Learning Outside the Classroom – China


Prior to departing for China, expectations and excitement across the FT MBA class were extremely high to say the least. However, it is safe to say that each and every one of these expectations were surpassed. Our week long trip took place from May 28 to June 04 and, as an opportunity to bond with classmates alone, it was going to be something special. The cultural and experiential nature of visiting somewhere so different to Ireland and indeed the west in general, combined with the bonding experience, resulted in a week none of us will ever forget.

We began our journey in Xiamen, a port city on the south-east of China around 1 hour’s flight from Hong Kong. This ‘small’ city, home to some 2 million people, had an interesting mix of western style hotels strewn across an authentic Chinese city. Just a short stroll from our hotel lead us to market streets where you could buy street food, fish –alive or dead- and of course a beer or two. Trying to hold a conversation with the locals was difficult as Chinese is generally the only language spoken and as such the language barrier was quite severe. It must be said though that this only served to add to the authenticity of the experience and people were exceptionally nice to us and did their best to understand our charade-like descriptions of what we were looking for.


During our stay in Xiamen we received exceptionally informative instruction on preparation for our Capstone projects from UCD Smurfit lecturer Professor Pat Gibbons. In addition, while operating out of the beautiful Xiamen University, we were fortunate enough to receive talks on the Chinese business and macroeconomic environment from two eminent professors; Prof Lei Ming and Prof Chen Yan. The value they both added to our understanding and appreciation of China was immense. The few hours they spent talking with us was the equivalent of reading for weeks on China and the level of knowledge transfer was something to be very grateful for. Our time in Xiamen wasn’t all work however, we received a tour of the Xiamen university campus, visited the famous Nanputuo Buddhist temple and also had a guided tour around Gulangyu island, a famous tourist resort known for its beaches, off-beat colonial architecture and a somewhat out-of-place amazing piano museum.

Following our stay in Xiamen we took a short flight to Hong Kong. It is difficult to describe in words just how awesome Hong Kong is. On approaching Hong Kong Island from the airport one could be forgiven for wrongly thinking that the skyscrapers around us were the city centre itself, when in fact they were just the fringes. The sheer depth and width of buildings all around is incredible and the container port alone is jaw dropping. It is safe to say that the scale of this place has dwarfed anywhere else I’ve ever seen. While in Hong Kong we made a number of company visits and received highly interesting and informative talks from Invest HK, Memorigin, CBRE, Heidrick and Struggles, Snapask, Hack Horizon and even Huawei. These talks provided a wide breadth of understanding for everyone on various aspects of doing business in HK and China. We received valuable insight into such areas as the wildly volatile HK property market, entrepreneurship in Hong Kong, and the challenges that the Huawei brand faces internationally as a rapidly growing technology firm from China. In the evening, students were free to explore the city at their leisure and some of the highlights were the laser show that takes place each night over the city which can be observed from the waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui, the bustling night markets on Kowloon, Lan Kwai Fong (the ‘temple bar’ of Hong Kong), and last but certainly not least the spectacular views high up on the Peak lookout.


The Full Time MBA Programme is undoubtedly an incredibly rewarding and challenging journey. Having the opportunity to visit China and experience all the great things we did this week as well as the bonding we were able achieve as a class just cements the sheer magnitude of this life experience. This week really brought home to me the value of doing an MBA beyond what you learn in the classroom. It really is a life-changing experience and memories like those we have from China will forever remind us of just how amazing the entire experience has been.

John Ryan ~ Full-Time MBA

Xiamen & Hong Kong 2016

FT MBA Class 2015-16
FT MBA Class 2015-16

At the end of May, the full-time MBA class took a week-long trip to Xiamen and Hong Kong to learn more about doing business across the globe, specifically the dynamic business environment in China.  We found the trip both academically enlightening and culturally fascinating.  To that end, here are a few takeaways from whirlwind, three-day trip to Hong Kong:

Travel like the locals

With 7 million people packed into the roughly 275 square kilometers, Hong Kong is crowded.  One can expect the roads to be congested most hours of the day, save late nights and early mornings.  Follow the lead of the locals and make use of the efficient, extensive, and economical public transit system.  While the MTR trains are the most widely used form of transit, visitors shouldn’t overlook the double decker trams, ferries across Victoria Harbour, and of course the tram up Victoria Peak.

