UL MBA alumni feature

Ken Stockil

2000 MBA graduate

The skills developed through the MBA equipped me to fulfil my entrepreneurial ambitious

From an early age I wanted to start my own business. This ambition crystallised in 2000 when I was working as an advisor to high-potential technology startups at the National Technology Park.

While supporting these innovative companies to progress, I began to realise that I had my own ideas ripe for development. Broadening my knowledge base was a prerequisite to setting up my own business, but studying for the MBA gave me the tools, and the confidence, I needed to make that leap.
With a background in electronic engineering, my primary objective in studying for an MBA was to develop a deeper business awareness. I was keen to broaden my understanding, as well as my leadership capabilities, but I was also excited to explore the entrepreneurship modules, which promised to fuel my own startup ambitions.

Weighing up the options for further study, I considered various online and in-person programmes, but they didn’t really suit my circumstances. At the time, I had recently moved back to Limerick, and I was thrilled to discover that the course at UL was perfect.

The content was on the mark with a strong emphasis on leadership development, and the three-day block release structure offered time to absorb my learnings while also allowing me to connect back with work. Fortunately, my then-employer, Shannon Development, was willing to sponsor my studies, and with support from my family, I was able to get the most from the programme at UL.

After graduation, I accepted a new position with my existing employer managing the rollout of a new Broadband initiative. Despite my success in the role, however, I still had an itch to scratch – I wanted to take the leap and set up a company to address the challenges of achieving digital and sustainability excellence. These twin transition challenges were poorly understood at the time, but of course, today, they are mainstream topics in the board room.

Empowered by my MBA learning, I felt ready to pursue my idea, and in 2004, along with my co-founder Paul Conheady, I established Central Solutions, which has now become 20FIFTY Partners. Now in its twentieth year, the company is growing rapidly, employing over 30 people in Limerick and with additional offices in Dublin and the UK, helping businesses address the current challenges of climate and digitalisation.
Without the MBA, I’m not sure I would have found it so easy to bridge the gap between employee and CEO, but my studies gave me the confidence to explore the opportunity I identified, as well as the skills to grow and develop the business over several years.

The MBA offers a career-long toolkit, providing building blocks that will stand the test of time.

From the outset, the MBA was invaluable. With a solid grounding in business development, financial planning, and marketing, I was able to forge ahead and launch the company, but the MBA is not just a one-time investment.

Reflecting on the past 20 years, I see I have drawn on all the MBA modules, utilising different skills as the company has evolved. In the early stages of the business, for example, the product design and finance modules were the most pertinent. However, as the company progressed, competencies in HRM and operational excellence became increasingly important.

Having that career-long toolkit means you are prepared for anything, and like a golfer assessing the next shot, you can select different clubs according to the course ahead.

As for which module I call on the most? That would have to be strategic planning. The critical thinking and decision-making skills I learnt during the MBA were game-changers. They helped me to assess situations swiftly and take effective decisions from the beginning.

In the first five years of setting up a business, you manage every area closely and fill any gaps, but you should never lose sight of the bigger picture. My MBA learning helped me connect the dots, utilize my engineering background to full effect, and understand how different business areas interact, building the foundations for future success.

Today my role is different. At 20FIFTY Partners, our job is to design and deliver world-class sustainability programmes helping governments, agencies, and individual organisations transition to a more sustainable future. This work by its nature means working collectively with our stakeholders to help change and transform in order to help protect planetary boundaries. My role on a day-to-day basis means engaging with stakeholders nationally and internationally as well as our own team, to identify complex emerging business challenges and respond with practical, evidence-based solutions.

Over the years, I have completed many assignments like this across diverse domains. Challenges and solutions in one domain often offer insight into potential solutions for another domain. Once again, my MBA skills and critical analysis tools help me forge those vital connections.

Today, my MBA makes me an agile leader, able to adapt swiftly and exploit market opportunities when they arise

When you run your own company, particularly in a disruptive space such as sustainability, you must confidently navigate and lead your team. My core MBA learning delivers that solid foundation but also helps me to spot new opportunities, as well as providing the agility to exploit them.

During the Covid pandemic, for example, we were able to transform the business by establishing a series of online skills development programmes. We were already planning to put it into effect, but Covid forced us to accelerate.

As the saying goes: “Opportunity is the product of hard work”, and “Good luck is the result of good planning”. These truths are the source of the company’s adaptability and of course, they are grounded in my experience with the MBA.

For us, the Covid era presented an opportunity, but the fact that we were able to utilize that opportunity so rapidly and to such good effect, is in a large part down to that MBA strategic planning. This, combined with effective leadership, meant 20FIFTY Partners was able to roll out a series of online programmes nationally in just a few weeks.

Over the years, I would say the ability to make this kind of decision and to act at the right time is a key takeaway from the MBA course. To achieve this, you need an understanding of multiple disciplines, and although no one can be an expert in everything, my MBA learning gives me the benefit of that all-around expertise.

Even after 20 years, I still find myself going back to the skills I learnt during the MBA because the approaches have longevity; they just stick with you

It’s amazing that after all this time, I find myself coming back to my MBA knowledge, but the skills you learn are indispensable. Throughout the development of the company, I have used appropriate frameworks from my MBA toolkit, which has always delivered the resources to lead with assurance.

One hundred per cent, the MBA has shaped not just my career, but also our company, providing the tools, techniques, and processes to grow in the forward-looking sustainability sector.

It might be 20 years since I got the urge to go it alone and set up a business, but I haven’t lost that entrepreneurial spirit. The climate and broader sustainability challenges we face today require innovative solutions and approaches, but they take time to realise. The MBA gives you the resources for a marathon, not a sprint.

  • Undergrad Education: B. Eng, Telecommunications, University of Limerick
  • Current Role: CEO at 20FIFTY Partners

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