Growing talent: tapping potential

The Spring edition of Society Matters magazine focused on the benefits of growing internal talent and how this was behind the development of the BSA/Loughborough University Business School MSc programme. We hear from graduates, a student and a building society CEO about the impact of the programme and what it has delivered – plus a reality check on how the hard work it entails is dovetailed with work and family life. So far we have had 123 students on the programme, 83 of whom have graduated.

The latest edition of Society Matters magazine focused on the benefits of growing internal talent and how this was behind the BSA/Loughborough University Business School MSc programme – which started in 2015. Below we hear from graduates, a student and a building society CEO about the impact of the programme and what it has delivered – plus a reality check on how the hard work it entails is dovetailed with work and family life. So far we have had 123 students on the programme, 83 of whom have graduated.

Education for senior executives is critical
By Caroline Domanski MBE, Chief Executive, No1 CopperPot Credit Union

Through the Loughborough University Masters Programme, senior executives or those looking to progress their careers are able to gain a comprehensive understanding of the sector and its complexities.

I found the Loughborough University Masters Programme invaluable to my development as a credit union  professional. It enabled me to gain a greater understanding of the mutual sector and through this, I have been  able to assess distinct challenges and develop strategies to overcome these.

The course enables participants to develop the necessary skills to become more successful in their career and  to apply academic theory to real business challenges. It allows students the opportunity to contribute effectively to discussions and debates within the sector, as well as to make more informed decisions. The  benefits also include providing students with the opportunity to network with other professionals in the field and acquire valuable insights from across the industry.

Personally, the Loughborough programme allowed me to become more connected with the mutual sector,  through the opportunities to network and share experiences. I was able to develop beneficial relationships that enhanced my own knowledge and development and provided a platform to contribute to the sector as a whole. The course enabled me to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments and acquire  additional expertise to take No1 CopperPot forward.

The Masters programme supplied the necessary skills for me to become more successful in my career. From  financial analysis and value-based decision making, to strategy and marketing, this programme enabled me to develop the business overview that is required for success as a senior executive. All in all, the Loughborough University Masters Programme is a must for anyone who is serious about progressing their knowledge of the sector and wants to gain an understanding of how different business areas link together, beyond their personal specialism. It provides the relevant and important tools to broaden horizons and progress a successful career.

Unlocking Potential
By Darren Ditchburn, Deputy Chief Executive, Leek Building Society

You've built up the skills, knowledge and expertise necessary to excel in your field and made a name for yourself, but how do you make the transition from "potential" to credible leader worthy of people's confidence in your ability to take that next step?

Finding the right opportunity at the right time can be a challenge, but as I was seeking a way to further my professional career, I was delighted to discover the Leadership and Management master’s degree (MSc)  through Loughborough University in partnership with the Building Societies Association, which provided the perfect fit.

I wanted to develop more strategically, with a broader knowledge base and the ability to impact more widely  across the business. This programme provided me with the opportunity to gain exposure to wider business  areas in a structured and purposeful way. It allowed me to gain an understanding of the different areas of the organisation, including a more detailed insight into how different business functions operate and interact.

Each module strikes the right balance between academic research and practical application, by applying skills  and knowledge gained to problem solve and develop strategies within the workplace. This meant I was able to  build and demonstrate knowledge and skills beyond my own area of expertise to improve my overall  performance.

Having made the decision to bypass going to university and head straight into the world of work, I was worried  about being able to complete the MSc programme, especially with  two young children and a full-time job at the same time. However, I was able to complete a foundation degree through Teesside University before taking on the MSc. This was a really important step for me personally, as it gave me confidence and a good  understanding of academic writing and research, all of which are essential for completing the MSc.

One of the biggest, unexpected benefits of the programme is that it provides you with the opportunity to network with peers and build strong relationships. The programme encourages students to share their  knowledge and experiences, enabling them to learn from each other and build a supportive network of professionals. This is beneficial for both the individual and the business, and it certainly allowed me to gain a  better understanding with a broader range of views from people with different backgrounds and experiences. The network was also beneficial in terms of  supporting each other to navigate both study and day to day work challenges. I know this extends beyond the programme and is one of the qualities which makes  working in the building society sector so special.

