2021 Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Graham Alltoft, Warwick Business School

Graham Alltoft

Warwick Business School

Dubai-based British expat, software engineer and data analyst. A husband, father and now an MBA.

Age: 39

Hometown: Gravesend, UK

Fun fact about yourself: I have played drums in various bands over the past 25 years, last on stage in Dubai a few weeks before lockdown in 2020.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Undergraduate: Brunel University. BSc Multimedia Technology and Design

Postgraduate: Westminster University. MSc Software Engineering

Where are you currently working?

Company: Legatum, Dubai, UAE.

Role: Senior Solutions Architect.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In 2011 I swapped a comfortable, happy and employed life in London, and headed out to Dubai to join Legatum. I had never set foot in the Middle East before, but I was very excited about the organisation and its mission. It felt like a big risk to leave everything I knew, but it turned out to be the best decision of my life. I met and married my wife, had our two wonderful boys, and thrived in a company with an incredible mission and being part of their fantastic work. So, I am proud that I was willing to embrace the risk and seek growth when it would honestly have been easier not to.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? If truth be told, I was looking at another online MBA course with a great institution and was all but committed to applying. But then I noticed that they advertised themselves as the 14th or 15th best online MBA at the time. And that is great; there are a lot of schools offering very competitive online MBAs. However it made me think, “Who is number 1?”. That led me to discover Warwick Business School. Being from the UK, I knew the stature of the university, friends who had studied there, and that the school was able to support me whilst living in Dubai. The quality of the teaching staff looked fantastic; it attracted a top-rate global cohort; and the blend of online and in-person teaching opportunities along with international elective modules sealed the deal. There was no looking anywhere else at that point.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? The self-paced nature of the online study mode was incredibly beneficial, and I always considered that my favourite part. However, looking back, I completed the course in two years because the school balanced that flexibility with holding us to account. Flexibility did not mean lower standards, or the ability to blow through deadlines without consequence. Flexibility meant the ability to organize our study around our family and professional life whilst ensuring we kept a solid pace. Flexibility meant the business school working with us to help achieve our goals given any specific personal circumstances. I am grateful to the course staff for their availability, understanding, and being proactive in achieving that balance.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? It was the fact that the classes were live and allowed for interactions with the lecturer and fellow students. I knew that is how the lectures were meant to be, but the technology was much better than I expected and surprisingly smooth. I thought this method of learning risked being awkward and impersonal. Ultimately, I found it to be anything but that.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? I think it is difficult, and probably unfair, to compare online and in-person learning as there are positives for both and a whole host of variables that contribute to a good lecture beyond the location. What the experience absolutely depends on is a great lecturer who understands how to reach their audience in the given medium. Warwick’s teaching staff knows how to make lectures engaging in a virtual environment, and the technology supports student interactions with the teacher and each other. Warwick goes to great lengths to ensure that online learning is as close to the best parts of the in-person experience as possible. But there is one clear benefit of online over in-person, and that is I could go back and re-watch the lectures again if needed. That is something I couldn’t do in my undergraduate which would have been a huge benefit at times!

What would you change about an online MBA Program? I genuinely find it difficult to critique Warwick’s distance learning MBA given the quality of the course I experienced. To offer a suggestion, then it would be to continue to strive to recreate the best of the on-campus experience in the digital world. For instance, much like University lecturers have “office hours” on campus, in the online world it might be a benefit to have a similar notion but through Zoom instead. I have always found lecturers to be available via email, but having some set time to “drop in” for a conversation was always something I found valuable on campus.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? I am committed to life-long learning and believe wholeheartedly in the necessity of keeping skilled and, ultimately, useful. As an expat with a young family and a busy job, there just wasn’t the option for me to study in person at the caliber of university that I sought. Warwick’s online offering was a gift which – along with the invaluable support from my company, manager, and co-workers – enabled me to learn and ultimately to find a new passion. I applied what I learned on the course at Legatum, and my new-found confidence seems to have shone through. This resulted in me being offered a new role in the company reporting directly to the CEO, and participating in a wide range of new and exciting projects. Without the MBA, I genuinely believe my career would not have moved on at the pace it has in the last six months.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent on the Online MBA: I really didn’t log this, and I probably did a lot more reading than was necessarily needed as I was enjoying the subjects. I feel like a reasonable estimate would be an average of around 8-12 hours per week in a non-assignment week, rising to 15-20 hours in a week leading up to an assignment deadline.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? We have a great quote at Legatum that says, “It is not what you get but who you become”. In that vein, I hope that my career is one that is centered on purpose and ultimately supports human flourishing in some way. Legatum, generates and allocates the capital and ideas that help people live more prosperous lives, and I am fortunate to have exposure to that work and to contribute in some way to it. I can’t say if my ultimate goal is to be a c-suite executive or to eventually create my own company, but I do believe that wherever I end up will be, at least in part, a consequence of having achieved the MBA.


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