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MBA Know-How Helps Family Businesses To Fly

19th March 2012 Penny Webb, Familias & Co

Haani Ul Hasnain ditched plans to be a pilot, enrolled on an MBA and is taking the business to new heights

As a teenager, Haani Ul Hasnain, 29, Chief Executive of Haani Cables, had no plans to work in the family business, and every intention of becoming a pilot.  Yet, after grounding plans to join the RAF and instead taking an MBA, he has engineered an illustrious career as a high flying businessman, piloting that rare commodity - a British manufacturing success story.  

 
He could have opted for the easy career route and, straight from school, joined the firm, Haani Cables, a small manufacturing business founded in 1982.  But Hasnain grew up longing to fly planes.  "Harrier jump jets or making cables, as an adolescent there was no comparison.  I had no interest in going into the business," he says.
 
He took a degree in aero-space engineering in pursuit of his childhood dream, even doing a stint on an exchange programme at cosmonaut school in Moscow.  But, when the time came and after some soul searching, Hasnain chose not to pursue a military career. Instead, he decided to start his own business.  At about the same time, his father invited him to join the family firm.  
 
After first refusing the offer, Hasnain eventually relented, believing it might help to further his entrepreneurial ambitions.  "If I wanted to set up a business in the future, I needed to learn the right skills.  It was an opportunity to step into the firm, regardless of whether it made cable or not, and learn how to run a business," he continues.
 
As part of the change in career direction, Hasnain also signed up for a two-year part time MBA at Durham Business School.  "For someone fresh out of university, knowing nothing about business and trying to understand all the complexities of it, the MBA was an extremely valuable lesson," he says.  "The knowledge I took back and challenged the company with, was pivotal in changing the whole organisation."
 
Since completing his MBA in 2003, Hasnain has worked his way up from the shop floor to Chief Executive, garnering awards along the way, including the Trade Partners UK Individual Achievement Award for Exports.  In that time, the Hartlepool based company has grown from 35 to 135 employees, exports to more than 20 countries, and has recently invested in a new £3.5 million building.  As well as providing the hard knowledge and skills, business school gave Hasnain a tremendous network of contacts, allowing him to get an ongoing external perspective on the business.
 
"We had people from multinationals, owner managers; the network that you build is one of the greatest aspects of gong through an MBA," he says, "You can call upon a Chief Executive of a multinational and talk over the challenges."
 
Despite his business success, Hasnain still has an eye for the skies. He talks of taking a zero-gravity flight in the US one day and is planning to earn his private pilot's licence.  And, given his fascination with flight, he must be pleased with his inclusion in the Growing Business Top Gun list for 2007.
 
The MBA certainly stood Hasnain in good stead.  "Even though family business members can have a reasonably assured route to senior management, taking an MBA can still be a valuable qualification" explains Penny Webb, founder of Familias & Co which provides family business advice.
 
"An MBA exposes people to what 'good' looks like outside the family business environment," she says.  "There is a trend towards ensuring that family stakeholders working in the business have the skills and capabilities to contribute; one of the best qualifications to support that is the MBA."
 
But there are risks.  "It can be tough to convey the value of the MBA back inside the business;  the firm needs to be open to supporting the individual through the MBA, an extracting the full value afterwards," concludes Penny.
 

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