Day 1-3 of the MBA Programme

Day 1 -Aug 29, 2011

As a former project manager I have an appreciation for a project plan. Specifically, I enjoyed the satisfaction of overseeing a project and achieving significant milestones. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t rival the thrill of hitting the game winning shot, riding a motorcycle, or participating in a fantasy football draft (all which I have experienced), but achieving milestones are always satisfying. This post launches the moment my wife Amy and I had been waiting for and what brought us to Ireland in the first place, the beginning of the MBA program orientation week.

It was a day of welcoming. After 8 hours my class had been officially welcomed into the school by the Dean, MBA Program Manager, Admissions Manager, Academic Director, and International Director. I learned that 55% of our class was international, that UCD Smurfit was a leading European and worldwide program, and that I had 39 other classmates in the full-time MBA students. Most importantly I learned that this was the right place for me to pursue my MBA.

The day ended with dinner and drinks at a nearby pub for international students. I still chuckle when thinking of myself as an international student as an American, but I happily joined 20+ other students from Vietnam, China, India, Canada, and Japan in the opportunity to enjoy our first pub date!

Day 2+3: Aug 30-31, 2011

What do you get when a Chinese, Indian, American, and two Irish guys get together? That would be my MBA study team for the semester! As you can imagine there may be some challenges working with individuals from different countries, religious beliefs, and professional backgrounds. The college’s solution to these potential issues was to provide a variety of team building exercises during the MBA orientation week. I will highlight the two days of team building below.

Day 1 Team Building

Imagine the following scenario:

  • You are in a group of five people and the goal is to make a hexagon shape with a rope…while blindfolded
  • You are then told that your team needs to work with two other teams
  • However the three ropes are all different lengths and you can’t touch them until everyone if blindfolded
  • Confused? Well don’t worry, 40 MBA students were too and looked like a clump of spaghetti noodles rather than an organized circle of shapes.


    Day 2 Team Building

    After learning the importance of leadership and communication it was time for more team building. We were split into eight teams and given the following instructions:

  • The goal is to get the Jeidi back home
  • To accomplish this you need a guide to build the ship and materials
  • Materials will require cash
  • Cash can only be earned by a variety of “earning games”
  • The “jedi” ended up being a golf ball and the end goal was to get the ball from start to finish into a bucket. Eager to show our new-found MBA leadership skills, our groups tried coming together in a more organized fashion. The end result was a full day of strategizing, earning Monopoly money, buying random materials, and finally successfully building a track for the golf ball to find its way home in the bucket! Team building can be exhausting but rewarding!

    – Justin Thomas, FT MBA

    The Art of Communication: (The First Week MBA Perspective)

    Communication (to give it’s dictionary translation) means the act or process of communicating, fact of being communicated, the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions or information by speech, writing or signs.  Communication is something imparted, interchanged or transmitted.

    I work in Communications, my undergraduate degree was in Communications, I am a fully qualified Communicator.  On certain days I would even go so far as to call myself a Communication Expert.

    However my downfall is that I often discover that my Communications haven’t been Understood.  This is Understandable as I have no training in Understanding.  I didn’t study it in school or college and I can wholeheartedly say that I have received no on the job training in the area of Understanding.  Understanding for the uninitiated is the area of expertise where you learn how to ensure your Communication is Understood.

    This year I decided to study for an MBA at the wonderful Smurfit School of Business.  One of the reasons I chose this programme is to improve my Understanding of the Communication of my message. Where better to be Understood than in University right?  I regret to inform you that my first week was a disaster on the Understanding front.  And I sincerely hope this is not a harbinger of doom for the year ahead.  And to confuse matters doing an MBA is not just about being Understood in an Irish setting, it is also about being Understood by the cohort of international students.  In today’s world being Understood globally is vital if you want to be successful.

    So picture this, week one, our class of 40 is split into 8 teams.  In my team there is an Irish Marine Engineer, an English Trader, a Vietnamese Tax Consultant and an Indian Electronic Engineer while I am an Irish TV Producer.  Our first meeting as a team is to write our team charter, our rules of engagement as it were.  Five minutes in there’s already a problem of Understanding.  I am in the middle of addressing a critical area of team work when I spot my Indian colleague Aditya, shaking his head in disagreement.  Already we are facing our first conflict.  And as a Communicator I like to confront conflict.  It turns out that when Aditya shakes his head it actually means he is agreeing with something.  Baffling for an Irish person, I know, but common in Hyderabad!  My first glimmer of Understanding.  Men and women Understand things in different ways, as do different generations, and as for different cultures where do you start?  I’ve made progress though.  Feeling positively euphoric after week one.  I’ve made that critical first step on the road to Understanding how to Communicate myself so that I am Understood.  I might, in fact, choose to actually Understand something myself by the time I leave here. At least I’m in the right place to learn some more about Understanding.

