Balancing sporting career with MBA

We have a lot of very successful sporting stars amongst our students and graduates at Ulster University. Recently Scroll caught up with Belfast Giants and Ulster University MBA Graduates Jonathan Boxill and Michael Forney to talk sport and study.

Belfast Giants

Hi Jonathan and Michael and welcome to Scroll! I think a lot of people would assume that the time constraints of playing a professional sport wouldn’t allow for further study, but that certainly isn’t the case for the both of you. First off, tell us a little about your backgrounds.

Jonathan – I have been playing the sport of ice hockey professionally for four seasons and prior to that I studied in America for eight years attending Northwood Prep in Lake placid NY and then New England College in Henniker NH from which I gained a Bachelor of Science & Bachelor of Arts in both Business Administration & Accounting.

Michael – I graduated with honors in high school from Lincoln high school in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. I next attended the University of North Dakota on a hockey scholarship where I studied business for two years. I was then afforded the opportunity to leave college early and pursue my dreams of playing professional hockey by signing an NHL contract with the Atlanta Thrashers. Professional hockey has taken me all over the world the past 8 years ultimately leading me to the University of Ulster Business School to do my MBA.

Jonathan, why did you decide to study in America?

Back then, you couldn’t combine pursuing ice hockey at the best level in the UK, and also maintain a high level of education. The demands put on hockey swamped the ability to be successful academically, so with this I decided to put myself in an environment which enabled me to progress significantly in both which Northwood Prep School enabled me to do. I eventually progressed to New England College.

When I made the choice to come back to Europe to play professionally, I set myself the goal of getting my MBA while still playing and before the age of thirty, so when I had the opportunity to attend Ulster University, I jumped at the chance, as I knew the success that previous Belfast Giants players had achieved through utilising their qualifications after playing.

Many people wouldn’t consider doing a postgrad due to time constraints. Being professional ice hockey players, with intense training schedules, matches, travelling etc. how do you manage to balance study with sport?

Jonathan – We all have busy lives, whether it’s an athlete, parent or those working a traditional nine to five. In order to be successful with the MBA or any form of education, you must prioritise your time. The material provided from the Professors at Ulster University allows you to work around busy schedules and learn what is required to succeed in a productive manor.

Michael – It’s all about managing your time. For me personally, I was eager to learn. If you want to do it, you can find the time.

What are your plans for the future?

Jonathan – Next year I will be playing for a team close to London and will be doing some part time work in the city to ensure that once I finish playing I can go into the world of business in a seamless manor. The MBA will assist in this in a very large way.

Michael – I am currently interviewing for jobs in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The MBA has given me knowledge and the confidence to contribute that knowledge with others in conversation. I might not understand all the intricacies of each individual company, but the MBA has given me broad overview of business where I feel I will now have the ability to learn faster in my chosen field. Lastly, time management and efficiency are two skills I have learned in the MBA that have truly stuck with me and I will continue to improve on those when I get hired.

What did you enjoy most about the course?

Jonathan – I enjoyed the variety of material. I have such a broader understanding of business after the past two years at Ulster University. I also really enjoyed the different experiences of all those in the classes, people from all over the world give you the ability to discuss and learn about different cultures of business. In the ever expanding globalisation, this information is crucial, and I believe really assisted in all those in the class leaving more well-rounded, with a better understanding of business.

Michael – I enjoyed the challenge of each individual course. Some were tougher than others, but they all required real life job skills of communication, teamwork, discipline, and hard work all traits that can transition into my next job.


Considering further study? Check out our Postgraduate courses.

Ulster University have a suite of career-focused programmes including master's degrees, diplomas, certificates and short courses, many of which are delivered part-time or online so you can fit your learning around your life.

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