A View From the MBA Finish Line

Nothing worthwhile comes easy. The MBA has certainly not been easy but it has been hugely worthwhile. This week marked the finish line as we handed in the final ‘capstone’ project, the culmination of our learnings over two years applied to a real company problem. I have anticipated the feeling of elation for months, but it has come inextricably entwined with mixed emotions. I primarily feel an enormous sense of achievement and satisfaction that I have realised a long held personal ambition. There is also a certain relief in knowing that I am finally free of the constant attrition of assignments, reading, lectures, exams and the Saturday morning dash out the N11 to Blackrock. Unexpectedly, there is also a strange accompanying sense of disappointment that a journey which I have enjoyed beyond expectation, has come to an end.

A journey shared is all the sweeter, and the most enjoyable element of the last two years has been working with, and getting to know, such an exceptional bunch of people. The intensity of the MBA bonds the class in an indescribable way. From team building in a rainy field in Blackrock to Honda, Coca Cola, Southwest Airlines, and GE, to karaoke in Tokyo, we have been on a roller coaster journey together. There have been ups and downs for everyone as we have struggled to balance work and personal lives with the demands of the course.  The unfettered commitment of the group to supporting each other, and ensuring that everyone made it to the finish line together, has been remarkable. Your classmates challenge you, they set the bar high, they expect more, they drive you, but more importantly they teach you and support you.

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Catherine O’Brien, 2nd from left, with MBA classmates

The MBA teaches you all the fundamentals of business management from corporate finance to management accounting, organisational behaviour, strategy and negotiations. But this is not where the growth lies. I attended an event last year where I was struck by a comment made by one of the speakers, who highlighted how comfort zones are nice but nothing ever grows there. Simple but powerful, it stuck with me. The MBA has offered the opportunity to step up and out of your comfort zone in so many different ways, and I am delighted that I have pursued every single opportunity. From representing UCD Smurfit at the John Molson international business case competition in Montreal, to presenting to global MBA colleagues in Yale, I have enjoyed every opportunity to grow and learn.

The self-learning which comes through the leadership dimension of the MBA is one of the most valuable aspects of the course. Through group work and end of semester peer feedback and reflection, you learn about your style of interacting in teams, your style of leadership, your strengths, and preferences. You learn about the preferences of others, that there is no one right way, and that ultimately our differences drive us to achieve so much more.

As I reflect on the MBA journey, I won’t miss the unrelenting workload, but I will unquestionably miss the challenge and the self-development. Above all else, I will miss the class debates, the sharp wit of my classmates, and the laughter imbued post mortems over a few drinks down in the Dark Horse.

To the faculty and programme office at UCD Smurfit, on behalf of myself and my colleagues, thank you for doing your very best to look after us, to inspire us, and to challenge us.

To my MBA colleagues, I am privileged to have undertaken this journey with you, to have learned from you, and to now count you as friends who I know I can call on as we all move forward in our respective careers and lives. May I wish you all the very best with the next chapter.

Catherine O’Brien, EMBA 2015-2017

Bringing It All Together

In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.

There is far more to an MBA experience than what you absorb in a classroom and it is learning from the experiences and skills of your peers where the MBA is most valuable. The consulting project in Iceland typified this. For our team Taramar, we worked closely with a small organic novel skincare company in Iceland looking to expand into new regions.

From start to finish the project lasted just three weeks which concluded with four days working on site with the client. Timelines were extremely tight and we knew we would have to hit the ground running if this project was to be a success. We spent two weeks prior to our trip researching market conditions, compiling data, liaising with the client on project scope and defining success criteria. Just like in the real world, no consulting project runs exactly smoothly and Team Taramar had to work through a number of trials and tribulations throughout our project. We quickly realised that defining scope and understanding exactly what a client desires is crucially important. We faced each challenge head on and a highlight for all of us was presenting our work at the end of the week to a delighted client.

As a team, we used the skills and knowledge we had acquired over the year to carry out a feasibility study. When we look back now, it is amazing the body of work that was accomplished in just four short days. But that is another characteristic of the MBA; each team gets more and more efficient as the year progresses. We assessed the market conditions, carried out a pricing study, drafted a marketing strategy, proposed a logistics solution to distribute in the new territory and used aspects of each MBA module we had completed.