Undertaking self-study is a big commitment and it’s essential to find the right balance between family, work, and  study. My top tip is to make sure you have good people around you to support you through it. I was  incredibly lucky to have the support of my family, friends, colleagues, and an inspirational mentor and trust me,  this makes all the difference, especially when one area demands more of your time and focus.

Overall, the MSc programme provided me with the opportunity to unlock my potential by providing me with a broader knowledge base, improved problem-solving skills, improved leadership and management skills, networking opportunities, and increased personal resilience from working and studying at the same time. All of which has ultimately helped me to progress my career into more senior roles.

Adding value to our business by investing in our people
By Colin Fyfe, Chief Executive Officer, Hinckley & Rugby Building Society

Colin Fyfe discusses the benefits of a 'grow your own' approach to employee developement and the wider benefits of adopting a learning strategy that includes the BSA Masters programme within the workplace

At Hinckley & Rugby Building Society, it's our biggest responsibility to develop our people and grow our own future leaders from within. Varied and diverse learning is a crucial part of our leadership investment and one which will strengthen our business. Organisations are filled with untapped potential and the BSA MSc provides  an opportunity to give our employees structured learning in an environment that understands our sector. It allows them to learn and grow with their peers whilst working with academics to understand theory that can be applied in the business.

Since 2015 we are delighted that six employees have gained their qualifications through this programme and  each person has grown in their role and more importantly, their learnings have enabled them to impact the  business  positively both strategically and operationally. We are ambitious and willing to put people on the  course and support them because we understand the advantages it offers, not only for us a business, but also,  as a springboard for their careers.

Niki Barker, Chief People Officer comments on the course as a key part of the Society’s overall people strategy.  We are committed to investing in our future talent and the value we have seen following the  programmes launch has been fantastic for not only individuals but the Society as a whole”.

The programme isn’t easy, three years is a challenging commitment, especially when maintaining a healthy  work-life balance. Our goal is to support students and guide them when implementing their learnings and strategies within the workplace.

Kelly West, Senior People & Culture Manager for the Society as well as recent graduate from the course  comments. “I’m really enjoying seeing the work I put into my dissertation come to life within the organisation  and I really look forward to enhancing our ED&I strategy, thanks to the research and findings from it”.

Our first participant on the course, Rebecca Griffin started her Master’s in 2015 and during her time at  university, she received a promotion to Head of Risk and Compliance. Rebecca used the knowledge gained  through the course to create various business solutions and has continued to develop and apply her skills which supported her in securing a role as the Society’s Chief Risk Officer in 2020.

One of our great success stories, Evan Crosskey received a distinction for his hard work and dedication. Sadly,  Evan tragically passed away a few weeks after his graduation. His dedication to the course and commitment to implement his learnings was a testament to his character. His legacy within the course will remain with the introduction of The Evan Crosskey Award for Academic Achievement, which will be  awarded each year to the graduate with the highest academic result.

Clare White, Operational Risk and Climate Manager, is our latest student on the master’s programme. She is  very excited to see what the next three years hold and during the last five months, since she commenced the programme, she has already started utilising the skills she is learning within the Society.

These examples reinforce the focus we put into our leadership development, where there are no barriers, if you have a willingness and desire to learn, we will continue to support you.

Accepting the challenge
By Michael Shand, Consumer Duty Programme Director, Nationwide Building Society

When the offer came to take on the challenge of the MSc programme back in 2017, I grabbed it because it was my moment to learn and develop my leadership in a context that was uniquely focused on the opportunities and challenges for the future of Building Societies.

Now three years post-graduation, I can reflect with confidence and say that the experience, learning and insights I gained have fundamentally supported both my contribution to Nationwide and my own career progression.

There are two significant parts to this: first of all, the knowledge and skills I gained from my time on the  programme, and secondly the insights and networks that I have managed to forge with leaders from other  societies and across the BSA.

The learning experience at Loughborough was fantastic – the structure of the programme meant we were able  to spend time covering a breadth of the most important leadership challenges – from strategy to finance to marketing, to people and culture. The ‘USP’ for this programme is that this learning is achieved in a way that is  directly relevant to our sector. Whilst I enjoyed the academic research and exploration of ideas, the real gems of knowledge and understating came from the conversations that we had in the room. Hearing the perspective  from leaders at other Societies, allowed me to get understanding and insights that would be almost impossible  to get elsewhere. I took practical learnings and actions away from each of these sessions – real tips and hints  for things that I could personally do differently or insights / fresh thinking that I could share with others.