Michael Niland, John Ryan, Patrick Farrell, Ryan Nuanes, FT MBA 2015-16
Michael Niland, John Ryan, Patrick Farrell, Ryan Nuanes, FT MBA 2015-16

Buy an Octopus card

Hong Kong pioneered the use of the reloadable transit card back in 1997, and it is still in use today. While these cards are common enough in transit systems across the world (such as Dublin’s Leap card and London’s Oyster card), the Octopus card is accepted as a valid form of payment at a variety of stores across the city, such as Starbucks and 7-11.  So even if you don’t plan on using the transit system much during your stay, running through the preloaded credit on the card should be no problem.


Take in some culinary treats

With over 50 Michelin-starred restaurants, Hong Kong has amazing food for almost any budget or culinary preference.  Some members of the MBA class were able to grab dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, one of the least expensive Michelin-starred restaurants in the world with meals available at less than €10 per person.  Our only regret is that we didn’t have time for a return trip! 


Enjoy a night on the town

During our short stay, most of our free time was at night and the MBA class took full advantage of that!  From strolling through the night market, to taking in some jazz at a speakeasy, to dancing in the nightclubs of Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong seems to have something for everyone.  Word of warning: with the average pint at roughly €10, a long night can quickly turn into an expensive endeavor.


Don’t forget to look up!

As we go about our daily lives, it’s easy to get lost in what is right in front of us (or more likely, what is on our phones).  Perhaps the most impressive feature of Hong Kong is the sheer scale of the city.  Whether walking through the gritty lanes of Mong Kok or the well-kept streets of Central, the most interesting views are probably above street level.

Plan a return trip

Despite the compact and dense nature of the city, Hong Kong is deceptively large.  The MBA class only had limited time over three days to explore the city.  Upon arrival back in Dublin, I know more than a few of my colleagues were asking “when can I go back?”

Ryan Nuanes ~ Full-Time MBA

MBA International Module – Visit to China


For our final international module on the MBA program, the full-time class went on a study trip to China. Visiting Xiamen and Hong Kong, the trip aimed to give us an insight into the considerable economic achievement as well as the cultural and institutional practices in China. We set off on Saturday morning, flying from Dublin to Heathrow to Hong Kong and on to Xiamen. Xiamen is a beautiful coastal city in the Fujian Province in China, however being wet season, we arrived to thunder storms, lashing rain and approximately 90% humidity. Our first challenge was to make it from the airport terminal to the bus (which was parked only 50 meters away). Safe to say we all got soaked! We arrived at the lovely Lujiang Harbourview Hotel, checked in, dried off and headed back out for dinner at RongYu Restaurant where we sampled a variety of Chinese delicacies such as fried jellyfish and chicken heads. It was an interesting experience to say the least! A stroll through the city showed there was plenty more interesting food waiting for us…


The next morning we set off for lectures at Xiamen University. We had a mix of lectures from Smurfit’s Prof. Pat Gibbons and Xiamen University’s Prof. Lei Meng. We learnt about the growth and structural changes in China over the past two decades and how China has emerged from its hyper growth phase into a medium to slow growth phase. With the increasing growth rate of wages for low skilled labour, China is losing its competitive advantage in the manufacturing sector compared to some other Asian countries. The challenge China is now facing is how to best manage this transition. However, the government keep changing the policies to manage this transition which is causing more uncertainty in the country. After lunch we met some of the students from Xiamen who gave us tour of the impressive university campus and the nearby Buddhist temples. We enjoyed a lovely vegetarian dinner in Nanputuo Temple before returning to our hotel.


