Alumni Stories - Michael Thomas, IE Business School MBA ‘16

Discover how the international MBA program at IE helped advance Michael Thomas' career

There is nothing like understanding the value of an MBA than talking to someone who been through the process. We ask MBA graduates the world’s top business schools to share their experiences with us and how their MBA has helped their careers. We spoke to Michael Thomas about why he decided to study for an MBA, his time at IE Business School, the skills he gained and how he is putting them to good use in his role as a product marketing manager.


What made you want to study for an MBA?

Find out how an MBA helped Michael Thomas' career

Wearing lab coats, sorting samples and designing experiments, I started my career as a researcher. During my Ph.D. studies, I had the chance to work on a start-up idea aiming to take our solar technology to market. In conversations with investors and potential customers, I realized I would need to learn a lot more about positioning our product, setting a clear business strategy and executing our go-to-market.


What made you choose IE Business School?

When comparing European MBA programs, I realized IE Business School had a uniquely innovative concept for business education. Digging deeper, I learned about IE’s Area 31 start-up incubator, its focus on behavioral fitness and its professors, who were not only great academics but often active professionals. In interactions with IE Business School alumni, I realized how open and supportive the community was. Ultimately, the positive can-do-attitude of alumni and the innovative momentum of the school convinced me to apply.


What was the best and/or most unexpected part of your degree experience?

As a scientist, I was used to collecting data from which I would model how a physical effect may work. Then I would discuss these findings with an academic audience. In science, there is an objective reality that we may never completely understand but we strive to get as close as we can.

During the MBA program, I aimed to broaden my knowledge by working and interacting with as many different students as possible. I picked up what mattered to the consultant, to the marketer, the investment banker, the engineer, etc. With time, I realized that in contrast to science, there is no objective reality in business. In the marketplace, there is no ultimate truth, there is only what matters for your customers and stakeholders. Success did not come as much from defending what I felt to be right, but from putting myself more into other people’s shoes and trying to understand what they feel is right in their world. This focus on empathy and awareness of others’ perspectives has significantly accelerated my career.


What skills do you think you have gained from the study of your degree?

Inter-cultural awareness, empathy, coaching and self-reflection - those are just some of the teachings during the MBA that have changed my career forever. A chance to practice these skills does not only come in class, but also in volunteering activities, sports, travel, competitions and projects. For example, for my final project, I was part of a team of 10 MBA students from IE Business School and The Wharton School that delivered an expansion strategy for the CBDO of a global customer experience management firm. Not only did I learn from my more experienced team members about marketing strategy, but also how to manage a global client engagement.

In addition, I should give credit to extraordinary professors like Teresa Recio for marketing and coaching, Ignacio Larru for managing big data, Fernando Bartolome for leadership, or Juan Santalo for strategy. I still use their content today.


In what way have people around you in your professional life benefited from your MBA experience?

As product marketing manager, I work in a matrix organization at the intersection of product, sales, marketing and partner management. In this role, I need to understand the business from a strategic level down to every account detail. Therefore, most of my day, I listen to feedback from customers, partners and co-workers, as well as look for ways to help improve our sales and marketing engine. There is a lot going on at the same time and the MBA learnings are helping me focus on what is essential for the business; and thereby make a case for my customers and colleagues to make sure they are heard.


How did you finance your degree and do you feel you have received a return on investment?

I was lucky to receive a scholarship and financed the residual amount with savings and a loan. The MBA helped me to move into a new role and geography that I could have hardly accessed otherwise. Furthermore, when facing a problem today, I know how to find an answer or someone I can ask. The support of the alumni community is invaluable.


The admissions process can be quite a daunting experience. What would be your top tip for candidates looking to apply to IE?

Start by engaging with the IE community as early as possible and look for IE events in your area. For example, the admissions team in London is doing a phenomenal job at organizing events where alumni and prospective students can meet and learn from each other.

Written by Phil Cottrell

Phil is the editor of TopMBA.com and has a breadth of editorial and digital marketing experience. He has worked across a variety of industries from e-commerce and commercial real estate to managing all content for a C-suite careers site aimed at UK and US professionals.

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