To be clear, the work is tough – especially when trying to balance alongside busy careers. The assignments  require space, time and effort to complete – and the final year research project was truly a mammoth amount of effort. For that, I chose to pursue the question “Is mutuality a marketable concept?” ... a vast and varied topic to explore, but I can confidently say that I learned a lot.

However, the real and enduring benefit  that I have taken from the programme are the connections I have made. Being able to reach out to people across other Societies to ask questions, explore challenges and share ideas is where the real value lies for me. Since completing the programme, I have taken on several new  leadership roles within my Society – from strategy, to innovation, to new product launches and now as Programme Director for our response to the FCA’s new Consumer Duty. Throughout, I have a ready-made set  of contacts that I can reach out to ask for help and insights. In the context of my current role, I have benefitted  from being able to participate in events such as the BSA annual conference - with direct access to leaders  across Societies to understand how they are approaching the Duty as well as dialogue with key representatives at the FCA to help us on our journey. These are the sort of intangible benefits that I have come  to value most since my time on the programme.

There is an enduring opportunity for our Building Societies – our mutual strength, our singular focus on helping our members achieve the most from their financial lives. But, we need leaders. The MSc programme is a  uniquely brilliant way for you to be part of that future. So, to those interested, my advice is give it a shot!

Fulfilling my potential
By Stephanie Hattersley, Chief of Staff, Skipton Building Society

I started at the Skipton when I was 19 - young, full of energy, and a little unruly if I'm truthful! I started as an administrator at the contact centre, and if you asked 19-year-old my what her chances of progression were she'd be pretty surprised now! I didn't think I had much potential, or so I'd been told at school.

In my time at Skipton I've learnt that I am intrinsically motivated - I love to learn new things and I've had five different careers so far! When it comes to formal qualifications however, I left school with minimal GCSEs and I have always put myself down, assuming others were more ‘academic’ than me. However, in 2020 I began to  realise that this self-doubt was impacting my ability to progress. I’d seen the MSc in Strategic Leadership and  always wondered if I’d be brave enough to apply. Would I be good enough? I was 30-something with a  husband, a son about to  start school, and a fat Labrador, so applying for something so intensive was a big decision. Two years on, I know it was the right one.

When colleagues ask me for advice about  applying for the Masters, I always ask them about their motivation. Is it for the CV, for self-confidence, or something else? Understanding your intent is important as it helps you  assess the impact it may have on your life. For me it was about my self-confidence, so I needed to know I had sufficient time to plan, learn, read, and ask questions – I therefore planned to put time aside to make sure I  wasn’t overwhelmed (the University recommend 7-10 hours a week). I spoke with my husband; we created a schedule and I applied!

I’m in my final year now and about to submit my business project, and for those considering it I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt and offer some advice:

  • Being at Uni is like starting a new project at work: you listen, learn, ask questions, explore, and make a recommendation.
  • You don’t need to be ‘academic’ to be successful - the programme has given me confidence to be my authentic self, to understand who I am and how I show up in different environments.
  • Some of the most useful skills I learned that I use every day are: how to conduct research, to think critically, and to write a clear business report.
  • Set boundaries with yourself on what you will and won’t give up - I will never give up family time,  which means I study in the evenings and get up at 6am on a Saturday to do a few hours before the fun starts!
  • Build a network of support. I’m thankful for my cohort on the programme - I have made some true  friends who are there to support, listen, moan, and laugh together!

While the Masters has given me the knowledge of how an organisation is most effectively run and the moving  parts it needs to be successful, the most important things I’ve learned are about myself. I’ve grown as a person,  gained the confidence to try new things, to push myself, and to challenge myself on what I can achieve. Most recently that has been accepting the position of Chief of Staff, a role that I wouldn’t have thought
possible two years ago. 

So if you’re considering taking the leap, what are you waiting for?

BSA and Loughborough University Business School MSc

Cohort 8 recruitment: The application window is open and closes on 31 July.

You can find more information here.