To reach the top

"An executive MBA from Vlerick is part of Neil’s strategy to reach the very top"

Neil Wallace - Director ucb pharma

As a scientist, Neil Wallace has enjoyed considerable success in the pharmaceutical industry. But the 37-year-old British product developer feared that if he didn’t learn more, his career was in danger of reaching a plateau. And for a man with a serious ambition to reach the top, this became an issue.

To get where he wants to be in his industry, Neil knew he’d need the experience of a PhD or MBA – and he decided an Executive MBA was a real must-have. Torn between business schools in the UK and Brussels, he was drawn to Vlerick because of its location, fantastic reputation and world-class faculty.

Once he’d secured a place he approached his employer – Brussels-based UCB – who offered to fund part of his training. Now thirteen months into the programme, Neil’s skillset and confidence have already increased.

He says: “The MBA at Vlerick brings you up to date with the latest strategic thinking. You get exposed to so many different sectors – and their challenges and approaches. This wider view means you can offer something new in internal discussions. I’ve now become far more involved in the leadership team and the strategic direction my area of the business is taking.”

Nine months before he’s due to graduate, Neil’s new skills in communication, finance, long-term strategic planning and risk assessment have seen him get promoted from Associate Director to Director: “My studies have given me the knowledge and vocabulary I need to have the right level of discussion with stakeholders from across the business. I understand what experts in different departments do and what their challenges are. We can find common ground – which is fertile for collaboration.”

From the moment he first stepped onto Vlerick’s vibrant Brussels campus, Neil knew it was the place for him. He says: “I wouldn’t think of doing my MBA anywhere else.

“The programme managers are fantastic – they’ve been flexible with my schedule, and do all they can to help you out. I never feel like just another participants number – I feel like Vlerick values me being here. The professors are experts in their fields, but they always have time for a discussion. And because of the small class sizes, there are plenty of opportunities to share ideas.”

As well as inspirational staff, Neil is learning from his fellow participants: “I’ve got some incredible classmates. Every single one of them is exceptional in some way. I’ve learned that you can’t do it on your own – a group can achieve more than any individual.

“One of the best – and sometimes worst – things about the MBA is that you really get to know yourself. And it’s not always easy, you find areas where you need to improve. But on the flip side, you learn what you’re really good at. Everyone at Vlerick helps you get the very best out of yourself.”

Taking on an MBA when you have a fulltime career is always going to be a challenge. But for Neil, it was an easy decision to make.

He says: “I decided the Executive MBA was crucial to get me where I want to be in five years’ time – to a more senior role, with more impact on the business. From that point, it became a priority. Yes it’s an intensive programme – I have study, work and my home life, there’s no room for anything else at the moment. But it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. It’s getting me to where I want to be. And I’m already seeing a difference in the teams I lead. It’s an exhilarating process – opening up opportunities and new ways of seeing things every day”

Neil’s experiences from the MBA are already helping him in his current role – and benefitting UCB. And he’s still learning. He says: “I’d like to go as far as I’m able. I plan to continue my personal development – and hope to reach a very senior level. Only time will tell if I’m good enough to get there – but I’m giving it my best shot.

“If you want to improve yourself, develop your skills and take control of your future – you’ll never regret doing an MBA at Vlerick.”

& Rankings

Equis Association of MBAs AACSB Financial Times