Meet Zoe, the IT Manager who’s juggling full-time work with a part-time MBA – and mothering a toddler. Posturite’s Zoe Winton-Jones is loving the opportunity to build and develop her business and management skills on her new Open University postgraduate course. I asked her about her workspace, her ambitions and how challenging she finds fitting in time to study.
Why did you decide to study for an MBA, please Zoe?
“I was given an opportunity to become part of a new leadership team at Posturite. And I thought ‘Right!’ If I'm going to do this well, I want to be more informed. I want to learn to be more of a critical thinker about everything in business, in order to move up into that next level of leadership.
An MBA was just a natural fit for that. It’s actually very practical; I can write the assignments about my own company and the course is all about your current working practices.
I started as a Purchasing Assistant in my company 14 years ago and I think because of the way that I've sort of worked my way up, I understand how all of the departments work together - which can be really useful in a senior leadership team. In IT, you're implementing systems that affect everybody, so you see how one small thing affects something else. I can also be a little opinionated, and happy to contribute my views in meetings for new ways to develop the business!”
Were you excited or scared when you started the MBA last May?
“I went through every emotion under the sun. I had complete imposter syndrome to begin with. I think when you do a masters, particularly an MBA, you think that everyone is going to be really high in their careers and know what they're doing. I wondered if I was in the right place and was doing the right thing. I’m in my 30s and haven’t studied for 15 years.
But as soon as I started talking to people, I realised very quickly that we’re all in the same boat. And then the moment I submitted my first essay and got a good mark for it, then it was like, ‘OK. I can do this.’
I do feel some sort of excitement and pride. It depends when you ask me! I’m glad I’m not sitting around and kind of twiddling my thumbs and just thinking about doing an MBA.”
Do you have a home office you can use for study?
My home office chair is the HÅG SoFi 7220 by a Norwegian company called Flokk and it’s really comfortable, I’ve never had any back ache or anything. I've got my laptop up on an arm and an additional screen, so use a separate ergonomic keyboard – it’s the wireless Microsoft Sculpt and I love the unusual curved shape of it. My mouse is the Humanscale x Razer™ Pro Click Mouse which I couldn’t do without now.
I’ve tried to make my home office a nice place to be with a bookcase and personal bits and pieces as I’m spending a lot of time in there!
I do my Uni work at the same desk and laptop that I use to work from home, so there’s not much separation. I’ve got better at closing my work emails down in the evening now, as it’s just a necessity - I can't get distracted.”
Are you burning the midnight oil to study for your MBA part-time?
“No, it’s not as bad as that! I’ve chosen the three-year pathway for the Open University MBA and there’s even the possibility of seven years to complete it in. I'm generally doing one to two hours study each evening, after I put my little one to bed, and then I spend half of the weekend studying too. They recommend 16 hours of study in a week and that’s been OK so far, despite still working full-time and studying entirely in my own time. There are breaks every five months too after each module – there’s almost four weeks break after I hand in my next assignment which will be great.”
Can you manage to fit in family time into this schedule?
“Yes of course, I’m still fitting in some family time but I'm basically losing my evenings and half of the weekend. My wife is very supportive and understanding and there’s obviously pressure on her as well. But we're very good at communicating. I’m doing this for us as well, I’m open to where this will lead. If I can manage to achieve a C-Suite role, it will be good for us as a family.
I’m constantly reminding myself that it's short-term pain for long-term gain. But when my son sits on my desk and bangs my keyboard and roleplays me saying ‘I can't play, I've got Uni work to do’, it's hard to hear, I guess.
It’s not forever. During the study breaks in particular, I’m really going to kind of fill up my son with love.
My father-in-law is very excited about me doing this MBA and I’ve been told that he likes to weave this fact into as many conversations as he can with people, which is really funny and sweet! And my auntie is very supportive too. I was talking to her and said ‘I don't know if I can do this, it's a lot’ and her response was ‘of course you can’. This complete belief that she and others in my family have in me helps me think ‘Yeah, I can do this’.”
Do you work from home in your IT Manager job?
“Yes, I’m a hybrid worker, and I've worked from home at least one day per week for years, even before Covid. I can still communicate well with my team using technology on the days that I’m working remotely.”
Does your employer have a training budget?
“Posturite is keen to support professional development and as team members, we need to take the initiative if we feel strongly that a qualification would be beneficial. Any support must be fair. It was my idea to take an MBA and I had to submit a formal proposal about taking this qualification to my line manager, Chris Jones, Posturite’s Chief Operating Officer. My training must benefit the business and this was evaluated by our HR team. I’m looking forward to contributing at a high level to the senior leadership team, and I’m glad our group has become more gender-balanced too.”
Finally, are you appreciating the opportunity to study more than you did when you were younger?
“Yes definitely, I didn’t put as much effort in last time! This time, I feel it has unlocked a passion for learning. Which is worrying my wife!
In my undergraduate degree, I wasn't studying anything that I found a particular use for, whereas this MBA is immediately applicable to what I'm doing. I'm reading the MBA content and I'm thinking ‘Oh, I can use that tomorrow!’. It was much easier to study when I was younger when I had loads of time, but it’s definitely much more rewarding now. I’m doing extra reading and really trying to get as much out of this MBA as I can.”
- An MBA is a ‘Master of Business Administration’ and is a postgraduate qualification
- The world’s first MBA was delivered by Harvard University in 1908
- An MBA is designed for practising middle-level and senior managers, to develop strategic analysis, interdisciplinary skills, creativity and innovation
- There were 12,665 students studying an MBA in the UK in 2019/20
- The Open University MBA is triple accredited internationally and ranked the fifth best online MBA in the world
- 40% of Open University MBA students are sponsored by their employers
- The Open University Student Budget Account allows students to pay for the course in monthly instalments
Advice on balancing part-time study with full-time work
The University of Portsmouth has a great article with useful tips on time management for juggling part-time study with full-time work and suggest “Training yourself into studying at the same times each week. Forming the habit may take some time, but with practice you'll find yourself getting on with it and procrastinating less.”