Man Met MBA Case Study: Michael Cowell, Managing Director of Fork

Posted by MMU on 16-Aug-2016 10:46:39

Discover how studying for an MBA with Man Met propelled Michael Cowell's professional life to a whole new level.

This has been a very busy year for Michael: not only has he been working towards his qualification, but he also spends time acting as the Managing Director of Fork, a company that creates apps for the hospitality industry. Michael and his  fellow MBA colleagues came up with the idea whilst on a university-ran study trip to China.

Find out more about Michael’s incredible journey and his reflections on the benefits and opportunities afforded to him by taking part in Man Met’s professionally-recognised MBA.

Could you give us a bit of background on Fork?

Fork is a new start-up business that designs apps that will specifically benefit the hospitality industry. Lots of companies will design an app, however we want to design an app that is friendly for both users and businesses. Our aim is to make ordering food in a restaurant, coffee shop or bar as simple as ordering a takeaway or doing online shopping.

We want to create an easy to use, personalised app that remembers user’s food preferences. Then, when they go to their favourite areas, be it central Manchester or North London, or wherever they are, they can order their favourite food without any fuss or queuing.

Our plan is to shake up the hospitality trade by launching an ecosystem of products that benefit the whole hospitality trade.

What was it that inspired you to study an MBA?

I’d reached a crossroads in my career and didn’t know what to do next. At that point I’d recently exited out of my share option after selling my business of nine years to a venture capitalist group, and was looking for a new challenge.

I knew from running my previous business that I had picked up some bad habits. I also knew there were a lot of things in business that I just didn’t know and wanted to learn. I’ve always been a big believer in lifelong learning, so an MBA just seemed like a really good option.

What was it that attracted you to Man Met’s MBA programme?

I looked at different post grad courses, but I was sold on Man Met’s MBA as it was such a well-rounded course. It doesn’t just cover one single aspect, there are numerous experiences to be had.

It includes access to great speakers, an insightful trip to China (please note, this year’s trip will be taking place in Argentina) and lots of study excursions – all of which added an extra dimension to the course than simply studying and the workload itself.

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We visited the Land Rover factory in Liverpool and learnt about manufacturing and engineering management, and there was also a trip to Old Trafford stadium, amongst other places.

The trips weren’t just jollies either, they give you exposure to a range of things that you wouldn’t get in your normal working practice. There’s also a great deal of friendship making that goes on too, as well as access to some amazing opportunities.

In fact, when we went to China, that’s actually where we came up with the idea for Fork. We had spent a week eating Chinese food, which was great, but after a whole week everyone was ready for a change. When we saw a Pizza Hut in Beijing Airport, everyone was excited for a bit of variety. We tried to order but the waiter didn’t speak English, we didn’t speak Chinese, and when my food came out, my pizza had a squid on it, which is not what I wanted at all. It was then we discussed how, if we’d been able to order with an app, this incident wouldn’t have taken place.

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We’d spent a large part of this trip discussing what we wanted to do next with our new confidence and skills, and this just seemed like the perfect way to utilise them and start a new business.

We spent ten hours on the flight back discussing what we would do with Fork, and I’m pleased to say I still have the piece of paper that we wrote all our thoughts down on to this day.

How did you find juggling both work and studying?

Well, another thing that attracted me to the course was how well it fitted in with my day-to-day working life. Man Met design the timetable so that you can do it alongside your regular job or at the same time as raising your family, as was the case for me.

Studying an MBA is a big commitment. If you’re someone who’s scared of hard work, don’t do it, but if you don’t mind a bit of hard work, yeah, go for it.

You can easily plan your work around your studies. How it works it that every 6-8 weeks you have 3 days contact time, it’s all very manageable.

You have to talk to your employer, if you have an employer that is, and explain the benefits of what you’re doing. They might even let you take leave in work time, as there are huge benefits for an employer in allowing an ambitious employee to take part in something like this.

What would you say these benefits are?

For me, I enrolled on this course as I knew I had some bad leadership habits that came from running a small business. I didn’t have a well-rounded view on strategy or global strategy, both of which are a huge part of the course.

I learned a lot about corporate social responsibility, and the importance of good recruitment. I was also amazed to discover how, prior to being on the course, I’d blinded myself to just how much this world is a actually a global market.

I learned a lot of different models and frameworks for business strategy, both academically and strategically, that were massively valuable. I know I’ll take these learnings and use them month in, month out from now on.

A practical example is when we went to go to the Institute of Directors course in London. That was great as we saw a talk from one of the biggest crowdfunding companies in the UK. Crowdfunding is going to be a big part of what we are planning to do with Fork. We feel that Fork is a crowd-led business, led by users, and we want to fund it with users too.

I also learnt, during the course, that there are a lot of new things happening out there, a lot of which is driven by technology. The course teaches you to step back and analysis things like that.

You open your eyes and realise there so many opportunities out there that you didn’t see before.

You understand that in a lot of ways, businesses are the same. They all have marketing departments, finance departments, sales guys and operational managers, but what actually underpins all that is strategy.

Knowing this has allowed me to do small bits of consultancy for other businesses, as I now have an objective viewpoint on these matters. Furthermore, I know I will continue to use these skills for the rest of my working life.

What advice would you give to a prospective MBA student?

Make sure you commit to it, you have to commit. Don’t be afraid of not understanding everything as that is why you are there: to learn. Make friends with your colleagues as you’ll meet people you’ll know for life, also, don’t feel that you have to go into it knowing what you want to do afterwards; you really don’t have to know.

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You mentioned the people you met, has being on the course improved your network?

Well, I have started a new business with a fellow colleague on the MBA: Sarah Rannard. Sarah’s a financial director and chartered accountant, that’s her background, but it’s certainly not mine. In Sarah, I met someone who was in a similar point in her life, with like-minded ambitions but with a different skill set to my own. 

Myself and Sarah started Fork but have now involved another MBA colleague, Jamie Alaise, to get involved. Jamie joined Fork as a Non-Executive Director which means we have three directors on board, all of whom met on Man Met’s MBA course.

Any final thoughts on Man Met’s MBA course?

To me, it’s a business transaction. One of the most off-putting things for people considering an MBA is usually the cost. That’s understandable, if your course fees aren’t funded by an employer or business, it can be seen a lot of money.

My advice to people is to look at the costs as a return on investment. If you can afford it cash-flow wise, look at the lifetime value of that purchase. What will that £18,000 be worth to you over the next ten years of your life? If studying an MBA allows you to earn £5,000 more a year for the next 10 years, in just 10 years you will have earned an extra £50,000.

That’s the way I look at the course. If cost is the biggest thing putting you off, look at it as cash flow, as you will get a good return on investment for you time on you the course.