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How the Manchester MBA fuelled a fulfilling career in energy

We met with Ajay Singh, Special Advisor at Japex, Japan after he visited the business school to talk to our current MBA class.

Ajay’s journey began 25 years ago in India where he graduated with a BSc in mechanical engineering. He started his working career with Thermax in the sales and marketing department, supplying plant equipment to industry. During his time working at Thermax the idea of studying an MBA came to light as he wanted to access a different kind of career and progress to general management roles. After glowing recommendations from various family members about the quality of The University of Manchester, Ajay made his decision to move over to the UK and study at Alliance Manchester Business School.

Ajay is currently working at Japan Petroleum Exploration Company (JAPEX) in Tokyo as the advisor to the chairman and president. "My job is split into two parts. The first part of my day-to-day role includes delivering major projects for the company, being a decision maker with other members of management and making sure all aspects are properly covered when looking at new investment decisions or major transactions. I oversee the review processes and I am also involved in other strategic decisions, such as financial restructuring and managing the portfolio. I am involved in most of the goings-on of the business, especially involving international business.

The other side of my role is to help develop the company’s overseas business competencies. This includes setting up new capabilities and departments, for example I set up new departments for commercial activities, making sure legal and commercial input is taken into account as part of all project decisions going forward. I assist in the training and development of staff, helping with selection and development decisions for management. Overall, I am part of the company’s strategic transformation.”

Working in the oil and gas industry naturally presents some challenges within Ajay's organisation. “For the oil and gas industry, the cost competitiveness of new investment decisions is a key area. There is a focus on how to manage the financial health of the business, and a strategy in place to invest more in non-hydrocarbon projects. With some of these new technologies, you can’t be sure investment decisions will pay off; therefore it is vital to make sure that the transition from hydrocarbon to non-hydrocarbon resources happens effectively. This adds another key challenge to the organisation.”

During the MBA programme, there are opportunities to work with companies and assist with real-life projects on an internship in the summer months. Ajay took advantage of this whilst studying his MBA and he discusses the doors it opened for him upon completing the programme.

“I achieved a place on a summer internship programme with Shell. Only two students were selected to work with the company and help with a range of projects for some of their clients, and this opportunity was a direct result of studying at Alliance Manchester Business School. This summer internship gave me instant recognition within the Shell system and ultimately led to a referral from Shell UK to Shell India when I was applying for jobs after graduating. I then worked within Shell group for twenty years in both India and Europe.

Ajay went on to tell us about the sector-specific and transferable skills he gained on the MBA and how he still uses these in his job today. "I found the structured introduction to marketing theory and marketing in practice extremely beneficial, as this was something I had never been exposed to before. I also did a module on industrial marketing which directly helped my first job at Shell. I still use academic elements of the course in my day-to-day job: strategic management, which taught me the ability to think strategically, and a finance module which included financial analysis, financial management, value chain cost analysis, reading balance sheets and cash flow accounts. 

The overall mental training and discipline that comes from studying the MBA definitely echoes in my job twenty-five years later. You don’t realise when studying how you will directly use the skills, but I do see on reflection how the MBA transfers daily to my job. The MBA trains you to think in a different way and you recognise certain things in a business situation that you otherwise might not.

The Manchester MBA programme has a truly international student body that you interact and work in groups with on various projects, which has really aided my global career. The collaboration with other cultures and emphasis on teamwork helped with what came next in the world of work.”

Alliance Manchester Business School sits on the doorstep of a vibrant city. We asked Ajay other than studying the MBA what were his favourite memories of living in Manchester? Ajay mentioned how he enjoyed the social scene of the MBA, going to the pubs with his classmates to unwind after a full day of studying. Surrounding Manchester there are also many picturesque towns that are easily accessible from the city centre. Ajay enjoyed travelling in the summer months to National Parks like the Peak District and Lake District, to escape the bustling city life for the green countryside.

Ajay went on to offer his advice to someone looking to apply for the programme. He believes the MBA is a great qualification for those with the ambition to grow to management type roles, “Be clear in your mind as to why you want to study the MBA. If you are thinking about studying as a way of accessing a new career then I would definitely encourage going for it. Studying the MBA is a massive commitment, in terms of the time it takes, the break from your career and also financially. I do believe that clarity is crucial and having everything in place, both financially and mentally, before studying is so important. For me, having my family on board with the idea of studying an MBA also provided motivation and encouragement in the decision process. Overall, studying the MBA and choosing to work in the business sector were my best life decisions.”

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