The Westminster MBA alumni network is large, international and spans a host of industries and professions. With opportunities to meet at our regular MBA Tuesday Club and MBA networking drinks, it’s easy to stay in touch with those still in London, and for those slightly further away, it’s a great excuse to visit other countries and experience new cultures! We recently caught up with one of our more recent Alumnus and finance specialist, Alessandro Figoni, who graduated from the Westminster MBA in March 2016 (many congratulations!). It was great to find out more about his experience with us, to learn how it’s supported him professionally and personally and we hope that by sharing his story, it will give readers more of an idea of what to expect from the Westminster MBA.

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Meet MBA alumnus Alessandro Figoni

Hi! My name is Alessandro Figoni, I’m 29 years old and I decided to move to London in 2015 to do my MBA at Westminster Business School. It was my first choice and although I had seen several other programmes and universities, I found the programme provided by Westminster to be the best one for me. At the beginning I wasn’t that sure that it was the right time to take my MBA, but after the conversation I had with Deputy Director Simon Healeas and the previous Director of the MBA, Sue Balint, I left the campus knowing that this was the right place, the right decision, the right moment. After a few months I was here in London, taking a sabbatical year from my previous job (I was Business Account Manager for Crédit Agricole). I really appreciate my company giving me this opportunity because they saw potential in me and for me it was a huge opportunity for personal and professional development.

Returning to education and studying abroad

At the beginning I found returning to education a little bit hard – it had been five years since I was in a university environment. You need to think about your daily agenda in a different way, because you need to study, prepare classes, work on different projects. There’s a lot of pressure sometimes and because I’m a person who really likes to succeed, I did find it challenging. It’s also a challenge to move to a different city where I’d never been before. For me it was my first international experience because I previously made my career and university life mainly in Italy. This was something I soon got over though and it was a brilliant opportunity.

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I can definitely consider myself as an expert of the Italian market, but Italy is only one country in the world and being in London is probably the best choice for students looking for an MBA because you are in an environment that is very open, where you can meet people from all over the world. I really appreciated this aspect from day one at Westminster Business school because we are working and studying in a really truly international environment. I remember the first day when I started to chat with my colleagues, and I discovered I was only one of two Europeans in the classroom. The others were international, from the USA, Saudi Arabia, Malyasia, South America, and more – it was brilliant. It was the first time in my life that I had the opportunity to deal with professionals from across the globe and it gave me a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the corporate life and business in their countries.

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Why I chose a generalist MBA

I chose a generalist MBA because of the way that it can broaden your horizon. I have a background in finance and my future career will be in finance, but I don’t see any point in doing an MBA if you’re just focussing on one aspect – why not then just do a Master’s in Finance, or a Master’s in Marketing? Within the financial industry, if you want to get to the top, it’s not enough to only know your ‘subject’, you need a range of skills that we help you to better understand customer needs, negotiate, manage clients, understand the company politics and operations as a whole. Of course you can tailor the course to a degree if you want to, you could can choose electives – the Financial Strategy module for example, and you could focus your dissertation on your specialist subject, that’s up to you. Through the Westminster MBA I was able to develop both my hard and soft skills, something which I have found invaluable.

I also decided to choose Westminster because this type of MBA gives you the choice to change your career path. This is especially powerful for people in Italy I think because the culture there is to build a career and follow that same route our whole lives. Having an MBA from an international environment like London gives you much more flexibility – it gives you the opportunity to change your path, or alternatively and equally as importantly, to convince yourself that the path you were on was the right one.

My previous work experience

In order to study the MBA you need at least three years work experience at managerial level. I started working at Crédit Agricole straight away after my Bachelor degree. At the beginning I was a simple accountant, but through the advice of my Mentor I grew internally within the company. I became responsible for the largest portfolio within my branch, with 80+ customers and a substantial turnover. It was a great challenge for me as I worked through the financial crisis, and I learnt a lot from this experience. There would have been further opportunity to grow internally but I knew I would have to wait until I was older – there’s an age barrier in Italy, and you really need to be over 35 years old to gain a top position. So another reason I decided to study the MBA was to try to bridge that impasse and gain the promotion I wanted.

