Self-Sourcing the MBA Consultancy Project

My MBA Consultancy Project and Dissertation with GlaxoSmithKline has been a bitter-sweet journey. So far, I haven’t been ready to openly talk about some of the tougher, perhaps the toughest, moments of my MBA. Here’s an attempt at doing so, and offering a proper homage to the individual who made it possible for me to create a project from scratch and shape it up to be something substantial.

I met Crispin Haywood about one year ago, on 28th November 2019, at the Pharma and Healthcare Sector Insights at Warwick Business School’s Shard Campus in London. He sat on the panel, pictured below, on the extreme left.

I remember being extremely excited for the Healthcare Sector Insights event. FINALLY, we were going to get a taste of what it means to have an MBA in the healthcare and pharma sectors (my sectors, so to speak). I even remember that the timing of the event not being ideal, in terms of clashing with a final presentation prep for our Operations Module. But with a body of events about consulting and finance, and even technology sectors – I was finally looking forward to having the opportunity to network and collaborate with companies that were in my field of interest.

My general strategy going into any networking event? It is to always identify the people whose energy, enthusiasm and positivity matched mine.

The members of this panel are absolutely fabulous, to say the least. As it turned out, I ended up collaborating with three of the five members on that panel on various projects and initiatives. Jo Pisani (who was about to retire from her long career as Partner at PwC Strategy&), in the centre, was an enthusiast, supporter and speaker at the 3rd webinar, titled the Science of Consulting, on my student-led ‘Guest Speaker Series’ — an initiative I organised over the quarantine and lockdown period in term 3 to promote networking (and also promote more ‘women in business’). That said, the series was not exclusive to women speakers, because I also had the pleasure of inviting Jan Wolber (Head of Technology Leader Group at GE Healthcare) on the 6th webinar, From Lighting Edison’s Lamp: Innovation at GE Healthcare. Of course, with Crispin, I ended up collaborating on a much bigger project – my dissertation.

My initial approach to building a network is very straightforward, and very much in line with the advice provided by the Careers and Corporate Relations teams.

  1. A quick follow-up message after the event, usually via Linked In.
  2. Further research into the contact’s area of expertise.
  3. If, I find that our interests align, I suggest a quick call to learn more and discuss further.

After the sector insights, I was particularly interested in doing my dissertation in two areas. One was with Jan Wolber and GE Healthcare having previously had experience working with medical devices, and particularly having already done a dissertation on Alzheimer’s disease in my previous MSc degree. This discussion with Jan eventually ended up in a very interesting and fun collaboration for my Innovation & Creativity module assignment.

The other, was with Crispin Haywood and GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer healthcare division – particularly around consumer insights and shopper science. In fact, our first phone call in December 2019 comprised of discussions around this topic area, with Crispin suggesting some initial further reading for me – including, Nudge by Richard Thaler, Why We Buy and Call of the Mall by Paco Underhill, and Decoded by Phil Barden, among many others – great reads that I would have with me till the end of the dissertation. In fact, I ended up also using much of this literature for my Behavioural Sciences for the Manager individual assignment!

Remember, to be VOCAL about what you want. Make it clear that you are looking to collaborate on a project from the first call. Don’t leave it up for interpretation.

Soon, we arranged a meeting at the GSK headquarters in Brentford, London around late January. I had all winter break to read up on the various texts, in order to brainstorm potential project topics specifically around shopper science and understanding consumer behaviour. Before the meeting I sent through a list of various ideas that I had, grouping them into two categories, ‘broader context’ and ‘focused approach’. We would later discuss these at length and depth at the meeting, bouncing different ideas and hypotheses off each other. Ultimately, I wanted to make sure the project was in line with GSK’s business objectives and the wider strategic outlook, and therefore would need to adapt and amend the ideas as appropriate.

My main tip here is to START THE PROCESS EARLY. As early as you can. Sometimes it can take a while to set up the project, agree the NDA/Confidentiality and complete the necessary paperwork.

Be prepared for the meeting. You should be in control. Do you research thoroughly, and most importantly, consult the relevant Corporate Relations team member for advice. Jen Griffith’s guidance throughout this process proved to be invaluable in ensuring there were no hiccups or big challenges. Before I went to the meeting, I was well informed about all the paperwork and details that needed to be completed. I found that I was able to answer any questions that Crispin had, and also ensure I had all my questions answered – even the nitty gritty bits, like confidentiality, travel expenses, time in office, distance-working and online collaboration, etc.

And, just like that at the end of our meeting, I had an initial ‘idea’ and a developing concept of my topic area. So for example, I knew I would be focusing on GSK’s newly acquired vitamins range, following the Pfizer Joint-Venture. The objectives set by Crispin, was to research consumer behaviour and purchase barriers in relation to this product range, and identify ways in which to educate consumers about its benefits to individual health.

