Sean Brady
Lt Col Sean Brady gets a new perspective on leadership

Perhaps I have a different perspective on fear from many MBA candidates. A career in the military has helped put concerns about juggling work and education into perspective. I have spent some time in dangerous places – last year I was in Afghanistan – so anxiety about walking out and just hoping things don’t go wrong are real. Marines have been killed under my command.

Being stationed in hazardous places has also helped me deal with uncertainty. If you plan a mission, you have to deal with uncertainty – you work out the risks and get on with it. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to suggest I have no anxiety about my new studies: I do, but it is manageable.

I chose the Open University because its study programme is so flexible.

I have peers who completed MBAs from there and managed the process. I’m expected to finish my course within three years at the earliest, but it is entirely dependent on what happens to me at work. I can continue my studies while I am in a desk job, but I can’t say when I’ll next be sent overseas. My best mate has completed an MBA at the London Business School – I would have loved to do a full-time course, but my job doesn’t permit it.

I really enjoy studying. I found I missed it on the front line and wanted to go back into education. I’m relatively ambitious (not ruthless though) and an MBA can only help me with my current career. For now I want to become a better leader – the act of command is an immense privilege but it can be a huge challenge. If the MBA helps me to deliver a better future for the men I am leading, then that will be a big reward for me.

Even though I’ve only been on the course since May, it has already given me a wider perspective. I hope it will help to differentiate me from other military personnel. If everyone is of the same mindset, then you arrive at the same answer.

The opportunities the course has given me have been immense already. I now have a broader range of connections on which to draw. Most of the learning is long-distance, but the students do get to meet every four to six months, and that is vital.

My role on the battlefield is obviously to lead, but through meeting fellow students and teachers on the MBA, you discover that everyone practises leadership.

Management theory has borrowed from the military, but I think I’m also pulling bits of business leadership into the military. If you asked me my view on leadership, I think it would be “just get on with it and try not to worry about it”.

At some point I will leave the marines and I hope the MBA will prepare me for the world outside. Everyone serving in the military has to be prepared for a life beyond, though I hasten to add that I am not planning on leaving any time soon.

The support I get from my wife, who used to be in the army but is currently a full-time mother, is great. We see the MBA as an investment that will pay dividends later. It doesn’t come without pain, but hopefully it will deliver rewards. It’s not easy, but it’s not meant to be easy.

I receive £6,000 ($9,465)over three years through funding from the military, in the form of ­enhanced learning credits. The OU fees are about £16,000-£17,000, so I will likely pay up to £11,000 over the next three years. In my view it’s worth it.

I could pause the course if I were sent overseas. You’ve got to cut your cloth to what works. I hope to be in the country for the next two years, but I can’t guarantee it.


Soldier, student

After studying oceanography and geography at the University of Southampton, Sean Brady joined the Royal Marine Commandos. The 38-year-old lieutenant colonel is now the staff officer for the reserve element of the Royal Marines.

In 2007, he took a masters in defence studies at King’s College London and this May he started an MBA programme at the Open University. Brady lives in Portsmouth with his wife and three-year-old daughter.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article