Strategist, trainer and mentor
Robert McKernan is a strategist, trainer and mentor who has been providing expertise to companies trying to achieve growth and change since setting up his own business in 2002. He completed an MSc Business (Leadership and Management Practice) from UCD Smurfit School in 2019.
Tell us a bit about your career to date
After nearly 15 years working in business development and sales roles in the food industry I set up my own business in 2002. The initial focus was sales training but that morphed to encompass everything from personal mentoring to working with companies on their overall business strategies.
I have now worked in five continents with people from 122 different countries. My client base ranges from small indigenous Irish businesses to global giants like SAP and everything in between.
Why did you decide do the MSc in Business (Leadership and Management Practice)?
Like lots of people I’m a lifelong learner – I’m a big proponent of educating and training people so for me it’s very much about walking the walk.
But the main reason behind going on this programme was to monetise it. My aim was to adapt the material into my business and add significant value to my customer base.
What was your experience of doing the MSc pathway?
I did my three diplomas over three years, starting with Business and Executive Coaching, then Organisational Change and Transformation, and finally Strategy, Development and Innovation. In hindsight, the only thing I would do differently would be to take a six-month break before the third programme.
I met some fantastic people on the journey. Fifty percent of the learning is from the other participants and the calibre of the people was so high – there were CEOs and managing directors, most of whom worked for large, blue chip organisations. It was a diverse range of very senior people and I really enjoyed that aspect.
What did you think about the networking opportunities?
I didn’t go in there to tap people up but because of the conversations we were having, the referrals came naturally. So, I didn’t go looking for them but they were definitely add-ons.
I also met two really good friends in my first year and we’ve been meeting every three months or so since then.
If you could single out a key takeaway that the MSc pathway delivers, what would it be?
There are lots of takeaways. But essentially, it’s about continually investing in yourself and seeing how that pays off. Doing the pathway is a very clear investment in terms of time and energy, and financially, and for me there was a very definite return on investment.
As a result of the programme I’ve been able to broaden my offering to customers: it’s allowed me to do a lot of executive coaching and be more involved in helping companies with strategy. It has also helped me realise how I approach projects around change management.
That will all continue and it will accelerate. Obviously as I get older I’m not going to have the energy levels I had 20 years ago so the business will go to more high-end engagement, dealing increasingly with CEOs and executives. This allows me to future proof the business for as long as I want to work.
How would you describe the Diploma in Business & Executive Coaching?
This is a very practical programme that is hugely reflective on yourself and how you impact on people and your own unconscious biases when you go to meet or engage with others. It shines a light on your self-awareness, on the things you need to be conscious of that you’re maybe not, and the areas where you didn’t realise you have a core strength.
One of the things that emerged for me through the coaching was this in-built tenacity I have that is both a huge strength but also an Achilles heel. It’s the ability to just brush yourself off and get on no matter what happens. It would be worth billions if I was to bottle that and sell it, but at the same time it can desensitise you from your engagement with certain people and circumstances.
For me, this was the hardest of the three diplomas because of the time commitment. It’s a much deeper programme and involves meeting your colleagues at a different level – you’re there for six three-day modules and doing a lot of one-on-one sessions.
How would you describe the Diploma in Organisational Change & Transformation?
This diploma covers how we adopt change and learn around it, and also how we approach change in all sorts of ways, depending on our own experiences, and can do so at very different speeds.
It lays out a very clear and useful process for change management with all the steps and a model to follow. I found it to be a very practical programme for approaching change in any element.
How would you describe the Diploma in Strategy, Development & Innovation?
This was a really interesting programme about how companies are changing and innovating. What emerged for me was that 99% of people don’t have a decision-making process that they follow – it’s all very intuitive and then they make lots of mistake.
Would you recommend the MSc pathway?
I got a lot out it, but it really depends where you are in your career. It’s very useful if your career has plateaued and you want inspiration to move on.
Out of my Diploma in Business and Executive Coaching class, 40% changed career, set up companies or did something very different on the back of it. I’d nearly call the MSc a personal awakening.
It was certainly the right timing for me in my career. I’m conscious of the world changing so fast, and that I’m 53 now. I can still do four or five days’ delivery in a week but probably won’t want, or have the energy, to do that in 10 years’ time. So, I’m just positioning myself for the next 20 years of my career. I want to be working when I’m 70, but not at the pace as I am at the moment. For me, the MSc was all about upskilling and positioning myself so that I can comfortably move from that five days to four and ultimately three days a week.