‘The World travelled road to Washington’

MBA case competitions are a quintessential part of the MBA experience for many ambitious students. Eoin and I found a Case Competition titled ‘IBM Case Competition, The Challenges of Digital Strategy’.  The final of which would take place in the McDonough School of Business part of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. USA. After a quick discussion about the suitability of the competition, we set about putting together a team of complementary skillsets, attributes and personalities, a team we felt could go to Georgetown and win- enter Huyen and Marcelo.

2018 was the seventh year of the IBM-Georgetown Case Competition. Each year a real case based on a U.S. government department is produced. In 2017 this was the Department of Defense, the 2018 case that we received was based on the problems facing the National Park Service (NPS).

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For the first round we were required to submit a five minute video submission detailing our strategy to resolve a case study based on the real life problems facing the National Park Services, problems which included a $11.6 billion maintenance backlog. This was a challenging case with a deadline that clashed with our International Business Trips. The Friday before setting out on our respective adventures we filmed a segment together in Smurfit, as can be seen in the photograph below:

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Karan Sonpar and Pat Gibbons were extremely generous with their time and gave the team fantastic support with the case throughout. With Karan and Pat helping us we began to wonder was destiny conspiring for us to advance to the second round in Georgetown. To produce a quality strategy to this difficult case, every spare minute was utilised by all team members on both sides of the Pacific Ocean with a major part of our round 1 solution being solved on the back of the buses which took us from the company visit to company visit. Our Global Virtual Team experience from semesters 1 and 2 was also put to good use with Skype calls taking place, not easily with a packed schedule and 12 hour time difference between Hanoi and Lima, but where there is a will, there is a way.

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We decided that the theme of our video submission would be that we travelled the world searching for the best solutions to solve the NPS problems, below you can see photos at the various locations where we filmed.

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Returning to Dublin on Friday 23rd March 2018, still jet-lagged we met up on Saturday to finish our submission, upload to the video on YouTube as per the case requirements and inform Georgetown. Twelve days later our belief that we had been produced a quality solution was vindicated when we were one of the 9th out of the 30 plus teams who entered to be chosen to compete in the finals in Georgetown. After an excited talk with the team and the MBA Programme Office we accepted our place in the final, little did we know then what we had let ourselves in for over the next 12 days!

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For the following 12 days, we all had to step out of our comfort zones, further than any point so far in our MBA experience to date. The second round case built on the first round, however teams were allowed to build on what they had already produced in round 1 or tear up their existing strategy. As a team we decided that our strategy from the first round would not be good enough to win and so we essentially started again. The team dynamic was really good, we were all on a mission to produce a winning strategy for the NPS, apart from attending lectures all team members spend every minute of our time on the case. Two days prior to the competition, one day before flying to Washington D.C. we were pushed to the limit. We presented 3 times that day with an evolving presentation, receiving feedback from the MBA Programme Office, academics and our fellow classmates. That Wednesday night after 10 days of internal debate, external feedback and not enough sleep we settled on our presentation (well most of it anyway!).

Thursday morning we got to the airport and our 12:55 flight with United Airlines was cancelled! We go to the United Airlines desk, let them know that we can’t wait for the next flight which is tomorrow because of the competition and we were put on the 12:30 flight with Aer Lingus.

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We arrive in Dulles International Airport at 15:30 EST and call an Uber to our hotel. After some shopping for essentials in a dollar shop and a fine meal in KFC, we return to practice for the following day’s competition, just after midnight and having been awake for over 24 hours we called it a night.

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Friday morning we started the day right with Pancakes, butter, bacon and eggs, the breakfast of champions, except Marcelo who had cereal, toast and two cups of coffee! On the way to Georgetown we got excited when we drive past the Pentagon and spot the Washington Monument, which prior to the Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure in the world and is managed by the NPS, one of many NPS sites that we were set to visit over the weekend.

