INSEAD MBA and strategy role in industry for ex-Linklaters lawyer

Tom Clementi left Linklaters 9 months post qualification to do an MBA at INSEAD.  He now works for Amlin, a recognised leader in the London insurance and reinsurance market, where he has a strategy role.  We spoke to him about his reasons for the move, what he thought of doing an MBA and why he prefers working in industry. 


mtl:  Hi Tom, tell us why you went into law and about your time at Linklaters. 


Tom:  Like a lot of arts students who don’t quite know what to do when they graduate, I “fell” into law because it’s a respected profession, it let me be a student for another two years and I didn’t fully appreciate all the other options at the time.  I was told by people of my parents’ generation that it was good to get a qualification - law was as good as any, and law firms didn’t come any better than Linklaters.  Having done a couple of vacation schemes and after spending five months during my gap year in the Paris office of Linklaters, I accepted a training contract there.


I went to BPP for two years and really enjoyed the CPE.  I then had a brilliant two years as a trainee at Linklaters.  I started well with a great partner in asset finance who was a really good lawyer and enjoyed having a trainee.  He took me on foreign trips, to good restaurants and to quite a few Chelsea matches.  In fact I only sat with good people and was always impressed by how professional and committed my colleagues were. I’ve got quite a few mates there still which partly explains why I’m being so nice about them!


Notwithstanding that, during my training contract I decided that I didn’t want to do law in the long-term.  There came a point when I looked further down the line and decided that if you wanted to become a managing associate or partner you really had to enjoy the work, not just the people and the buzz. Plus I found that it was quite easy to spend three months on an all-consuming transaction without really understanding the commercial rationale that underpinned it. I was more interested in why the client was doing what it was than the legal mechanics involved in actually doing it.  I still qualified into corporate though as it was good experience in a great department with fantastic people.  At the same time I started to look into business schools.   


mtl:  Why did you decide to do an MBA?


Tom:  I left Linklaters simply because I didn’t want to be a lawyer not because I didn’t like the firm.  I didn’t have a clear idea of where my career was going to go as there was a whole business world out there that I knew relatively little about.  To make a transition to a commercial role more easily and to see which industry would appeal most, I decided to do an MBA and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. 


At first I thought about going to the US, but decided two years out was too long as it’s expensive and most of what you learn is in the first year. Out of the one year programmes, INSEAD is the best, so I chose that.  It has a campus in Fontainebleau, outside Paris, and one in Singapore.  I think if you’re British it’s a wasted opportunity to study in this country, unless you particularly have to stay here for some reason. It’s a great chance to live in a different environment and broaden one’s horizons. 


mtl:  Tell us about life at INSEAD?  Is it worth the investment in time and money for a lawyer? 


Tom: It’s a fantastic experience as you get to meet a bunch of interesting people from diverse backgrounds and end up with friends from around the world.  There was an Olympic gold medalist on the course, a couple of Israeli fighter pilots, a Canadian girl with a PhD in stem cell research, as well as a swarm of management consultants from Amsterdam. I also learnt a fair amount in the classroom, including new areas like strategy, finance and operations management.  However I’m not of the view that an MBA suddenly enables you to go off and immediately start running a power station. It’s no substitute for common sense, experience and an ability to get along with others.



Career timeline



PPE, Oxford



CPE and LPC, BPP, London



Training contract, Linklaters



Corporate assistant, Linklaters






Strategy, Amlin


There were a couple of other English ex-lawyers from A&O and Clifford Chance in my year and people tended to be impressed when they asked what you did, which makes a change from back home where you generally get asked that question by another lawyer.  Business school in a way is made for lawyers and accountants who don’t have a business background to help make the transition from the professional world to the mainstream commercial world, while having a lot of fun at the same time. 


At the beginning of the year there was a lot of classroom time where they threw more at us than we could do and I worked pretty hard.  I started the year in Singapore and spent weekends exploring south-east Asia before moving to a French chateaux with 20 other people, where we hosted a lot of parties and played quite a bit of golf.  There was a wide choice of courses on offer and you can easily tailor your MBA depending on the direction that you want to go in.  There were a few exams to crunch through in the first half of the year, but most people tone down the academic side of things after the first couple of periods and concentrate on enjoying the wider experience.   


mtl:  Is there anything to be wary of when considering an MBA?   


Tom:  If you go to INSEAD you won’t get much change out of £50k for course fees, living expenses and spending money, although there are a lot of scholarships available.  Most people get a pretty healthy uplift in salary on exit but it depends on whether you want to be a banker or work for an NGO.  The other thing to flag is that if you are in a relationship back home, it may come under strain due to the intensity of the experience. There were quite a few break-ups along the way.


