My time at Airbus Defense and Space

I bring my post hiatus to a close with a brief summary of my career to date, starting with my extended (14 year) apprenticeship Airbus Defense and Space.

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Although I have submitted my CV as part of my admissions process, I am expecting to answer questions on my career to date, and my thoughts and feelings on my professional life so far. This post acts as a medium to commit my thoughts to print in order to help me articulate them when required during my interview at the end of this week.

I joined what was then Matra Marconi Space, soon to be Astrium, and is now Airbus Defense and Space, at the ripe old age of 18 in 1997. To this day I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to serve my 14 years at this company; I learned so much, met some cherished friends and colleagues who I still hold dear to me now, and most importantly from a professional perspective I was immersed into a very well run company that taught me many of the values and robust processes that I have taken with me throughout the rest of my career.

Immediately at interview stage I was offered the opportunity to study for a BEng degree part time, fully funded by the company, an opportunity beyond my wildest expectations, I would not have had the capital to afford to study otherwise, and has directly contributed to where I am today. I could not imagine where I would be now if this opportunity hadn’t have revealed itself to me.

In addition to this, I was exposed to the fast-paced culture change that was underway at that time within the organisation, as I describe at the end of my earlier post Notable Leaders #1: My early years. Looking back, many of the nuances and philosophies I learned I may have taken for granted at the time, it was not until later in life that I fully appreciated the value of what I was taught.

When considering the above, it doesn’t even factor in that it also enabled me to work within the fascinating space industry; something that in my young ignorance I didn’t even know existed within the U.K. I was a keen want-to-be astronomer as a child, and to fall into this company almost by accident was quite literally a dream come true.

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Throughout my time there I was given ample opportunities to change career within the organisation, something that contributed to me spending such a long period of my professional life there. I started within the manufacturing department, learned many of the new age philosophies introduced by companies such as Toyota that are now considered mandatory for any world class manufacturing facility. I then moved into operations and project management, before moving into mechanical engineering where I spent most of my time; working on mind boggling prototypes such as space telescopes and vehicles that are destined to orbit around the planet Mercury.

A few key take aways for me:

Innovation and Product development

Because the cost of failure in space is so severe, launch costs plus the almost impossibility of repair in service (the Hubble Telescope is one notable exception), the cost of qualifying new materials and processes is extremely high. I initially found this concept a little frustrating; to be working on the frontier of technical possibilities without introducing new technologies seems a bit of a paradox. What it breeds however is a very innovative use of tried and tested technologies in new ways – this in itself is innovative. A philosophy of ‘how can we use what we already know to solve a completely new problem’ is a valuable skill to have. It encourages a resourcefulness, encourages you to keep things simple – sexy isn’t always the best, practical solutions are engineering 101.

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Creating a social and pleasant working environment

This was approach was apparent across all sites and contributed to me making so many cherished acquaintances. It was especially apparent at the French sites that I visited. A philosophy of look after your staff, make them feel like they are members of a social club rather than an organisation has stuck with me. The exceptional canteen facilities, a beautiful working environment, modern working hours with flexible working, and a multitude of extra curricular activities gives staff a sense of pride and belonging which in turn cultivates a family atmosphere. I see parallels here with the likes of Google who are championing modern management philosophies, and such ‘soft’ benefits directly contribute to operational excellence.

Robust processes, and championing doing things right first time

This one may seem obvious but  It wasn’t until I left the organisation that I realised how well run this company manages to efficiently produce prototypes without (too much!) fuss. This is enabled by having very robust processes and practices, from configuration control, to risk management, to boring but important cost management techniques. People are encouraged to take the time to do things properly, this may be a luxury offered to few industries other than the space industry, but from my experience since I have moved on,; taking this approach almost always saves time in the long run – and it also breeds a technical pride from team members and employees.

So thanks to you Airbus Space, you were a charm!

Notable Leaders from my early years

This is the first post in what will be a mini series where I will examine notable leaders, the effect that they have had on me personally, and any stand out characteristics they may have. These posts will also act as a tool in gathering my thoughts in preparation for my pending Sloan MSc interview.

