Michael Smurfit Business School provides not only an excellent academic background but is also very culturally diverse. In the college, we have good opportunities to explore different cultures from many international student communities.
Tết or Vietnamese New Year, is the most important celebration of Vietnamese culture. On the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese calendar, we, Vietnamese students at Michael Smurfit Business School, successfully organized the special event called “Vietnam Cultural Night”. The main purpose of the event was to introduce Vietnamese culture and promote “Only rice is not enough,” a charity program that raises funds to provide food and cooking services in elementary schools of poor highland mountain regions.
During the event, guests were served different kinds of Vietnamese traditional foods. Some highlights of Vietnamese cultural activities that happen during Tet through the traditional costume shows, traditional dances and music provide the insights about Vietnam. The most interesting activity was the Kid Corner which enabled Vietnamese adopted children to understand about their original point. The event is one of the most meaningful activities during our one year in the Smurfit Business School.
At the end of my final formal class for the MBA, I am reflecting back on my experience this year at Smurfit. Despite the humongous workload, frustrations and occasional tears, the experience at Smurfit has totally exceeded my expectations.
I am a big dreamer. In my MBA applications, I decided to only apply for the top schools. I applied for Said Business School and Harvard Business School. I got wonderful replies from them – you have a great application, but we’re not able to offer you a place at this time. Said Business school even sent me the same email twice, either because they like me so much or because they wanted to remind me that I should try for another business school :-) .
I am very happy, thanks and praises to God for putting the best plans in order, with the way that things have turned out by coming to UCD. I have benefitted greatly from the program (you can read some of this on my personal blog, my son went to a wonderful Muslim National School in Clonskeagh, and is now fluent in English while doing extremely well in Gaelic (better than English!) in his class. My husband and I learnt a lot about ourselves amidst the challenges of his NGO work, my MBA assignments and the kids running up and down between us. My little girl has had a lot of nurturing from being at home with dad and me (when I don’t have classes and meetings). And I have met so many wonderful people here – both from the school and through the volunteer work I am doing with the Malaysians studying and working in Ireland.
The first day of class, I remember trying really hard to understand some of my classmates who had really strong Irish accents (those from Cork, Limerick, you know you who are!). Today, I understand them perfectly well and the Irish-English accent just comes naturally to my ears. I’ve even caught myself inadvertently using the Irish ‘ya’. That’s lasting proof that I spent a year in the beautiful Irish land of Dublin :-D . And to answer the question in the subject line – was it worth it? Totally yes!
It is 7 PM, Just finished reading a chapter from competitive strategy on “Analyzing resources and capabilities”, one more to go and then two articles to be read followed by a case-study. All this is to prepare myself for tomorrow’s strategy class. Can I afford to sit quiet and trying to hide myself from Professor Gibbon’s cold calls?
From my 14 years of career in IT and telecom, I can’t quite remember how many technology solutions I have architected and how many clients I have consulted. But did I know how tightly coupled are the IT strategy and the business goals of an organization? Did I know how Conway’s Law works while developing an IT strategy? Everything that I have done so far in my career was based on my industry experience, common sense and intuition. Did that work? Yes it did. However, with this new knowledge that I am gaining, I hope not just to make things work in future, but to make things work the best way possible.
It’s not all about reading and assignments, here at Smurfit. Last week we had a Career Leader workshop and a week before that we had a 16PF workshop. I was little shocked and equally thrilled to learn some of my unexplored career interests from the Career Leader report and some personal attributes that I myself was never aware of. Can’t really say how much of these workshops are going to help me in my future endeavors career-wise, but they certainly helped me knowing myself better than before. And an MBA after all, is not only about learning from books and earn a credential, but also to learn about yourself, come out of your limitations and to challenge the heights.
