2 weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak at a Smurfit MBA reception attempting to debate the future of big brands and the importance of innovative communication with Damien McLoughlin. I’m going to be nice to myself and call it a draw – but irrespective of the outcome, it made me think of what a journey this MBA has been. 2 years ago I do not think it would have been me in front of that crowd. After the talk, several potential 2018/19 MBA students approached me to gain some insights and find out the best and worst bits of completing an Executive MBA. It caused me to think about it properly, possibly for the first time as it has been a whirlwind 2 years. Outside of the Executive MBA, I have moved job, moved into a new house and any day now our 3rd child will arrive into our family. So it’s been hectic. But it’s been a positive experience too.
I didn’t go on any international trips during my 2 years so maybe my highlights are more mundane than those who experienced Reykjavik, Lima or Yale. For me, a large highlight is the fact that I have been in a position to implement so many of the learnings I have made directly into my work. Not only is this very professionally satisfying but it keeps the entire programme relevant and current. Take Group work as an example. Group work never appealed to me – but the setup of the programme forces you to engage with it from Day 1. With Semesters, Global Virtual Teams, Block Week assignments and Capstone, I have been involved with 8 Groups during the 2 years. Not only have I have learned a huge amount about working with teams, from basic communication to the setting of roles, but I have also learned an awful lot about myself. I hope I have added something to the Groups I was in too. They are more than capable of letting me know if I haven’t. I can use these experiences, both positive and negative, in my current job. The current and real life experience focus of the EMBA, driven by not only the lecturers experience and their use of current case studies but more so by the discussions and arguments that took place between my fellow classmates, each with lots of experience in completely different industries to me, help shape this.
Surreally, my last act in my Executive MBA (apart from Capstone of course), was to cook a chicken casserole in Ballyknocken House along with Catherine Fulvio and a group of business students from Smurfit, Yale, Haas Berkeley, IE Madrid, Egade Mexico, Fudan China and Hitotsubashi Japan as part of the ‘Future of Food’ GNAM Block Week. A memorable experience to round off a memorable 2 years. It’s time for the next chapter now. Reintroduce myself to normal life – I’m looking forward to not feeling guilty about sitting down and watching TV without a nagging thought I should be reading something.
On Day 1 of Initiation week in August 2017, the first person I met on the course was Osgur Ó Ciardha. It was fitting that he was also on the Future of Food week and so we bookended the 2 years nicely. Since we first met he has secured a new job and become a TV star! I look forward to hearing of many more success stories from my classmates into the future.
The general expectation from the MBA program is to develop your leadership skills and prepare you for management roles. Our LATAM experience showed us how these MBA concepts could also transcend to other interesting aspects of personal life.
After day-long seminars with important speakers, we were eager to experience the thriving nightlife at Santiago, Lima and Cusco. The odds were stacked against us as we had limited dancing abilities and very little knowledge of the local language.
The lessons learnt from our last semester, it all came back to us! On the dance floor, we strategically identified potential dance partners by scanning the environment through the lens of segmentation targeting positioning concept, which was taught by the three musketeers of marketing – Damien, Andrew and Marius. We reminded ourselves about McNutt’s lesson on Nash equilibrium and realized that it was better to cooperate than compete with each other on the dance floor.
On analysis of our interactions with the local people, we realized that our competitive advantage was that we hailed from India – the exotic land of the Taj Mahal and Khajuraho temples! We tactically played this trump card, which turned out be a great ice-breaker and kept the conversation flowing.
News of our happening nightlife spread like wild fire to the other end of the globe where the other half of our bunch was chilling in Hanoi. This experience taught us the true meaning of Chinese whispers. Our innocent dancing with the local women was distorted into creative, hilarious stories which made us men of questionable character! Overall, those two weeks were truly a highly immersive cultural experience. This has boosted our confidence of our ability to effectively handle international client relationships by overcoming language and cultural barriers.
On returning back to Dublin and resting on that weekend, we were directly thrown into early morning day-long sessions of Operations and Supply Chain Management with the effervescent George Onofrei. We had interesting presentations covering companies across a wide range of sectors – Ebay, Dominos, Zappos, Sonae, Amazon, Zara and Cincinnati Hospital. Some of the teams entertained us by offering us pizzas and fruits. However, my team member John Keegan stole everyone’s thunder when he introduced his mother as a guest appearance during our presentation on Cincinnati Hospital. Our first group presentation turned out to be very successful and we look forward to building on that momentum.
Lazy weekends, Saturday afternoons filled with sporting drama, the World Cup, drinks with friends – we’re just a month into Year 2 of the EMBA and all of the above seem like distant memories.
