Ben’s journey of change
For Ben, change started as a personal journey of evolution, but now he’s driving change at highest level of business. After spending 15 years as an Officer in the British Army, Ben successfully pivoted his career to become a Managing Director at top international law firm Simmons and Simmons, leading their innovation and creative solutions practice to reimagine the future of law.
Despite being highly experienced in navigating complex and challenging situations in the Army, Ben faced uncharted territory when he decided to explore a new career in the corporate world. Without the tools to confidently see opportunities that could match his skills and allow him to pursue a different path, it was difficult to see the right way forward.
Having proudly spent his whole career in the Armed Forces as an Officer, rising to Company Commander, Ben felt - like many others who have served – his identity and skillset were defined by this experience and not easily transferable. “When you’re in the Army, you ‘ARE’ something – it’s a calling. It’s very difficult to transition into something else” says Ben.
It’s easy to feel you ‘ARE’ something, that you are what you do, but life is more fluid than that
It was Ben’s decision to embark on a full-time MBA at Warwick Business School that enabled him to find the language and tools he needed to transition into a commercial role, and transfer the considerable leadership, planning and complex management skills he’d learned into a corporate environment.
The MBA also gave him access to a thriving network, where he could build new relationships, find opportunities to help others and develop beyond the programme. “WBS rapidly taught me the value of getting a broader picture of the world and engaging with different people”, said Ben.
Now as MD of Simmons and Simmons Solutions, he’s putting this into practice, harnessing his leadership skills to drive forward the firm’s innovation capabilities, creating systems and platforms that encourage creativity and enable people to flourish.
“One of the major barriers for people leaving the forces is that they undervalue what they have learned in the services,” said Ben. “They think about it as a vocation and therefore not transferable. There are skill sets around the trades learned in the Army, but there are also a myriad of other skills such as leadership that are hard to quantify but which are eminently transferable.”
The MBA taught me the language of the corporate world and gave me the tools to navigate it.
Ben always had a clear focus and sense of purpose. He knew the path he wanted to take with his career from an early age. Following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the British Army’s Officer Training at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1997, before serving with the Light Infantry and then the Rifles for 15 years, which involved tours of all the world’s major hot spots – Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
As an Infantry Company Commander his priority in Afghanistan was to disrupt the Taliban and leave the local population in a better place, partnering with and improving the capability of the Afghan police and military. “Every operation we did, we did it with them. We also undertook a project to remove Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) across the fields to free the land for farming, working with bomb disposal experts, which was hugely rewarding. Our other priority was to find and disrupt the Taliban. We made a great deal of progress in our six months there.”
During his final tour in Afghanistan Ben experienced a life-changing moment when during a reconnaissance mission one of his patrol team stepped on an IED behind him. “Luckily it only partially functioned, and nobody was hurt. That was a very nerve-wracking moment.” said Ben.
Despite his pride in his career in Army, Ben decided to re-evaluate his life and broaden his horizons, by exploring other opportunities that weren’t tied to life in the services.
Keep your horizons broad. Keep an enquiring mind. Be prepared to take on different opportunities
“Having a single focus is not as important as it used to be. I have always had an enquiring mind. I felt my experiences would enable me to help improve leadership in the corporate world. I just wasn’t sure how to go about it”, said Ben.
Ben took voluntary redundancy from the Army in 2012, which allowed him to fund a full-time MBA to help his transition into a commercial role. “I was looking for the tools and language to allow me to transfer from the Army where I had learned about leadership and planning big projects; the MBA gave me that awareness and understanding,” said Ben.
The practical nature of the programme enabled him to immediately apply his skills into corporate scenarios. “What I loved about the course was that it's practical, not theoretical. We got straight to it, straight into problem solving and generating real world solutions. CVs tend to be full of numbers and budgets to explain achievements, but there are other skills around leadership and building teams that the Army gives you. The MBA gives you the opportunity to explore that and transfer it to the commercial world.
Being able to bring together his extensive leadership skills with the practical, commercial and professional skills of the MBA set Ben on the path to his first corporate role as Chief Operating Officer at independent regulatory body, The Takeover Panel.
A broader set of experiences will build towards happiness
Thanks to his MBA dissertation on using lean to improve professional services, Ben was subsequently given the opportunity to establish and run a new division at Simmons and Simmons, bringing together its additional services on top of offering legal advice to create a much more integrated and modern solutions practice. With his role focused on ensuring the firm is fit for the future and able to meet the legal demands of today’s world, he’s been the driving force behind many of the firm’s innovation initiatives, diversifying and optimising the firm’s capabilities and solutions.
From navigating his way through a field of land mines, Ben is now steering a world-leading law firm into new sectors, showing just how transferable his skills from the Army are.
Leading the Solutions arm at Simmons and Simmons, his responsibility is to create the right environment for innovation, invention, experimentation and growth, supporting the firm and its people to be at its best. "I want to help people achieve their greatest potential by bringing in different ideas and leadership to the corporate world. I want to see people feeling fulfilled and being enabled to be more productive”, said Ben.
Let’s imagine together, how life could be better
Using the same tools and skills he was exposed to during his time at WBS, he’s guiding this innovation mentality and creating the environment for change to happen. “I’m really proud I’ve helped to generate a culture that allows for experimentation and innovation. For me real leaders or Change Makers are patient, they understand context, they have a deep sense of empathy for people, and they’re selfless. Change doesn’t have to be one big moment in time. It can be gradual or incremental. As a leader you need to be there as an enabler and a catalyst,” said Ben.
For Ben, his experience at WBS has given him a route into the business world that has allowed him to enhance and build on his Army experience. “My MBA combined with my leadership experience has allowed me to achieve my potential and find a commercial role just as fulfilling as my Army career.”