Six weeks into the MBA, I am still trying to find my feet on this program. Speaking for myself, I truly enjoyed the hard work, fun of group work, excellent class discussion, international atmosphere, the positive energy and a lot more. Its only when I listed them down I found there are so much being offered in my MBA class from both lecturers and classmates. While it seems it is unbelievable that six weeks have passed, I am still trying to juggle among articles, case studies, reading, assignment, presentations and my beloved sleep. We were told on day one of the foundation course, the rule of this game is “how much you put into it, how much you get out of it”. I can now totally see the point. As suppose for everything else you do in your life, this rule always holds true.
Three weeks in and it already feels like we’ve been here for months. With my Science/engineering background, and having been cosseted away in a Biotech company for nearly 10 years, I’ll admit to being a (little) clueless as to what lay ahead of me academically. In fact if encouraged with the black stuff I may even admit to not having a clue as to what some of the subjects were about. So I am happy to report that the first few weeks have been a very pleasant surprise; Financial reporting– it sounds so sterile and austere, but nothing could be further from the truth. After just a few lectures we can all spot “jiggery-pokery” (copyright: Niamh Brennan) in a financial report from a considerable distance and have intermittently felt the simple satisfaction when your balance sheet lives up to its moniker. There are even some parallels with the science world; I’m amused to see an intelligent design vs emergence argument raging amongst competitive strategy boffins and I have a niggling regret that I wasn’t around in the mid-seventies to single-handedly rescue the British motorcycle industry.
But that’s just the academic stuff, far more interesting has been getting to know my classmates. It has become obvious to us all by now how much we are going to rely on each other this year. Thankfully the good folk at Smurfit were aware of this from the start and tailored the first weeks to help us bond with one another. We spent a revealing session learning about different personality types which will hopefully stop our group work degenerating into an episode of the apprentice. Luckily our class has an unbelievably diverse range of skills and backgrounds to call on; we have a former tank commander in our ranks, although hopefully those skills will not be required. I’ve been introduced to TED talks (how did I miss these?), the vagaries of the on-line poker industry and heard the first-hand accounts of an unlucky classmate’s two instances of being robbed at gunpoint. Oh and we beat Australia in the rugby, so yeah, a good few weeks!
As part of the MBA we did a course in Negotiations where we learned about expanding the pie and creating ‘win win’ situations. As a final gesture towards the meeting of minds and cultures, the MBA women of 2011 translated this idea into the ritual of creating a dish and sharing it together at the table.
Thirteen may be considered unlucky, but in this context we are thirteen extremely skilled and confident women who have just qualified with an MBA. We certainly feel lucky to be in this position and with the world at our fingertips.
For us, this small but unique microcosm represents the world and it’s differences. The table acts as a common ground no matter what our religions or nationalities. For each of us, the act and art of making food gave us an opportunity to represent who we are and where we’ve come from and we did this with pride. Our menu ranged from Vietnamese fried spring rolls and chicken fried rice, Kyrgyz beef noodle, American brie in pastry and macaroni cheese, German potato salad, Haitian Curry, and Irish apple tart.
The ‘table’ represents the symbol of engaged exchange. In the future we will gather around different tables dotted around the world developing strategies, designing products, managing teams and deciding our own future. Although we will be in different contexts, we will continue to bring the same enthusiasm and creativity to our future challenges as we brought to this table.
As a unique group of Smurfit MBA graduates, we recognise our differences but also realise our future experiences will be similar, dealing with the challenges as young woman in business. These will range from our family expectations, stereotyping of our roles, how we fall in love and how we fulfil our dreams. We will also need to balance how society dictates how we should live, how we should behave, what our remuneration should be as business women, and how we will cope with raising children and doing the work that drives us to be successful.
We have promised each other we will meet again at another table in ten years’ time. But before we re-unite with our stories of work and life, it would be great to keep the idea of the metaphysical table intact, where we could advise and support each other as we meet our individual challenges. As we look to the future we hope to bring the same enthusiasm and engagement to our future tables, as we brought to sharing this last meal together as Smurfit 2011 MBA students.
