Use your UCD Smurfit MBA to pursue that dream.

Ciara O’Brien (weekend eMBA 2014), founder of iSave, recently joined UCC’s start-up accelerator Ignite.

My advice to new MBAs is to really make the most of every resource that’s available to you within the MBA system. While there’s lots to learn from your core modules and lecturers, don’t forget to look outside the curriculum to find other opportunities. Two years is quite a short time frame to achieve big things!

My only regret from the MBA is that I didn’t seek out those opportunities even sooner.  Starting the course is such an overwhelming experience – learning to deal with the teams, assignments and exams.

In year 2, once I kick-started my start-up idea, the various MBA structures were a huge asset. Michael McDonnell brought me the UCD Student Innovation Fund (which we subsequently won!), Brian Marrinan connected me with MasterCard’s start-up accelerator which was invaluable and Bruce Martin, entrepreneurship lecturer, supported me to refine iSave’s value proposition even though I wasn’t in his class!

This has all been key to our success in winning seed funding, acceptance to the Ignite programme and now a potential spot at The Summit’s APLHA programme for start-ups.

So whatever your goal: take the knock-backs in your stride, seek out people who believe in your idea and can help and don’t waste any of the resources that are available to you. If you have an idea you want to pursue this is probably the best time in your life to do it. It’ll all be over before you know it!

Ciara O’Brien, EMBA 2014 and Founder of iSave.

Time to think …

There is an element of the MBA experience that gets lost in the noise of commentary on hours, deadlines, hand ins and team meetings. The full time MBA gives you back some time in your life to think. To think about what you want to do, to think about what you have done and to think about what makes you tick. Any perspective student should know the amount of hours required on the MBA programme is a often overhyped. MBA graduates you will meet remember the pinch situations where they had to work until the wee small hours of the morning for three nights in a row, or they remember a chronic three week period in semester 1 where they had 5 projects hanging over them. But the reality of the situation is that this is the exception rather than the rule. There is a steady flow of work that (if you keep on top of) is eminently manageable. The MBA experience gives you more time out then your current career. It is NOT like having a fulltime job and there IS an element of reliving that college experience where you used to have time to think, chat and pursue some new interests and side projects.

As an entrepreneur I find this time invaluable. In the “real world” It’s hard to get time to think about new business ideas and exciting innovations. In the MBA bubble you can find that time again and more importantly, when you do find that time you are far better equipped to turn day dreams into realities should you choose to do so. You start refining your ideas from the minute they pop into your head, what are the barriers to entry? Is it an attractive Industry structure? What is the value proposition? How easily would this be imitated? Do you have access to resources required? It also helps that you now have 35 new people in your life that you can bounce ideas off and develop some thoughts you have had on your career, or a business idea or even a further course of study after the MBA (God forbid!).

So don’t let talk of “surviving the MBA”, the “divorce course” and “say goodbye to your family for a year” influence your decision complete an MBA. It is challenging but doable, and if you are at a bit of a crossroads in life, the programme will give you the time and resources to figure out the grand plan for you. That plan will change daily by the way but at least you will be thinking about it….

Trevor Whelan

Full-time MBA 2014


Come and meet the MBA team at the upcoming Smurfit open evening

We have an open evening coming up on Wednesday April 9th and if you’d like to come in and meet the team, current students and alumni and attend our MBA presentation we’d be delighted to meet and talk with you, you can register at http://www.smurfitschool.ie/openevening/. The short presentation on the programme which begins at 6.30pm will cover all the basic information you might require on the programme, how it works and what it can do for you.

The video above is from a recent Smurfit MBA Experience day which provides a more in-depth look at the programme and taster lectures, if you are interesting attending the next one let our Admissions Office know and they’ll add you to the list for the next one.

Image MBA scholarship and the Women of the UCD Smurfit MBA

Image evening 25th March, Brian and the panel doing their thing

On Wednesday 25th the UCD Smurfit School hosted the official launch of our annual Image Scholarship with an open evening in our ‘Women on the MBA’ series. We and Image are very keen to increase the numbers of women undertaking our programme because while there are increasing numbers we still don’t think there are nearly enough. Brian Marrinan, MBA Careers (who confessed to feeling outnumbered) did a short presentation on what the MBA careers services does to help students move to the next level and he then moderated a panel of current students and alumni who gave the benefit of their experience as women of the Smurfit MBA. It was a really interesting discussion with good insights and could have gone of far longer if time had allowed.

