Exeter MBA Event

Two alumni return to the Exeter MBA for 4IR, talks, and networking.

Almost two years after graduation two One Planet MBA alumni are back in Exeter and on Streatham campus. In May, Glendon Filer and Stuart May (MBA, 2016) travelled from London for two Business School talks; ‘The 4th Industrial Revolution’, and ‘Doughnut Economics’; and to participate as mentors in the MBA module ‘Leading in the 4th Industrial Revolution’. The following blog is their reflection on the experience.


MBA Module: Leading in the 4th Industrial Revolution

Walking into the Innovation Centre at the University of Exeter Campus initially created a feeling of fear; a workshop of 50+ MBA students in a hive of activity is daunting. Is this what our cohort looked like during the MBA? Did we work as hard and have this much fun? After a deep breath we dove into the fray.

This years ‘Leading in the 4th Industrial Revolution’ module is cutting edge in both topic and delivery. Students explore and understand the impact of the 4th Industrial revolution; technology such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and connected mobile interfaces. A workshop has them design, test, and build technology solutions to identified business problems or global issues. Validation of the problems via market research and customer validation also creates valuable insight.

Grading for the module is more interesting. Students are required to create a vLog exploring the 4th Industrial revolution, sit a test after reviewing TED Talks, and as a group produce a documentary to present to the class presenting their joint projects. It was fantastic to see students engaged in, and learning, such contemporary skills.

As guests we were fortunate to have some time with the students to discuss their work and, of course, have them pick our brains as MBA graduates. The projects and ideas were wide ranging and topical to the MBA; from UV-sensing fit-wear, food-waste preventing automated animal feeders, to IoT and mobile app enabled home brewing, and smart goggles for the blind.

Technology for each project blended IoT, mobile, and AI; leveraging RaspberryPi, Arduino, NodeRed, IBM Watson, and Twitter or Mobile SMS APIs. We found that students in this year’s cohort had already had exposure to some of these tools on their Data Analytics course and visit to SAP. However, it was encouraging and a great reminder to see the ability of the MBA mindset to assimilate information and learn new tools in short order. A key skill.

Talk 1: 4th Industrial Revolution (PwC, Ben Combes)

Ben’s talk on the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) set the scene for the biggest challenge facing business. The technology is multi-faceted, complicated, and with risk and opportunity in abundance. Ben focussed on Artificial intelligence (AI) for this presentation as his work at PwC has so far included this. In the future PwC will cover Machine Learning and Blockchain, amongst other 4IR technologies.

There has been a phenomenal amount of work on AI since the term emerged in the 1950’s. It’s an amazingly hard problem to solve and the ideas involved have recently taken the limelight. While AI as a term has become common place in the media, it’s not yet common in practice. This is really no bad thing - as Ben made clear. He took AI beyond both the business, and tech scenes and laid the challenges involved firmly at the feet of society.

That places the challenge very firmly in Exeter MBA territory. It will require difficult discussions around ‘how we want the world to be’ beyond the Excel sheets and PowerPoint slides. I regularly face these discussions and have these very decisions to make in the near future. The MBA definitely prepared me for the complexity and conundrums presented by the 4IR.

My thanks to Ben for not shying away from a difficult conclusion and making it clear that AI has far reaching implications beyond that of just technology or business.

Talk 2: Doughnut Economics (Kate Raworth)

Kate Raworth is a fantastic speaker and presenter. It was a pleasure to attend her talk. It is obvious from the passion that she brings to her delivery and well curated presentation that she is serious about her topic - Doughnut Economics – and we should take her and the implications seriously.

Doughnut Economics proposes the necessity for a new way of approaching economics within business, and more importantly, within education. Kate points out that the dominant economic thinking of employees, and even leaders, is that of ‘Econ 101’; supply and demand. In other words, those in control of business and society have an incomplete and outdated view of economies. The inclusion of a holistic approach to economics, including sustainability considerations, is needed in today’s world.

As a model the ideas behind Doughnut Economics are not new. It includes aspects of The Ecological Footprint, Planetary Boundaries, Circular Economy, and Sustainability and global equality. However, the presentation of these related concepts is packaged in a novel, simple, and perhaps easily conveyable, format. This is interesting.

Since the MBA I’ve found that in order to engage a wider population in discussions around ‘topics related to sustainability’, simplicity is key. This seems to apply both to action (without the discussion of sustainability) and with specific reference to the need for sustainability. Not everyone aspires to be well versed in theory, but perhaps those outside the sustainability theory circle can be convinced of the need for action using good communication.

I hope Kate’s work, and her recognition of the relatedness of, as she puts it ‘cousins of sustainability’, gains traction to bring convergence in the academic community, and spur action in business communities.

Current Experience: Stuart May

I am currently cofounding a business building digital psychometric applications using recent research findings in behavioural biology, evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. Basically we can tell you all sorts of things about yourself and those around you that you hadn’t noticed… but we are not interested in selling your data.

Based in Luzern, Switzerland the business is supported by the Swiss government’s innovation programme, Innosuisse. Once the value of the assessments we use are validated and the market more clearly understood we will be applying the key tools of the 4th Industrial Revolution: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Blockchain to engage, analyse and permission your personality. Not because we are demon-sci-fi-mind-control-freaks… but because we think relationships, especially at work and school, can be vastly improved with a bit of mutual understanding, helped out with a bit of technology. We’ll also make sure you own and control it all, unlike some companies I could mention.

Current Experience: Glendon Filer

Most recently I’ve been working with a startup business. The founders aim to set up an investment fund with an ‘Impact Economy’ or ‘Socially Responsible Investment’ focus. My work has involved market research in several themes; renewables, agriculture, healthcare, and cities across regions with a large share of developing markets. A large amount of the research was tying the business propositions to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and then quantifying the scale of problems and possible solutions for each theme.

Personally this has had a direct link to work I completed during my MBA consultancy project. This focussed on Bottom of the Pyramid targeted businesses. In a broader context the skills I developed during the MBA helped to structure and deliver a market research project, work with the client, and draw together a large volume of information and data to create useful insight.

Wrap Up: Returning to Exeter and the Business School

We are grateful to Adam Lusby, Josh Papanicola, and the business school team for enabling us to return to the MBA and school as alumni. It has been rewarding to be back on campus, reconnect face-to-face with both lecturers and some of our own MBA cohort.

Involvement in the ‘Leading in the 4th Industrial Revolution’ module and discussions with this years’ cohort was a great reminder that the Exeter MBA was, and hopefully will always be, a fantastic environment to experiment, explore, fail, and to make time to laugh about this process. It’s a reminder that for businesses to innovate and remain leaders (in purpose and profit), fostering an environment that enables open discussion, experimentation, and supports failure and learning, is key.

Finally, it was also a reminder of the close friendships we formed during the MBA, and how often we spent time working in close quarters successfully and with much enjoyment. These lessons, and tests, are not always obvious at the time, but are useful leadership skills. For those MBA alumni out there that have not been in contact with the school, or your own cohort, recently – don’t forget the value of keeping in touch. Especially over a beer (or Devon cider).

Date: 16 May 2018

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