How do you go from a career in the Navy to doing an MBA?
It’s not the most obvious career path to take. But, as Arun George recounts his journey to date, it starts to make sense. He began by telling us how his time in the Navy enabled him to gain significant experience in diverse geographies internationally. This exposed him to different business practices globally.
“I was primarily involved in a lot of operations logistics, and towards the last few years, I was heading a project based out of the UK – Scotland – which was primarily involved with subsea operations and manufacturing. That was quite an interesting tenure for me. And I actually got to see a lot of Europe through the project,” he explains. (00:36)
Through his experiences in different countries, Arun gained exposure to different cultures, ways of working, and industries. These experiences opened his eyes to the possibilities for his career, opening doors to newer horizons and challenges.
“I also have a background in submarine and ship construction,” he says. “I spent about five years in St. Petersburg working on the project, which was quite an [enriching] experience. For me, I think I got to spend a lot of time interacting cross-functionally and cross-organizationally. And it gave me a good understanding of the [ship-building] business.” (00:59)
Transitioning from the Navy to an MBA
Arun gained a deeper understanding of the construction industry during his time in the Navy, which is when he started considering a career change. But he still felt he lacked the tools to, as he puts it, “make an impact” in the corporate world. After weighing things up, he decided that an MBA would equip him with the skills he needed to make that smooth transition.
“When I decided to transition from the Navy, I thought a business degree would help me sharpen my leadership skills, my skills in finance, corporate governance, and communication. And you really need to have the right kind of exposure to make an impact. So I thought doing an MBA would be the right step and it would provide a springboard and help in my transition to the corporate world,” he says. (02:36)
When it came to deciding on the right business school, the Netherlands jumped out as a potential study location because of its large construction and shipping industry. Of the options on the table, one school stood out in particular: Nyenrode Business University. Arun says the school’s impressive reputation in Europe was a big attraction.
“Why did I come to Nyenrode? I think what really caught my attention was when I started talking to people here, all of them actually told me it wouldn’t be wrong to call Nyenrode the Harvard of Netherlands, or probably even Europe,” he tells us (03:23)
How Arun’s Navy background prepared him for an MBA
Arun says a move from the Navy to the corporate world is more common than you might think – and a lot of his friends and colleagues have followed the same path. He believes a career in the Navy provides you with skills that you can transfer to the corporate world and an MBA program can help you smoothen the rough edges.
“I was working with a [ship] construction project in Russia for about five years, I’ve been part of a pioneering international project with Scotland, where we worked closely with NATO and their operators,” he explains. Arun and his team contracted the manufacturing of niche equipment to the UK and then transported the equipment to India, where they set up the infrastructure and conducted field trials under different operating conditions. “So, [this experience] gave me a good understanding of [the dynamics of] international project management,” Arun says. (08:16)
Whether in business or an MBA program, the ability to connect and communicate with people from different cultures is invaluable. According to Arun, his stint with the Navy prepared him for the international business environment of an MBA. Moreover, it gave him the confidence to know he could thrive in the corporate world.
“We were dealing with companies across the globe, from Australia to the USA and Singapore. So yes, that experience emboldened me to transition,” he states. (09:19)
What you should know before pursuing an MBA
What would Arun tell his younger self before pursuing an MBA? First, he says that you shouldn’t underestimate the value of a business school’s alumni network.
“One thing I’ve found which is exceptionally strong is the impact that Nyenrode alumni have
in and around the Netherlands and Benelux area,” he says. “They are some of the best alumni that I’ve seen. I’ve studied, I’ve done two MScs, so I’ve been associated with huge, huge colleges and can make a comparison there. I think it’s incredible.” (20:27)
Arun also recommends that you brush up on your knowledge of the business fundamentals before committing to an MBA. Making sure you have a solid grounding in those skills before starting means you won’t be playing catch-up during the program itself.
“There is a lot of emphasis on finance, corporate finance, strategy, and those kinds of things. It could help to prepare because we do a deep dive into those subjects,” he says. “Irrespective of which company you join, which industry you join, everybody wants you to crunch numbers and get the big picture. So that’s something which I think if you’re weak on, you should look at working on.” (21:31)
Arun’s story shows us that it’s never too late to make a change in life and follow your ambitions. During his time in the Navy, he was able to experience new countries, new cultures, and new ways of working. In doing so, he was opening himself up to more possibilities in life and in his career. It’s a reminder that keeping an open mind and never shutting the door on new opportunities can lead to change when you least expect it.