Life After the MBA: Harvey Wells, Nyenrode MBA Graduate and Brewery Founder

Nyenrode MBA graduate Harvey Wells

This article is sponsored by Nyenrode Business Universiteit. Visit its website to find out more about its MBA programs

Attending business school gave Harvey Wells (MBA Nyenrode, 2009) the confidence to start his own brewery as well as a consulting firm.

What is your background? Why did you decide to get your MBA?

Immediately before the MBA, I worked for about seven years at RBS, the British bank, in various strategy and innovation roles within the consumer finance businesses.

My background was working as a corporate strategy professional. I felt the need to consolidate my knowledge and build on it a bit. Obviously, I had quite a bit of experience in a lot of the areas that an MBA covers. So, it wasn’t as if I was doing my MBA in order to change careers.

For me, it was more about consolidation, but it was also about moving country. My wife is Dutch and we wanted to move from London to the Netherlands. I thought that an MBA with Nyenrode, which is a well known business school here in the Netherlands, would be a good start for my new career in a new country.

What do you mean when you say you used the MBA to consolidate your knowledge?

What I mean is that I studied finance with my first degree and obviously worked in strategy, which covers a lot of the different areas that you would typically cover in an MBA.  I had quite a bit of experience that relates to the typical MBA syllabus. It wasn’t a matter of necessarily learning everything from scratch; it was more a matter of covering the bases again.

In professional life, you tend to be quite busy. You might not read all the academic pieces you should and you might not necessarily go into all the depth.

The MBA is really a chance to go back and do things properly. It wasn’t necessarily new ground. It was sometimes recovering old ground to do it more thoroughly in a different way, from a different perspective.

Which classes did you find the most valuable during the Nyenrode MBA program?

It is difficult to select individual classes but relating specifically to my post-MBA experience the entrepreneurship modules provided valuable practice on preparing business plans and helping me to be more aware of my likely weaknesses and shortcomings as an entrepreneur.

What was the most important lesson you learned during your MBA program?

The course provided almost daily lessons in cross cultural awareness that are only partly formalized in the course but an inevitable part of working closely with such a diverse set of people. The overarching lesson from this is to learn how to treat people as individuals.

 What  were some of the biggest life changes that happened as a result of getting your MBA?

Most immediately my MBA gave me the mixture of confidence and skills to start my own consulting business.

It kind of started before I finished my MBA. I was asked by an old boss of mine if I could do a project for him and that was what started the whole idea of doing my own consulting business rather than going back into a conventional corporate job. I thought “Well, okay, so I have my first project. Why not give it a go? The worse thing that could happen would be that in six months you go back and you and look for that corporate job anyway.”

How has getting your MBA improved your quality of life?

The direct consequence of running my own consulting business was that I was also able to really take control of my career bit more. Alongside the consulting business, I began working on a brewing startup. As an outsider to the brewing industry, I knew it was probably unwise to just sort of go straight into it eyes shut.

But I thought a craft brewery could be a nice thing to develop alongside of my consulting work, and in return the consulting work also gives you a degree of flexibility, which you don't have with a normal job.  So, there's a kind of symbiosis between the two strands of my career.

Why did you decide to pursue a brewing start up?  Do you think you would have made this decision if you hadn’t gotten your MBA?

The brewing thing really comes from passion. In my life, I’ve been lucky. I’ve always enjoyed my work. I’ve had very interesting jobs, but I've consciously kept my hobbies as my hobbies and my work as my work. So you don’t switch off completely, but you have two distinct modes in your life.

The brewing was an experiment with developing one of my hobbies as a job; and yes, that was quite an interesting step for me to take. It’s of something you do on an emotional basis, more of a passion-based thing than perhaps your more rational, normal, corporate, strategy consultant type hat.

I couldn’t have started the business in the same way if I was still doing the same kind of corporate jobs I was before my MBA. So, yes, my ability to do that is directly related to the circumstances that the MBA allowed me to create.

In terms of the skills, an MBA also has given me a lot more confidence about the full set of business management skills that you need to run a business in its entirety rather than work in a small part of the business like I do normally. I normally do the strategy piece, but there are a lot of other specialist areas that obviously I know a lot less about.

An MBA has enabled me to develop a lot of those skills and to have more confidence going into the whole business of running a complete business.

Nijenrode Bier has gotten press about its new bottle design. How did lessons you learned in your MBA program help you with the process of changing the bottle design?

The bottle design was obviously not my work. I outsourced it to a third party, but the nature of the relationship that I have with that third party gave them the creative freedom to do something interesting with the bottle. You could say that was a product of sort a form of enlightenment an MBA gives you.

The MBA helped me approach the piece of work that was the bottle redesign in a different way.

Typically, for example in a large corporation, you’re tied to a creative agency. You can’t have the same freedom to choose. I had the freedom to choose as an independent corporate entity, commercial entity. In a corporate, you’re kind of tied to that relationship. You don’t have much control over it and you then have a whole set of internal stake holders who want to impose restrictions on the work that is being done by the third party.

This was done in a much freer way than that. I found someone I trusted and liked and I said “I’ll give you some freedom and you do something that you’re really happy with and try to sort of build a positive kind of open creative kind of feeling about the project.” The designer responded brilliantly with a lovely design, which has been great for us.

What value does an MBA add to an entrepreneur’s skill set?

I suppose that's going to depend to some extent on the type of entrepreneur you are. It's very difficult to generalize too much about entrepreneurs.

You have the very, instinctive, loose style, the kind of Richard Branson style of people who have very little formal training or who are naturally brilliant deal makers --  naturally charming, naturally able to get people to do things that they need to do.

Then, you have other types of entrepreneurs as well who may use more traditional business skillsets. I doubt you could say deep down there are two types, there must be more. Certainly if you're going to be one of the second type, the one that is running a business in a more conventional way, an MBA is going to be useful to you.

If you're the first type, you're a natural-born entrepreneur and you're not even going to be looking at those things in the first place.

Is there anything you would like to add?

One benefit of attending Nyenrode is contact with the academic body here which allows me to share ideas, create ideas, discuss things and keep yourself up to date.

I did a full time MBA at Nyenrode – there was a choice between a part time and a full time MBA – and to me, the full time MBA really gave me that sort of complete break from my career for a year or so, and that allowed me to take a fresh look at what I’m good at and what I should be doing with my career, which has also been really important and really valuable.

This article is sponsored by Nyenrode Business Universiteit. 

Written by Nicole Willson

Nicole is the SEO manager of TopMBA.com, as well as a contributing author. She holds a BA in history and sociology, and a master's in library science. Aside from her work for QS, Nicole is a long-time contributing editor and administrator for WikiHow.

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