I was thinking about how I could describe life on the Full Time MBA, when a verse of The Beatles song “A Day in the Life” came to mind (well the title, and a Google search actually);
Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream
The song is from the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album. It has been described as the first ‘concept album’; dealing with a single issue through various songs. Is this a metaphor for the MBA or what?
Anyone who has undergone, or is undergoing, an MBA will understand the various images the above conjures. However, not so many FTMBA students have had the MBA Dad/Mum experience. Nor have they had the 40+ experience. Each brings its own nuances, but the combination creates a fascinating experience; the experience of experience; so to speak.
Dragged in many directions, yet strangely intact, I can honestly say that my experience has been no more difficult than that of the younger, single (or otherwise), FT MBA classmate; or of the ‘work all day’ and ‘study at night’ Executive MBA. What I lose in study time by maintaining a presence at home, is compensated for by my ability to devote full days to the course, a regular hour of Simpsons with Sadhbh (7) & Ailbhe (4), bedtime stories and the reality that once all of this is done my mind is clear and the MBA seems somewhat less oppressive or omnipresent. I cannot do it all, nor can any one of us, but I get more than enough from the time I do spend engaged in the daily MBA experience.
A number of my class mates are married with children, but typically there is no one version of this. One has just had his first child; the other’s wife is a stay-at-home mum. My wife travels a week a month with work so we have a child-minder; Sophie, who at 22 is more like a big sister/cousin than a governess. In fact her presence means that when Fiona is away I can stay in college until 5.30, so have a full day of study fun. Additionally, because Fiona has been in her current job for the past 18 months, we are acclimatised to not being a ‘both parents home at six’ family.
One aspect of the course I feel I ‘missed’ was the evening/night sessions in the Syndicate Rooms. To see the cross pollination of ideas and solving of problems between project groups, as classmates flitted between syndicate rooms, was to see the power of the MBA. “Sorry, but I must be home for six to relieve Sophie” was a regular refrain from me. As a result I think I missed the intense bonding of the first term. I had to make an effort to take on additional work, to make up for missing the group work done during those hours. In fact it is virtually impossible to make up this work, so thanks to those with whom I worked in groups; it’s good to help the elderly!
As I mentioned in my previous missive, I entered the MBA programme hoping to draw together the strands of my varied work experiences; I needed a focus. Many of my contemporaries sought breadth, or a broader view of the business world. Both are available on the MBA. In fact both are compulsory; nothing is excluded in the package the MBA offers. The course is suited to all shapes and sizes of student and it is this that makes it so worthwhile.
P.S. I wouldn’t look up the full lyrics of “A Day in the Life” as they are rather depressing; the selective focus of the MBA in action, perhaps!
So, as the Spring semester exams are over for the EMBAs and the FT MBAs are immersed in their company projects, I am often asked what I actually do at this time of year as it must be so quiet with so few students on campus.
Well, although our MBAs will be back shortly to complete the last 5 weeks of their Programme, and although it is quieter in one sense, this time of the year is one of the more important ones in so far as we are currently planning the vast majority of the activities of the next year’s MBA Programme whether they be academic, personal professional development, careers, extra-curricular, or social.
We are building strategies for the next year – going back through all the feedback and evaluations from the past year seeking to determine what worked well this year, what could have been better and what are our ambitions for next year. Each year on the MBA Programme sees new initiatives, developments and improvements and our current class and alumni plays a huge part of this.
We collaborate with the module coordinators (lecturers) about next year’s modules (subjects or courses) , building schedules and timetables to ensure that we maximise the academic learning outcomes for 2011/2012.
We also assess and build the Personal & Professional Development Programme so it enhances and supports the academic learning to the max.
Another big task for the Spring is of course to prepare for the next year’s intake on the MBA Programme. The (constant) updating of the Incoming Student Portal, updating the MBA Programme web, the week-long Foundation Week programme, organisation of extra skills seminars, getting to know the new class members etc. are all keeping the MBA Office busy at the moment.