    – Stephen Smith, FT MBA 2012




    The MBA journey begins!

    I am Vishal Vignesh, a proud member of the FT MBA Class of 2012! The diversity of my batch is quite incredible. There are students from India, Vietnam, Russia, Germany, Japan, Canada, US, UK, and of course Ireland. There are engineers, bankers, consultants, entrepreneurs and professionals from many other walks of life. It has only been a week and I am already a bit overwhelmed with information on a wide variety of topics ranging from Personal Development Plan Framework and Teamwork to Financial Reporting. Not to forget – it has also been a lot of fun! I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks hold in store for me.

    Just to give you a brief background – I was born and brought up in Coimbatore, known as the Manchester of South India. Coming from a business family background, after school I took up a three-year bachelor’s degree in commerce.  I had a brief stint with Google before joining OnMobile Global, a leading mobile services firm. After spending a little over two years in the corporate world, I co-founded the company Swadhist Foods as a specialty food retailer. I am also a Freelance Online Media Consultant.

    In the year ahead, I hope to share plenty about the challenges of business school, the perspective of being an international student and more.

    – Vishal Vignesh  Balasubramaniam

    It was not ‘just another day in my Life’…

    Today is the beginning of my wonderful MBA journey; from the inception of the thought of doing an MBA till the first day of the class at Smurfit, it was all very decisive. I met many people, contacted many more over emails and over phone, did all of this just to make sure that this one step I take should make me a better person both personally and professionally. The decision to join Smurfit Business School was very strongly influenced by two factors; the first one being the reputation and strength of the course and the second being the city that made many a people fall in its love by its sheer charm, Dublin.

    Before I landed in Dublin, I had many apprehensions written all over my face; Cold weather, new people, heavy work load, no Indian food and no native language were the important ones. But the moment I was greeted by an Indian friend at the airport I felt like home. The very day I went around the streets of Dublin city centre and it gave me a good insight into the culture of Ireland. With all its diversity, amicable people and rich culture, Dublin reminded me of my own country. I could find people from different countries especially India spread across the city and it was no wonder because Ireland as a country has so much to offer.

    The long wait was over; 29th of August, the day after which my perspective towards things around me would never be the same, had come. I entered the campus all excited to meet my family for the next one year; I was delighted to see a well represented group of 40 people, all of them were carrying their dreams and aspirations into the class room. After meeting everyone in the class, I was directed into a lecture hall where the entire class was cordially welcomed into the MBA program. All along the day, the class was provided with loads of information required to survive the year and come out with flying colours.

    That night I retired to my bed with a completely relaxed mind as all my fears were addressed; then I realised it was just not another day in my life, but it was the first day of my new journey, MBA.

    – Aditya Koppula, FT MBA

    And so it begins….

    Day one of the MBA in Smurfit Business School is done and dusted and what a whirlind of a day it has been!

    This morning, as I stepped into the entrance hall which was brimming with almost one hundred new MBA candidates, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the possibilities that lay ahead.

    It began with a brief introduction from the MBA faculty who gave us a comprehensive overview of the School, the support available to us and the workload that lay ahead.

    While I expected a heavy volume of academic work, I was impressed by the commitment of the MBA team to develop the potential of each MBA candidate. We were told about the extensive Personal Development Programme (PDP) available to us throughout the year which includes personal coaching, leadership and other personal development tools.  It seems to me that the Smurfit Business School has struck a good balance between academic riguour and the leadership/personal development requirements of the next generation of MBA’s.

    Networking is a crucial part of the MBA, and business in general, and so the first coffee break provided us with an ideal opportunity to hone our skills. In the end, it wasn’t very difficult. Everyone was very friendly and within a nano-second, people from all backgrounds – engineering, non-profits, business, technology and finance, were engaged in deep discussion. One of the benefits of the MBA is the diversity of the group which helps you see business challenges  through the eyes of someone with a different perspective than you, which can be invaluable.

    One of the sessions today was entitled ‘Getting Things Done’ and we were given an insight into best practice in terms of becoming more effective managers of our time and of ourselves. While I had always sworn by a daily ‘to do’ list, what I took away from the session was the importance of deciding on what was really important and what was less so, and of taking immediate action on the important tasks. It seems simple but how often do we get caught up in the small stuff?

