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Image: Getty, additional design: Archi Banal
Image: Getty, additional design: Archi Banal

PartnersNovember 30, 2023

Three people on how a business degree changed the way they think

Image: Getty, additional design: Archi Banal
Image: Getty, additional design: Archi Banal

Not everyone needs to follow a tertiary pathway. But for those who do, a degree could well be ‘the experience of a lifetime’.

In today’s job market, it’s hard not to feel a little hopeless. As entire industries go through massive change, it can be difficult for new entrants to know how to build foundations for a sustainable career. Experience and skills are paramount in today’s employment landscape, and those skills are far more broad than knowing your way around a spreadsheet. Success in business is often just as much about important interpersonal skills as it is about practical business ones. 

That’s why there’s more to a business degree than just a piece of paper – and research shows that the survival rates of businesses set up by University of Auckland graduates are double the national average.

Douglas Carrie, associate dean of teaching and learning at the University of Auckland Business School, says that the school “develops capabilities that are very transferable, and an ability for lifelong learning”.

Carrie notes that graduates today will have “portfolio careers”, meaning they may change jobs and fields throughout their working life. At UoA, the Business School aims to give graduates lifelong skills to navigate whatever role they may find themselves in. 

“It’s just this time of accelerating change,” says Carrie on the post-pandemic job market. That’s why the Business School, and the University of Auckland as a whole, is refreshing their pedagogy in response. Relational learning, technology and assessment which focuses more on providing meaningful context for learning are taking centre stage. With these practices, Carrie says that some students may not even realise they’re developing signature skills and capacities, because they’re so embedded in the course. 

Recently, year three digital marketing students had the opportunity to work on a project to create a digital marketing proposal for a new Samsung phone as part of their coursework, with their presentations assessed and given industry-relevant feedback by a Samsung NZ marketing manager alongside lecturer Inna Piven. This type of collaboration with industry and hands-on experience gives students the opportunity to see how the skills they’re developing will help them to excel once they enter the workforce.

“It’s about setting [students] up so they can adapt – they’re flexible, they’re creative thinkers, and they can move from job to job. The skills we’re developing are what employers want: classic things like communication, teamwork, solution seeking, but also new skills that are becoming essential, like negotiation skills and information literacy.”

Carrie’s claim is borne out by the data, too: the University of Auckland is first ranked in the country for graduate employability, with 96% of undergraduate students employed within one year of graduating. The Business School has also been recognised for its rigorous academic achievement, receiving a Triple Crown accreditation – the first business school to do so in Australasia, and one of only 1% of business schools worldwide – as well as awards from the United States Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and the Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities

Below, three early-career alumni share how their experience at the University of Auckland Business School contributed to the skills and networks they now draw on everyday. 

Kathlynn Lee

Like many young New Zealanders, Kathlynn Lee has just made the big overseas move to the UK. After close to five years working in New Zealand for oil and gas multinational BP, “doing a multitude of roles in brand marketing, retail promotions, communications & external affairs and digital product management,” Lee is now a partnerships executive at Red Bull Racing, a role which she says is “all about building and maintaining Red Bull Racing’s commercial relationships, and delivering success on and off the track”. 

Just a few years after graduating from the University of Auckland, where she completed a BCom with a triple major in Marketing, Business Analytics and Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Lee has already built a formidable CV. She was also heavily involved with the student-led Marketing and Design Collective while studying, and credits it with complementing her studies. Lee was able to put into immediate effect the skills she was learning in class, giving her a solid foundation of skills and networks. 

“Being part of a club that celebrated the marketing discipline, and bridged the gap between students and industry, was critical in building my understanding of opportunities after graduation,” says Lee. 

Lee also gained valuable real-world experience with her BCom, completing a part-time internship at Bauer Media in her final year. Overall, Lee credits her experiences at UoA as giving her “the foundations to build my career to where it is today – by opening a network of opportunities on campus. 

“The University of Auckland Business School provides an environment where you get out what you put in, not just academically in the lecture halls, but getting amongst student clubs and connecting with like-minded individuals.”

Bradley Hosking 

“Truthfully, I had a strong Science and Engineering bent, but I saw business as the wheels to enable those products to help people.”

Bradley Hosking is a recent graduate working as a machine learning engineer at Westpac. He completed a joint degree in Engineering and Commerce, and says that skills he learnt with the Business School helped him in getting job offers. 

“The key skill I learnt from the BCom was relationship-building. Science is lots of memorisation, whereas with the commerce side of things there was strong emphasis on networking, finding your path, and learning through interaction. It colours everything I’ve done since.”

Hosking laughs that his current job isn’t really relevant to his field of study. But he says that without the ability to build a professional network, which he developed at university, opening the doors to opportunity would have been far more difficult.

“I got where I am because I kept building relationships. People will lift you to where you want to go.”

Hosking says he especially wants to shout out the University of Auckland’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) which helps students to build their entrepreneurial skills through hands-on experiences delivered at its innovation hubs. Hosking says their free co-curricular entrepreneurship and innovation programmes were “pivotal” for his eventual success. His experience at CIE exemplifies what Hosking says is the best part of studying with the University of Auckland: 

“There’s a focus on doing it yourself and pulling yourself up… [and] the Business School makes a concerted effort to get you in front of the employers. Even if you’re uncomfortable networking they’ll say: too bad, you’re doing it.”

(Image: Getty)

Wynona Dekker

A young mum, Wynona Dekker signed up to the University of Auckland’s Business School at 21, after completing her OE and feeling unsure of where to go next. Raised by “entrepreneurial spirits”, Dekker said she’d always had an interest striking out on her own. Wanting to do more than the odd job, Dekker took the plunge and enrolled. 

“I thought I’d join the Business School because the programmes offered were broad enough that, by the time I figured out what I wanted to do, I’d have a really good foundation. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to be a business leader or anything. I just wanted really practical skills that would serve me in whatever industry I ended up going into.”

One thing that Dekker appreciated about the degree was how much they encouraged her to investigate other subjects, meaning her skill development was well rounded and she had diverse experiences. 

“I got to take a couple of computer science classes and do some coding, which in turn, helps in business because then you’re able to talk to developers and various companies. And I was able to take a communications paper, which isn’t technically within business, but is such a fundamental part of it.”

Like Hosking, Dekker got involved with the Centre of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She also took part in the Business School’s first iteration of its extracurricular Accelerate programme for high-performing first year Business students. Accelerate allows students to give back through an applied team project for a real-world organisation that has a social purpose. Dekker said that these practical experiences solidified her skills and learning. Additionally, Dekker says there’s a “genuine community” in the school – some of her longest lasting relationships, with both peers and lecturers, are from her time there. One example is Dekker’s experience with the Business School’s Women’s Mentoring Programme, which matches around 80 students each year with a diverse range of women working in business to learn from them in real time.

“My mentor has been with me at every single step since university. She herself has had different career moves since then. But she is my number one person that I go to – they gave me a mentor for life.”

Since graduating, Dekker has held high-level postings in a diverse range of settings and specialisations, from working in a start-up, to holding a business performance and governance role at ANZ to working in a change management position within New Zealand Police, and she credits her time at the University of Auckland Business School with the learning and hands-on experience that has helped her to excel.

“I feel like my life would be in a very different place [without the Business School]. If you want to have the experience of a lifetime, you have to commit to it, because it’s there for the taking – but you’ve got to show up.”

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