An online MBA gave me the confidence to lead at the highest level |

An online MBA gave me the confidence to lead at the highest level

By Laura L

Updated April 12, 2022 Updated April 12, 2022

Jo Carmichael has travelled the globe as a chartered engineer in transport planning. Since leaving the UK in 2008, she has worked in the UK, Dubai, Australia and Kuala Lumpur, and has years of undeniable knowledge and experience in the transport planning industry, leading multiple teams in the company she works for, Arup.  

But an online MBA at UCL School of Management presented an opportunity for Jo to cement her knowledge and expertise in a credible qualification that would validate the intuition she’d always had in her field.  

As an MBA graduate, Jo is now the Director Advisory, Planning and Design and Regional Transport Planning Service Lead for Australasia, and the only female director for Arup in the Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia (SIM) region. Plus, she’s bringing other women up with her.  

Balancing MBA study with work and family life 

For many people, moving your family to a new country to start a new job would be a lot to manage but, on top of all that, Jo decided to start her MBA the week she arrived in Sydney, Australia with her family.  

“A lot of people at work were shocked that I was doing the MBA at the same time as starting my new role, and in a new country too. But if I’m honest, it didn’t feel too difficult to manage because the live lectures took place early in the morning before work and I could then choose to do the extra reading and learning when it was best for me, all through an app,” Jo said. 

The commute to and from work was an ideal space for Jo to work through some of the course content, which was uploaded to the app in bite-sized chunks by the MBA lecturers. Jo said: “The app is incredibly intuitive and very easy to use when you’re on the go. I could do all of the background reading on the way to work, which meant that I could take my learning straight into my job that very same day.” 

The confidence to lead 

Jo’s new role in Sydney required a broader skill set in order to manage a team of 75 people and would provide her with greater exposure as a senior leader within the business.  

While leading large teams wasn’t new to Jo, she felt that the business knowledge and experience she’d gained over the years was mostly based on instinct, gut feelings and emotional intelligence rather than the fundamental business knowledge taught from a graduate management programme. 

“I’ve been in management positions for well over a decade, and I know I have the skills I need to lead my team, but my knowledge has come from intuition. I’ve never had any real formal management training. An MBA had always been in the back of my mind as a way to give me the confidence that my decisions are based on sound management knowledge, and would provide me the frameworks to think more strategically than I had in the past,” she said.  

“I think it has been wonderful for my credibility because there have been moments since the MBA when I feel like my voice has been stronger in a lot of the discussions and debates I’ve been engaged in at leadership level. As a result of the MBA going on in the background, I’ve been better equipped to solve challenges and work more effectively with the people around me.”  

Driving digital transformation 

The main element that attracted Jo to the UCL MBA was the focus on data and analytics. In the transport planning industry, there is a major push to use digital methods to create more efficient systems and big datasets available across a multitude of cities.  

“At Arup, we’ve been talking about digital transformation for about a decade, and we’re now using data in a very different way to try and enhance what we do as a company. A lot of the people within our business with advanced digital capability are now being refocused to collaborate with some of the other technical disciplines to take the transformation externally,” Jo said. 

“In senior leadership, however, experience is often based in other strategic areas, so while many senior leaders understand the importance of data and digital transformation, they’re not able to get involved in the detailed conversations around it to understand the pitfalls of good and bad data. For me, a data-driven MBA was key for me to receive that leadership and management-level knowledge of data and how it should and shouldn’t be used in the space I work in.” 

Following her online MBA, Jo set up a working group within Arup’s Australasia team to focus on using data more effectively. The plans developed by the group have now been accepted by the regional board and will be taken forward for implementation. 

“For that to happen, I had to understand how to approach various committees and groups differently and persuade them that the plans were operable. My MBA gave me the confidence and skills to do that, which enabled me to go into those spaces without much pushback. Instead I was told ‘that’s great, get on with it’ and I’m not sure I would have been able to make such an impact prior to my MBA.”  

The only female director in the region 

The online MBA enabled Jo to see and understand her own worth and the importance of that in creating change within the company. It’s something she didn’t value beforehand, and believes it was the foundation to becoming the only female director in Arup across Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.  

“I’m not sure I’d have had the confidence to have leapt for the position I’m in now had I not done the MBA,” Jo said, “but in addition to that, I’ve arrived and I’ve decided to go further and change that. Across Southeast Asia, I’m now connecting women of the next generation with global leaders in the business to help them thrive.  

“I’ve also been asked to join the Southeast Asian executive team and there are various other roles that have come my way since the online MBA. While they might not be a direct result of the MBA, it most certainly contributed to being noticed by the regional board and the group and I think I'm seen as someone who is continuing a lifelong journey of learning, but also someone who is bringing that learning back to the business.” 

“It has been such a rewarding experience that continues to provide me with opportunities beyond the degree and I would say to anyone who is thinking about doing an online MBA, just do it.” 

This article was originally published in March 2022 . It was last updated in April 2022

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As Senior Content Editor for and, Laura publishes articles for our student audience around the world, working with ambassadors and alumni to provide helpful content to those looking for study options. Laura has six years' experience in Higher Education marketing and writing for a student audience. 


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