2021 Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Jon Milner-Matthews, Imperial College

Jon Milner-Matthews

Imperial College Business School

“An intrapreneur and change leader seeking to transform higher education from the inside out.”

Age: 41

Hometown: Honiton, Devon UK

Fun fact about yourself: I live on a farm and spend more than three hours a day feeding the animals on top of everything else.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Imperial College London, BSc Biology

Where are you currently working? I work for Imperial College as the Credit-to-Cash Transformation Lead, this includes responsibility for driving change and transformation activity across all of the institution’s order-to-cash processes which provides exciting opportunities to deliver change and enhancements across a broad portfolio of activities.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? There are a number of times that I have delivered real change and I take great pride in all my successes. Possibly the one of which I am most proud was seeing a student I supported through some very challenging personal circumstances as part of one of my welfare roles walk across the stage to collect their degree. That underpins everything I do as an administrator in Higher Education, we work to support the academic mission and ultimately help students reach their potential; knowing that I have played a role in that and helped change a young person’s life will always be my greatest professional achievement.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program?  Having spent over half my life at Imperial, the school’s programme was an obvious choice. It was by no means an automatic one, the programme still had to meet my requirements for a high-standard programme that would help develop me and my career and Imperial’s programme had earned a very strong reputation as one of the best online programmes.

The online nature of the Imperial Global Online MBA was extremely important to me, when I was going through the application process in 2018. I felt that the experience of working with people online whilst being geographically separated would be important to the future of work (little did I know how soon I would be proven right!); rather than being a niche alternative or an MBA-lite, the programme was a full MBA that shared content with the in-person MBAs and was delivered in a manner that would better reflect the way business actually works. The flexibility of the programme was also a key factor; having an eight-hour daily commute, I needed to be able to study in my own time whilst on the move and the largely (80%) asynchronous approach met this requirement. The strong STEM and entrepreneurial areas of focus were also drivers. Having started my career in science before moving across to finance and administration and having a highly intrapreneurial approach, these areas of focus matched my interests and approach to work. The elective suite was also highly attractive with a broad range of subjects; having a fairly narrow career path on paper, this afforded me the opportunity to demonstrate my diversity and flexibility and stretch myself beyond my comfort zone.

Finally, the diversity of the cohort was crucial to me. As clichéd as it may sound, I have met some brilliant people and made friendships that will last a lifetime. The online nature did not mean that we were isolated from each other – far from it. We found and developed ways to interact and maintain contact and still speak to each other as a cohort long after finishing the programme.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? Strangely, my favourite part of the programme was the camaraderie and interpersonal connection within the cohort; we may not have been co-located, but that did not stop us interacting and actually made our interactions broader and more inclusive. We had the ability to talk to the whole cohort at any time and people could interact as and when they wanted or had time. Whereas with in-person interactions, one needs both the time and opportunity to interact. With a four-hour (each way) commute and a young family, I would have been unable to interact to anywhere near the same degree as the online format allowed.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? The most surprising thing was how close-knit we became as a cohort, despite seldom if ever meeting in person. We formed such a strong and active online community that is still thriving now. There will always be groups within groups, but we had a much broader range of interaction than we would ever have had in person.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? As an undergraduate student, my learning approach was very much a classical approach of attending the lecture and then writing-up notes including additional reading. I would frequently interact directly with the lecturing staff and ended up knowing a number of them very well. The online experience was completely different. The ‘lectures’ were much more bite-sized videos that allowed you to cover the content in a much more flexible way; this was a key benefit to the online experience: I could interact with the material at the time it suited me around my work schedule rather than having to interact at set times. The lack of direct interaction with the teaching staff was not a hindrance as the cohort had a strong online community (before the Global Online MBA I had barely ever used WhatsApp, during it, it became the most-used app on my phone!). There was always someone ready and willing to talk about the subject and share their thoughts and experience.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Get as involved as you can. Networking and interacting within the cohort is more of an active effort in an online programme and it is much easier to end up isolated. As a result, that active step is crucial and will really make the difference to your experience. Also, imposter syndrome is very real. You will come across some truly impressive people with stellar CVs and think you don’t belong in the same room as them. Believe me, they are probably thinking exactly the same about you!

What would you change about an online MBA Program? Whilst a lot of work has gone into enabling online students to join extracurricular events, there is more to do in this area. However, the main area I would focus on would be to make the programme more interactive through the use of social media to drive discussion. For example, school could post a paper or discussion piece to a group in LinkedIn or similar for people to discuss and interact with prior to that paper being discussed in a live session. This would boost direct interaction more than it does on a dedicated virtual learning environment by interacting with professionals in the way they are used to interacting. It would also allow alumni-student interaction and discussion helping both broaden students’ networks and providing significant additional peer-based learning opportunities.

How has your online education helped you in your current job?  Not only has the MBA itself changed the way I think and approach work, the online nature of the programme has been exceptionally helpful. We have all suddenly needed to adapt to Zoom, teams, and other remote working platforms but the online education gave us this experience in advance. The ability to work with remote and distributed teams is now more than ever an essential skill and successful online education requires this to a very high level. Even as the world at large gets back to normal, the world of work will never go back to how it was. Remote working will be a feature of the future of work and those that have studied remotely with colleagues all over the world will have significant experience in how this needs to be managed.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent On Online MBA: On average, it was around 30-35 hours.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Ultimately, I want to build on my more than 20 years of experience in the Higher Education environment (as both a student and a professional) to deliver real transformation in how students access and experience education. Education needs to become accessible to all and match the modern way of life. We need more flexible and accessible learning opportunities that allow people to undertake further study at the highest levels whilst simultaneously pursuing their career and family life. Ideally, I would like to be able to combine this with some academic research at the same time.


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