Diary of a Vietnamese MBA student

Feb 4th 2011

“Tet – the lunar new year” is knocking the door when I start writing this entry. This year we Vietnamese students welcome our traditional “Tet” in Ireland – a wonderland in my mind. Missing home so much, I know that I will miss this land evermore when I am back to Vietnam.

There are thousands of reasons that make me love this country. My first impression is Irish people, who are very warmhearted and friendly. You can easily get acquainted with people and talk with them, even on the buses or in the streets. I still remember a cold winter day, when I got lost on Moorehampton Road. Thank God, an old lady passed and asked if she could help. She took me to the nearest bus to get home and told me about Ireland in the past. Her stories conjured me up an old Ireland with family ties, catholic norms and community spirit. Above all, I feel the very human nature of Irish people when they communicate and do charity, as in a lyric of my favorite song: “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away”.

Continue reading Diary of a Vietnamese MBA student

The need for ideas

Inspiration is just what you need in February, a month that I equate with Tuesday.

To try to kick us into gear, the MBA Entrepreneurship Club brought two top class speakers to the college to discuss ‘How To Bring Your Business On-line’. The first speaker was Raomal Perera: Founder of two successful Irish-based tech firms that were acquired over the past eight years, he is about to embark on his third technology venture. The second speaker was Ciaran Crean: Managing Director and co-founder of micksgarage – an eTailer with 1 million car parts & accessories for sale.

Raomal enlightened us on how he had become a serial entrepreneur and how starting on the path to entrepreneurship can lead to all sorts of unplanned adventures. Ciaran spoke on how micksgarage was founded and how they had successfully brought it to where it is. The interesting part was how they had done it with little or no financial support demonstrating how the idea is critical. There was a keen debate afterwards as we questioned them on there key to successes. Its through these sort of engagements that we can see how the real world operates outside of the cosy walls of Smurfit and the Avoca Bar, home to many an idea.

– Colm O’Reilly

A Wider Perspective

It’s the Friday of the fifth week of term 3 and as I wind up catching some sleep, the thoughts of the months gone by flash through my head. From my first day at Smurfit until today, there is a significant difference at the way I look at a situation in work scenario. Earlier, it was just limited to my team, my project and to my personal excellence. MBA has helped me develop a holistic view of the business arena. The curriculum design at Smurfit helped us in slowly but steadily developing this view.

The first term was focussed on building the foundation. It focussed on understanding the firm, introduction to general management, Financial Reporting and Operations. All this was very beneficial in bringing everyone from diverse backgrounds, to the same page. As mentioned in my previous blogs, the range of experience in the class is very impressive and term 1 gave us a chance to get familiar with it. Being the first term on the course, it all seemed like a mad rush and I was left wondering will I ever get to know people around! But the group assignments, class discussions and get-togethers all helped in binding us all together.




UCD Smurfit MBA Class of 2011
UCD Smurfit MBA Class of 2011




Then came term 2! I thought I was better prepared to handle this term, with my experience of term 1 to support me, but I was wrong. This term had a different approach. It focussed on looking into the market. Modules like business economics, marketing, financial markets and valuations broadened our perspective to look at the industry and how the firm fits in the industry. Not to mention the unending submissions and presentations!

After the speedy semester 1 (though I think the entire MBA course is pretty fast paced!), came the welcome winter break. Having known each other very well, spending time together was always much fun. The day exams ended, we all went out to celebrate. We exchanged Christmas presents, courtesy the Secret Santa game! It was a much needed break and we all made the most of the opportunity.




UCD Smurfit MBA Students in Christmas Spirit
(from left) David G, Amneet, Nick, Tham and Diarmuid in Christmas spirit




Semester 2 began in January and this time the focus of the modules was on building strategies. We also had a range of options to choose from, depending on our personal areas of interest. Corporate Finance, Negotiation Dynamics, Global Strategic Management, Strategy for Human Resources, all these modules take us a step further. We are not only learning the strategies but now are expected to apply them to situations.

