Business and Management - student stories
Laurence Watkins, Managing Director
Tell us about yourself
I am one of the owners and the founder of Watkins International Ltd (WIL) Sales and Marketing.
I worked in the UK Grocery Fast Moving Consumer Goods industry for nearly 30 years before setting up WIL, working in Corporate Life, a sales and marketing agency, with companies such as Cadbury’s, Allied Lyons Ross Youngs, Princes, Butcher’s Pet Care, Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and many other trade channels and accounts.
I reached a stage in my career where I wanted to set up my own business and whilst I had the experience and the technical know-how, I didn’t feel like I had the strategic mindset to do so.
I had a very humble previous education with a handful of O and A levels. So I decided at the age of 45 to embark upon an MBA (Master of Business Administration) and try and engage the experience and know-how, with the strategic awareness that I thought an MBA would give me.
Why did you choose the OU?
I had looked at many distance learning courses as I was still in (more than) full time employment, and decided upon the OU as the most rigorous (I wanted it to challenge my pre-conceived experiential ideas), appropriate, and practical solution (assignment, exam and weekend residential based).
I was right! The OU provided me with the overarching business awareness that I needed to take the plunge to launch my own business.
I studied on the OU MBA for 3 years, with each module lasting 6 months including assignments, weekend residentials and always ending with exams. The study went from the year one foundation course through Strategy, Marketing, Finance, Culture and Creativity.
Strategy is about the long term delivery of sustainable competitive advantage, and that was my biggest learning - strategy versus tactics. The MBA opened my eyes to long term strategy rather than short term tactical approaches (which many businesses fall into the trap of ‘what works now’). Not a steep learning curve, but a profound one.
It’s fair to say that it was all totally enjoyable as at my age I had the real motivation to learn and have my experiences in business enriched by the applicable theory behind it.
What is your current role?
WIL has an office in Wakefield and my current role is that of the Managing Director. This involves me being the interface with our suppliers (people who want to work with major retailers but don’t have the infrastructure to do so), and the retailers (who are always looking for capable new suppliers), and the introduction management and on-going development of those long term partnerships. Our supplier base is global. There are only two of us in the company so it tends to be very hands-on with my role encompassing all the strategic and tactical issues from the standpoint of owner to business development manager and most things in between.
The strategic element of my MBA will stay with me for the rest of my career and has helped me to balance opposing views on how to approach a problem or business issue. Before I started the MBA, I had a tendency to decide on a course of action and stick with it; the MBA taught me to think more collaboratively.
What advice do you have for current OU students?
The one thing that I really found useful was the OU’s ability to challenge the student to look at the balance in things and become a reflective practitioner. In other words, there are always two sides to a story (or business situation) and very often it becomes a question of opinion backed up by appropriate empirical evidence.
I would encourage anybody looking to better themselves to study with the OU. I would especially like to put my name to encouraging mature potential students who want to harness their experience to look at the OU MBA.
It can change your life ... it did mine.