As a mature student I expected to really stand out, but I was just absorbed into the Leeds Trinity community as I soon found there were many others in my boat.
Fulfilling a lifelong ambition to graduate before turning 50
The alumni team caught up with Frank Zagajewski to find out about what life was like as a mature student at Leeds Trinity University, winning prizes at graduation and how he is utilised the Enterprise Centre as an alumnus.
Frank started his university life at the age of 48, he had left school at the age of 16 with no qualifications but this didn’t stop him being very successful in his corporate life and he has held many high profile roles in the business world. Whilst working for several blue-chip companies, Frank always pushed himself to undertake new learning through courses on offer internally. Though these courses were not recognised externally and he held a strong lifelong ambition to obtain an MBA.
Frank is a strong believer that you should never stop learning and that this is essential to being successful in business. Some people doubted his decision to leave the business world, but he had the strong backing from his family and many friends to make the call and take the chance at gaining an MBA.
What made you return to education to do an MBA at Leeds Trinity?
I had a very strong desire to get a formal level of education to make sure I reached my full potential. After attending an open day in March, I built up a really good rapport with one of the lecturers at Leeds Trinity, Hurol Ozcan. What started as an informal visit gave me an instant level of attachment. I could really see why the university said you are a name and not a number; they were certainly good to their word.
I shared correspondence with Hurol for four months and it was he that really inspired me to take the leap. The opportunity represented a huge change for me but I felt I could really thrive and make a difference in my life through studying the MBA.
What do you remember from your first day?
I recall there was a huge contrast in life for me as I’d only left my previous employment the Friday before starting university on the Monday. I went from being a senior business manager and giving a thorough handover to a few days later walking onto campus as a student to begin my studies. It was completely uncharted territory and a totally different environment, but at the same time it was fun and exciting; I guess behind all the excitement was a level of apprehension. After meeting Hurol and Denis Kobsev, I questioned if I could really pull this off. As I left after the end of my first day I realised I had to be 100% committed as I had a very big challenge ahead of me.
How did you feel, being a mature student on campus?
As a mature student I expected to really stand out, but I was just absorbed into the Leeds Trinity community as I soon found there were many others in my boat. I used the fact I was a mature student as a benefit, hopefully not just to me but for my fellow students as I was able to bring real-world experience into academia; I could really relate the theories to my experiences.
When you graduated, you won the entrepreneurial excellence prize and you were featured on the front page of the Leeds Evening Post. How did this feel?
The end result I was striving for was to just pass the MBA, I didn’t imagine what it would actually be like to graduate and end up with a distinction. To be recognised externally for a prize and also receive the University Programme prize during the graduation ceremony gave me an incredible feeling of pride. This wasn’t just pride in myself but also in the University for giving me this opportunity.
I had taken a different road, far from my comfort zone, and I was part of a great cohort that supported each other and I was delighted that they shared the sense of great pride with me.
What words would use to describe your experience at Leeds Trinity?
The words that spring to mind are challenging, excitement and self-belief. All these have led me to develop a new powerful network at Leeds Trinity.
Can you tell us more about your current job and what it is like to now have an MBA under your belt?
I have my own business consultancy that specialises in international supply chain and procurement; this was an area I specialised in through the MBA. I do a lot of work with external clients within the Engineering and Manufacturing industry sector, my MBA has enhanced my overall value proposition to my customers and has become an extremely positive discussion point.
How much of an asset has it been to be able to use the Enterprise Centre as a base for your work?
To be honest I stumbled on the Enterprise Centre partway through the course. It was a really great discovery, offering a corporate office environment with a friendly communal atmosphere. I’d thoroughly recommend it to students, alumni and other business parties as it is a place where you can work hard and really thrive. You have a great space to work, and I have often used the facilities seven days a week; on numerous occasions, due to time pressures of module submissions I have been known to even use it all night.
It is a great place to share best practice with other users and it is added bonus to have business start-up adviser, Phil Williams who works out of the centre consistently exceeds your expectations.
You’re interested in mentoring current students too, how’d you think your skills and experience could benefit others?
I’ve always believed mentoring is a very meaningful and powerful process. Being able to give back to students and others that I can support is life changing. Throughout my lifetime I have benefited from some incredible mentors and now I believe it is my time to give back.
The only two-week gap I had during the MBA I decided to undertake some voluntary work at St Vincent De Paul Society to work with immigrants and refugees. I thoroughly enjoyed this and it also led me to do evening work with the national libraries where I am mentoring and supporting people. It is great to have made such a difference and help those who need guidance. For me is not just about giving, I receive huge benefits myself in terms of satisfaction and the feeling of doing unto others.
What advice would you have for others in a similar situation or who are thinking about leaving work to return to higher education?
My best advice would be that you’re never too old to learn and when you stop learning, the world passes you by. It may be easier to relate to a famous quote by W. Edwards Deming: “Learning is not compulsory, neither is survival”, a profound statement businesses can relate to in today’s dynamic competitive market sectors.
For anybody who might be worried I have not only witnessed, but experienced first-hand an environment I was able to thrive in. I remember Denis Kobsev telling me that when you come to Leeds Trinity it is not just a feeling of being part of a special community it is about lifelong belonging. This is what I am already experiencing as an alumnus of Leeds Trinity. I’m really committed to the institution and feel a great sense of pride, not just being continually associated with the University, but proudly wearing their tie. My final thought, is to add that had it not been for the brilliant mentoring work and motivation provided to me by Hurol, I wouldn’t have done the MBA.