You know what? I hardly miss them. There’s something invigorating about meeting up with classmates after a few months apart, re-living the ups and downs of Year 1, and facing into a whole new set of challenges that Year 2 is sure to bring. New modules, new faculty, new teams, and a year of deadlines, presentations, projects and late nights to sharpen the mind – bring it on!
September brings a real buzz to the Smurfit campus, with a host of fresh faces and ‘deer in the headlights’ looks in abundance. I know exactly how that feels – like many EMBA candidates, it had been quite some time since I’d been in a classroom setting. It takes a little while to adjust and find the focus that is required to deliver on what seems like an insurmountable body of work. But focus you must. The good news is that it gets easier to find that focus as you practice it (not that the workload gets any easier!) Couple that with the learning acquired, and you’ll find that concepts that seem like double-dutch at the start of the semester become instinctive by the time it draws to a close.
The learning on the MBA is about stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. Regardless of your current position, the concepts you learn will allow you to recognize the dynamics that exist in both your own firm and others, and give you an understanding of why firms do what they do (rightly or wrongly!) Analysis is the name of the game, and you’ll learn how to recognize how firms derive their competitive advantage, and what they do to sustain it in an ever-changing marketplace. Balance sheets, income statements, capacity utilization, weighted average cost of capital, organizational culture – get comfortable with them, as these will be your friends for the foreseeable future!
The EMBA really is a shared experience that fosters a unique and lasting bond among classmates, whether you’ve worked together in a team or not. Everyone brings something to the table that you can leverage to your benefit. Work hard, learn from all around you, question everything. Embrace it, and most of all – have fun. I know I will!
September 1st 2014 marked “back to school” for primary students and MBA students alike. I am now at the end of week 2, year 2 and it still amazes me how quickly you forget things that you simply don’t want to remember! One would assume that after two semesters I would recall how time consuming this programme is but alas, I again got a shock when we were introduced to the course outlines for each of our four modules last week (namely, Global and Corporate Strategy, Strategies for HR, Investment Management and Performance Driven Marketing).
My evenings from September 1st to September 4th inclusive were tied up with the MBA. Classes are every Monday and Thursday. I had an inaugural meeting with my newly assigned group on Wednesday (groups of 4/5 people are assigned by the college and change every semester) and on Tuesday I attended an MBA event on entrepreneurship in the Hibernian Club on Stephen’s Green. Needless to say I was happy for the weekend to arrive!
Although I may sound as if I am feeling sorry for myself (which, of course, happens on occasion) the truth is that I am thoroughly enjoying my time on the programme. I was looking forward to catching up with all my classmates last week (some of which have gotten married, given birth, bought houses etc. since May) and getting back into the routine of student life. When ‘student life’ gets too much, the Smurfit School organise an array of evening events to cater for all interests. Last week I attended the aforementioned entrepreneurship evening, next week I will be working one-on-one with a CV coach and on September 30th we are invited to an evening with Dr. Michael Smurfit. That’s not to mention all the MBA club events that are initiated by current students.
Time has never been so precious. . . I am already on the countdown for Christmas!
MBA exams are taking place this week and so along with thousands of other UCD students members of the current EMBA and FT classes are joining the mass invasion of the RDS complex in Ballsbridge, Dublin which is where most of the university’s exams take place these days. It isn’t exactly an intimate setting but it gets the job done in the most efficient manner.
This exam session is the last hurdle before the summer break for the year 1s and the capstone project for the year 2s so everyone is keen to get them successfully out of the way.
Over the next couple of weeks thousands of students will take hundreds of exams in all disciplines. We wish them and everyone doing MBA Management Accounting, Corporate Finance or Managing the Negotiations Process exams the best of luck this week.
One of the basic assumptions in undertaking an executive MBA is that you will have the time required to complete it. I have found the most difficult element of the executive programme is to find the balance between work, study and life. Ideally your role or job is stable, consistent in its demands and allows you the time required for the MBA. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
What happens if you do change role and work takes over? It is possible to survive the change and the additional workload. It does mean that some reprioritisation needs to be done. I had to re-prioritise this semester due to a new challenging role with a lot of travel. Some of the changes that may need to be made are:
· Devote less time to the MBA, focusing on the core readings and learnings.
· Prioritise assignments as early as possible, breaking down the work into as small components as possible. This makes it easier to keep chipping away at things.
· Fit in work where possible, I use flights to get through some of the weeks reading, I have downloaded the ebook versions of our text books in order to have access to them all the time.