Many thanks to all who attended and to our panelists Catherine Butler (current EMBA class), Aoife Lucey (current full-time class), Paula Thomas (class of 2010) and Fionnula Croke (class of 2002).

The Image Scholarship is a scholarship to encourage women to undertake the MBA and is open until April 30th details are at http://www.smurfitschool.ie/imagescholarship/

Breaking Through the Career Ceiling

Why I did an MBA:

Before the MBA I was working as IT consultant on multi-million European-wide deals. When we were finalising these deals, I found myself in a room with the EMEA heads of HR, finance, marketing etc. I was representing the EMEA lead for consulting. I was keeping up with these high-power conversations, but only just. I had hit a career ceiling and to progress my career further, I needed to break out of my consulting zone and get on the same level as these domain specialists.

The Smurfit MBA was how I did this.

What my head knew but my heart denied:

The content of an MBA isn’t difficult; it’s the breadth and depth of knowledge that you have to consume in a compressed time that’s the challenge.

What everyone says, but I didn’t believe until I got there:

You learn quite a lot from your classmates, and yes – you get out what you put in. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you will be rewarded.

What I learned most:

Over the years, I had already worked out many of the concepts from the MBA in my own head, from first principles. The MBA put structure and a formal nomenclature on the fuzziness, allowing me again to work with other domain leaders.

What shocked me about the MBA:

In the last 5-10 years before the MBA I had gotten used to being the “smartest guy in the room”. In the first couple of weeks in Smurfit, I realised I was in the lower 50-percentile of the class. This was quite a shock to the ego.

My favourite moment on the MBA:

We had a presentation from the conductor of a concert orchestra. I didn’t engage initially – I wasn’t going to apply for the job. But he slowly explained his role: to coordinate 80 primadonnas, all who believe they are better at their job than he is at his.  All who think they could work better without him, all who wanted to give their own 90 second opinion, some of whom were just passengers, and somehow his role was to add value so the whole was significantly better than the sum of the parts.

EUREKA! I realised these were the same challenges that I faced in my role as a programme manager, and therefore certain knowledge and skills are fungible.

It was these insights that were the highlights of the MBA.

What I did with my MBA

I was hired by a major IT organisation to improve their “Value Engineering:” to create business propositions for large deals, especially where the CIO was convinced.  The CFO & CEO needed to see some financials, albeit based on the technology, and with real numbers before getting on board.

The job offer was routed through the Smurfit MBA Careers Office and the mandatory requirements for the position included an “MBA from a top European business school.”


Luke Beare

Full-time MBA 2009

Senior Director | Industry Strategy & Insight, Oracle

Pressure is a Privilege

So the 6 Nations Championship is upon us. For the majority of rugby fans in this part of the world, it is a fascinating and gruelling six weeks of international rugby. For those lucky few who take part in the tournament and represent their families, counties, provinces and countries, it is both physically and mentally draining. During the build up to this year’s tournament, I came upon a phrase that has been recycled from the former tennis champion, Billie Jean King. Pressure is a privilege. In a sports context this is quite an easy, logical progression. The privilege to represent your country obviously comes with significant pressure. If it’s ever forgotten by an international sports person, it is a privilege that those around them will quickly remind the athlete of. At this stage, it may seem odd as to what, if anything, this has to do with the journey through an MBA. If the reader is considering this, I strongly suggest a brief reflection on what ‘pressure is privilege’ means to you.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the bubble of completing an MBA. All the assignments, leadership development, careers and networking events can very quickly distort the wider picture and impact personal motivation. The privilege of being amongst a small band of individuals going through this journey comes with pressure. Being successful in our future careers and achieving everything we want to achieve will be a privilege. It will bring with it significant pressure. In order to reach the heights we are being prepared for throughout the course, we have to prove competence under pressure. This connection can be forgotten during the long and dark winter months as we slog through another case study or number crunching exercise.

Pressure in business should not be lonesome. At every stage there will be the support of highly talented teammates. In the sporting context, pulling everyone together onto the same page and pulling for the same cause, taking on the same pressure, is critical to success. The Smurfit MBA provides fertile ground for the individual to acquire the tools with which to succeed in this way. The focus on teamwork, pulling disparate styles and philosophies together and communicating at every stage is very similar to putting together a strong performance on the rugby pitch. Business can take a lot of the successes from sportspeople and learn significantly from them. ‘Pressure is Privilege’ should be just the beginning.