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The first of these posts will concentrate on a few people that I have met personally during the first 18 years on this planet..

Please note that I will not mention any names of particular people in this post, but I don’t think this is important for the purposes of the post.

My Parents

For most of us, the first leaders that we are likely to encounter in our lives are one or more of our parents. It is with these people that we share are very first life experiences, and likely our first memories. These people may not be natural leaders, but will none-the-less guide us through many of our formative years.

When I stop and think about the leadership given to me by my parents, it is hard not to feel very grateful. The stand out things for me is that they always encouraged me to express myself, be this in times of joy, or in times of sorrow (or tantrums!). This is despite the fact I was one of five offspring; meaning that our household was very often very loud and chaotic, great for us children but probably very tiring and stressful for them.

The other thing that I now appreciate perhaps more than most things is that although they were caring and supportive, they never pushed any expectations onto me. It was clear from a young age that whatever I chose to do, they would be happy, as it would be what I chose. I’ve learned the hard way on many occasions, but I am very grateful that they have let me become myself; with support at the right times, but minimal intervention.

School Teachers (Well, some of them!)

There is perhaps a handful of teachers from possibly hundreds that I encountered that really standout as having an impact on me. Interestingly, almost all of them were teachers that I initially feared prior to being placed into their class – perhaps through their reputation, or from what I had observed from afar. I’m not sure if anyone else has had this same experience?

The first stand out thing for me is that each of them treated myself and other pupils as equals; they set clear boundaries and expectations, and certainly didn’t take any nonsense from the pupils, but also treated us with the respect of being a fellow adult (every child believes that they are really a grown up, right?).

The second characteristic was their ability to capture and drive our imagination, perhaps through interactive discussions, or their passion for what they taught. Having a good teacher will very much enhance not only your learning experience, but push your interest in what they teach.

I think that these rules also apply to business leaders; to be effective I think you really need to be able to connect with everyone who you are working with. If you are stand-offish, and don’t make the time to get to know your team, why should they make the time to work with you towards your goals? If you can do this while also creating an environment where people believe in what you are all working towards, then you will not be far away from having a good crack at what you need to achieve.

My first boss

My first boss at my first professional job was no ordinary boss. Having cut his teeth in his native South Korea, he was brought in to work for what was then the Space Industry arm of British Aerospace (known as Matra Marconi Space). His primary objective was to smash the old culture within the company, and introduce everyone (whether they liked it or not), to the modern era manufacturing philosophies that had proven to be so successful at companies such as Toyota and Samsung.

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Prior to his arrival at BAE, it was a typical traditional established British manufacturing plant of that era, it was dark and dreary, everyone sat isolated in their own private offices. Spools and spools of paper littered desk spaces, and the factory floor was littered with unidentified empty boxes, work in progress, and anything else that was simply just left around.

He immediately took everyone out of their offices and threw them into one large open plan area, including himself. This concept is now very popular in today’s offices, but wasn’t so much then. He also enforced a paperless office policy, and any time you were not at your desk its work surface needed to be completely clear. Again this was not very popular with the staff!

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But what he really introduced was a different mindset to everyone that worked there. He made everything visible – all operations and key processes and their status were now clearly displayed on walls around the office and the factory floor. Everyone had their own responsibilities of updating certain areas. Then any meetings were held around these visual displays – so that progress (or lack of) was updated there and then. This mindset was a big hurdle to overcome, as most people felt exposed having their key characteristics and performance up for all to see. But as time moved on people warmed to the practices – and it in fact helped reduce any blame culture as everyone was able to pitch in their efforts where it would really make a difference.

The factory floor was no different – he introduced a zero tolerance for anything that didn’t belong. Everything had a specific place – be it a hand tool or a parked forklift truck. He quite rightly argued that a clean and clear working environment will bread higher quality workmanship. Not only that, but with everything set in its right place, it was again very easy to see how work was progressing (or not) through the production area.

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He has long since moved on from what is now Airbus Defense and Space, but almost 20 years after he left, his legacy still lives on. The practices that he introduced back then are still in use today – desks are still left paperless, and everyone’s skeletons are out of the closet clearly displayed on the walls for all to see.