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We arrived at Georgetown to a warm welcome from the competition committee. One thing I have not mentioned thus far is that all teams throughout rounds 1 and 2 had to remain anonymous until the final results were given, to prevent any potential bias from the judges. After registering, conversing with our competitors and a welcoming address from IBM and Georgetown, we were shown to our private room and told to make ourselves feel at home and that we would be called at 10:50, the countdown was on! For the most part we relaxed, did a small amount of practice got mentally prepared for the competition, 10:50 came and we were escorted to the lecture theatre, in front of us was 5 judges from IBM, the three teams who had presented already that morning and some Georgetown students, all keen to see what strategy the most culturally diverse team in the competition would propose to IBM and the NPS. Our 15 minute presentation was timed to perfection, we answered all the questions to the satisfaction of the judges and at 11:15 left the lecture hall to a round of applause. We were on cloud nine and slowly floated back to our room full adrenaline and the joy of performing to our ability under pressure.

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In the afternoon we had lunch, networked, spoke to IBM’s HR/recruitment representative, and received a tour of the Georgetown campus. 15:20 the moment of truth arrived, IBM gave general feedback on the groups which was invaluable, given that we were all acting as IBM consultants in this round, then the top 3 were presented. Unfortunately we did not place in the top 3 but we were satisfied with our performance and extremely proud that we had gone to Georgetown to present a quality strategy to IBM on a real case and most importantly represented UCD and the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School with pride and conviction.

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After the event we retired to the Bulldog Tavern to share some refreshments with the IBM judges, the McDonough School Associate Dean and our fellow MBA competitors, who predominantly were attending business school in the U.S. but hailed from all over the world. After an entertaining evening with we set off for our Airbnb, exhausted we all fell asleep before 10 p.m. The next couple of days were amazing, the Mall in Washington and the museums which border it need to be experienced. Washington D.C. is a beautiful city and definitely worth including as part of a U.S. East coast trip.

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As a team we must thank on an individual basis, Ro Downing, Agnieszka Wisniewska, Emma Mescall, Pat Gibbons, Karan Sonpar and Bob Brennan. We would also like to thank our classmates for their feedback on our presentations and for their support in general which meant a great deal to us.

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To conclude everyone in the team pushed themselves to the limit for the IBM-Georgetown Case Competition. When the case was released two days before the International trip the easy thing would have been to say it can’t be done, but we said let’s have no regrets and give it our best effort. The lesson here is if there is something you want, don’t look for or accept excuses, keep trying, be brave, keep learning from your efforts, engage with the right people and you will get where you need to be, we promise you and you will be a better person for it.

James Kelly, MBA Full Time 2017/18

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THE YALE TALE

Remember the first time you fastened your seat belt to drive your first car? Nervous hands on the steering wheel with the feet juggling among 3 pedals?  – The thrill to drive, fear of failing, anxiety to know what’s next. It felt like a now or never moment, didn’t it?

Well, this is exactly how I felt on being selected to represent UCD in the Yale case study competition. I was thrilled, excited and proud to be part of the amazing UCD team. Given the style of the competition, it was obvious that as a team, we needed to be at our very best on the D-day to create an impact. The panel comprised of seasoned industry leaders and it was our job to ‘wow’ them with our ideas and solution. We took the bull by its horns and came home with the ‘Best Team Dynamics’ award, which meant that we were energetic, positive and adapted well to change. Hurrayyyy!! Let’s rewind a bit and talk more about the process and competition.

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In this competition, challenge was to solve a raw case. A raw case is very similar to a real-life situation resembles an actual client problem. The information related to the case is presented in various formats and sources. The ask in the competition was to parse through all the information to define the ‘Exam Question’, analyze the data to recommend a solution and implementation plan in just 6.5 hours!!! I know! There were 14 teams from all over the world to compete in this competition.

Preparing for this competition was like an additional module in itself. The 2nd semester makes it a little tough as everyone in the team had picked separate optional modules and finding a common available time slot during the week was not an easy task. Given the time constraints to solve the actual case, it was important for us to function well as a team, play to each other’s strengths and work around the weaknesses. Zoe was very generous to help us through the SDI, to identify what will function best as a team for us. Coming together was just the beginning. We aimed to do a ‘Come dine with me’ amongst us to learn more about each other in an informal setting, but given the routine commitments, it was not easy to find time for it. Instead, we used International trip in March as a step in that direction. We met alumnus to learn about their experience, things that went well and key lessons.