Later in the course we shall be a part of a company project which will test our acquired skills in the real world scenario.  I am hoping that will be a very enriching experience, especially for people wanting to switch industries. This is the last week of formal lectures for Semester 2 before we face the exams! The thought of the upcoming study trip to Brazil keeps coming to my head but I know I need to focus on studies for the next 2 weeks! And the Leitrim weekend trip after the spring break. Ok, I better focus! ;)

– Amneet Kaur

After the Wake-Up Call

Whilst writing my last blog I had what can only be described as a wake-up call. I had to start looking for a job. The whole class seemed to have undergone a similar epiphany. So much so, Brian, the MBA Career Manager, is a person who is very much on demand. My classmate, David Lawton covers the pressure of going back to work in his latest blog. I’d recommend it.

Strangely, though, job hunting is not the most pressing issue on my mind. What seems to be more pressing for me now is not securing my future but that we’re well over half way through the course. In just one week the last full set of exams will be completed. After that it’s just our international trip, the company project and the final summer term in June. Where has the time gone? It just seems like yesterday that we started out on the journey.

In a state of panic I’m trying to extract as much value as possible from the remainder of the course. Stay tuned to see how I get on. My future career can wait!!

– Donal O’Sullivan








Leadership Coaching on the Smurfit MBA

“Confidence building. Talking though ideas. Generating new solutions to problems. More Positive attitude.”
(MBA Student 2010)

One of my tasks as PPD coordinator is to set up a Coaching Programme for our students.  We do this every year towards the end of a student’s programme as in many ways it is seen as a culmination of their PPD work up to this point.  We offer every single MBA student here at Smurfit a personalised coaching programme.  Our Coaches are some of the best Business Leadership Coaches around, some of whom have come through our very own Executive Education Coaching Diploma Programme.

We have positioned this Coaching series towards the end of a student’s MBA so that students can tie up the final threads or address the final challenges currently facing them prior to exiting their MBA.  It also allows them to focus more clearly on their outputs from the MBA and ensure they have maximised all the opportunities available to them here at Smurfit.  It often helps them to step back and look at things from a higher level.

One of my challenges is to ensure that students understand what coaching is.  To do this, we visit the many MBA streams individually and make a short presentation to each class.  We need to be very careful about this because our key message is that at the heart of good coaching is self-direction.  Coaching is not mentoring and this is the true value of coaching.  You are shown how to arrive at solutions yourself without being told or given the answer by someone else – a very valuable skill for any future leader.

Looking back at the Smurfit MBA Coaching Programme’s evaluation from last year, (we evaluate everything!):

–   94% of respondents recommended Coaching on the MBA to future Smurfit MBA students

–   90% of the Coachees found it useful and again the same 90% found it enhanced their PPD programme overall.

–   88% said they would consider undertaking Coaching again in the future post MBA as it was such a positive experience

Some qualitative feedback:

“I think the biggest thing I got from the process was the feeling of being supported at that level by a Coach. I knew that I could bring an issue to the table and work through it to find some way forward as opposed to endlessly searching in a thousand different places for an answer.”

“understanding my professional expectations after the MBA. better understanding of how the MBA can be applied. general career planning. understanding my leadership style.”

In the coming weeks, we hope to get impressions from a Coach and a Coachee to get the inside story!

– Michael McDonnell, MBA Programme Manager

The leadership challenge

In our second term on the MBA, we had a Leadership class. This class concentrates on what makes a good leader. We learned about the different aspects of leadership and also thought about what would happen if some of those elements were missing, i.e. what would that do for the leader’s influence over people?

It was a very discursive class, and everyone had a point of view based on previous experience with bosses or with managing and leading people. Hearing all of the different points of view was a learning experience in itself.

One day, however, we arrived in and our lecturer, Ian Walsh, had set up about 25 sheets of A4 paper on the ground in the shape of a cross. He then asked us to volunteer for an experiment. Half the class could take part and the other half could remain sitting and take notes.

Not one to pass up the opportunity to escape note taking, I made my way towards the centre of the room. We were told to stand on a piece of paper, creating a cross out of four lines of six people, all facing the centre (empty) square.

