Leadership at the next level: Combining an Executive MBA with a Level 7 Apprenticeship

The Senior Leader Apprenticeship+ Executive MBA at Cranfield School of Management is a 28-month MBA program for managers looking to enhance their business and leadership skills and propel their careers to the next level. To better understand how the program benefits manager, we spoke to Course Director Michael Bernon about the structure of the program, the value of the Level 7 Apprenticeship, and Cranfield’s unique style of practice-based learning.

In short

What is the Senior Leader Apprenticeship+ Executive MBA?

The Cranfield Senior Leader Apprenticeship+ Executive MBA, offered in partnership with Grant Thornton, is a 28-month MBA program for middle to senior managers “who are looking to develop themselves, who really want to take that next step in their career – perhaps gain some confidence – [and] perhaps fill in some gaps that they need,” Michael explains. (04:45)

The program begins with the Senior Leader Apprenticeship+, a 15-month journey focused on the core aspects of being a senior leader. This is followed by the 13-month Executive MBA, designed to help students further develop their leadership skills and propel their careers. In this second part of the program, students can tailor their journey by choosing one of four pathways: the Commercial Pathway, Entrepreneurship Pathway, Defence Export Pathway, or Finance Pathway.

“The program is really a fully immersive senior leader experience,” Michael indicates. “In the apprenticeship, you’re really exploring your knowledge, skills, and behaviors in your job role now – and so the focus is where you are in your career today. After that, you then continue on to the Executive MBA – and here you’re really looking at propelling your career. You’re really looking to the future and thinking, ultimately, about getting up into the C-suite. So, part two is perhaps more experiential…The first part is really [building] these knowledge, skills, and behaviors, and then taking them back into the business” and putting them into practice. (00:17)

Become a true senior leader with the highest-level apprenticeship

Cranfield School of Management is the first school to run the Senior Leadership Apprenticeship in the UK. It is a Level 7 Apprenticeship, which means “it’s actually the highest-level apprenticeship you can have,” Michael explains. “It’s equivalent to a master’s, and, therefore, you are gaining a formal postgraduate qualification.” (01:10)

The knowledge, skills, and behaviors are “set out in the apprenticeship standard, which has been developed by [the] industry,” Michael continues. “The idea is that we will train you on the theory and concepts around being a senior leader – and then it’s for you to go back and practice, and demonstrate these skills and knowledge” in your workplace. (01:21)

Here are just a few skills, behaviors, and knowledge that characterize a senior leader:


  • How to shape organizational missions, culture, and values
  • Business modeling
  • Ethics and values-based leadership
  • Financial strategies
  • Brand and reputation management


  • Lead in and respond to a crisis situation using risk management techniques
  • Use financial data to allocate resources
  • Use personal presence and “storytelling” to articulate vision and translate it into operational strategies


  • Work collaboratively, enabling empowerment and delegation
  • Take personal accountability aligned with clear values
  • Being curious and innovative

Who is the Senior Leader Apprenticeship+ Executive MBA for?

As we mentioned earlier, the program is for middle to senior managers who are looking to develop themselves, “to explore themselves as a leader,” as Michael says (05:00)

While Cranfield typically looks for leaders with a degree and at least five years of experience, Michael says, “We do welcome applicants who don’t fit that mold.” (05:20)

“It’s a very broad church,” he adds, with students ranging from 28 to 75 years old (average age is 37) and hailing from different sectors across the globe. (06:15)

However, Michael highlights, “We are not just looking for people that wish to develop themselves, but have an interest in developing others. The design of the program is such that you will be working in learning teams – these are groups of about six or seven people and you will become very close to them – and you will network with them, learn with them, [and] you will submit assignments together. Therefore, this networking within your learning team is critically important – in supporting them as well as supporting you.” (06:18)

Practice-based learning in action

As part of an exclusively postgraduate university, Cranfield School of Management is able to provide a way of teaching that is uniquely “close to practice,” which means students will gain access to information and ideas that are very close to what they use in their business day-to-day. 

Through practice-based learning methods like business simulations, breakout sessions, case studies, and even the apprenticeship, Michael says, “This idea of knowledge into action is very much the mantra of Cranfield.” (03:02)

The school’s partnership with consulting firm Grant Thornton also enhances the program’s hands-on learning approach. Students even have the opportunity to have one-on-one coaching with a coach provided by Grant Thornton.

Another special aspect of the Senior Leader Apprenticeship+ Executive MBA program is its instructors. “We often talk about facilitators, rather than lecturers,” Michael tells us. “The idea is that we really want to engage with you to draw on the knowledge of all of the people who are in the classroom.” (03:12)

Building on its philosophy of practice, “most of the faculty…have industrial experience,” Michael says. “They also undertake consultancy and research, and all of that information is, of course, fed back into the classroom.” (03:26)

An inspiring senior leader journey

Michael has been working at Cranfield School of Management for 27 years. So, what makes him most excited about the Senior Leader Apprenticeship+ Executive MBA program?

“For me, it’s walking into a classroom at the beginning of the program, seeing all of these faces, and over the period of the program seeing people really develop,” he enthuses. “The ability to build your own leadership style – we really will examine you as a leader – and see people develop over the period. You know, people develop lifelong relationships during the Executive MBA – and that’s hugely powerful in itself.” (11:10)

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