I was worried that I would be surrounded by bespectacled finance whiz kids who love excel formulae and was pleasantly surprised as the majority tended not to be.  Lots of people are creative and are there to have fun, learn a lot, meet people and organise events in areas that interest them.  In fact INSEAD has a reputation for being less finance oriented than some other schools and more focused on entrepreneurship, leadership and general management. There are lots of well rounded, free-thinking, guitar-playing types.  That’s not to say they aren’t bright and motivated. Most of them have worked, lived or studied abroad before, so in contrast I had quite a parochial British background. 


mtl:  What job options did you have at the end of the year?  


Tom:  When I started I considered going into management consultancy or to an investment bank.  All of the main employers come to campus to recruit and it’s very easy to go down that track.  However, I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be that good at it and wouldn’t enjoy it very much.  Being number-crunching, cannon fodder even for a short period of time somewhere in EC2 didn’t appeal.


I therefore decided to make a move straight into industry.  I wanted to help manage and run a business rather than worry about other people running theirs in an advisory capacity.  I didn’t want to go to some intergalactic company where I was stuck in a small department under layers of bureaucracy either, or to somewhere very small.  


While I was at Linklaters, I worked on a rights issue for a FTSE 250 insurance company called Amlin, which insures everything from planes to tankers to racehorses.  During the deal I found out a bit about it and the industry in general and it seemed interesting.  Until that point I had never considered working in insurance. It has a reputation for being less than entertaining. While I was at INSEAD, I wrote to the CEO of Amlin asking if there were any opportunities.  We had a chat and it went from there.


mtl:  What do you do at Amlin?  


Tom:  I work in a two man strategy team that helps the CEO and senior management team develop the company’s strategic thinking.  We look at potential M&A deals and at opportunities to expand operations overseas, collect data to assess our current market position, look at the regulatory and competitive environment and take a view on what the company ought to be doing, if anything. It’s early days for me but the work is interesting. 


Insurance is rather an undersold industry, particularly when you consider its headcount versus private equity for example and its sizeable tax contribution.  At universities it gets very little air time.  I think it’s potentially a very interesting industry for MBA graduates as it’s still relatively immature with a lot of small players.  There is likely to be a fair amount of consolidation over the next few years, and ongoing change in business practices as the industry modernises.  There is, therefore, lots of scope for people who want to be involved in an industry that is transforming itself and who would be interested in helping to manage the cyclical nature of the business. 


Unlike the unpredictable hours in law, my role is not transaction-driven or client facing, so midnight finishes are a thing of the past.  My work/life balance is civilized. Pay is perhaps not as good as in the legal profession unless you get to the top.  Of course the rewards could have been great had I stayed at Linklaters, but I am happy to have taken the initial hit. 


My role at Amlin is very different to the law as it is wholly commercial.  I use some of what I learnt on my MBA but it is by no means a prerequisite for working in the industry.   In general, if you don’t have an MBA, it is tougher to get into the top management consultancies or banks coming from a legal background, particularly the former.  An MBA certainly gives you a leg-up if that’s the direction you want to go in. For me though, the course was an end in itself and a once in a lifetime opportunity.


mtl:  Do you have any tips for our readers?


Tom:  If you are thinking of going to business school, you don’t have to know what you are going to do afterwards.  You end up mixing with people who have done a wide range of things and will tell you first-hand what your options are. Most backgrounds are represented there.  For example, in my initial study group there was a Portuguese McKinsey consultant, a Taiwanese distressed debt financier, an Italian Fiat project manager and a Malaysian Nokia IT consultant.  One in every five conversations tends to be about what you are going to do when you leave and even if you think you know at the outset, it is very likely that you will change your mind along the way. 


I would say that if you are considering it, stop continually talking about it and go and do it, sooner rather than later. The time to do it is in your late 20’s or very early 30s.   If you are unmarried, don’t have kids and are a disillusioned lawyer then you can afford to take a risk.  INSEAD tends to require at least three years of work experience before you start but is very receptive to lawyers.


Once you’ve decided to do it, book yourself a GMAT test for four weeks in advance and get it out of the way.  The absolute bare minimum score is 600 but you would want to get 670 or above.  The lower your score is, the better the rest of your application has to be.  The personal essays and references are the most important part and have to be consistent so that they complement each other. 


Make your essays as personal as you can as well as colourful so that they stand out and show your motivation and where you want to get to.  Tell your referees why you are planning to do it and ask them to cite some examples of your leadership qualities, your drive, why you are good with people, how you have dealt with failure and moved on, and your sense of humour and humility. It’s the usual stuff but it helps show why you might be a future business leader which is precisely what the admissions people are looking for…….


mtl:  Thank you Tom.


Click here for the INSEAD website.

Click here for the Amlin website.


If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.


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