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Although putting all the arduous hours of study into practice at the end of the year was rewarding, looking back it is what we learned from each other that was a real highlight. Our team was comprised of a variety of backgrounds and experiences from e-commerce, sales and commercial strategy, accounting, pharmacy and chemistry. The combined experience of the group was invaluable when developing a solution for our client. For each member in our team it was a first foray into the consulting world, and it’s safe to say we loved it!

The trip to Iceland was definitely one of the highlights of the year for all who attended. There was a sense of camaraderie from start to finish which helped to enhance the overall experience for all involved.

The opportunity to engage with faculty and members of the Full Time and both classes of the Executive MBA was thoroughly rewarding. We have all made new connections which will no doubt be invaluable in our future careers.

Suffice to say our Icelandic experience will live long in our memories!

https://www.taramarbeauty.com/

John Cassidy, EMBA 2016-2018

… the sweetest thing?

In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.

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“…And these are the team’s recommendations for market entry with your new product”. This was the end of what can only be described as a fantastic, informative whistle-stop journey into the world of management consulting working with ORF Genetics in Iceland. It was hard to believe just three days earlier the team sat down with the company’s Head of Market Development for our project briefing in ORF’s new state of the art offices that overlook the Reykjavík skyline and the blue Atlantic ocean beyond.

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We were tasked with determining if a market exists for ORF’s new sweetener grown in a barley plant. It was a excellent opportunity to apply not only our first year of the Executive MBA’s classroom learning but also our own team’s diverse background experience to a real life scenario and business problem. We left with a sense of fulfillment and pride, confident our findings have the potential to add real value to the company.

Little did we know when we set out from Dublin airport what a wonderful experience we would have as a team but also as a wider group spending a week in Iceland working with businesses on real life commercial challenges. Not that it was all work and no play; we also managed to pack in visits to the tourist destinations of the Blue Lagoon and the famous Golden Circle which encompasses the gushing Strokkur geyser, the iconic Gullfoss waterfall and the wide open landscape of Thingvellir National Park. The visit was helped all the more by the nearly 24 hours of sunlight at this time of year at 66 degrees latitude.

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The week also included an insightful visit to Reykjavík University to hear about how to do business in Iceland from two of their business school’s alumni, Thordis Loa Thorhallsdottir, CEO of Gray Lines Tour Iceland and Viggo Asgeirsson, Chief HR Office and Co-Founder of Meniga, one of Iceland’s top Fintech companies.

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Our Iceland experience was topped off with a farewell dinner in the architecturally stunning Harpa Opera house looking out over the old harbour where all students and staff got to celebrate a successful week. We just missed out on the mountain top concert but maybe next time….

A big thank you to Professor Karan Sonpar, the faculty and MBA office for organising a wonderful trip.

Paul Donnelly, Séamus Harrington, Ciara Keane, Brendan Staunton, Paul Walsh – EMBA 2016-2018

Time To Relax and Rejuvenate!

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With the exams now well and truly behind us at this stage, it feels like the WEMBAs (Weekend Executive MBAs) can breathe a sigh of relief. Chatting to the class last Saturday following our final Competitive Strategy exam, our (largely exhausted) conversations were along the lines of what we’ve learned so far this year, whether it was what we expected and how far we feel we’ve come (with some renditions of Teresa Mannion’s ‘don’t make unnecessary journeys’ thrown in!). In a sense, it feels like it’s been ages since Foundation Week, and on the other hand, it feels like time has flown. Either way, it’s been hugely enjoyable. A quarter down already!

We’ve learned to juggle work and personal lives, to prioritise, to engage with team-members, to speed-read, to manage deadlines – the latter being skills that we all had coming into Smurfit, but which have been honed for sure, during the past four months. The benefit of group work has allowed us all to lean on eachother when it got particularly busy, and is an amazing support when it feels a little overwhelming (which it definitely does at times!). Thanks Team ECHO :)

I didn’t think this time last year, that by now I’d have learned about Honda or Stephen King’s strategies, cashflow statements and principles-based accounting, boiling frog analogies (don’t think I’ll ever forget that one) or ‘job-shops’ in supply chain! Over Christmas, when I have time to take stock, it’ll be nice to consider everything we’ve all achieved. Perhaps I’ll catch up on some of the articles I didn’t get a chance to read…or perhaps not!

