Recently, our Social Media Officer had the opportunity to interview Westminster MBA alumnus and Founder of Scandinavia Stories, Warrick Harniess. It proved to be a fascinating and eclectic discussion in which Warrick shares his story of life both before and after Westminster. He talks us through the innovative business concept behind his enterprise and the pedagogic methods he employs that encourage people to hone and use their rational and emotional intelligence. Amongst other things, he describes how studying an MBA often felt like a sweet shop allowing you to pick n’ mix across the gamut of business disciplines. Last November, Warrick was invited to appear as a panellist and guest speaker at an MBA Tuesday club event entitled Entrepreneurial Approaches to Developing Meaningful Experiences and reprises on this theme as you will see below.
With a diverse portfolio career, Warrick has helped start-ups, SMEs and entrepreneurs grow and develop their professional skills and business knowledge base. This is fostered through immersive, experiential workshops that gamify live learning experiences and help his clients develop entrepreneurial approaches to innovation, strategy, sales, marketing and leadership. This ludic methodology encourages people to use their creative and critical thinking faculties at the same time in collaboration with others. Warrick attaches a great deal of importance to story-telling, play (and inter-play) and cooperation to help a person or an organisation arrive at a creative and entrepreneurial solution to a specified problem. In short it helps to be imaginative and making things fun and stimulating can help produce results and favourable business outcomes.
Introducing Warrick Harniess
Hi, I’m Warrick Harness. I’m from the UK but I’ve spent time in Asia and the US. I have a BA American Studies from University of Kent Canterbury 2003, a MA American Studies from King’s College London 2005, and an Executive MBA from Westminster Business School 2013. After a ten year corporate career, doing everything from managing government contracts to setting up new ventures to managing global programmes integrating business acquisitions, I set up my own company. Scandinavia Stories works with SMEs, delivering interactive, information-gathering workshops and subsequently making business strategy recommendations; and with universities I run simulation workshops, and teach students the strategy development, futures analysis and storytelling methodologies I use with small businesses. I’m also a musician – I write, record and perform with two bands for fun, but actually I’ve learned a heck of a lot about business and collaboration from this.
What made you choose the Westminster MBA?
A few people with whom I worked at Pearson Education had gone through the Westminster MBA and recommended it. I had no idea what an MBA was, but they were successful people so it seemed like a good idea. It was also in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis – it had a big effect on me but I realised I knew nothing about what had actually gone wrong. I thought an MBA might help… It actually set me on the path I’m on today, so it was a fortuitous leap to make. I realised I loved business education.
How do you think an MBA can help someone in their career?
I don’t think there is one answer to this, and that’s part of the value of an MBA – it gives you a kind of, forgive the jargon, helicopter view of management and different people will take different things from it. I felt like I was in a sweet shop – there were all these interesting things to check out. I learned how to read a balance sheet, do basic management accounting, how to analyse company performance; I got really into futures analysis and scenario planning and organisational psychology which appealed to the storyteller in me; I knew I wanted to set up my own company as soon as I was finished.
Can you tell us more about your life after the MBA? Did you go straight into Scandinavia Stories?
I continued working for Pearson for about 18 months after I finished – I had the opportunity to work on a struggling innovation venture and ended up closing it down, which was a huge learning experience for me. I then moved into a strategy role, working on the integration of three acquisitions – organisation restructuring, operating model design, feasibility studies for relocating teams etc. Great fun. This is when I started running the problem-solving workshops we now create at Scandinavia Stories – they were challenging and interesting to design and served a real purpose, but we did very little of this kind of thing on the MBA (good though it was!) so it seemed like there was an opportunity to do this for myself.
Can you tell us more about your business, Scandinavia Stories?
There were a few different ideas that came together – the experiential learning we specialise in wasn’t used much on the MBA (or in any of my other degree programmes) but I thought it was valuable; during the MBA we went on a trip to China where everyone we came across said that the Chinese weren’t very innovative because of the lack of innovative education programmes available to people there (not sure I agree with this now!), so my original idea was to do this in China; and I realised that my creative arts background was useful and wanted to try and weave it into my professional life in a more tangible way. When I set it up I started calling and emailing people to learn about my customer base. I honed the ‘products’ by delivering them and learning what people did/didn’t like. I’m proud of the fact that over the course of a little over a year I’ve built a pretty solid client base, got long listed for an AMBA entrepreneurship award, and have had clients say to me ‘you’ve really helped us work through difficult problems that we were struggling to solve, and that have helped improve our business or have helped me to see things in a new way’.
Do you have any advice to those thinking of creating a startup?
If you are doing it for the first time and have no experience of setting up a new venture, I think you have to have an appetite for risk and uncertainty and a sense that you’ll enjoy the journey, regardless of what happens. Nowadays people say, don’t play music if you want to be rich and famous because it’s unlikely to happen – I think the same goes for being a first-time entrepreneur. I think I asked myself – how would I like people to see me in terms of my profession – do I want to be a CEO, or COO, or CMO etc – and I decided I wanted people to see me as an entrepreneur. So I thought I better be one!
MBA and entrepreneurship – how does an MBA help you to develop the skills you need?
As an entrepreneur you have to do a bit of everything – product/service development, marketing and sales, accounting and financial planning, organisation structuring and recruitment etc. An MBA gives you a crash course in all of these things without belabouring the point. But I think the most important thing it does is help you reflect on your skills and goals as a professional, and hear from other people about their experiences and so on, which mentally prepares you for going it alone.
Did the MBA change your mind about your career? How did it help your own personal and professional life?
I think I’ve probably answered this question in some of the other answers above, but in short it gave me that pick n’ mix / helicopter view of all the various business disciplines, and I realised that I didn’t so much have a deep interest in one area but I really liked business education in general and wanted to be involved in it.
What do you think it takes to be a leader in your field?
I don’t believe in the leader / follower dichotomy. But I think to be successful you have to be curious and unafraid to try new things, you have to be able to listen and learn from other people but be unafraid from fighting your own corner, and it helps to really like what you do because it means you’ll be willing to put in the time and effort required to progress and learn at a fast enough rate to compete.