The first three months of my Global Executive MBA journey

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Written by Thengo Liweta Tembo (GEMBA 2024); Associate Director, Oncology Global Medical Affairs – Gilead Sciences.

It’s remarkable to think that three months have passed since I commenced my 20-month Global Executive MBA journey, and what an exhilarating journey it has proven to be so far! Before delving into my experiences on the programme, I’d like to first provide the rationale behind my decision to embark upon this academic experience.

At the entrance to the Business School, January 2024

After training as a pharmacist within the UK’s National Health Service  and subsequently accruing several years of experience within multiple functions of the biopharmaceutical industry across national and global levels, I realised that, to add continued value, I needed to pursue further study while continuing to work. After a thorough skills audit and reflective exercise upon the aspects that motivated me and brought me fulfilment in my career so far, I recognised that, while my robust scientific and healthcare background had prepared me well for the future, there was a gap in my understanding of broader business administration principles, which were equally important to my role. It was this realisation that spurred me on to explore the Global Executive MBA (GEMBA).

College Dinner with my cohort, January 2024

The next step was selecting the most suitable institution, a complex task due to the diverse offerings of each business school. Given my roots within the healthcare and biopharmaceutical sector, I wanted an academic environment that would not only immerse me in this domain but also expose me to cross-industry perspectives, with an emphasis on holistic professional and personal development rather than solely focusing on hard skills such as finance, accounting, and strategy. It was for these reasons that I chose to pursue my MBA at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School. The University has a legacy of educational excellence spanning over eight centuries and boasting a vibrant biotech hub. After several years of contemplation, I summoned the courage to apply; this was strengthened by conversations with advocates of the EMBA who I had met in the period leading up to the application.

Upon receiving the acceptance letter, I was filled with joy and excitement, and a profound sense of relief, knowing that my endeavours to secure a place on the programme had been acknowledged and endorsed. However, as is often the case in life, moments of joy are swiftly followed by episodes of doubt and, in the days that followed, I found myself grappling with apprehensions regarding the management of an intensified EMBA workload alongside the demands of a full-time global biopharma job. Thankfully, after discussing this with my cohort, I realised that I was not alone in navigating this phenomenon and these thoughts were squashed.

Three months into the journey, I have come to appreciate the sheer richness and depth of the experience. The comprehensive curriculum and access to innovative approaches have been nothing short of amazing. Since January, I have delved into the realms of finance, accounting, and management science, acquainting myself with concepts spanning corporate finance, financial accounting, and business analytics. Despite the complexity of the material to someone without a finance or business background, I have really enjoyed its application to real-world scenarios, particularly those rooted in the biopharmaceutical sector. I count myself fortunate to belong to a group that has embraced the utilisation of biopharmaceutical companies as case studies, thereby enhancing my understanding of financial and managerial concepts while affording me the opportunity to share industry-specific concepts with my peers. The learning curve has been steep, but incredibly rewarding.

Post-lecture class photo, January 2024

However, I have not been entirely alone on this journey. Fortunately, I have found myself a supportive community, spanning from my assignment group to the broader cohort and faculty. This collaborative community has enriched my learning journey by offering diverse perspectives and invaluable insights. To complement my academic pursuits, I have actively sought connections with colleagues occupying roles in finance and analytics within my organisation, whose real-world experiences have enriched my studies with tangible context and personalised the EMBA experience to the intricacies of my industry. Networking has also played an instrumental role in expanding my understanding of the broader healthcare ecosystem, as evidenced by my attendance at events around AI, venture capital investing, and health-tech, which have provided me with invaluable insights into industry trends and challenges. These experiences have underscored the dynamic relationship between innovation and regulation within the healthcare domain, a relationship that is of paramount importance in shaping the future landscape of the industry.

So, you might be wondering, how does all of this translate to my day-to-day? Well, in simple terms, this journey is giving me a broader perspective. For instance, in the last three months alone, I’ve immersed myself in numerous annual reports of leading biopharmaceutical companies. This deep dive has provided invaluable insights into their strategic priorities, performance, and how they perceive key risks. Such knowledge enables me to make more informed decisions in my role and understand the value my role adds to the broader healthcare and biopharma ecosystem. Moreover, engaging in conversations on topics that were once unfamiliar has given me a better grasp of my organisation. These are just a handful of examples among many.

While there’s much more to share and reflect on, I’ll pause here for now. I look forward to sharing more insights in the coming months, including thoughts on achieving a ‘work-study-life’ balance. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey, and I welcome your feedback on what resonated with you and what you’d like to hear more about in the future.

Enough writing for now, time for a coffee!

Contact Thengo on LinkedIn.

Discover more about the Executive MBA Programmes at Cambridge.

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