding to undertake the Durham full-time MBA with the hope of it leading to different opportunities outside of finance.

Since completing the MBA, Natalie has been offered many new and exciting opportunities and has successfully secured a role as a consultant with Deloitte, specialising in Risk Advisory.

The Durham full-time MBA is designed to challenge, inspire and provide students with the business knowledge, experience and enhanced capabilities to manage and lead in a global environment of change and complexity. A key component of the full-time MBA is the Boardroom Exercise, a five-week long project which aims to give students an insight into what it’s really like to be an executive director in a boardroom.

Natalie Chapman describes her experience of the Boardroom Exercise:

“Our challenge was to work together to plan, create the necessary materials for, and run a successful 90-minute board meeting for the senior staff of Whitbread PLC.

“The first step was compiling our boards. We students were put into teams of five or six, and assigned the different roles that make up a typical board. I took on the role of CFO.

“As for my classmates, Irene Liu became our marketing director, Na Li assumed the role of business development director, Annanth Syam Mohan was our COO and Ying Yang was appointed as CEO. To oversee our activities, each group was also assigned a chair and two or three non-executive directors who were all business professionals with some link to the Business School.

“Our task was to devise a strategy for the future of the company Whitbread, as well as provide a report on the company’s current performance, so it was particularly interesting to have a presentation by the former financial director of Whitbread, who gave us his own opinions on the futures of two Whitbread-owned companies: Costa and Premier Inn.

“The following five weeks were extremely intense as we endeavoured to learn as much about the company as possible and prepare our materials. Key to this was working together as a team, setting objectives (and sticking to them) and taking responsibility for our own progress.

“During this time, the support from the NEDs and chair was invaluable. We met with our advisers at least once a week to discuss our ideas and ask for their feedback. The vast levels of knowledge and experience these successful business people possess provided us with a learning opportunity we would not have found in a textbook or academic journal. Similarly, the support we received from the School’s academic staff (all of whom have extensive business experience) was also fantastic.

“The culmination was a 90-minute boardroom meeting, where each member of the group had the chance to present their report or proposal to the chair and NEDs. True to any real-life board meeting, our ideas and key points were challenged and queried throughout the meeting, forcing us to think on our feet. Our group had to tackle some rather difficult ‘curveball’ questions on more than one occasion. This experience quite possibly would have reduced some of us to tears if it had occurred five weeks earlier, but the learning and skills gained from the module enabled us to answer with confidence and professionalism. Our thorough preparation enabled us to work effectively as a team, contributing to the discussion if someone found it difficult to answer a question and recognising the individual strengths and personalities of each team member.

“The MBA Boardroom Exercise has been one of the most challenging, interesting and rewarding parts of the programme, and I’m sure we will all remember it for many years to come.”

Durham University Business School
To find out more about the Durham full-time MBA visit: www.durham.ac.uk/mba.

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