Calling the shots

By Peter Giurissevich, 2017 recipient of the BOSS Emerging Leaders MBA Scholarship.

Can I do it? How will I juggle everything? How can I afford it? What am I doing it for? Is the University of Sydney Business School MBA the one? If you’re asking yourself these questions, I’m betting you’ve considered doing an MBA at the University of Sydney, and feeling quite ambivalent (if not apprehensive) about it. Fear not! I was in your exact position, and I’m here to tell you:

You CAN do it.

Resolving to undertake an MBA is obviously a big decision. If you are between jobs or unable to get your employer to sponsor you, then it’s a very significant commitment in monetary terms. It will also take up a lot of your time, and you’ll have to delicately juggle your work and family responsibilities (family and work being almost assumed when it comes to Masters level studies). It certainly takes a level of drive and dedication. To complicate matters even more, you’ll need to consider whether an MBA is the right qualification. But, NONE of that should scare you away.

When I was contemplating why I wanted to do an MBA, I reflected on my work experience and the career paths that lay before me. I’m fortunate to already have a senior position at the National Rugby League (NRL) as Senior Legal Counsel, and to have played a key role on some big deals, including the recent high profile sale of NRL broadcast rights for more than $1.8 billion. These deals required me to exercise executive negotiating and influencing skills, and manage multiple (and often conflicting) stakeholder interests. They also stimulated a desire in me to further broaden my skill set and transition into a more commercial and strategic role, with an end game of securing a C-Suite position; that’s because, I don’t only want to be key member of the deal team – I want to be a leader and ‘call the shots’ for the deal team. Being a lawyer by profession, a Masters of Law was the natural (and easy) choice, however the reality is, only one course will take you the distance to making a C-Suite role a reality, and that’s aMBA.

Should I or shouldn’t I?

After much cogitating on “should I or shouldn’t I?”, my own conclusion was that an MBA was the right course, and to back myself and enrol (I have always tried to adopt a philosophy of stepping up and having a go, which was forged early on as a budding soccer player). Of course, it’s not that simple. I have a young family (two kids under three years old), a full time job as Senior Legal Counsel in a small legal team at the NRL, and I’m currently deep in the midst of building a new home. On one view, I’m mad (and I’m sure some of you may be thinking that). However, I rationalised it this way: my kids will always have (and need) my undivided attention, whatever their age; my career trajectory path is going in the right direction (and I hope it continues the same trajectory), but I’m not yet in an executive level role that will consume even more of my time; I feel I’m the right age to be undertaking masters level studies; and, perhaps most importantly, I believe that my capacity to juggle completing an MBA with my work and family responsibilities is presently at its peak. In short, there’s no better time than now.

Which MBA?

Once resolved having a go and doing an MBA, the question then becomes what MBA? I rang a close friend of mine who had just completed her first subject of the Sydney MBA (as it were, she actually posted something on Facebook about how thrilled she was to complete the first subject, and how much she enjoyed it – the power of social media!). I wanted to pick her brain about how she found it, and to ask those very same questions I posed at the start of this blog. She was – as usual – a great source of inspiration, and her positive feedback was the catalyst for me to apply for the Sydney MBA.

The two key reasons I decided to do the Sydney MBA were:

  • the limited and controlled number of people in the cohort;
  • and the experiential delivery structure of the course.

My friend only had good things to say about that structure and her cohort. At this stage of my life, traditional lecture based delivery of talking at 150+ students in a lecture, rote learning and doing exams at the end of a subject just didn’t appeal to me, and is not what I need to improve as a person and business leader. I wanted to learn new skills by doing; by getting out my comfort zone and being challenged.

I also have my friend to thank, as she mentioned the BOSS Emerging Leaders Scholarship to me and suggested I apply. I’m not usually the type to go after scholarships and awards, because I have always assumed (erroneously) that full scholarships are reserved for people who speak seven languages, have a UAI of 100 in their HSC, have made a new scientific discovery, competed at the Olympics and who maintained a High Distinction average during undergraduate studies, all by the age of 21. I have achieved none of those things! However, the financial considerations of undertaking an MBA are real. Nevertheless, I was prodded by my friend, so I looked into the BOSS Emerging Leading Scholarship a little more. When I read the application criteria, I was hugely impressed and inspired by what it was all about, and wanted to be a part of it. I threw my hat in the ring. I got an interview. I got through the interview, which lead to a Master Class, and a reflective essay. I got through that, and a further round of interviews, and all of a sudden I survived the cull down to the last 5 candidates. It felt like an achievement to get that far, but my competitive streak (my inner lawyer and sportsman!) came to the fore and I wanted to nail the final panel interview. I can now proudly proclaim that I am the current recipient of the BOSS Emerging Leaders Scholarship! The lunch to announce the winner, held at the Park Hyatt overlooking the Opera House, ranks as one of the proudest moments of my life. I felt a huge mix of emotions when my name was read out and I was awarded the scholarship – shocked, proud, humbled, excited and overjoyed, all rolled up in a moment. It was a fantastic experience, and one I will never forget.

A few months into my MBA

I have taken the plunge and started the Sydney MBA, and I’m so glad I did (In fact, I am writing this blog having only recently sat through the first intensive weekend of the opening unit of study, Leadership Practice and Development. It was certainly intense, but it was also incredibly engaging, thought provoking and perhaps most importantly, challenging). There’s no doubt that being awarded the BOSS 2017 Emerging Leaders Scholarship was the icing on the cake for me. But, I can very honestly say that, even if I had not been awarded the scholarship, I still would have started the Sydney MBA. The scholarship process invigorated me for further study, and made me genuinely excited about doing an MBA. I knew I would find a way to pay for it, and I wasn’t worried about the cost because I know it will pay off 10-fold in the long run. My main concerns were (like many of my cohort) finding time, and juggling the many family and work commitments I have in my life. In the end, my concerns were probably (for the most part) unwarranted, and not unique.

Ultimately, whenever I held doubts about doing an MBA at the University of Sydney or during the scholarship application process, I defaulted back to my “have a go” attitude, and the sage words of Henry Ford:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!”

Which is to say, if you decide you want to do the Sydney MBA, you will find a way. I hope that you can find some comfort (and perhaps even some inspiration) in the knowledge that, even with two kids under three, a full time job as Senior Legal Counsel in a small legal team at the NRL (which keeps me very busy), and being deep in the midst of building a new home, I have also found time to undertake the Sydney MBA.

If I can do it, I am sure you can too. So, go for it!


Financial Review BOSS Magazine and the University of Sydney Business School are searching for Australia’s next emerging leaders. Offering a prize package that includes an MBA scholarship worth over $60,000 to inspire and nurture the leaders of tomorrow.

Applications for the BOSS Emerging Leaders Scholarship open on Monday 31 July. Find out more.