Here’s to more great, busy times next year.

Grace Milton ~ Executive MBA, Year 1

The Executive MBA & Work-Life Balance

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I cannot complain, as I was warned.

During our first week, we had a presentation from a gentleman from the MBA Association of Ireland. At the end he wished all of the full timers “Best of luck”, but to the EMBA group he just laughed and said “God help you!’

The hardest part of the EMBA for me so far has been managing the work-life balance; to be honest even having the word ‘life’ in there is a bit misleading. I had many discussions with EMBA alumni who all described it as the most difficult but enjoyable two years of their life. So I thought I was prepared for the workload. About seven weeks in I had a mini-breakdown, where I thought “What the hell have I done?” “All that money!” “All that time!” The only comforting part was the fact that everybody else in my class seemed to be feeling the same way.

One of the main reasons for my doing an EMBA at this time in my life, was figuring that my 18 month old daughter would not miss me too much. As long as I can be there for dinner and bed time, as well as an hour or two at the weekend, it is enough for her at the moment. Anyway, she seems more interested in Barney, In the Night Garden, Tangled, Frozen, or whatever structure she can fashion into a climbing frame or a horse.

Although the time commitment is more than I thought it would be, I am enjoying it even more than I thought I could. I have been exposed to so many new things, including: online dating; Zara (as I have never considered it before); the reality that narcissistic managers do exist and how to recognise them; a company called ‘Bananas’ (that doesn’t sell bananas); amongst many others.

The most important part of the EMBA journey to date is how it has made me think about things in different ways – including how I see myself, and the impact that I can make (or not), depending on my own personality and behaviours.

It was around this time last year that I made the decision to tackle the EMBA. So to anybody reading this who is considering the EMBA: start your GMAT preparation, attend one of the UCD Smurfit MBA Open Days and then go for it.

You won’t regret it.

Ger Kenny ~ Executive MBA, Year 2

Time Management – The “Hidden” MBA Module

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Well, OK, maybe it’s not so hidden, six weeks (yes, six!!) into our first semester but its presence and importance weren’t as clear to me at the start of the semester as perhaps they should have been!

Navigating the mix of group and individual assignments, which differ in content, nature and proportion of overall grade, is a challenge that needs to be met head-on. Add to this the volume of required reading, the need to devote sufficient time to group communications and, let’s not forget, the need to actually maintain a life outside the EMBA (i.e., family and job!) and we now have the framework for a hands-on module in advanced Time Management!

We may not get credits for it but I seriously doubt that success in the other four will be achieved without achieving a pass (at the very least) in this one. Thankfully, we’re all in the same boat and the class is very open about sharing the various tools that are being developed to get us through this challenging element of the course. For me, it’s important that I use this to ensure that the non-EMBA elements of my life don’t dwindle too much, so, while I find myself using all elements of the four core modules at work, Time Management is currently the only one I’m using at home. I’m particularly focused on getting enough time with three young kids who still think it’s hilarious that their Daddy is back in “school” and has to do “homework” – perspective is everything!

Conor Burke ~ Executive MBA 

The Home Straight

The Home Straight


Arriving in the 4th semester of the exec MBA we have completed 12 modules, 328 hours of class, an average of more than twice that in readings, assignments and projects. Every one of those hours has taken its toll over three long semesters. However, entering the home straight, energy and enthusiasm are at levels not reached since our block week 18 months ago!

The highlight of this semester for most people will be the international trip. For those of us remaining here to keep the home fires burning, Managing the Negotiation Process provides an intriguing way of passing the semester. The course lecturer (Stephen Boyle) has a reputation built over the last number of years, with alumni from over 7 years ago praising the course. The class has been split into two groups of 3 person teams, randomly being paired against each other for live negotiations (with the two teams representing different parties in the negotiation. Friendships developed over the past 18 months will be cast aside for the 2 hour battle. Preparation and quick thinking will be a teams’ best assets.

Home straight it is, will we miss it when it is all over?

