Mark Hughes

Mark runs MCH Consulting, a consultancy for the not-for-profit sector. He enjoys the challenge of being responsible for all aspects of the company, and constantly having to watch his own back. He believes the experience earned through his doctorate helps in this regard...

"I studied chemistry at undergraduate level, and then organic chemistry as my doctorate. I started with a view to continuing in chemistry but, halfway through my doctorate, I started to rethink this plan. Although I enjoyed working in academia, I did not think my enthusiasm for teaching would last the length of my career. Furthermore, the likelihood of discovering drugs that would one day find their way onto a pharmacist’s shelf was very slim. My doctorate included a few months working at a pharmaceutical company and, although this introduced me to an environment where significant drugs were being delivered to market on a regular basis, it lacked the autonomy you can enjoy within academia. In short, being a small cog in a big machine didn’t really appeal.

"I found my doctorate useful in terms of buying me time to think about what I wanted to do long-term, and upon completion of my PhD I had narrowed my career down to working in the not-for-profit sector or for government (particularly the diplomatic service). To help decide between the two, I was lucky enough to gain a scholarship to study for a Masters degree in diplomacy and trade in Australia. This degree gave me an insight into the workings of government, although unfortunately the insights were not particularly favourable. In particular, I was struck by government’s inability to react quickly, the levels of bureaucracy, and the political rather than factual basis upon which decisions can be made. On the other hand, I felt that not-for-profit organisations – although they lacked the scale – were more nimble, and had the potential to address key issues more effectively.

"Having decided upon a career within the not-for-profit world, I felt I needed to gain some business/management experience to be of value within it. I felt a way of gaining good experience quickly would be through management consulting, and this led to a short spell at the international management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company. After a couple of years at McKinsey, I felt I had the experience to be of use in the not-for-profit sector, and was fortunate to be offered a chief executive position for Rumbalara, an aboriginal sporting and community organisation. I worked there for a couple of years but ended up leaving because my British girlfriend (now wife!) was homesick and wanted to return to the UK.

"Upon returning to the UK in 2005, I looked initially for senior management positions within not-for-profit organisations. While none of the full-time and permanent positions really interested me, a number of short-term consulting projects did. In order to conduct the consultancy work, I had to form a legal entity – and thus MCH Consulting was founded. MCH still works exclusively with not-for-profit organisations, and helps in areas such as staff training, business planning, project evaluations and funding proposals.

"While MCH does have associate arrangements with other consultants and trainers, I am its only full-time consultant. While I have considered recruiting additional staff, I think the likelihood of finding someone with the skill-set required – who is willing to work for the salary I can afford – is so small that it would be a waste of time. Consequently, a key challenge is that I am responsible for all aspects of the company and am constantly having to watch my own back. Again, though, the experience of my doctorate helps in this regard."