If Semester 1 was about teams and learning to balance work, life and the MBA, Semester 2 is about survival. We have 10 of the 12 weeks completed. Everyone is focused on the end of semester, motivating ourselves in whatever way possible. Despite the increasing levels of tiredness in the class, the banter is still alive and well. I enjoy the classes on Fridays and Saturdays, we have a great group of people in the class that keep each session interesting and engaging. If nothing else, the class provides a brief escape from the stresses of the week in work.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles…a great film. John Candy and Steve Martin get stranded over the Holiday season and have to use all means of transport to get home for Thanksgiving. In EMBA Year 1, the same applies. We are scrambling to complete our journey to end of semester 2. Now at the midterm, we are what’s fondly referred to as “half way to half way”. We’ve covered Planes in the case studies on AirAsia and WestJet airlines. Got the Trains on the weekly trips on the DART out to an increasingly sunny coastal Blackrock. We’ve looked at the closest thing to Automobiles with more case studies on the motorcycle industry from Honda and British Motorcycle Industry to Ducati and Harley Davidson.
I think the thing that strikes you in Year 1 semester 2 is that while semester 1 was all about working with your teams, working on your presentations and reports, and learning the basic building blocks to build on in next term. Semester 2 is a much more joined up case-based learning approach, with a lot more overlap between subjects as the weeks progress. You draw your own conclusions on the case at hand with the guidance of the lecturers, class discussions, and the wisdom of your fellow classmates. You feel more comfortable assuredly advising on the best actions to take. To put yourself in the seat of that C-level executive sweating over a project’s success or failure, or as the head of a ailing company in a increasingly competitive industry.
Its midterm now, half way through our second semester. The mental battle of convincing yourself to bound over that next hurdle continues. Nearly half way to half way, and you know with the help of our team mates, you might just make it.
Living on a dairy farm in Kerry with my husband and our three children may be miles away from the MBA, yet the MBA has been a great experience and I have really enjoyed the course.
Based on my experience, here are some tips for those undertaking an MBA to make life run more smoothly:
Avoid reading ‘Snapshots from Hell’ by Peter Robinson. It is a moany account of a man doing a full time MBA in the US – I struggled to find one meaningful snippet in the entire soliloquy. If you want a taste of the course speak to a current students or read any of the posts in this blog.
Buy a slow cooker. Prepare vegetables and meat in the morning. Peg them into it and leave for approximately eight hours. Lovely dinner with minimal effort.
Keep hubby/partner happy. Have a ‘date night’ each week. This is hard to fit in amongst all the other commitments but when you asked you husband/partner to support you on this mad endeavour I don’t think either of you realised the time commitment involved.
Don’t bring a copy of the latest strategy case report to bed (not so conducive to point three).
Do not introduce your au pair to your brother. When they fall in love and move in together it is not helpful.
Reserve Sunday for family time – take the kids swimming, go out for lunch, read the paper, enjoy a little bit of normal life and do not do any course work.
Don’t moan about the work load. Nobody wants to listen to it. Everyone has obligations and commitments. Yours aren’t more important. If you fancy a moan-fest refer to point one.
To put it all in perspective on a recent play date I overheard one of my daughter’s friends boasting that her mother was taking her to Eurodisney. My daughter (not to be outdone) promptly replied that her mommy was training to be a smurf!
Semester two is tough. It is not tough because the workload is greater than Semester one. Nor is it tough because the courses are more challenging. In fact, for a vast majority of the class the workload is lighter for the option modules. It isn’t the obvious things that make Semester two tough. It is the growing realisation of the need to figure out where the next stage of my life, post-MBA, is going to take me. Deciding what and then moving onto the how should be the focus of my time. It is, let’s face it, the reason anyone embarks on an MBA. Whilst some of the academic staff may not wish to admit it, the academic parts of an MBA course are a means to an end. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to learn and plenty to stimulate the intellectual curiosity, but the MBA is a springboard into a potentially new and exciting career.
Semester two is tough. There are so many pulls on your time and it is too easy to neglect the longer and longer shadow being cast on a future career. Many will say this is simply down to time management, and there is a certain degree of validity in that assertion. There is more complexity to it, however. Using the year in an MBA is, as has no doubt been noted by my colleagues previously, a unique opportunity to explore a totally different career path. However, this requires a depth of research and contact building that could in its own right be a full time job. Notwithstanding the HR strategies to get you around, the Activity Based Costing in Managerial Accounting and Investment Management classes that leave you mentally exhausted, trying to forge a new career is a considerable challenge.
Semester two is tough. As more and more gets thrown at you from preparing for the trip to China to extracurricular activities to assignments and late night classes, many things can knock you down. The prospect of developing an exciting new career from September is enough to motivate you to keep bouncing back off the canvas. But it is easy to lose track, no matter how often you are reminded of the real reason you are doing an MBA.
As the days get longer and (hopefully) the sun starts to get warmer, it is a great time to revaluate priorities and at the same time maintain the commitments you have made to family, friends and colleagues. That is the challenge.