Enrolling at INSEAD I think I had one of the less conventional profiles.
I grew up in Edinburgh, left school aged 17 (you can do that in Scotland and still apply to university) and then worked as a bicycle courier before enrolling at a UK music conservatoire to study Jazz.
My music teacher at the time had advised me to study classical, but I was drawn to Jazz because of the sound and also the theory. Unlike some other styles, you need to understand how music ‘works’ harmonically in order to play it. I found this satisfying as well as useful for playing and composing / arranging other contemporary styles. Quincy Jones says that ‘Jazz is the classical music of pop’ – there’s definitely some truth to that!
After a brief stint as a music teacher I moved to London for a series of internships with a production company and then the London Symphony Orchestra. This led to my first proper job working in the UK Government education department on a project to improve the quality of teaching in the UK.
It was a good opportunity and also reasonable hours which meant I could reliably leave the office by 6pm and so still get to rehearsals and gigs in the evenings. However, after a few years I wanted to work in a more challenging environment and decided to do a Masters qualification to prove myself academically and help with job applications.
Doing the rounds at the usual European schools I found that INSEAD was the only institution which excited me. It had a great reputation but also valued diversity, and the students and faculty I met seemed interested in my profile rather than confused by it.
However, my maths ability was pretty basic and I didn’t speak a second language, so I bought a book on algebra and moved to Berlin to learn German. I reasoned to myself (and my family) that even if I didn’t get in it would be an educational experience and a good adventure too so there was nothing to lose.
Luckily I did get in, but by the end of the year I was really enjoying living in Berlin and wanted to stay for longer. Then after a slightly traumatic business foundations week being force fed finance, economics and maths I was seriously questioning whether a business degree was the right next step for me at the time, and actually declined my place.
A few days later I received a call from Antonio Fatas, the MBA dean at the time. He asked why I was considering declining the place so I explained the situation and my reservations about the programme. He listened patiently and said I should come anyway and if after 3 months I still didn’t think it was a good idea I could have my money back.
What could I say to that?!
There’s no doubt that the transition to business school was a bit uncomfortable. Pretty much every subject was new and the pace was fast, but I learned a lot, made some great friends and, inevitably, also played plenty of music at various parties with our promotion’s band (which I’m convinced is one of the better ones to come from an MBA class!).
Post INSEAD I worked in management consulting, initially for a cultural sector firm and then for blue chip clients, all jobs that had eluded me pre-INSEAD, before founding MusicGurus.com, also with INSEAD class mates.
MusicGurus is an e-learning platform dedicated to making world-class music lessons accessible and affordable for everyone. We’re positioned as the e-learning platform for the music industry, helping leading publishers and institutions as well as individuals to go digital with their education. Most of our customers are also currently, and we place a significant emphasis on lifelong learning, and the ability of adults to continue developing complex new skills throughout their lives
It’s an exciting project with a lot of potential beyond the music sector, and the INSEAD experience was key to making it possible.
So for anyone with a less conventional consulting / banking / industry background and a desire to make a radical career change and have a broader impact I would definitely recommend INSEAD. It was the right next step for me and I’m very glad that I made the decision that I did.
If you are interested in sharing your alumni story, please contact the UK alumni association at [email protected]