    After lunch, Prof. Niamh Brennan brought her no-nonsense approach to the class in her report writing session. We had been asked to prepare a five page report in advance of the first day and to critique each other’s work. Critiquing the report of someone you had just met was a little daunting. However, it soon became clear that there was much to learn. While I waxed a little lyrical in my report, my colleague provided an engineer’s perspective and proposed key structural alterations that vastly improved my work. I was able to make some good suggestions for his report too.The key take-away’s for me were the importance of preparation, of clear and concise communication and of continually critiquing your work and seeking to  improve it on a continuous basis. I think the Japanese call it Kaizen.

    In the afternoon, Emma Ledden of MTV fame and now a highly regarded communications consultant, along with her business partner gave us an overview of the Communications Bootcamp. For some of us, it meant the unexpected news that we would have to deliver a presentation at 7.45am the following morning with our new groups. We were told about this at 3.30pm and also that the full presentations had to be submitted by 5.30pm that evening…. They don’t call it bootcamp for nothing!

    – Conor O’Donovan, EMBA City Centre Yr 1

    Foundation Module 2011: The UCD Smurfit MBA kicks off a new season.

    Friday 02 September was the final day of the MBA Foundation Module and for those involved it has been quite an experience.  Lengthy and complex preparations have been set in place for the new Fulltime and Executive MBA classes who have been onsite here in UCD Smurfit all week.

    Likewise, countless hours have been spent by the Marketing Office, Admissions, Interviewing Panels, MBA Career Manager,  and MBA Director to have everyone signed up and ready to go by Monday 29th August last: D-Day.

    The MBA Foundation Module itself is designed to be a tough and an intense intro week and despite all of the information available to participants in advance through websites, interviews, the Incoming MBA Student Portal and regular updates, the full impact of the week’s workshops, activities and networking will not really hit them until they come out the other side Friday evening.

    As much as possible is squeezed in; Team Building, Communication Bootcamp, Time Management & Effectiveness, IT, Study Skills, Case Study Analysis, Report Writing and MBA Club launches to name only a few.  All of these sessions launch both the Academic Programme and also the Personal & Professional Development Programme and equip all new UCD Smurfit MBAs as much as possible for the semesters ahead.

    It is no wonder that the mantra for those who have been involved this week has become: ‘Start as you mean to go on’.

    Stay tuned to hear from the new Smurfit MBA students…

    – Michael McDonnell, MBA Programme Manager

    Sleep, Thought and the MBA

    I usually sleep soundly. A couple of years ago I found myself waking in the morning with a sense of anxiety, which I could not explain. Then one morning I woke in the middle of a dream, in which I had arrived at an exam for which I was absolutely unprepared. Well, I thought as a not particularly academic person, I will never study or sit an exam again, so I can relax. And I did. The sense of anxiety departed. How then do I find myself in the tenth month of a full time MBA; surely the epitome of all that created my anxiety?

    Without delving into the details, I found myself at a point in my life where I had worked in the government, commercial, self-employed, charity and entrepreneurial sectors, over 20 years. Yet my CV did not say what I was; a soldier, a facilities manager, a property developer, a do-gooder or an  e-tailer? I entered the Newstalk MBA scholarship competition, did not win, but did secure a place on the course. I realised that the MBA was just what I needed to focus my CV, so I accepted the place and started the course in September.

    So, how has that worked out for me? Apart from not yet having secured a job, it was a brilliant decision. The MBA is an amazing product, experience and challenge. Central to the MBA is understanding relationships; between people, decisions, structures, markets etc. This applies to the subject matter but also to the students. For 10 months we have been ‘mushed’ together in class, groups, at lunch and socially.

    However, I believe that the MBA is essentially a course about thought, about thinking and about joining the dots. It is a slow burner. During the first seven week term we were so busy, and the subjects so seminal, that we gained five separate perspectives. The second term saw the thought, the dot joining, commence. Financial Reporting was leveraged by Managerial Accounting, Decision Making contextualised by Financial Markets & Valuations, Business Economics de-mystified by, well everything. By May, when the In Company Projects were in full flow, we were deep in the art of demonstrating ‘cross learning’s. This cross pollination of ideas is what the MBA takes away from the course, not the T Account, Black Scholes, ROI, Decision Trees or Porters Value Chain. No, the MBA graduate is a business thinker, leader and manager. She is primed for the future. He is launched into an interconnected world, with an interconnected way of thinking.

    But is he/she the stereo typical arrogant MBA? I will leave you with this anecdote and let you make up your own mind. A student on the premier UCD Smurfit marketing course, the MDP, asked me “what do you do on the MBA?”. “Well” I said “they teach us to be your boss!”. I presume he got my point.

    David Gosling, FT MBA Class of 2011

    Paddling away…

    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…

    – Rikke Budolfsen, FT MBA Programme Manager

    The MBA Rollercoaster Experience™

    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!

    Motivation &Enthusiasm:
    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!

    Self Development:
    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.

    – David Lawton

    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