2019 Best EMBAs: Merlyn Gregory, London Business School

Merlyn Gregory

London Business School

“Scottish, fun, loyal, fit, avid-adventurer, relentless, petrol-head, loving mum of two and wife of one.”

Age: 37

Hometown: Ardfern, Scotland

Family Members: My husband – Al, our 5-year-old son Maxi and 3-year-old daughter Eden.

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a trained patissier and chocolatier and spent time working in the experimental kitchen with the UK’s most respected chocolatier.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

BSc Audio Engineering, Glasgow Caledonian University

PGCert Management Studies, Robert Gordon University

Diplôme de Patisserie, Le Cordon Bleu

Where are you currently working? I am Managing Director at Candour Energy – a company I started four years ago, and a Non-Executive Director at Calash – a boutique strategy consultancy.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I currently have two mentees, one of whom is a MiM student at LBS so those roles keep me busy. I am also a Community Reserve Volunteer with the Red Cross, which requires me to help out periodically during large scale emergencies or humanitarian crises.  Any other time I have I try to spend either with my kids, embracing the outdoors or getting out on the road on my Ducati.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  Working and playing hard with my cohort!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Being the only woman in my company and working in a very male-dominated market (my clients are oil and gas companies or financial institutions) has been challenging on occasions, so forging a successful career in this environment and being the youngest employee to become a Board Director is something I’m proud of achieving.

I would also say that starting my own business with two children under three – and within two years winning contracts with all of the top five major strategy consultancies as well as some of the largest private equity houses in the world – is what I’m most proud of achieving. It is extremely hard for a young businessperson to win work with such an elite client base, particularly in such a short time frame. This took a lot of persistence and at points really stretched my belief in the business plan.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Honestly, there are so many great professors at LBS that it is difficult to narrow it down; David Arnold probably taught me some of the most valuable material for my career. Ian Cooper was simply outstanding too. However, I would say Andrew Scott was my favourite because he awakened in me a profound fascination with macroeconomics. It made me wish I had spent my career as an economist!

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Again, Macroeconomics, but also World Economy: Problems and Prospects were both hugely enlightening for me. With a rise in populism on a global scale, and closer to home so much uncertainty surrounding Brexit, as well as a potential second Scottish independence referendum, it was eye-opening to learn about the likely repercussions on people’s livelihoods. I certainly hadn’t appreciated how much of macroeconomics is about the welfare of people and society.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I applied because a publisher friend of mine had completed the EMBA at LBS and raved about it. I had what I thought was a fairly unconventional background for a top business school and frankly assumed that I wouldn’t be awarded the place. However, I had a chat with some of the admissions team before I applied, and I was really pleasantly surprised by how much they embrace diversity and consider professional achievements as important as academic track record.

This gave me confidence that I would be surrounded by students with diverse academic and industrial experiences that would make me think, challenge me and help me see new perspectives.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Aside from meeting some of the most staggeringly brilliant people I have ever met, it really gives you room to reflect and encourages you to stand back and focus on your own strengths and weaknesses. From an academic standpoint, initially, I was surprised that I was getting such good grades from a top school and this gave me a huge confidence boost given the caliber of the other students in my cohort.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? In our first marketing class, we were asked to read a seminal HBR case called ‘Marketing Myopia’, and this has definitely augmented the way I position my business. In essence it describes how businesses should serve the customer need – whatever that may be, rather than confining themselves to delivering a particular product or service. So now I make sure I gather ongoing feedback from my clients to pick up trends and changing desires early on, which helps us to innovate, be disruptive and consistently outdo our competitors.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? About halfway through the program, I had to have an operation on my knee. I hadn’t thought much about it beforehand and my husband was away on business for a week during the operation. I came around from my general anaesthetic, picked up my phone, and discovered that not only did I have an assignment due the next day, but two urgent inquiries had just come in from clients.

I was still pretty spaced-out from the anaesthetic and morphine when the taxi dropped me off at home. As soon as I got there, I hobbled through the door with my crutches completely forgetting that it was the kids’ bedtime. Thankfully my five-year -old came to the rescue and read the youngest a story and put her to bed. However, I ended up working until 2 a.m.  It was certainly lucky I had the opportunity for a nice sleep during the day!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? First, I would say that it will be very challenging for your family and your employer but it will be completely life-changing and alter your perspective on almost everything: from your comprehension of financial matters to strategic development and even how you perceive behaviours in yourself and others. With regards to the enormous workload, although there will be times when you feel like you’re drowning – you will make it work and ultimately it will have a positive impact on your resilience and self-confidence.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I think a lot of people perceive an MBA from a top school as being a shortcut to the top of the ladder. While it may be in the future, it takes time to apply and experiment with what you’ve learned and seen the results.

What was your biggest regret in business school? It’s not really a regret, but if I didn’t have a young family to get home to I definitely would have spent more time capitalizing on all of the extra-curricular activities and clubs, and also socialized with my cohort more!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Probably my classmate Ross McBride. He doesn’t come from a privileged background. He left school without any qualifications and yet has worked his way up to a very senior position in one of the world’s leading investment banks. I find that inspirational because unfortunately there is still so much elitism in the employment market, but Ross broke the mold – yet doesn’t have a shred of arrogance.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that I couldn’t speak the language of my clients without having an MBA from a top school.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Ultimately, I would like to be in a senior leadership position in a large energy company where I can be instrumental in changing the energy mix through investing in clean technologies and using supplier power to influence how people consume fossil fuels.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as someone who doesn’t try to conform, who says it like it is, who tries to make the status quo better for everyone else – whether for clients, colleagues or friends. And importantly – a good craic!

What are the top two items on your bucket list? My husband and I are keen sailors and we have been planning an 18-month trip across the Pacific with the kids for a while now; seeing all the remote islands and having a simple life before getting back into the corporate world. It would be great to put this plan into action.

I would also love to be able to finish my private pilot’s license. I was about a third of the way through it when I started having kids and haven’t had time to finish it. I absolutely love flying. It gives me a profound sense of freedom and tranquility.

What made Merlyn such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“Merlyn is one of our classic highly achieving students who manage to successfully keep all those juggling balls in the air and then some. Professionally, she’s excelled as an entrepreneur in the oil and gas sector – which traditionally has not had very many high profile women. In the classroom, she’s been one of those quiet leaders who when necessary will tell it like it is. I’m hoping that one day we’ll be able to see her perform one of the four instruments she plays: piano, guitar, saxophone, or clarinet!”

Arnold Longboy
Executive Director, Leadership Programmes (EMBA & Sloan)
Interim Executive Director, Global Recruitment, LBS

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAs OF 2019 or RANKING THE BEST EMBA PROGRAMS IN THE U.S.