The objective was to switch places with the opposing team, but only by following certain rules. These rules stated that one could only move past a person whom they are facing, and then only if there is a free square behind that other person. They are similar to the rules involved in the marble game of solitaire, but without removing “taken” pieces from the board.

Ian then told us that we had only 15 minutes to get the job done and we were then left to our own devices. The first thing that happened was that people started trying stuff out, as a 24-person group. This, rather quickly, descended into chaos because nothing that was tried was working. Splinter groups formed and began trying to solve the problem.

Smurfit MBA Leadership class challenge
Getting ready - I'm in the middle


Off to one side, I decided to have a go at solving the problem, or at least working out an algorithm that I thought would work. I worked one out and then decided to run it past Donal, one of the other engineers in the class. He said that he’d come up with the same idea, so I was very sure of the solution after that. I managed to get my own team to line back up, along with the opposing team. I then proceeded to run the solution.

As it started to work, the din began to settle down and people got back into their positions when they realised what was going on. As the solution unfolded, the engineering/problem solving side of me began to feel elated. After I had swapped my team with the opposing team, I got to work on the two remaining teams. There were calls to stand on the desk, so I did, getting a better overview of the situation.

Smurfit MBA Leadership class challenge
Me "directing" the exercise from the table


hile it felt very weird at first, standing on a desk giving people instructions, it started to feel a lot more natural when I realised that my classmates were trusting me to act in their interests. Organising the two groups felt great from a problem-solving perspective as well as a leadership one.

When I had finished, Ian asked me to do it again, but this time without saying any words. It was very surreal, but I managed to do it all again by pointing and gesturing at my classmates. It really boosted my own confidence to be leading people and bringing them with me towards an end goal.

The exercise really drove home the camaraderie and team-oriented nature of our class. There were no squabbling egos or attempts to wrest power. It was a clear situation of “working for the good of the team” when a trusted colleague has shown the way.

Unfortunately, we took 17 minutes to complete the task, which goes to show why some wiggle room should always be built into the critical path of any project.

– Jamie O’Connell

Shane Horan on the Art O’Neill Challenge 2011

In January 2011, one of the Full-Time MBA students participated in the 55km long Art O’Neill Challenge in aid of Barretstown. Here’s his story of a trek that, although it was never going to be easy, proved to indeed quite a challenge…

At midnight on 7th January 2011, approximately 500 ‘adventurers’ set off from Dublin Castle on an arduous 55km trek to the Valley of Glenmalure in the Wicklow Mountains. This trek is called the Art O’Neill Challenge and follows the route taken by Art & Henry O’Neill and Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill on their escape from Dublin Castle on 6th January 1592.

The Art O'Neill Challenge RouteAs we waited for the off under a soft Dublin sky, I took the time to relax with my fellow adventurers, don my compulsory Santa hat (a requirement for the sponsorship of a certain clasmate!) and to have a look around the square and try to comprehend why we were all gathered here. But the answer was beyond me. I then went to complete compulsory safety and equipment check, which required me to bring one or two items more than the escapees had with them 400 years ago. However, just as it was back then, the Castle gates were kindly left open for us.

Leaving the Upper Courtyard at the stroke of midnight, we set-off down Patrick’s Street in the direction of Harold’s Cross. Upon reaching Harold’s Cross, one of my fellow adventurers started to regale me with stories, one being the story of the ‘Old Bull and the Young Bull’, and then proceeded to leave me behind! Keeping up was not a concern of mine, finishing was! Walking at a brisk rate, in my trainers, I managed to cover the 15km from the Castle to the Stone Cross in 2 hours.

Turning off the paved road at the Stone Cross, we proceeded to trek the final 10km to Kippure House along a snow covered track. The trainers, which were so beneficial on the paved road, were quickly becoming the greatest obstacle to my progression. I had become ‘the human manifestation of an Irish car before Christmas.’ However, with great encouragement and assistance from my fellow adventurers, I succeeded in catching the adventurer who left me behind and in reaching Kippure House by 4am. Oh how rewarding it was to remind him of his stories! Continue reading Shane Horan on the Art O’Neill Challenge 2011

Brazil, here we come !

