Aston DBA Turns CEO Coach Into World-Renowned Expert in Trust Leadership

Dr. John Blakey, DBA
Dr. John Blakey, DBA

Aston DBA Turns CEO Coach Into World-Renowned Expert in Trust Leadership

A thought leader and CEO coach, no one recognises the value of an education like Dr John Blakey, known for his best-selling book, The Trusted Executive. Dr Blakey is highly sought after as a keynote speaker and best-selling author on the topic of trust in leadership. He earned a DBA from Aston University, a triple-accredited, elite school and describes how the programme changed his life.

A bit about myself 

I followed a fairly typical corporate path. I did my MBA at Aston when I was 25. I joined a very small consultancy which grew very rapidly in the 90s. I worked a lot internationally as part of that, became director and was part of the management team that sold it to an organisation called Logica in 1999. My final role at Logica was International Managing Director for their industrial business worldwide. I got exposed to coaching as part of that role and that had a huge impact on me to the extent that I left my corporate career when I was 40 and set up an executive coaching practice. I made that the key focus of my work. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 16 years, coaching leaders around the globe.

As part of that, I wrote a book called Challenging Coaching which was published in 2012, a best selling leadership book in the UK, which was a real surprise but a wonderful experience. Then I put myself back into the classroom with Aston in 2012 to do the DBA in the aftermath of the global financial crisis to really look at where leadership is going post crisis. That’s really where the work on trust emerged and that became the basis of the second book called The Trusted Executive which was published in 2016.

Last year, I finished that doctorate and started and founded a not for profit organisation called The Trusted Executive Foundation, which is really to bring that theory to practice to help leaders put trust at the heart of their cultures. Alongside that mission is to give over a million pounds to UK-based, Christian-led charities.

Why the DBA was the right choice for me

The DBA is the next rung on the ladder of management education, so it’s the equivalent of a PhD. The DBA allowed me  to focus on a specialist niche of business education and become a thought leader in a particular topic. It’s suited for self-motivated, driven experienced business leaders who want to challenge themselves intellectually to go to the next level. My DBA topic was trust and in particular how CEOs build trust in a world where nothing can be hidden.

Once my research area was clear, Aston matched me with a supervisor who had specialist knowledge in my area of research. I was matched with Dr Ann Davis and she challenged me and supported me to keep me intellectually honest in terms of doing the work that I needed to do.

I decided to do my DBA at Aston because I knew of its reputation, its international standard in terms of its research capabilities. It was great returning after 20 years to do research at the same institution where I completed my MBA. I knew that they had the triple accreditation and I had the experience of the quality of the MBA programme. It was an obvious choice, and it ticked a lot of boxes for me. 

My Advice to Potential Students

I think one of the key things if you’re going to do an online programme like this is knowing you have other people who are doing the DBA at the same time. We weren’t together physically but were connected through the phone and through social media. That network was very valuable to me. It kept me sane and made it fun, giving me access to people who were going through the same experience as me. Just because you’re online doesn't mean you need to be detached. You’re connected not just with the supervisors but the other people who are going through the programme with you.

In my cohort, there was a man from India, a lady from Germany, a couple people from the UK, and a guy from Canada. It was a wide variety of geographies and sectors represented in the programme and obviously people were specialising in different problems and research issues. It was a very rich learning environment from the point of view of getting to know the other people and we’ve become personal friends beyond the programme. That’s a nice sort of bonus from the experience. They’re an inspirational group of peers. We enjoyed having speakers address us from many different parts of the world, many different business schools, all of whom have been experts in that doctorate research programme.

Be very clear about what you want to achieve. You need to have a goal that is bigger than just getting a piece of paper as a qualification. You need to think very carefully about how this is going to change your career in a way that will make it more fulfilling, more rewarding or changing the vision for your future. The DBA is not just a theoretical thing.

How  the DBA Programme Shaped Me

What the DBA has developed in me is that attention to detail, that real grasp of becoming an expert in a topic so it’s made me question things; it’s made me analyse arguments on a deeper level.

