Richard Sykes, a rising star at Taylor Woodrow, tells Matthew Richards how doing a part-time MBA at the Open University helped put him on the fast track to the boardroom
How did you start your career with Taylor Woodrow?

They sponsored me to do my degree in quantity surveying at Kingston University, and that included working for them during my gap year. After graduating I joined them full time in their contracting business. And after moving to the facilities management side I was promoted to customer director.

Why did you decide to do an MBA?

I did it because it gives you a tool box that you can use in all kinds of situations throughout your career. It also gives you the flexibility to move out of construction into a different industry.

What did your MBA involve?

After a foundation year, there is a compulsory module on strategy. After that, you do three optional modules: I chose international enterprise, financial strategy, and something a bit different called creativity, innovation and change.

What made you pick the Open University course?

The Open University has a wide range of backgrounds taking part in its MBA programme, including people from the armed forces and

the public sector. Also, there are quite a few

of us at Taylor Woodrow who have done

that course. I wanted a part-time course

because it’s very flexible: each module lasts

six months and you have up to seven years

to complete them all. You can drop a module

if, for example, you’ve got a major acquisition

on the way.

Are there any benefits besides the academic content?

There are great networking opportunities: every fortnight there was an optional Saturday morning lecture attended by about a dozen people, and there was also a three- or four-day residential course for each module.

Is there a down side to doing a part-time MBA?

You need to be aware that you will have to make sacrifices in your personal life. You need to study for 15 hours a week, so you often get to Friday and realise you’ve got to work for the next two days, even if you’ve just arranged a round of golf. And life can get pretty stressful around exam time.

Has the MBA helped advance your career?

In a roundabout way it helped me get my promotion to divisional director of facilities management two years ago. The strategic elements of the course helped me through the interview process for the promotion. It also enables you to question members of the main board about what they are doing – you’ve got to have the right kind of vocabulary as part of your armoury, and the better the questions you ask, the better the impression you make.

How are you doing in your new role?

I’m running a £100m business with 450 people. Our target growth is 40% per year. This year our turnover is up 47% and our profits are up 94%.

What do you see as your next step?

My next step is to get more experience and hopefully move up to main board level.

What advice do you have for anybody considering an MBA?

Think through the time you need and the sacrifices you will have to make and choose the course carefully. Then try and have fun while you’re doing it, and apply it to your business.

Richard Sykes

Age 32
Qualifications MBA, Open University, 2003; BSc (Hons) in quantity surveying, Kingston University, 1993
Current job Divisional director of facilities management at Taylor Woodrow
Lives Windsor, Berkshire
Hobbies All sports, especially football, rowing, rugby, skiing and the occasional game of golf

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