So although everything may look calm on the surface, we are paddling away underwater…
Apparently a picture speaks a thousand words, but I find a confusing chart takes those words and puts them into an indecipherable language that only the overly-enthusiastic engineer, who created it, can understand. Thus, the genesis of my MBA Rollercoaster Experience™ Chart:
Click on the chart for details
As I come towards the end of my MBA at Smurfit, I’ve tried to capture the emotional car wreck of the MBA and chart the journey along three main variables: ‘Fear & Uncertainty’, ‘Motivation & Enthusiasm’, and ‘Self Development’.
Fear & Uncertainty: Obviously this starts high as I entered the unknown. I gave up a full-time job in a time of recession, I was investing a huge amount of money – some of which I didn’t have, and I was entering a class of strangers – all of whom I feared would be hard-nosed business types. It got worse. Lecturers randomly asked questions, the workload at the end of the first week seemed insurmountable, and my genetic inability to remember names was just plain rude! Luckily things got better once the first round of exams were over. Our class really gelled and celebrated achieving our quarter-MBA. As the year has progressed things have got so much better: we manage work together better, we aim to beat deadlines by weeks, and confidence springs from our newly acquired knowledge. The end horizon does bring with it the need to scavenge for hard fought careers, but we are now MBAs and we have less to fear than we did!
In a class of achievers, it’s hard not to succumb to the competitive motivation. I’ve had just one slump in February, when the motivation for yet another module was zapped from me. International trips and the support of my team, pulled me through!
Every moment on the course is an opportunity to learn, but learning takes a different pace in terms of self development throughout the year. The first few weeks are particularly introspectively enhancing as team situations, new concepts and subjects are thrust upon you, and a place in the class dynamic is carved out.
So is the MBA worth it? Well, to answer this, I’ve listed out just some of the things that I’ve done, but never would have without the MBA:
Written a blog (this is number six!).
Interviewed for a job by the CEO, CFO, CCO, and Company Secretary of a major Irish plc.
Thought about a life/career beyond engineering (and even pharma!).
Discovered the joys of ferreting for ‘weasel-words’ and ‘jiggery-pokery’ in Company Annual Reports.
Networked with strangers.
Developed a self-confidence in my business acumen (or should that be over-inflated sense of myself?).
Met a group of strangers from all over the world, who are now my friends.
Like an entrepreneur half the battle in Brazil was too survive in the short run. As the mullet has often been described ‘business on top and ‘party at the back’, this was very much the motto on the Brazil trip, as all the students tried to experience both the business culture and the social culture. The country was infinitely wealthier than I had presupposed and the level of wealth in Sao Paolo was quite astonishing at times as we passed by a whole street of car shops selling Lamborghinis, Porsches etc. Even Ireland in it’s hey day never saw such levels. However, this is juxtaposed with poverty showing the sharp contrast between the haves and have not’s which is not apparent in Europe. However, it was interesting how business opportunities can exist in both arenas and the interesting lecture we had in how to incorporate poorer communities with large scale businesses in an inclusive style of entrepreneurial businesses.
The opportunities initially appear endless as it rushes headlong forward in growth, the group spends the week between beers (which is rare) attempting to comprehend whether it is purely a commodity boom or a more sophisticated economic development. No one really had the answer, yes it is a commodity boom but at the same time its hard to understand until you are there that Brazil is nearly a continent in itself. What are the chances for Irish business in such an environment? I spoke with a friend who is doing business in Brazil; and while opportunities exist it is not the easy win that people might think. Very few speak English, regulation is extremely confusing, long term financing is difficult to find, local trading partners are required as well as many other barriers? This brings us back to our first point whether an incumbent business can it survive in the short to medium term without cash flow. Many of our fellow students did not financially survive to see a second week in Brazil while some of those who stayed on could be paying back for a considerable time. There might be a lesson in there somewhere.