One of my aims in doing the DBA was to publish a book on leadership. I originally planned to write the book after I’d completed the programme, but halfway through the programme I was approached by a publisher who wanted to publish the work based on the research that I had done. So I wrote the book and that book was shortlisted for the Chartered Management Institute Book of the Year, and it also led to me being named as a Top 100 Global Thought Leader in Trust by Trust Across America. All of a sudden it catapulted me into the limelight in terms of thought leadership. I knew that if I wanted to make an impact in the world of leadership, I needed to have that real substantive research behind my work.

I knew that the DBA would be really hard, and it was, but it stretched me intellectually. It stretched my resiliency. I had to dig deep, and having completed it, that is what I’m most proud of. I did have the staying power, the resilience and motivation over a period of years while still doing a demanding job. One of the greatest takeaways is that it demonstrated to me that I had greater stamina than I probably realised.

Working At My Own Pace

The first year of the DBA is more structured than the remainder of the programme. You’re kept on track through assignments, modules, through doing the research methodology. The first year is not dissimilar to doing an MBA. The remaining years, you’re working with much more freedom and therefore crafting your own commitment and agenda. I think that varies very much depending on your work situation. For me, I work for myself. I would take a week every five weeks where I would work from home and that would give me more space to put some hours into the DBA work. I know other people worked weekends or in the evenings.

Support Throughout the Programme

The supervisory support was excellent. Painfully excellent. You’re working with researchers who are at the top of their fields. You can’t hide, but I think that’s a good thing. You’re held to account. For me that was important because it gave me that discipline and level of commitment to make sure I’d get the hours done that I needed to get done. I took a year off my DBA and paused it for a year to write the book, so again what was really helpful was that Aston allowed me to do that and supported me when I did that. It was six years of elapsed time, but it was a five-year programme of study. It was actually my supervisor who suggested that I take the time off. It was great to have that flexibility to pause and pick it up again.

How the DBA Has Impacted My Career

My doctoral research became the basis of the book and then the book became the basis for a business that I set up, so it has impacted my career massively. If I didn’t have the research there wouldn’t be a book and if I didn’t have the book there wouldn’t be the business. It unlocked a new phase of my career which is trust leadership. The great thing about the book The Trusted Executive is that because of the research on the DBA I can share that model academically, a very robust model of trust, and that gives it huge credibility and gives me credibility to engage leaders on that topic. 

Seven years ago, I wasn’t delivering keynote speaker sessions at leadership conferences. I didn’t have two best selling leadership books to my name, and I wasn’t working with the calibre of clients that I am working with now. None of that would have been possible without doing the DBA, so it’s been the passport for me into the next stage of my career. It has changed my life in that respect. It’s been hard work, but I wanted that challenge and it has definitely given me everything that I’ve expected.

What Others Have Said About the Programme

 “It’s a great way of learning while you’re carrying out your day job. It relates directly to the day job. You can make the links between the theory and the practice. You can also perhaps use it as a root into a different career. We try to put together supervisory packages that cover a variety of areas of the research activity so you may have one supervisor who is focused on the particular field of research that you’re doing. You might have another supervisor who is perhaps more focused on the particular methodologies that you want to do.” - Dr Ann Davis

What Others Have Said About Dr John Blakey

“He is now identified as a world renowned expert in trust as a result of the first study that he did for his DBA.” – Dr Ann Davis

“I think since John wrote his book, it has made quite a big difference to him because it’s focused him on what’s really important, what makes the biggest difference. And going through the whole journey of it, it’s brought him out of himself. And the fact that John committed himself to such a challenging course which has given him so much back says something about him, and I think he’s gotten it all back.” – Peter Moores, Ex-England Cricket Coach/Notts County Cricket Coach

John Blakey made the commitment to earn a DBA. Now it’s your turn.

Learn more about the online DBA programme at Aston University.