Ben Harper

Country of origin: United Kingdom

Head of International Strategy, Sand Aire

Ben's background was unusual for an MBA student: a medically qualified doctor with a background in surgery, radiology and interventional radiology. After studying at Cambridge University and Harvard, he undertook training at Guys, St Thomas’ and the Royal Free, all teaching hospitals in London.

My family is largely medical although there is an entrepreneurial gene, and one of the reasons for my first looking into the MBA was to enable me to expand a family business overseas. Balance sheets were a foreign language and my financial knowledge was based on the FT and Economist. Added to this, I had firsthand experience of an NHS struggling to meet budgets and suffering from sometimes misdirected and long-suffering management.

My choice of university for an MBA was inevitably guided at first by the league tables, where Lancaster University Management School clearly excels. The Lancaster MBA also contains extensive case-study-based learning and involves three formal consultancy modules (New Venture Challenge, Consultancy Challenge, and summer project); my past experience has taught me that I am most receptive to experiential learning. My wife is originally from the North West of England, and through her I had come to love this part of the world. As I was self-funding, a year-long course (rather than the two-year American model) seemed a bonus, no matter how intense it became.

The first term was full, stressful at times and incredibly rewarding. I am convinced that I learnt almost half as much again from the other MBA students, in group work or during seminar break-out. The lecture halls themselves are state-of-the-art and follow the Harvard seating plan, making lectures highly interactive but – by default – hard to hide from the finance professor...

The work load remains high in the following months but there is a noticeable difference as we had all learnt to handle the steep learning curve with more skill. I found that reflective learning and analysis of my own thoughts came into its own during this time. We were taught early on to question what we were told and to seek our own evidence to confirm or dispute suggested theory.

A unique and almost always overlooked strength of the Lancaster MBA comes through the directorate and staff. Behind the scenes, as in any successful business, is a team of loyal, experienced, supportive people from academia and outside who guided my year through a life-changing experience of immense quality. When I look back and say I made a huge number of lifelong friends I take pleasure from including them.

Family life

Completing a full-time MBA with a family has tremendous advantages; there is an escape from stress and deadlines, a grounding of normality and a constant reminder of real priorities. There is a fantastic pre-school centre at the University, and my son and I would be packed off in the morning together, both carrying lunch boxes. I was at home more than when I was working (just). It can be tough, too. The first term is stressful, and meetings take place at all times of the day and night. It can also be quite lonely for the family who have moved to a new area and perhaps put their own career on hold. Once we became aware of these issues they were easier to address.

During the course of the year, my own family business requirements changed. I had really enjoyed my internship and produced some very good results. They were keen that I remain. I had become involved with the academic side of LUMS, writing up my research dissertation and helping with the Centre for Family Business.

I now work at Lancaster University on Monday and Tuesday, before travelling to London to act as head of international strategy at Sand Aire for the remainder of the week.