The next day we returned to Xiamen University for lectures with Prof. Pat Gibbons and Prof. Chen Yan. We learnt about China’s business environment and business strategy. There are many aspects to doing business in China that are significantly different to how business is conducted in the west. For example, China has a high context culture where relationships are paramount and one must pay attention to rules. Furthermore, China’s ‘face culture’ means that they don’t let people lose face in public regardless of the situation. After lunch, we took a ferry to Gulangyu Island which is the third largest island off the coast of Xiamen. A guided tour of the island showed us it’s off beat colonial architecture, lovely beaches and piano museum. With temperatures reaching 36°C and 90% humidity it was an eventful afternoon.

The next morning we returned to Xiamen University for our final lecture before saying good bye to Xiamen and leaving for our flight to Hong Kong. On the coach transfer from the airport to our hotel in Hong Kong we got a taste of the scale of the city with its stunning skyline and majestic mountains in the background. Once checked in, we enjoyed a buffet dinner in our hotel and explored the city.

The next day we visited three very different businesses – Invest HK, Memorigin and Huawei. Invest HK is an investment agency for the government of Hong Kong who promote Hong Kong as a preferred location for businesses to set up and support foreign businesses located in Hong Kong. Memorigin is a Hong Kong brand that produces tourbillion watches and Huawei is a global leader of ICT solutions. These companies gave us a great insight into Hong Kong economy and the opportunities and challenges facing businesses who operate in the region. That evening we went to Kowloon to watch the laser show from the impressive city skyline, followed by dinner and a trip to the night market.


On our final day in Hong Kong we visited four businesses. First up were two impressive start-up companies namely Snapask and Horizon which gave us further insight into the type of entrepreneurial activity going on in Hong Kong and some of the key challenges they face. For example, Snapask, a Learning App, explained how they needed to build a completely different product if they wanted to expand into mainland China with different payment system, login system, etc. therefore they are focusing on expanding into other south east Asian countries. We then met with CBRE Group which is a real estate service provider and a fortune 500 company. This talk enlightened us with how competitive the real estate market in Hong Kong is. Our final visit was to Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm, who explained how their business operates and gave insight into the current job market in Hong Kong. We finished off the unforgettable trip with a beautiful dinner at The Peak Lookout restaurant.


Muireann McCarthy ~ Full-Time MBA

MBA Study Trip to China


Semester 2 has come to an end with the final exam taking place this evening and our full-time MBA class can look forward to a busy and exciting Summer Term. After a brief reprieve from the pressures of Semester 2 exams students will take a block module in Financial Statement Analysis next week. The students will then travel to China from May 28th to June 4th and for many this will be their third and final International experience as part of the MBA programme. International Study Trips are a critical component of the international experience offered by the MBA Programme and are aimed at exposing students to the opportunities and challenges of managing in an International climate. The rapid emergence of China as an economic power offers attractive opportunities and poses competitive challenges to many firms. The International Study Trip to China provides an insight into this considerable economic achievement as well as its cultural and institutional practices. 

The group will be accompanied by myself and Professor Pat Gibbons, Jefferson Smurfit Professor of Strategic Management at UCD. First we will travel to Xiamen where Pat will deliver a Preparatory Capstone Consulting Project module in Xiamen University. This short, informal course is designed to introduce students to the comprehensive and integrative nature of the final Capstone Consulting project and to identify and explore some approaches to the execution of the project that will offer value to the client and to the participants. In addition the students will have guest lectures from faculty in Xiamen University. We will have an opportunity to experience some cultural activities and taste some of the local cuisine in Xiamen over four days before departing to Hong Kong. 

Xiamen University
Xiamen University

In Hong Kong students will partake in Company Visits from a diverse range of sectors including Manufacturing & Luxury Retail, Consulting, Real Estate and Education, Technology & Entrepreneurship. We will visit some of Hong Kong’s most recognised industries allowing students to explore local business practises, challenges and cultures and to apply a framework of international strategy to companies operating in China. Students will have an opportunity to develop their career connections through networking opportunities both at the company visits and at the final dinner at The Peak Lookout which will be attended by MBA Alumni residing in Hong Kong.