As we know, it takes a lot more than a single person who is in the ring to win a game.  We had exceptional support from Roisin Downing. Be it motivational talks, keeping us on the ground running or working around all the logistics. We never had to worry about a single thing. Ro, you are a star!!

“We all need people who give us feedback, that’s how we improve”. Strategy classes with Karan Sonpar gave us valuable tips on solving the case and structuring the presentation.  We had excellent support from our classmates, who were the judges of our practice sessions and provided us with great feedback.

How can I forget about the presentation skills sessions with Paul Slattery? We not only learnt about fundamentals of good presentation, but also about being at ease around each other. It was during these sessions that we truly came out as a team. We had a team huddle and a team song.  No matter how exhausted we used to be from our classes and assignments, we came out energetic after his sessions. His passion, energy and enthusiasm always inspired us to go the extra mile. Paul, you are incredible and an excellent teacher.

I believe our strengths as a team came across well in Yale when we were preparing for the case. We were just being ourselves; comfortable in sharing our view points and having a healthy discussion on all the points. The assessor in our room judged us on the basis of communication, collaboration, decision making and team management. We were natural at this. It is really critical to have a good camaraderie and belief in each other, and that gets projected automatically.

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We won the ‘Best Team Dynamics’ award. We didn’t win the case-study competition but we came back with lots of learning and a beautiful, life-long memorable experience. We were not the winners but we didn’t lose either. The friendships we made, the learning we had and the insights we gained were our trophies from Yale. It is absolutely true that it is not winning or losing that makes a competition worth, but the overall experience or (like we say it here in Ireland) ‘craic’ that you have around it.

Deepti Jindal, MBA Full Time 2017/18

deepti-yale-3Sauyith Cueva, Deepti Jindal, Robert P. Brennan, Ian Rafferty and Ruary Martin represented UCD Smurfit at Yale Integrated Leadership Case Competition, 2018.

It isn’t often that you get to represent your Country in a World Cup

On the 12th April we travelled to Danville, Virginia to represent UCD Michael Smurfit Business School as the only Irish University competing in the MBA Rugby World Cup. A group of 44 MBA and MSc. students left Dublin, having trained every Friday night since September, the men’s team playing contact rugby and the women playing touch rugby.

Great team work, coaching, organisation and planning, brought us together as two competitive teams and one complete unit proud to represent Smurfit against the best universities in the world. Even better when you can bring home the silverware; the men’s team brought home the world cup, while the women’s team came third.

The women’s team of nine, were tasked in September with learning touch rugby from scratch. Combined with the team’s determination and motivation and our coach Dave Condon’s endless patience and encouragement we found ourselves in Danville.

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Training on Friday afternoon in Danville was our first taste of the heat and sunshine; it was going to be a hot weekend ahead. Friday night we got our briefing; three games on Saturday and four games on Sunday through a round robin competition; each game lasting 20 minutes….…or so we thought. Our first win on Saturday morning settled the nerves and helped to solidify team work. The second game was tougher, ending in a draw. To our dismay, we realised that no game could end in a draw, so we went to extra time with a twist – every second play each team dropped a player, until only three players remained per team and a winning try was scored. After 20 gruelling additional minutes, our determination and team commitment shone through when we scored the winning try to take all the points from our second game.  Our third game of the day was the toughest yet. We were up against the largest squad in the competition and unfortunately, injuries and fatigue took their toll. Although we fought hard, we lost our first match of the competition.

