How a Professional Athlete Changed Careers Using His MBA To Innovate Finance For People In Need

Leigh McBean was on track to compete in the 2004 Olympic Games.

Elite swimmer Leigh McBean was on the cusp of achieving his Olympic dream when a devastating injury forced him to begin a search for a new purpose in life.

A UQ MBA gave him the opportunity to expand his interests in law, and it was during his study that Leigh developed a business strategy to help vulnerable people navigate the difficult and often costly divorce process.

But family law and finance is a far cry from facing off against the American 200m backstroke world record-holder in the final of the Pan Pacific Championships in Japan.

It was shortly after this 2002 race, with the Olympics only two years away, when Leigh’s career was brutally cut short by a shoulder injury.

“My goal had been making it to the Olympics since I was 12 and it was the only thing I wanted,” Leigh said.

“At just 19, I was the youngest male on the Australian swim team and then all of a sudden my career was knocked out and I was dealing with shoulder surgeries.

“The injury was a big disappointment and a huge identity shock for me. Who am I if I’m not a swimmer?

“But more so, what next? Now that my sole focus and dreams were no longer possible?

“I struggled a lot and it’s taken me a long time to find my feet again.”

Following his injury, Leigh focussed on undergraduate study in law and commerce. He spent three years practicing in family law after graduating and it was during this time that the seed was planted for his current venture of helping people to access finance during divorce.

“Years after my injury, I found the UQ MBA and it’s helped spark genuine interest in areas I didn’t know I would like to pursue linked to law and finance,” he said.

“There were a number of companies that provided finance to people in litigation solely in divorce law.

“But then they all collapsed in the Global Financial Crisis, and I thought there must be a way this finance function can be done better.

Leigh McBean has changed careers using his MBA to innovate finance for people in need.

“I was always very aware of this niche market because it was the perfect blend of finance and law while supporting people through a very difficult process.

“A very common problem is how a stay-at-home mum going through a divorce can  pay for a lawyer if she has no access to finance.

“Of course, many other people use the service as well, from people wanting to avoid loans from family and friends, to those working parents who just don’t have enough on top of daily costs to meet lawyer’s fees.”

Leigh said the MBA gave him the opportunity to refine a concept for family law financing and also the tools to ultimately bring the function to life.

“In the MBA strategy subject, I wrote an assignment exploring what it would look like if I were to start my own finance function for divorce,” he said.

“I thought about how I would compete with other financial providers, how would I structure the culture of the business and what branding messages I’d use.

“Years after I had completed my MBA, I had a chance encounter with financial lender Plenti, who had just begun providing finance in this space.

“I gave them the document from my MBA assignment that detailed what I wanted to do and the strategy for how to make it incredible.

“Six months later, they called me wanting me to lead the function.”

After applying his business model to ASX-listed Plenti, Leigh helped grow its base of law firm relationships from 28 to 260, helping to provide funding support to more people in need.

Leigh said the opportunities provided in the UQ MBA were testament to why it is the highest-rated program in Queensland and in the top 50 worldwide, according to the Economist’s 2021 ranking.

The program is designed to broaden critical thinking abilities, creativity and agility so students and graduates can respond to an ever-changing business landscape.

Leigh said the MBA had greatly benefited all aspects of his career, which has included roles as a category manager at Rio Tinto and supply chain manager at Queensland Health.

“I’ve called on the strategy learnings from my MBA, implemented operations design learnings, and I apply the human resources knowledge all the time,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without having done the UQ MBA.”

Leigh said while his injury forced him to change pathways, the UQ MBA was a powerful tool for anybody considering transforming their career or taking it to the next level.

“I wanted something more from my career and wanted to expand into management,” he said.

“I wanted to get a better understanding of wider business principals, human resources, information technology and leadership.

“A UQ MBA was the natural progression to achieve my goal, it enables confidence in yourself to say you can do the role you want and you learn the skills to enable to you to do it.”

To find out more about the UQ MBA, register to speak to the MBA Team. Applications close 31 May 2021 to start study in Semester 1 and 30 November to start study in 2022.

Doug Estwick
Doug is an author for MBA News and Fixed Income News Australia. Doug has been a media and communications professional for more than 10 years, including working as an editor for News Corp's Quest Newspaper group.