Bob Wardrop is an economic sociologist and the Executive Director of the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance at the University of Cambridge. Prior to entering academia in 2010, Wardrop spent 30 years working as an entrepreneur and investor. He graduated from the first international Executive MBA Program in Barcelona in 1994, went on to gain an MSc in Social & Cognitive Anthropology from the London School of Economics, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Economics Sociology at Cambridge. As we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Executive MBA Program, we have been catching up with alumni around the world to take stock of how the program affected their career development. We spoke recently with Wardrop to learn more about his personal investment in human capital.
For Executive MBA students, the decision to go back to school means weighing the costs of investing a significant amount time, money and energy into one’s own development. How have you invested in your own human capital, and what reasons did you have for doing so?
The decision to invest in my own human capital really came from my experience in the Executive MBA program. I started that program when I was 36. I think I really woke up. That two-year experience really ignited an interest in learning that was latent. I came out of that with a capacity to intellectually explore curiosities, which is very much a Chicago ethos. I think my appreciation for academia and a sense of what I might ultimately like to do in my life was ignited at Booth.
After completing my MBA, I ran a lending business and developed an interest in learning more about how finance was being taught. I saw how different individuals behaved differently under financial stress. My personal view was that the influence of human relationships in financial decision-making was understudied in traditional financial economics research. That's something I personally wanted to explore.
I started by going back and doing a master's in social and cognitive anthropology at the London School of Economics, concluding that the people who understand relationships are in fact anthropologists. Following that, I have been pursuing a PhD in economic sociology at Cambridge. In 2015, I founded the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, where I currently work.
I think the decision to invest in lifelong learning is going to be more and more commonplace in an economy that is changing constantly and where lifespans are stretching out. This concept of human capital, and how you make decisions about how you're going to invest in yourself, are going to become more frequent.
It can be challenging to prove the ROI of an MBA. How did you think about this when considering your own education?
When you look at a program like the Executive MBA and you look at the cost, my personal view is that there are obvious ROI criteria you can identify in terms of career progression and salary return. But there are a lot of externalities, positive externalities, as a result of the program that are very difficult to price. I'll give you one example that's very personal. I had my rational reasons for why I wanted to do the program. Clearly, derivative of that is my income potential, so we can make an ROI case around that. However, what I didn't expect and what was the biggest outcome of the program was confidence. How do you price the change in confidence? That's very difficult to do. Do I feel that that has produced enormous dividends to me over the course of 25 years? Absolutely, and it wasn't in my ROI.
From where you sit now, what do you see in your future? What will be the next investment in your human capital?
I think that, for me, what matters now actually is impact. More of my time is spent coaching and mentoring than doing. I am also actively working with policymakers and regulators globally. I sit on a technology advisory panel for the Monetary Authority of Singapore. That's a group of 15 finance technology people from around the world that can engage in a discussion with an influential regulator about the direction of policy in an evidence-based way. I think writing a book is probably something I will do in the next five years. Do I need more skills? Do I need more human capital to be able to produce those things? I think they step in parallel. I think they become, to some extent, self-reinforcing. That's, I think, where I'm going.
To hear more from Bob Wardrop and other Executive MBA alumni and students about investments in their human capital, please visit our 75th anniversary website.