Keep an eye on the MBA Blog for further student updates about our trip to China!

Yvonne Harding ~ Full-Time MBA Programme Manager

The Smurfit MBA – A Diverse & Rich Learning Experience

lobby and welcome sign large banner

As a marketer, I have to learn how to tell an exciting, relevant, and believable story about the products, the brands and of course, the companies. As a person, I am a keen listener. Through stories, I learn not only the tellers’ interests, perspectives and experience in life but also a tonne of random facts – all of which are equally interesting to me. For all of the years I have spent working and travelling around the world; I have been told many great stories, yet very few of them could be exciting as the stories I have heard from my mates in the MBA Programme.

From memorable social experiences to nights out on the town, from the context in Asia, Europe to the Americas (continent not country!), all those narratives not only gave me some good laughs but also taught me so many things about the world – one of them is that funny accountants exist! And two of them happen to be in my class. How cool is that!


Diversity (70% of our class are not from Ireland) and rich experience (average of more than five working years and some wiser ones have worked for twenty years) would be the things that I appreciate the most from the MBA experience at Smurfit. Very often, I – a Vietnamese – drink American beer (illustration purpose only, my favourite is Irish now) with Indian classmates; and we will soon travel to Africa and China together.

The world seems much smaller to me because of the experience here. And now, during group discussions, when someone speaks up, I no longer think “oh, a different opinion…” I think “oh, a different perspective that I should listen to.”

Duc Le ~ Full-Time MBA

What is the Secret to Being a Successful Entrepreneur?


What is the secret to being a successful Entrepreneur? This is probably the question I am most eager to find the answer to during my MBA programme. So many students raised hands when asked whether they want to start up their own business. I believe they are just looking for the recipe for success like me.

I started to look for the answer by joining the Entrepreneurship Club. The experience of planning and organising the club event was so exciting and I hope to use the MBA Blog as a continuous discussion on entrepreneurship and as a means to promote the Entrepreneurship Club.

I would like to share stories of Chinese entrepreneur legends, founders of the two biggest internet giants in China; “Baidu” and “Alibaba” (Same business as Google and eBay respectively). It might be interesting to the people who are curious about what is happening in China and to people who are looking for inspiration on the way to building their commercial empire.


With the recent world record $150 Billion IPO filing of Alibaba, Jack Ma became the name known across the world. Jack Ma is the founder of the E-commerce giant Alibaba and is a stakeholder at Alipay, its sister company. He is now officially the richest man in China. Alibaba processes more goods than eBay and Amazon combined!

Jack Ma failed the university entrance exam three times, then graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Hangzhou University (a university has never been notable before Jack became famous). In school, Ma was elected student chairman. He became a lecturer in English and International Trade after graduation.

At first he started building websites for Chinese companies with the help of friends in the US. At a conference in 2010, Ma revealed that he has never actually written a line of code nor made one sale to a customer. He encountered a computer for the first time at the age of 33.


Robin Li (Li Yanhong) is the co-founder of the Chinese search engine Baidu and is ranked as the seventh richest man in mainland China with a net worth of US$9.6 billion as of September 2015. He is ranked as 119th richest man in the world.

Li studied information management at Peking University (the Top one University in China) and the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. In 2000 he founded Baidu. Li developed the Rankdex site-scoring algorithm for search engine page ranking, which was awarded a U.S. patent. He later used this technology for the Baidu search engine.

From the stories of these two achievers in business in China, maybe we can make a conclusion that the education background and the knowledge are not the determining factor for success. Entrepreneurship is something beyond that. It is about grabbing the opportunity, being insistent, and turning an idea into a profitable business.

chu orange

Talking about insistence, I couldn’t forget to mention the most admirable Chinese businessman for me – Chu Shijian.

Mr. Chu is the China’s former “tobacco king” who built a struggling tobacco firm into the country’s largest and most profitable cigarette producer in the 1980s. Chu, however, was jailed for life on corruption charges in 1998. After he was released on medical parole in 2002, Chu started growing oranges on 160 hectares of land in the mountains of southwest China’s Yunnan Province.