Last Friday, we finished the last of our International Study Project classes with a tour itinerary presentation. Thanks to the presentation, we’re all now so excited to experience the much warmer weather on the Rio beaches.

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro BrazilOf course we had other important issues covered in that session, such as the importance of being on time and attending all scheduled meetings with the top management of various companies and also about using the opportunity to talk to the MBA students from a top Business school in Brazil. Well, all said and done, it’s a whole new country, with a whole new perspective. There will be a lot to learn from this country that’s developing at a pace like no other. This trip is going to be extremely eventful for the 43 of us going to Brazil in terms of meetings, learning and fun! Just can’t describe in words how much I’m looking forward to this trip and I am sure you will hear much more about it over the next few weeks !

Christ the Redeemer, here we come!

– Diana Vincent

A pleasant surprise

While I was deciding whether or not to do an MBA, and where, one of the things I considered was the ranking of Smurfit (recently up 78th worldwide in the FT and 31st worldwide in The Economist.) I also thought about the academic content of the programme and the anecdotal reputation of the School.

One thing I didn’t give too much notice to was the specific careers and personal development day that we have every Friday. This day focuses on each student as an individual, and leading professionals from the worlds of neurolingustic programming, personality type testing and time management are brought in to share their specialist knowledge with us. The process is highly interactive, and generally gives very good and personalised feedback to the students. The results are that after less than two terms, most fellow MBA students now have a good idea about their inner drives, specific skill sets and even in what types of career their personal motivators would be most likely to be satisfied.

There’s even a one on one personal coach set up for students to discuss anything they like, in my case how to best network nationally and internationally and how to best target specific career opportunities. It could just as easily be used by the student to talk about their personal experiences on the course, additional help they need or confidential issues they may have.

The whole area of personal development, whilst something a lot of people will have some experience with, takes on a whole new dimension of usefulness when it’s a full time integrated subject. For me, it’s been one of the standout experiences of the course so far.

– Andrew Higgins

Challenges and rewards

Smurfit came to me as a predestined affinity.

Thirsty for knowledge and further management development after several years working experiences, I tried to find an opportunity for MBA. Scholarship was the only feasible option for a candidate from an emerging country, like myself. And I found Smurfit and Irish Aid.

However, I was not that lucky to be selected for the scholarship. After several challenges and fierce struggles, I thought that I would give up. However, thanks to the encouragement of my fiancé, who is my husband now, I decided to go forward with the program without waiting for any other opportunities. I came to the school with mixed feelings where I felt both anxious and worried. Deep thoughts normally occupied my mind during the initial time. I only looked forward to gaining as much knowledge as possible to make up my efforts. My husband, and also my classmate ;), was the only place I could put all pressures on during those days.

Gradually, things have changed. Going along with the program, I get used to the culture and study load, I feel more comfortable now, not only in study but in social life as well. I have friends who I can talk with. Not only my husband, but I now also have Germany, US, Kyrgyzstan, Indian and Irish gals who have the same concerns with mine about the programs, life, etc. I started to approach lectures and program more softly. The presentation ways, communication methods, how to realize true facts from daily news, etc. are more valuable to me now. Besides studying, I go here and there to discover Ireland. I know more Irish and react better in specific situations both in and out the classroom ;). Especially, when Tet, the biggest event of Vietnamese, came, my Vietnamese friends and I had all classmates and lecturers to come to enjoy Tet atmostphere with special dishes and images prepared by ourselves. In Pillar Room with special smell of my mother land’s foods, we all shared the enthusiasm and I really felt I was home at that time. “All wishes may come true to all of us” was my prayer for a new year.

Time flies. It has been almost three terms. I am now more confident with what I have gained from the program and eager to be back to my home country to apply to reality.

And finally, “no life with full of roses”, a Chinese sentence, meaning to live is to take both rewards (roses) and challenges. But on my own perspective, challenges are also “roses”. MBA and my peers are beautiful roses that I have enjoyed.

Anh Pham, FT MBA Class


Multinational friends
Multinational friends - I'm the second from the left


Tet event
Me with Prof Pat Gibbons at Tet
Connemara
Visiting Connemara