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As day two began, our bodies were sore and with 50% of the team carrying injuries we dug deep to win our first match. We were given a walkover for our second game, which gave us some well-earned time to rest up before two games back to back to finish the tournament. Our third game was the toughest of the day, especially with exhaustion and injuries starting to take over. It was our second loss of the tournament. The last game was beginning to feel like mission impossible – we were down to three fully fit players and six walking wounded. At this point it was our team spirit that carried us through to motivate each other to finish the last game on a high. After surviving 20 minutes with virtually no substitutions, the game ended in a draw. This meant we went into our second drop off in as many days. Team work was key and I have never seen commitment and resilience like it; everyone was exhausted and carrying injuries, but we wanted to end with a win. Sheer willpower, fitness and relentless determination brought us the winning try to end the match after 25 additional minutes and absolutely nothing left in the tank.

The women’s competition was fierce and was fought hard; thanks to Wharton, Ivey, Yale/Cornell, Columbia and congratulations to London Business School on their win.

Overall an absolutely brilliant experience that we will never forget, and we couldn’t ask for a better group of people to share it with.

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Lyn Markey EMBA Mid-Week and Lucy Mac Auley MBA Full Time 2017/18

2017 MBA Experience Day – An Exciting Day Without A Single Dull Moment

mba-experience-day-nov-18-2017I registered for the MBA experience day long before the event as i felt it would be great opportunity for me to meet some of the professors, current students, alumni, admissions team and fellow MBA aspirants at the campus facilities. For me, the day began with a shock as the alarm didn’t go off due to weekday-only-settings and the school is an hour drive from home. I managed to rush though the morning activities and reached there almost on time – thanks to the low traffic on a Saturday morning.

The registration formalities barely took a minute and then the networking opportunity presented itself. It was a lot easier than I thought, as everyone there had the same purpose and at least one shared interest, that is doing an MBA at Smurfit.

We were guided to the huge Lecture Theatre 1 to begin the session on time. It felt good to be seated in a room that you have only seen on YouTube videos previously. Smurfit MBA Programme director, Orla Nugent started the session with a mini introduction and invited Catherine O’Brien, EMBA 2017 to give the Opening Address. Catherine did a great job of explaining why she chose to do an MBA after having nearly a decade of experience in her field. She discussed why Smurfit, what she learnt at Smurfit, the international experience gained as part of doing the course and how the MBA helped her in leaping to a higher level role at her new work. She concluded the address by suggesting that we ask ourselves ‘why’ we wanted to do the MBA rather than ‘how’ we would do it.

Orla Nugent took the session from there and provided a high level view on the specialities of Smurfit MBA, its rankings, real-world problems solved though Capstone Project and the importance of learning from peers.
Then we had the most interactive, involved, hands on Presenting4Success session with Paul Slattery. We had to stand up, sit down a few times along with shaking hands, tapping shoulders, practising tong twisters with the persons seated beside us. It had the immediate effect of allowing us to bond with people whom we had never met before. The important take away for me is that some key elements of successful presentation are not only limited to stage presentations but also applicable in
many other forms of communication, like sending an email.

Orla, Catherine and Paul handled the Q&A session before we went on Coffee Break, more Networking and Campus Tour. I had the unique chance to learn the history of the main building from one of the helpful members of the administrative team. It used to be a college for training school teachers and her grandmother graduated from the very place as a school teacher. It was a
nostalgic moment.

We were back in Lecture Theatre 1 for the second set of sessions that started with Head of Smurfit Careers, Cathy Savage explaining the career opportunities available, the services provided by careers team to prepare students for interviews and to link them with the industry. She hosted a panel discussion with Niall Twomey, CTO Fenergo, EMBA 2015 and Edel Kennedy, Head of Marketing Urban Volt, FT MBA 2015. Niall and Edel provided more insights on how in MBA world the ranking matters, learning the full spectrum of business and organizational behaviour helps and the people who do the course with you are as important as the course material.

MBA Admissions Manager, Fiona Butler walked us through the admission process, requirements, scholarships, admission interviews and important dates for 2018/2019 admissions. I found her classification of FT MBA as Career Changer and EMBA as Career Accelerator most suitable. Throughout the day she was available for any questions related to admissions and it was an extremely busy day.

