From Mechanical Engineer to a HR leader – how the MBA gives you skills to succeed
Ameirul Azraie is currently the Senior Manager of Corporate Human Resources at Pure Circle, as well as a career coach, book author, and on the 100 Most Inspirational LinkedIn Icons in Malaysia list.
However, the former Mechanical Engineer never dreamed of a career in Human Resources. All that changed when he embarked on an MBA programme at Brunel University, United Kingdom.
In a Zoom interview with U2B, Ameirul said, “During my three years working as a Mechanical Engineer, I started questioning if this was really the right career path for me. Even though I also held a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, I didn’t feel there much motivation for me to further myself in this field and I felt there was something missing in my career.”
Ameirul had always been an ambitious individual, and ever since his early 20s, he aspired to become a manager by the age of 30 – but didn’t feel this was achievable in his role as an engineer.
He started to realise that he was lacking in certain qualities and traits as an engineer because his education was so specialised.
“I realised that for me to make my next career move, I need to do the MBA so I can pick up leadership skills and change my career track.”
Ameirul took out a study loan and eventually managed to get accepted into the MBA programme at Brunel University.
He said, “I’m really grateful for making this decision as it changed my entire perception of worldview, how I manage things, how I look at things, and the way I deal with certain situations.”
How the MBA experience equips you with the necessary skills
During his MBA programme, Ameirul’s wife – who was also studying for her Master’s degree in London – unfortunately, suffered a miscarriage. They already had a young child at the time and were juggling their studies while being young parents in a brand new city.
He attributes the skills he gained from both his MBA programme and the experience of studying in London while taking care of his wife and child to his current success.
“How we adapted to a new city and a new situation really made us stronger. People talk a lot about adaptability skills but when you really face it, it’s not easy and it can be difficult to achieve.
“We were far away from our family and we had to manage everything on our own. Every day I was travelling 90 minutes by bus to attend my classes and had to adjust my schedule to send my child to school. This experience and hardship really changed me and made me more resilient – it was either you make it or you break it.”
Ameirul initially thought that he would not be able to complete his MBA due to his wife’s miscarriage and was prepared to throw in the towel. However, his wife advised him to write a letter to his department and let them know of their situation.
He managed to get an extension on his final thesis when the department heard about his wife’s miscarriage, which helped him to balance his time between family and studies and taught him how to persevere in the face of challenge.
“Luckily enough, they were extremely understanding and were very empathetic to our situation. I never expected it. They granted me an extension of my thesis so that I could spend some time taking care of my wife. This taught me never to assume and to talk to people when you’re struggling to see how you can find solutions to your problems. I also learned never to give up on my dreams but to find another way to achieve them.”
Thus, the experience taught him adaptability and time management skills while balancing between work life and family, as well as perseverance.
As for his MBA education, he initially failed his Marketing class as he underestimated how difficult it would be – which taught him another life lesson.
He said, “Never underestimate the things you know, because there’s always more you can learn, especially in a new context that’s totally different. I also learned that when you fail, you must pick yourself up and continue to rise up. Learn from the experience and move forward.”
The MBA also taught him how to look at the world from different angles, how to be agile, and how to work well in a team.
“My classmates were from all over the world and were from different industries. It taught me a lot about working in diverse settings as we had to learn how to communicate with those from different cultures and who have different perspectives. I really enjoyed my MBA experience despite the initial struggles which made me a stronger person at the end of the day.”
He also said that he believes that many people go for their MBA just for the qualification, but there is much more to be gained.
“I learned most by observing and from learning from others. As Asians, we tend to be shy – but I learned how to gain confidence from other students when answering questions and speaking up in class. All of this, you will learn in an MBA programme. When you do your MBA or pursue your further studies, enjoy it and learn as much as you can from the experience and your classmates – not just from the textbook.”
Ameirul returned back to Malaysia armed with his MBA qualification and a different mindset altogether – determined to succeed and achieve his goal of becoming a leader.
However, when he came back to Malaysia, he was initially clueless. He knew he wanted to move on from Mechanical Engineering, and he knew he had the people skills to be a manager but wasn’t sure of his next career move.
At this point, a career in Human Resources was still far from his mind. Upon the advice of his previous boss Reza Abdul Rahim at SapuraKencana Petroleum Berhad, he arranged meetings with different departments at the company to figure out his next role and see which would appeal to him the most.
The Vice President of the division, Md Yusoff, suggested that with his skillset, MBA education and qualities, Ameirul would be suitable for a position in Human Resources.
He was taken aback at first. “I never thought about Human Resources at the beginning because I initially perceived it as an operational job. After meeting with the HR boss Amber Dossey, who was very receptive, open-minded and articulate, I realised it was more of a strategic role and I decided to explore it.”
His entire perception of Human Resources changed with this new venture, changing his entire career track and leading him to where he is today.
“I realised there is a lot of strategy involved in HR and there is a lot to be accomplished as an HR professional, and that it was the right fit for me.”
Is it advisable for budding Human Resources professionals to take up the MBA?
Ameirul said, “There are two parts to HR – operational and strategic. Regardless of which area you want to focus on, an MBA will definitely help you. I would encourage anyone to do it because you will be exposed to many other areas of business such as strategic management, marketing, finance, international business, and organisational behaviour which will allow you to understand business as a whole.
“You will learn how to organise your thoughts and how to tackle challenges. It will be very helpful for you in a strategic role, but even in operations – you can apply your knowledge and experience learned from the MBA.”
He also advised that when pursuing the MBA, although many would be inclined to go for the Human Resources specialisation, another specialisation to consider is Finance.
He explained, “This is because to be a leader in HR, you need to have a good understanding of Finance. As you will work with other C-Suite leaders in making decisions for the company, you will not be able to keep up without a foundation in Finance.”
Ameirul’s role now involves more strategic business decisions within the context of HR at PureCircle. Now 34, he has achieved his goal of becoming a leader in Human Resources – all thanks to his MBA experience.