The steps to ‘self-sourcing’ essentially end here. Thereafter, it was vital to develop an academic thesis from the project, maintain on-going communication and produce meaningful results, which are applicable to all projects, self-sourced or not.

THREE MAIN TIPS FOR PROJECT & DISSERTATION SUCCESS

ADAPTING the initial aim appropriately into an ‘academic’ dissertation. This part can be tricky, because essentially you’re trying to do two things at once: find ‘practical solutions’ to the problems given to you, with relevant academic application, and if you want to hit the higher grade boundaries, then ideally offer a unique perspective or new finding to the currently existing literature. This is no doubt challenging, which is why it is really important at this stage to find an academic supervisor who can guide you through this process and help you shape up your objectives to offer an academically aligned perspective. My academic supervisor, Dr. Sarah Wei, is a super-supervisor. Her prompt responses, reviews, and feedback would never have me guessing that she was juggling 10 student supervisions, on top of her own research work and teaching. With her extensive experience and accomplishments in academia, I basically took her word as gospel, and implemented all her feedback and suggestions – which elevated my project to the next level. Listen to your supervisors – they are the experts!

COMMUNICATING effectively between your company supervisor and academic supervisor. This proved to be really crucial in developing a good and comprehensive project. In the early stages of project development and planning, the objectives were tweaked meticulously in order to achieve that balance between ‘practical applications’ and ‘academic contribution’, and contradictions arose. This is normal. Contradictions are a part of any work that you will ever undertake. The important thing is to ensure consistent communication between the two parties involved. You need to act as an effective ‘middle-person’ in ensuring all changes, ideas and amendments are appropriately raised with both parties and discussed thoroughly. Ultimately, this is your piece of work, so a lot of the decision-making, conversation-driving, and idea-formulation is in your hands.

REPORTING your progress. This is an extension of the tip above. It just adds than extra-professional element to the process. Whereas, an email or a call is sufficient for discussing small changes or tweaking little details, my recommendation for presenting large pieces of information would be by preparing a formal report. Not just a final report, but also progression reports. So for example, right before I dived into the meatiness of the research, design and data collection – I prepared an initial report with an outline of the project and dissertation’s final aim and objectives for Crispin to review. I then presented a subsequent report briefly outlining the study designs and data collection methodology. This was to ensure that he was able to clearly visualise the plan, and, before I started to execute it, could identify any red flags or errors. A little extra effort in the start goes a long way in avoiding big setbacks!

And so, I dived into my work around early June.

Later in the summer…

In late July, I received the tragic and sad news of Crispin’s untimely passing. More so, it happened to be only three days after my grandfather’s passing.

There was a point, when I felt like giving up – and I remember thinking ‘what is even the point of all this’. Because we had shaped up this project together, and it was so personal to Crispin’s vision for the vitamin range, I felt a little lost without him there. Moreover, the MBA can be quite consuming, particularly the dissertation process. And, when you are so engulfed with work 24/7, incidents like this can offer a lot of perspective. It definitely took me some time to find my purpose again.

2020 has been a tough year, to say the least. Many colleagues faced different kinds of adversity, set backs and their own set of grief through this time. The important thing is to take the time you need, let the people who love and care about you help you and slowly find motivation again. Needless to say, there was help and support all around me, in their own ways. Family and friends, WBS, GSK. And somehow, I got through it, and managed to submit my 15,000 words by the deadline!

This project and dissertation is one of the most substantial pieces of work that I have ever produced, and am extremely proud to have received a 88% mark for it, but of course I will always be very sad that Crispin will not be able to see the completed piece of work. Nor, will my grandfather get to see me graduate. Hence, the bitter-sweetness of the journey.

“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet” – Emily Dickinson


Acknowledgements

Thank you to all those who played a vital role in supporting me throughout this journey. Firstly to, GSK for your continued trust and support during tough times. To, Dr Sarah Wei, for your meticulous approach, which drove me to strive for excellence. To, Jennifer Griffiths, for always answering my hundreds of questions and emails with patience, politeness and an unwavering smile. To, the fabulous teaching and careers faculty at Warwick Business School, for equipping me with all the tools to execute this piece of work.

To my incredibly supportive family, Ipsita, Sambit and Ishaan, who have not only encouraged me throughout the MBA journey, but have held my hand, offered me their shoulders and picked me up during the tough times. To, my loving and spirited grandfather, Dadan, who started his journey to heaven this summer. I wish you could see me finish the MBA. We will miss you. And to my dear friends, Pomme, Chaarvi, Olga, Niv and Katie – for your various pep talks!

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