Dr.Gerry Grenham provided an overview of GMAT exam accompanied with helpful tips and tactics to recognize patterns in answer choices. He also hosted a panel discussion with current MBA students Deirdre Blake(EMBA), Bob Brennan(FT MBA) and Dhananjay Bairagi(FT MBA). They all shared insights from their own experience of taking the GMAT exam and the importance of taking mock GMAT tests. After hearing about Deirdre’s observation on the size of the test cubicle and the noise levels, I decided to practise it with kids running around rather than locking myself in a quiet room.

Professor Niamh Brennan gave the closing address touching upon the importance of critical thinking, how students can learn from the different teaching styles of Smurfit Professors and the huge effort made by the school continuously to keep up its brand and ranking.

Afterwards we all went to the school restaurant, Urban Picnic to have the Networking Lunch. I met a few friendly FT MBA resident students there. They explained how intense the course was at the beginning, how they got into the rhythm after a while and how much they are looking forward to get their first semester done. All the best with your exams.

The Smurfit MBA Experience Day was 5 exciting hours(08:30 – 13:30) for  the attendees but I could tell you might have spent several days, if not weeks of planning, organizing and executing it very efficiently so that we could get the most out of it, and we certainly did. Thank you!

Ramson Tutte, 2017 MBA Experience Day Participant 

The student perspective on an MBA open event

Open event taken from first floor landing, note the funky lighting

Last night I was fortunate enough to be a participant on a panel discussion with regards to the MBA for prospective students. I am in my second year of the mid week EMBA. It is the first time that I participated, last year I was too worried about my exams to give the time. However, this year I think I have relaxed more into the course and also have the self confidence to know that I will be OK exam-wise.  The evening began with a presentation given by Gillian Durnin, MBA Admissions Manager, Orla Nugent, MBA Programme director and Brian Marrinan, MBA Careers Director. It was great to see so many people interested  in the MBA, but disappointing to see so few women in the audience. It was the same when I came for the MBA evening 18 months ago. I had the same questions and worries as expressed by those present. It was nice to be in a position to advise on my experiences to date on the course. Other panellists were current students from the first year Exec and weekend courses, a second year student from the weekend course and two students that have survived the MBA and lived to tell the tale, so a broad perspective was given. The main areas of concern were the GMAT (a big one for the majority of us), the costs not only financially, but also the time commitment and the required juggling with home and work life. Brian was able to advise on the return on investment career-wise for the course. For me the most interesting part was meeting people afterwards and having the opportunity to speak on a one to one basis. For one prospective student, they had come to the evening not sure if they wanted to choose this course or another, but after the information session, they felt more inspired to pursue the MBA. I wish everyone that decides to pursue the MBA the best of luck in their endeavours. It is a lot of hard work, don’t think otherwise, but there are a lots of rewards that go with it too.

Muireann Cullen

Midweek year 2

Banish the Nay-sayer in you

I was never much good at maths. Richard Mitchell’s mathematical blog dated October 1st inspired both my awe and a nervous skin rash. I wonder whether the labels that are slapped on you at primary school (‘satisfactory’ or ‘could improve in this area’) accompany you like an imaginary friend into adulthood. A duplicitous buddy always ready to tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your ear: Do not get ahead of yourself.  Maths is not your thing.

That same old pal accompanied me into the GMAT exam and chuckled in the corner while I tackled all those blasted quadratic equations. That was the first day of my MBA journey, when I dug the ear-plugs in deeper and drowned out the nay-sayer in me. We all have one lurking somewhere in us which we will need to learn to ignore as the pressure mounts during our studies.

Confidence is key on the MBA programme. The pace is frenetic from the outset and there is little room for self-doubt. The demanding admissions process is dual purpose: to prove that you can reach the requisite standard for the school and equally, to remind you that you deserve your place amongst your accomplished peers. You have earned your foot in the door.

Now that the door has long since shut behind me, I am still wary of numbers. Perhaps my clever classmates can explain to me how it is that 10 short weeks of study can feel like 6 months? How about my feedback to friends and family that I have learned more in this short period than I have in a year of working life?