My working relationship with him was certainly not one of the closest I have had with a manager – it mainly involved him barking information at me with a barely comprehensible thick Korean accent, or me watching on in bewilderment as he demanded that a particular work area was immediately modified to his exact requirements. But as my first exposure to a long career in manufacturing and engineering it was invaluable.

I learned to ALWAYS question, never accept the status quo just because it is the status quo, and that the two biggest cardinal sins are to say ‘We’ve always done it like that, it must be ok’ or even worse: ‘But that’s not my job!’

He taught us that the British in general (and yes I agree it is dangerous to generalise) are fantastically innovative when they have to react to things, but very poor at being pro-active. He swept aside any comfort blanket or pretense that what you were doing was good enough simply because it involved established processes.

Even to this day I see many manufacturing businesses still haven’t fully come out of the old British model, and I am very grateful that I was shown the light of what change can do before I had a chance to even save my first Excel spreadsheet.

A good quote to summarise the message he gave is is from a piece of music composed by a DJ called Mr Scruff:

You’ve got to keep moving boy, or you’ll be left behind

Why LBS? Why the Sloan MSc?

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As with many people, my interest in the Sloan MSc started from wanting to immerse myself in an environment of full time education to help me enrich my skill set and ultimately enhance my career opportunities.

My first investigations were made into several high profile MBA programmes in the U.K and Europe, with particular interest in the offerings from Cambridge Judge, Cranfield and INSEAD. However, I quickly discovered that my experience and profile was not perfectly suited to such courses. Full time MBA programmes are increasingly tailored to those with significantly less experience than myself. I was hesitant to commit to such a level of time and resources when I was such an outlier in terms of age and experience. I am sure that any of the above mentioned courses would be a valuable experience, but with the courses targeting a much younger market, would these be the ideal option?

I discovered the Sloan MSc at one particular MBA fair in central London; where the LBS representative informed me of its existence. Since this point, I have been particularly taken by the time and support offered by the Sloan MSc admissions team, as well as the exciting course format and content:

I submitted my CV to the admissions team for review, and almost immediately had an email response from Arione McQueenie, the recruitment manager, confirming my likely suitability. She encouraged me not only to apply, but also to come onto the LBS site, meet the admissions team, receive a guided tour of the campus, and discuss any immediate questions that I had. Arione then put me in contact with one of LBS’ careers coaches who discussed my aspirations and those of other candidates that she had worked with. This immediately drew me to the course and LBS as a place to study.

Since this first encounter with the LBS staff I have visited the LBS campus for various open events, from informal meet and greets of existing and past students, to a  very enlightening example lecture held by the former dean. All of these experiences combined in forming my journey to where I am today; having just finished my application to join the January 2019 class.

Discussions with existing students confirmed my hopes that the majority of the class members were in the same position as myself in wanting to change role or industry, and that this is what the course specialises in. I was equally encouraged by the time that existing students and alumni took to get to know me, and discuss any particular areas that I sought more information. If my application is successful, I already have plans to meet some of the alumni prior to the course so to gain the inside track on useful information to help prepare me for the challenges ahead.

I would encourage anyone who is considering this course to make contact with the Recruitment team as I did back in Spring of 2017.

Navigating the GMAT..

Before I send you down a path that you may not necessarily need to travel, taking the GMAT exam is not mandatory for applicants to the LBS Sloan MSc.

I would advise anyone considering applying to join the programme to first contact the faculty: sloan@london.edu

However, as I did take the GMAT exam, I thought I’d share my experience with you.

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For most people applying to business school, the GMAT exam is one of the most daunting tasks, as it also was for me.

Many business schools use this as a strong indicator of a potential candidate’s aptitude for the course content, and thus it is important to get a strong score. To this end, there are many organisations that are set up to offer tutoring services. Many of these services carry significant costs. I was fortunate enough to achieve a more than satisfactory score of 710 without opting for any of these paid services. I however put a lot of time into my studies ahead of the exam, probably close to the 100 hours recommended by GMAC.

