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Crossing the T’s: why modern business needs ‘t-shaped’ leaders

The world is changing at an incredible pace and the global business landscape is becoming ever more complex. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, innovation and adaptability are traits almost every business must have in order to survive. In this environment it is perhaps unsurprising that businesses are seeking a new wave of ‘generalising specialist’ leaders.

Written by Allie Fitzgibbon |

Postgraduate student talking to his employer
A candidate with a diverse CV is likely to attract more interest from employers in the future, as a number of recent studies have found.

A so-called ‘t-shaped’ employee is someone with deep experience, knowledge and perhaps qualifications in one area – such as accountancy – but who also has an overall understanding of multiple facets of business, from marketing to HR and finance to IT. A candidate with a diverse CV, not only in terms of the companies in which they’ve worked but also the roles they’ve undertaken, is no longer dismissed as a Jack of all trades and master of none. Instead they are likely to attract more interest from employers in the future, as a number of recent studies have found.

A report published in the Harvard Business Review looked at the career paths of hundreds of MBA graduates working in investment banking. The researchers found that those who only had specialist experience in investment banking, for example through jobs and internships, were less likely to receive multiple job offers than candidates who came from more diverse backgrounds and experiences. Specialists also received signing bonuses that were on average 36% lower than their t-shaped counterparts.

Dr Dimitrios Koufopoulos, Director of the University of London’s Global MBA Programme and Visiting Professor at the School of Law, Queen Mary University of London, said: “To reach director level, you must integrate diverse skills and cognitive abilities. I tell my students that as well as an in-depth understanding of, for example, accounting, they’ll also need a broader understanding of how businesses work beyond the balance sheet. That’s why MBAs are still so popular. An MBA gives you the best overview of business, which is what you need to take the next step up.”

The Global MBA programme from the University of London provides the ideal opportunity to expand your business understanding; and with six specialisms on offer you can also deepen your knowledge in the area that most interests you – whether it’s Accountancy, Law or Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The modern business landscape needs good all-rounders – curious people with both deep knowledge and broad understanding. So t-shaped people, or even pi-shaped people (with more than one specialism) have a lot to offer.

After completing her undergraduate degree in Computing Systems Engineering, Lora Parvanova was sponsored by her first employer to undertake her CIMA qualifications, completing all exams in just over two years. Her career so far has included senior roles at Arcadia and EE among others but after nearly 10 years in finance she was keen to take the next step and complete her MBA. Having recently graduated she is now interested in diversifying her portfolio, perhaps in a consultancy role or even launching her own business.

Lora said: “I recently read a book called ‘The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity’ and in it the authors, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, explain that we now have a 50% chance of living to 100 years. That is potentially a very long working life and I think people are increasingly realising they have the opportunity to have more than one career in their lifetime.

“An MBA is essentially a master’s in general management. You learn a little bit about everything that makes business work. In a boardroom situation it will make you much more useful because you know what the conversation is actually about. The modern business landscape needs good all-rounders – curious people with both deep knowledge and broad understanding. So t-shaped people, or even pi-shaped people (with more than one specialism) have a lot to offer.”

To be a successful manager you will have to analyse the complicated problems and scenarios of corporate life and you need a broad understanding as well as a strong analytical approach to problem-solving.

Dr George Alexandrou, Accountancy and Finance Module Leader for the Global MBA programme, said:

“The world of business is changing and becoming more complex. There are constantly new instruments, new securities, new intermediaries, new methods of doing things. To be a successful manager you will have to analyse the complicated problems and scenarios of corporate life and you need a broad understanding as well as a strong analytical approach to problem-solving. The MBA will allow you to refresh your knowledge and learn new skills to be able to deal with that ever-changing business landscape.”

Global MBA Director, Dr Koufopoulos, concluded: “The programme’s academic leadership comes from member institution Queen Mary’s University, one of the best universities in the world, and from UCL for our Health specialism. This is a highly respected MBA and with four entry points each year and the choice of online learning or attending one of our teaching centres around the world it offers incredible flexibility for people who don’t want to break their career momentum to study.”

Find out how a Global MBA from the University of London could give you the broad business understanding you need for leadership success.