Many of us have made these financial and personal sacrifices on a wing and a prayer to some degree. I spent months during the summer agonising over whether the hardship would be worth it and fretting about comments from a small group of (real life) nay-sayers. Everyone has an opinion about MBAs. One was that a chartered accountant doesn’t need one. Another person commented that surely I had already accomplished enough in my career and didn’t need the bother. My father asked if I might be joining the family for Sunday dinner wearing a Margaret Thatcher badge! Revenge is sweet Da.

The truth about an MBA is that you are unlikely to ever find yourself surrounded by a less homogenous group of people in a professional setting. This is never a bad thing. So far I have heard the varied views of engineers, medical and sales professionals, supply chain managers, business owners, army officers, journalists…and me. Extolling values and opinions that I never even realised I held. One classmate tells me she is proud to be able to demonstrate to her three sons that learning is an important part of life. And that they have now learned where the hoover lives in their house.

The gamble is paying off. Each week, we are offered additional courses and seminars which are above and beyond the curriculum we signed up for: presentation and interview skills courses, Excel training, personality profiling etc. I am delighted by the fact that the school – like every well-run business – strives to deliver at every turn, inviting the students’ feedback on a regular basis.

Two things I need to improve on before I report back here in Semester 2:

1. To feed myself wholesome food instead of reaching for any old fuel.

2. To learn to be less cheeky to lecturers. I don’t know what’s come over me. I must have been sleeping more as an under-grad.

Best of luck to you all for the rest of the first semester. Eat well. Rest well. Exercise. Stay positive.

And guard your good manners with ferocious intention in the absence of all of the above.

Rachael Dunne

Weekend EMBA Year 1

Choosing the right MBA

Undertaking an MBA programme is a significant decision to make. So when you understand that it is your real desire, try to research your choice of programme and business school as thoroughly as possible. In this post I will outline some of the facts which require attention, such as the international accreditation, continuous presence in both prestigious top 100 rankings, and national leadership. These facts may certainly influence your final decision, but they are not crucial. That is why I want to describe to you a couple of things which helped me to form my preference of MBA programme.

The first one happened when I visited Smurfit Business School last year. The only thing I knew was that somewhere in Blackrock there was a university which offered a top MBA programme. There I met one member of admission team. During our conversation and a little excursion through the university building I got quite a distinct picture of the programme and of the School itself. There I could really feel the spirit of the School and was seriously impressed with their professional approach, which I could see in every little detail. So my first advice to individuals interested in an MBA programme is to go and see the campus, speak with people and ask questions.

The second piece of advice I would offer relates to alumni of UCD MBA programme. In order to explore the School more deeply, I wrote to some graduates of last years class and asked them to express their opinions. They didn’t want to advertise UCD MBA programme, but they wanted to provide me with their knowledge and help me to make the right decision. The key is to find and write to current alumni, speak with them, and again, ask questions. Facebook and Linkedin are quite helpful in this case and I found alumni more than willing to assist..

In conclusion, I can say that these things really work and that I am reassured and absolutely happy with my programme choice. If some readers of this blog are curious about UCD Full-Time MBA programme, please, feel free to write to me and ask your questions!

Daniil Matcoian

Full-Time MBA 2014-2015

Coaching on the UCD Smurfit MBA.

The feedback has been excellent once again this year.

We offer all of our MBAs personalised one to one coaching from the very best Business Executive Coaches and it is entirely free to all of ourparticipants.  The programme fits into the personalised Leadership Development Programme (LDP) and goes from strength to strength every year.  Some stats from the latest survey:

– It got a 95% rating in terms of its effectiveness as part of LDP.

– 93% will recommend as unmissable for next year’s participants

– 63% will continue to seek coaching post MBA at their own expense.

– hot topics this year were Career Transition, Leadership Development, Managing upwards and Personal Confidence building.


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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.

“The Secret Ingredient”

So what do you do when school’s out for summer and the first year of your exec MBA is over…?

You start to push the boundaries where you work, build new teams across departments, apply the learning AND hit the media.

That’s what I’ve been up to. I joined a fundraising team in our hospital and helped to create a cookbook to raise much needed funds for family rooms on site.

Continue reading “The Secret Ingredient”