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Rachel Blackburn

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Rachel’s first experience of studying with the OU was in the early 1990s when she completed a Certificate in Management and a Diploma in Management. She returned to her studies in 2002 to achieve her Master of Business Administration. Today she owns a successful consultancy, working with businesses all around the world.

“I left school in 1982 at the age of 16. I went to a girls’ grammar school, and was expected to stay on for A-levels, but I wanted to break out. At the time, there was a recession and all I could hear was adults talking about doom and gloom. I’d been offered a job at Norwich Union which was taking on 25 school leavers, so I thought I’d better get in now and get a job while there was one available.

“I progressed up the ladder well and became Norwich Union’s first female management development consultant working internally. I was busy working hard, getting promoted and gaining work and life experience. 

“It hadn’t crossed my mind to study, but I had an excellent line manager who had studied with the OU. He suggested that I do the same and said the company would pay for my qualification.

“This gave me an opportunity to get qualifications and learn, without having to leave my job. I was very pleased with how I was progressing but I couldn’t help but wonder how much better I could do if I furthered my education. I was working with lots of people who had degrees and I just thought that people only ever regret what they don’t do – never what they do – so I went for it.

“I was doing 60-hour weeks for work, and seven hours of study a week on top. It was hard work but, if you put your mind to it, you can do it.

“By 2002 I was working as a director in a privately owned consultancy and I had a young child. The business paid for me to return to my OU study and get my MBA over two years.

“I had to be very strict with my time, earmarking when I could study each week. I was regularly travelling on planes and trains and sitting in airports, so I used that time. I was paid to help others to plan and prioritise their time, so I wanted to lead by example. I always met my deadlines. I kept telling myself ‘I just need to get that gown on!’ If you’re determined, you’ll find a way.

“My studies gave me a management and leadership toolkit. By the time I finished, I had a deep understanding of how businesses work, how to manage a business and best practice in business. I knew about business strategy, marketing, HR and creativity, innovation and change. And I have built my own business – US2U Consulting – around this. I left having the confidence that I could help any business with these concepts. I wouldn’t have had this confidence without my MBA.

“I now use these concepts every single day to help businesses and clients. The knowledge and skills I gained have generated millions of pounds for my business. On a macro level, I have used the skills I learnt to help hundreds of other businesses to become successful and generate income. And this has generated more taxation for the country.

“Just this week I have been coaching online, supporting businesses to manage change, working on 360-degree feedback – and this was all on the MBA syllabus. People appreciate the fact that it’s a British MBA and triple-accredited programme. It’s opened up many doors for me, particularly in the Middle East. 

“In 2016 I was a winner in The Open University Business School Student and Alumni Awards, and the ceremony was in the same week as my 50th birthday, which was wonderful. And in 2020, I was delighted to take part in an OU webinar – ‘How can business schools help create more racially diverse businesses?’ – which enabled me to talk about how I support my clients to realise the benefits of diversity and encourage positive change.

“OU study was brilliant for me. It gave me the opportunity to juggle study, full-time work and my family life. I would highly recommend it.

“Completing my MBA enabled me to change my life. It gave me the competence and confidence to start my own successful business.”