Brian Shields ~ Year 2 Executive MBA

Running to the Corporate Finish

It is hard to believe that we are just over half-way through our second semester in Year 1. We are now all settled into our ‘new’ teams and working our way through our submissions and plans for the second half of the term. However this semester is more balanced towards individual assessment rather than group submissions and our first mid-term exam of the course took place on Saturday last in Corporate Finance. The mid-term was worth 20% of our overall grade and was definitely effective in focusing my attention on what we have covered in the module so far.

The Corporate Finance module has taught us many calculations, including how to determine the future and present values of cash flows and the cost of capital for a business. We have also focused on assessing market risk and return, and how to evaluate various investment opportunities for a business.

However as those of you familiar with this area know, there is a lot more to Corporate Finance than formulas and calculations.  This was reflected clearly in our mid-term exam of which at least half of the content was based on theory from the module material.   One needed to know the functions of financial markets and intermediaries and why market investors are not concerned with individual stock risks, as well as be able to calculate the value of a perpetuity, in order to successfully demonstrate their knowledge gained on the topic.

I found my revision of the module material during the last few weeks invaluable, while not infallible, in clarifying the module concepts and enabling me to embrace the topics we are due to cover in the next part of the term with a much greater appreciation.

We are all busy with the demands of the MBA and it is difficult not to regularly focus on what submissions are due. However this directed module revision has reinforced the importance of taking a point in time during the semester to reflect on my understanding of each module. Mid-term break seems like the perfect time to avail of this opportunity so luckily that is fast approaching.

Elaine Berkery

EMBA 2015

Ireland

Looking Forward to Looking Back

With a new year upon us, I’ve been reflecting on the highs and lows of 2013 which included completing my first semester of the mid-week Executive MBA (EMBA).  Given that I questioned my sanity on a number of occasions during semester 1, I am pleased to say that the EMBA was close to the top of my list of highs.

In my experience, maintaining a sensible balance between study, work, and a personal life was the largest challenge of the past 3 months. Be it lectures, readings, assignments, team meetings or guest speakers, the MBA can consume all of your time! In the case of the MBA, the old saying of “you get out what you put in” is certainly true, however the ability to prioritise and effectively manage your time is key.

Aside from the academic benefits of an MBA program, some personal highlights to date have been:

  • Attending an entrepreneurship club event which had a number of guest speakers from Irish start-ups
  • Participation and insight gained in class group presentations
  • Attending a series of guest speaker panels organised by a group of MBA alums, with a particular highlight being the visit of Des Traynor of Intercom.
  • The Leadership Development Programme events

Above all, the essence of the MBA program is the people (legends) you meet, be it team mates, classmates or those in the alumni network.  In just 3 months, the MBA has provided numerous opportunities to meet and work with exceptionally talented people. As a group, the midweek class has learned a great deal outside of academics, such as:

  • Tina is an awesome electric guitarist.
  • Not all pharmacists are boring!
  • Tullow Oil is the greatest company to work for in the history of the world, ever.
  • Frankie works in a bank.

So as we embark on semester 2 in just over a weeks’ time, where we will have new teams and no doubt new challenges, three pieces of advice I have are:

  • Manage your time & work hard but make sure to maintain a work/study/life balance
  • Attend as many extra-curricular MBA events as possible (and in particular the monthly guest speakers organised by Joe Kenny)
  • And, most of all, enjoy yourselves!


Over and Out

Michael O’Dwyer

Midweek EMBA 2015

UCD Smurfit EMBA ascends global MBA rankings

Some good news this week,  the UCD EMBA is now placed 81st in the Financial Times global rankings for 2013.

The Irish Times picked up on the breaking news quickly –  “The Dublin university, which is the only Irish business school included in the global rankings, has moved up seven places in the rankings from last year, up to 81.”  Read more here.

The Journal.ie ran with an article entitled “UCD Smurfit School MBA ranked among best in world” which in 24 hours has received almost 15,000 views.  Click here to read.

You can access the school’s own announcement on Business & Leadership by following the link for the associated press release here.

A special thank you to all who participate in these rankings every year.  Your efforts contribute to growing the UCD Smurfit MBA as the brand leader in Ireland.

MBA Team.