James Radmore – MBA Rugby Captain

FTMBA 2014

United Kingdom

How the UCD Smurfit MBA has improved my time management skills.

The end of 2013 is one of the busiest times in my life.  I have just come back from Global Network Week at Yale School of Management. Right after I arrived in Dublin, I must come back to UCD Smurfit’s campus immediately to study Financial Reporting for the next examination. Whenever you open your Google Calendar, it is full of tasks from day to day.  

After class in the morning, we also spend time to work in groups for the next assignments or presentations. At the weekend, we also have an abundance of readings for the following week. At first, I felt quite overloaded but Google Calendar and EverNote applications have helped me so much in time management.  I did a workshop on time management as part of the Leadership Development Programme (LDP) which is part of the UCD Smurfit MBA.

Every week, I always list a series of tasks that need to be done and put all of them in To-do-list Folder in Evernote so I can open it on my smart phone. I order them from the least to the most important tasks and begin to solve in that order.


Having good time management skills helps you not only to solve all duties in class but also allows you to join in many school events.

It’s a big world and there’s a lot to be done!


Hung Nguyen,

FT MBA 2014.

UCD Smurfit MBA is Globally Immersed in Digital Marketing

This year, as part of the Global Network for Advanced Management, UCD Smurfit hosted a week-long module “Digital Marketing – Understanding Opportunities and Devising Strategies”. A cohort of around 25 MBA students from Fudan University School of Management, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, IE Business School, EGADE Business School, Yale SOM, and UCD Smurfit met in Dublin, shared drinks and talked digital.

Within one week, we were quickly, but comprehensively, taught the basics and nuances of the subject: how it works, the trends and future, and the quirks and twists.  In a nutshell, search, social media, mobile connectivity, and web 2.0 skyrocket because they cater to a basic Homo sapien’s nature: freedom or in this case: the freedom to consume media whichever way is convenient. By establishing a seamless integration with web, social and mobile and communicating relevant messages, organisations can attract new prospects and retain their existing customers.

Dublin – the digital capital of Europe – made a perfect backdrop for such a digital marketing marathon. Real-world study formed an integral part of the module. We were bussed to Facebook, Google, Hubspot, learned directly from senior marketing professionals, and marvelled at their stunning offices – or rather working playgrounds. These companies occupy different digital space: social media, search, and content with distinctive marketing approaches. All presentations boasted strong growth in digital marketing spending, notwithstanding the economic recession. To cap off the learnings, we worked on an actual marketing project for NewsTalk and presented our findings to the CEO and marketing manager.

A Dublin experience would be incomplete without the vibrant Irish nightlife. We got to visit Guinness Storehouse, ate Irish lamb stew, and enjoyed the varied offerings of Irish beers and liquors accompanied by live Celtic music. The atmosphere was perfect to cool off a long day, share a laugh, and make friends. Many people planned to keep in touch, and see each other in the future.

In our highly globalized world, the ability to develop networks and collaborate with others outside our comfort zone is more important than ever. The connections between leading business schools, companies and students were made possible by this opportunity. I would like to thank the companies, lecturers, organisers, and students who together made such an unforgettable experience.


Cong Vu.

FT MBA 2014

The Second Method

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius

It goes without saying that the quality of the lecturers in Smurfit is very high (please forgive the brown nosing!). The most useful learning interactions however, come from fellow students. There is a huge wealth of diverse experience within the class. This results in people taking different views on issues. Through debates (sometimes heated) with class members I begin to appreciate different approaches on how challenges could be addressed. Understanding that “there is more than one way to skin a cat” and broadening my thought process to incorporate a number of different viewpoints is, for me, the most valuable learning experience of the MBA programme.

The most interesting and engaging part of lectures are the “show and tell” presentation of other students. This is where they take theories, frameworks and tools we are discussing and give practical examples of when they encountered problems in the past, how they addressed the challenge at the time and what they would do differently now. These stories are what stick in your mind and a memorable story acts as a trigger for all the other learning points.

Confucius says imitation of others is the easiest way to learn wisdom. Sounds like a good idea to me.

David Kiernan

FT MBA 2014.