The “Chu’s Orange” is named after 85-year-old Chu Shijian. Today, his fruit farm produces 8,000 tons of oranges a year, generating 30 million yuan (US$ 4.95 million) in annual profits. Most of Chu’s oranges are sold online (a sample successful story of e-commerce as well).

I cited this story to show that the success of an entrepreneur could be temporary, failure and setbacks can happen along the way. True entrepreneurs will have the power to re-start and embrace the success again.

Ying Wu ~ Full-Time MBA

China; A Nation of Contradictions

Visit to the Great Wall - March 2015

China is a nation of 1.3 billion contradictions.

It is governed by a Communist party but is fundamentally capitalist. It wants to open up more to the world, but censorship is everywhere. The government has vowed to crack down on internal corruption and yet, instead of focusing their attention within their own borders, they have reportedly asked the British government for help in extraditing around 50 ‘foxes’ who have fled to the UK.

These discrepancies were to the forefront of my mind as myself and around 60 class colleagues departed for Shanghai and Beijing on an eight day intensive study tour as part of the MBA programme at UCD’s Smurfit School.  While we could only hope to see a snapshot of the country in such a short period of time, we were keen to absorb as much information as possible about the local culture and how to operate within their business environment. It is likely that many of the class will be working within the Chinese market after graduation, or dealing with Chinese counterparts. So any experience or insight gained as part of the Doing Business in Emerging Markets module, could prove invaluable.

The steel making process at BaoSteel

During the trip we visited a number of companies including CICSO, youku, ChinaHR and BaoSteel. The difference between the indigenous Chinese companies and those which were owned and/or operated by Westerners, was marked. In the West we are accustomed to a certain level of candor – and irreverence – but that is not part of the Chinese culture. While this is something Western business people struggle with, it is also something which we must accept. The way they do business is very different and as ingrained within their culture as our methods are within ours.

Take for example, the different ways in which business deals are struck. While in the West we prefer to get down to business and agree a legal contract as quickly and efficiently as possible, business is done differently in the East. They prefer to build a relationship first, with negotiations taking a long time – and even when a contract is signed, it could be changed. While the these methods seem diametrically opposed, it is testament to the desire of companies and individuals on both sides to do business – and make money – that they somehow surmount their differences and go into business together.


But of course, the entire module wasn’t only about business – it was also about finding out more about the culture (via shopping and visiting restaurants), climbing the Great Wall of China, and finally, finishing the week on a high at the Beijing St Patrick’s Day Ball. There were some sore heads on the flight home the next morning, but we also brought back with us some new insights into China, and a desire to learn more about emerging markets and the possibilities which exist within them.

Edel Kennedy ~ Full Time MBA

Sojourn to China – A Lifetime Experience

This sojourn to China proved to be an eye-opening experience for me as I found the tour beneficial for my career, and educational on a personal level. This international study trip is a brilliant idea to ensure that MBA students are well rounded both academically and practically. Visiting emerging markets such as China and South Africa (members of the BRICS countries) is very relevant at this time as it will assist Smurfit MBA students to appreciate different business environments, and allow them to apply what they have learnt during the tour.

The trip was an incredibly valuable experience and pivotal in my MBA journey.  It served to de-mystify China while bringing forth the true challenges of the very real global business environment that China often represents. With visits to excellent companies such as CISCO, IBM, HUAWEI, YOUKU, CELAP, and BAOSTEEL, we had the opportunity to discover what operating in China and navigating the international marketplace is truly like.

Furthermore, the trip provided a tremendous opportunity to network with and to develop closer relationships with my classmates.  Smurfit School’s ability to lay out such a well-organized and well-thought-out experience reflected the professionalism and quality of the School.  I was absolutely thrilled with the study trip.