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After graduation, when I returned to Italy to discuss my position with Crédit Agricole, they gave me a great offer, but after my experience in London I decided to refuse it, resign, and instead gain some international work experience. At the moment I’m in the process with several companies in London, something I feel very confident about since gaining my MBA. Later I will return to Italy and try to improve the industry there. Since gaining the MBA, I realised that my profile is now extremely competitive for the Italian market – I gained a strong offer also from one of the Big four accountancy firms in Milan, but I refused again as it’s not in alignment with my interests at the moment. Right now I’m really happy, and convinced I made the right decision by studying the MBA. I’m very focussed on the next step of my career.

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Networks and social life!

I’m still in contact with all of the people I met at Westminster. Most of them have gone back to their own countries so we keep in touch via social media, but for those who are still here in London, we meet in a monthly basis more or less. It’s great and one of the definite advantages of the MBA is that you enlarge your international network. This was the deciding factor for me between choosing Westminster over Italy.

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I really enjoyed the social life here. One of the great things about studying in a relatively small class is that you can become really close with your classmates, which is added value from my point of view.

You also get to meet students from other courses and network at events like the MBA Tuesday Club. We socialised as a group on the MBA, which was great, and we also created a boys night for some occasions, which was a lot of fun!

It was also great to have the opportunity to study with part-time Executive MBA students. This was really valuable as they still have their working life from Monday to Friday and it’s a great chance to learn from working professionals in the UK. I really respect the part-time MBAs having to work and study at the same time!

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Some of my highlights

The international study trip was a great experience. At the beginning my cohort thought that this was kind of a holiday, but it turned out not to be! We went to Prague for one week and had a really busy agenda. It was interesting to have the opportunity to see several industries and companies (Skoda, Volkswagen, and General Electric Bank) and we also experienced a lot of extra curricular activities such as a cooking class, which was a great chance for us to bond as a team. It was fun to cook with our cohort and lecturers. I think the Westminster MBA really blends theory and practice and it was really good to see businesses operate in reality and to see how the theory we learn in the classroom has a place in that. It was also interesting to learn how the financial crisis and the global economy has affected an Eastern European country like Prague.

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The Consultancy Skills module was also a great opportunity. At the beginning I found the approach a bit strange, as we had to find the client and offer them a service. We thought about who we knew here in the UK and actually, thanks to living in London and taking this course you enlarge your networks from day one. It was actually quite easy to find a client and we worked with HFMA, to improve their membership, retention rates and the offer they made to members. In my group there was no one who had experience in this field so it was a great challenge and chance to learn something different. It was also great to work closely with clients and businesses and we really improved our knowledge of UK markets. The other thing that I learnt was how to stay grounded. This project was for the client and so we couldn’t move too far away from the results that they want to achieve. You needed to be really focussed and sometimes reduce your creativity and be more aligned with the business in question. That’s not to say that simulation work isn’t useful – it is, but sometimes you dream too much and in this situation you are forced to be realistic.

Thinking about doing an MBA? Here’s my advice:

Be really convinced about the decision. Don’t think it’s too tough, because the only limits you have are those you put on yourself. There’s no doubt that it’s a challenging step, because if you’re satisfied with your job, its hard to leave something you have in your hands for something that is unknown. But, I can tell you that after this experience you are stronger – stronger in terms of personality, stronger in terms of your approach to life and stronger as a professional. I’m more convinced than ever about my potentiality and my capablities and I’m also more humble than before – it’s good to compare yourself with other people on your course because you can see what you offer and how you can build on your skills. I would say, do it, be confident, be open to learn from other people and be open to criticism. Now that I’ve accomplished my MBA I have gained much more than I expected at the beginning. It’s definitely a great step in your career.

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