Meet John Palfreyman – Bringing first-hand industry expertise to our apprenticeships

John Palfreyman brings first-hand industry experience to our Leadership Apprenticeship programme. We interviewed John to understand more about the programme and the skills people can learn.

John has worked for Leeds University Business School for close to 4 years. His first role was as a supervisor, giving students an industry perspective on how to make their dissertations and projects more applicable to a real-life business audience.

After more than 20 years at IBM working in new technology, which included cyber security and blockchain, John has a wealth of industry experience that he has brought to the business school. He has helped develop and teaches a module on Business Leadership for our Level 7 Leadership Apprenticeship programme.

Can you tell us about the business leadership module?

The module covers key strategy areas, including leadership, ethics, governance, strategic choices and the internal and external environment. As part of the module, we run interactive webinars where we explore how we can apply this knowledge to their organisation or role. The module also includes a full day workshop where teams play the role of strategy consultants looking at a hypothetical case study. The participants also compile a learning log, which really draws out how they’ve managed to implement what they’ve learnt into their day-to-day roles.

What makes you perfectly placed to teach business strategy?

I can empathise with the participants. Having spent my career in industry and done strategy work throughout, I can explain the theory in terms that the cohort can relate to. Through my professional career I have got to understand the obstacles and challenges people face, so I can also give them confidence to see what can be achieved.

What are the key things that people learn?

The key lesson is that business strategy doesn’t need to be complicated and that there are lots of great tools available to help you manage any situation.

The best reaction is when people say “Wow there are tools here I can really use in my day job!”. They expect strategy to be shrouded in mystery but it’s really not. That’s what my role is all about, to bridge those two worlds of academia and industry and give people the tools to apply what they’ve learnt to their day job.

Why do you think apprenticeships are important?

I first came across apprenticeships during my time at IBM. I was Chairing a government / industry group and we discussed how we could offer apprenticeships in cyber security. I found that they are a brilliant way for people to gain a qualification whilst working full-time. The apprenticeship still has the same academic rigor whilst allowing people to keep working and apply what they learn immediately.

What makes this apprenticeship so valuable?

What works really well is when you can mix the cohorts so that you get people from different sectors and industries. People always think their organisation is unique but with business strategy there is so much crossover and so much that people can learn from each other. I’ve learnt that industries are more similar than they are different.

That networking and cross-fertilisation of knowledge and experience helps give people that wider commercial awareness and ability to apply what they’ve learnt with confidence.

Why do you think it’s important for industry to connect with their local business schools?

Local industry should benefit from local universities and in turn local universities should benefit from a vibrant local industry. And a healthy interaction supports a strong local economy.

I experienced this first hand, because IBM always looked to build strong university relations, but many organisations wouldn’t think to do so and they’re missing a trick. Key areas at the moment where I think businesses need to be engaging universities is sustainability and becoming carbon neutral, as well as diversity and inclusion in the workplace. There are so many benefits to joint working and projects.

You can connect with John on Linkedin or find out more on the Palfreyman Ventures website.


Find out more about the Leadership Apprenticeship programme.