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Senior Leader Level 7 with MBA, Isla Lightfoot

Isla Lightfoot

Isla Lightfoot is Chief Marketing Officer at Aptem. In September 2022 she started the Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship with MBA at Exeter University. Here, she shares why she chose the apprenticeship route and her journey so far.

Why did you decide to embark upon this apprenticeship?

My route to Chief Marketing Officer wasn’t a traditional pathway. Before joining Aptem, I was a Marketing Consultant for 11 years. I worked with a range of blue-chip organisations and SMEs to set up marketing functions. I also ran the marketing side of large transformational change programmes. I’d setup and managed teams, but rarely stayed long enough to focus on people development and leadership.

My role at Aptem is a strategic leadership role. This requires skills that I felt I needed to develop. Coaching as a leader, influential leadership tools, financial management beyond marketing, and understanding and applying concepts like boundary spanning to drive innovation throughout our organisation, are some examples where I felt taking an academic approach and understanding concepts that I can immediately and practically apply would make me a better leader.

How’s it going?

It’s early days. I’m one module down, part way through another – which is also running in parallel with an MBA top-up module. I have 5 to go and will complete in September 2024. Our tutors at Exeter told us at the beginning to prepare ourselves for a marathon not a sprint. They were right! But, I’m already finding it hugely valuable. Some of the concepts we’ve learnt like the development of a strategic leadership strategy, boundary spanning, ethical leadership and risk management I’ve already been able to weave into my daily leadership role, and hopefully delivered greater value to Aptem. The programme has definitely helped my confidence. If you are the type of person that likes the reassurance of an academic toolkit, this is a great way to not just obtain the knowledge, but apply it, test it, and find out what works for you.

University of Exeter delivers the apprenticeship really well. The tutors are subject matter experts, and extremely supportive. They also bring in industry experts for the masterclasses. It’s a blended approach combining weekly webinars, with two sets of two-day masterclasses during a module, and online learning. The modules run to a typical academic term-time. This suits me better, as I can have breaks between modules and spend time with my family. They also give you the option of attending in person for masterclasses or having them delivered online.

What do you think gives an apprentice the best chance of success?

A supportive employer, we understand apprenticeships at Aptem. So, both Richard, our CEO, my Line Manager, and I, were fully cognisant of what undertaking an apprenticeship means. There are some parts of an apprenticeship that are really important to make it a success, including minimum of 6 hrs Off The Job, the role the Line Manager plays, and the ability to identify appropriate projects.

Being on this programme has made me realise how critical it is for apprentices to have the right experience and level of seniority for their programme. Mine is a Senior Leader apprenticeship. If you aren’t at SLT level or equivalent in an organisation with a fair amount of management experience behind you, I think you may struggle to find appropriate projects and really get value from this programme. To benefit from it you have to be in a role where you can practice and apply the theoretical concepts, to deliver greater value to your organisation.

Any tips for anyone considering a Senior Leader Level 7 apprenticeship?

There are a number of great providers out there offering the Senior Leader Level 7 and quite a few offer different delivery options. Some run it as a ‘straight-through’ programme of around 13 months. Others, like mine, offer a more traditional academic term timetable, with breaks in between. It’s up to you how quickly you want to complete it and the work/life balance you can achieve whilst on programme. You can use the Aptem Intelligence Dashboard to see the latest list of providers and then visit their websites or call. 

You can combine a Senior Leader Level 7 with an MBA. It basically involves two top-up modules, and you should be given a range of module options to choose from. The price for the MBA element massively varies depending on the institution. Some offer it free if you go to the institution in person, others quote quite extortionate amounts in my opinion for what is essentially a couple of extra modules. Do your research on this side of things if you want the MBA in addition to the Senior Leader Level 7 qualification.

Don’t underestimate the workload. I’ve been averaging 8-10 hours per week over the 10 weeks of each module to keep pace with the learning. This includes webinars and masterclasses. I find it easier to plan my assignments throughout a module. It helps to give my learning some focus. I’m not the type who can produce something amazing at the last minute!   

Final words

This has already been one of the best things I’ve done in a long time. I’d highly recommend it to other people at a senior leadership level looking to further their skills. Best of luck to those who enrol onto a programme. You won’t regret it.

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