Huawei visit
CELAP visit
CELAP visit
IBM visit

This International Study Trip to China was truly the pinnacle of my MBA experience. While I’ve had prior international experience working with Western European countries, I had very little previous exposure to business in China. Having the opportunity to visit on site with several different Chinese businesses, in different cities, in different industries and attend lectures given by experts in Chinese culture, technology, HR and manufacturing has dramatically broadened my understanding of both the opportunities and challenges of doing business in China. The trip provided an exceptional view of the Chinese business environment and how it intersects with culture and government. The insights I gained on this trip will certainly serve me well as a future manager in a global context.

Apart from business studies, we also enjoyed the breath-taking sightseeing, Chinese folk culture, and exquisite Chinese cuisine, all of which enriched our China tour and made it a lifetime experience.

Deepak Sharma ~ Full time MBA Student

MBA International Study Tour 2015 – South Africa & China

South Africa ~ MBA International Study Tour 2015

On Saturday, March 7th, we saw 90 of our MBA students jet off on the Annual MBA International Study Tour. This is an intensive 8 day tour which is spent visiting cultural, political and educational institutions and undertaking a number of company visits as part of the MBA Module; Doing Business In Emerging Markets.

As we are an International Business School based in Dublin, it is no surprise that the MBA module ‘Doing Business in Emerging Markets’ forms an integral component of our MBA Programme. During this Study Tour, our MBA students will have the opportunity to engage with leading academics and world class organisations across a number of sectors, not to mention the experience of a lifetime with their classmates.

Each year we review our destinations and this year, due to popular demand, we are returning to China for our tenth year and visiting South Africa for the first time.

This is no surprise as China’s story is still fascinating, having transformed from a traditional centrally planned economy into a market economy with all of the associated challenges. South Africa has managed to stay on its feet during the wake of the global financial meltdown, largely due to its prudent fiscal and monetary policies. South Africa is one of the largest economies in Africa – and it remains rich with promise. It was admitted to the BRIC group of countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China (known as BRICS) in 2011. Therefore, this is a very interesting time to experience these economies first hand. We are hopeful that it will be an unforgettable experience for our students and that they will gain a new perspective on international business.

China ~ MBA International Study Tour 2015

There are over 60 participants on this year’s trip to China, including students from both the Full-time MBA and Executive MBA classes. They will visit both Shanghai and Beijing during their trip. This tour is being led by Professor Pat Gibbons.

There are just under 30 participants travelling to South Africa and their tour will include a visit to both Cape Town and Johannesburg. Dr. Paul McGrath is leading this tour.

CELAP, Baosteel, Cisco, Vodacom, QK Meats Group, Enterprise Ireland and Business Ireland are just some of the companies and organisations that will be hosting the company visits and networking events over the course of the week.

I am looking forward to hearing all about both study tours when the students arrive back in Dublin next week and I’m sure they will have lots to share with us on the blog upon their return.

Avril Donohue
MBA Senior Programme Coordinator

Roll On China!

Beijing - First stop for the MBA students participating in the International Study Trip

I’m writing this after attending my first two classes of semester 2, year 2 of the EMBA. There is no doubt but my enthusiasm for attending class has reduced significantly when compared to 15 months ago! However, on the up-side I am six months away from completing the programme and that is a huge motivation to continue!

There was a very different feel to this afternoon’s classes. Firstly, we were all there by choice (we can choose from a range of modules in the final year) and secondly there was a mixture of three class groups in the room (EMBA mid-week, EMBA weekend and MBA full-time students). These two factors led to a much larger class and a different lecture dynamic.

This semester will largely be evaluated based on individual assignments. This is in contrast to much of our course work in previous semesters which was primarily group based. While I thoroughly enjoyed working on teams in the past, I am also looking forward to gaining back my Saturday mornings which had previously been ear-marked for group work!

Shanghai - Second stop

Personally, I am only attending three classes this semester. For my fourth module I will be participating in the Emerging Markets International Study Trip to China. Already, I feel that it will be a highlight of the programme. There is a buzz amongst classmates when we discuss the trip and we are very much looking forward to receiving the itinerary that the MBA Programme Office staff have arranged for us. Roll on China on March 7th. . .

Aoife McMahon

Year 2 Executive MBA Class