The most important and useful media to improve your score by a long margin are the Official GMAT study guides. You will be very lucky to find copies of these for free, however even new copies are not particularly expensive. In fact, I would recommend you purchase new copies as they offer you a software copy of the questions that you can access on mobile devices and laptops. This means you can answer questions anywhere you may be, and considering the amount of time needed to learn the content, this is a god send.

When you have obtained copies of the above, before you do anything else, take the short diagnostic tests at the beginning of the book, these will indicate your relative strength on each of the five key areas: Quantitative Problem Solving, Data sufficiency, Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, and Sentence Correction. I would strongly advise you then allocate your time accordingly to try and improve your skill set on the areas that you are less strong.

For me, the diagnostic test showed I was very strong in the verbal tests, but week in the quantitative and sentence correction tests.

For the quantitative questions, nothing that I found was as helpful for preparing you for the test than the official GMAT guide books. That said I did also work through several GCSE  (UK high school) level maths text books to reacquaint myself with the theories needed to solve many of the questions. The main problem that I found with these questions was that they are set up in a way to purposely catch you out. This is proven by the fact that I also worked through an unofficial guidebook by Kaplan titled: GMAT 800, that supposedly contains examples of the most difficult questions needed to achieve the maximum score. I found these questions relatively easy, simply because they weren’t set up in the same way the the official GMAT questions were in that they attempted to deceive you into choosing the wrong answer.

Away from the official guide books, an honourable mention should also go to the Veritas Prep smart phone app. This app is a very useful digest for each of the question types, and more importantly gives examples of some of the tactics that the GMAT test uses to try and lead you away from correct answers. This app is also free to download, and means that you can learn while on the move. I found a useful tactic was to take a screenshot of the frame shown on my phone to capture key points during the videos; This would act as a handy reminder in future study sessions.

I found that the Veritas Prep app was especially useful for improving my ability of answering the sentence correction questions, as was the Keplan GMAT800 textbook to a lesser extent. The Veritas Prep app was also exceptional at guiding me through the Analytical Writing part of the test, offering a very simple and bullet proof approach to passing this section without using up valuable brain power for the more challenging later sections.

I completed several mock tests as provided by the GMAC (you can get two tests for free and then further tests for a small fee), one every few weeks, to re-calibrate where I should allocate most of my study time. I was very happy to find that I achieved my best ever score on the real test. In the practice tests I registered two consecutive cores of 680, before hitting a low 650 a few days before my actual test. The main contributor for this low score was a woeful performance in the Sentence correction questions; being only in the 40th percentile. This in hindsight worked in my favour as any chance of complacency was quickly thrown out of the window, and the last days were spent mostly improving my approach to tackling the sentence correction questions – my approach was almost entirely taken from the Veritas Prep app.

My final grades included an exceptional verbal reasoning score – in the 98th percentile, even though I spent minimal time practicing these types of questions throughout my study. This verbal score also included a 94th percentile for Sentence correction, a massive improvement in just a few days! My quantitative score perhaps suffered due to spending so much time cramming Sentence Correction; I scored in the 84th percentile for Data Sufficiency questions, but only the 37th percentile for Problem Solving, coming in the 52nd percentile overall. I attribute the poor performance on the Problem Solving questions to simply not being able to be calm enough under pressure to avoid the ‘traps’ set by the GMAT team. I am sure I could have improved the Problem Solving score with more practice, but I may have had to clone myself to also have the time to cram the Sentence Correction problems.

I am aware that this is a very long post, and even so I have only covered a small detail of my experiences in studying for and taking this test. If you have any questions please contact me and I will be more than happy to help in any way that I can.

Good luck!

My journey: Business school, business in general, and visions of the future

Thanks for dropping by..

This blog started as a diary covering my journey in applying and joining London Business School’s Sloan Fellow MSc Program. It has since evolved into a more general blog covering thoughts and insights while applying and studying on the course.

Please enjoy, hopefully it will help future prospective students, and enlighten all readers.

For prospective students looking for help with their application process, or insights into life at London Business school, the link below gives articles that you should find particularly useful:

Rubick’s Journeys: application blog articles

Please feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions.

“Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.”

[Izaak Walton]

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