Year 2 – The beginning of the End!?!

One year into the MBA and a year wiser, or so I think!  Having recently been reflecting on the first year of the MBA in order to advise a potential student, I reviewed the blog I wrote after foundation week last year.  It brought all of the memories (and emotions) flooding back to me:

  • the extent of work involved in applying (which was only the beginning!);
  • the exhilaration upon receiving an offer for a place;
  • the nervousness and trepidation of the first day (and week);
  • the relief when I realised we were all in the same boat; and
  • ultimately, the fun of the foundation week and the great people that are involved in the Smurfit MBA.

Looking back on that first week now, the fear of the unknown was the primary feeling which I remember leading into the week.  However, I left the week with a renewed enthusiasm (and many more friends).

My foundation week tips for incoming students are as follows:

  1. Be open to new things in order to gain the most from the week;
  2. Do not fear the unknown, if you have been accepted on the course, you are most definitely of a calibre which can complete it;
  3. Learn when to listen and when to speak up, particularly in the team building exercises which are a good approximation of group work on the MBA;
  4. Be open to meeting new people and try to introduce yourself to as many people as possible (particularly from the other classes) as these people can be of great assistance; and
  5. Have fun!

On a more holistic note, Year 1 of the Exec MBA has taught me a phenomenal amount about business (and the people underlying each business) which I would not have been able to learn elsewhere.  As a class, we have had our share of good times but we have also worked extremely hard to get through and it is the collective support which gets people through.  I can also happily report that the MBA has already had a positive impact on some colleagues’ careers as they have moved job or been promoted during the first year (primarily with thanks to the MBA).  My final thoughts on the EMBA experience,

  • Has it been enjoyable?  Undoubtedly!
  • Has there been low points?  You bet…
  • Have I learnt everything that I thought I would?  Yes, and much more on top.
  • Have I worked hard?  Even harder than I thought possible in Brian McGrath’s foundation week lecture…
  • Do I regret applying for the course? No way!
  • Would I advise others to apply?  Definitely (and I have done already)!

– Shaun O’Keeffe, EMBA Yr 2

True support

In order to achieve, one must have support. These achievements vary greatly by individual, asdoes the form of support that they need to achieve. The effort required not only to attend the UCD Smurfit School Executive MBA, but also to actively participate and take full advantage of the learning opportunity is tremendous. This effort is simply unrealisable without support. There are many definitions of what support is, but in the context of my current studies I particularly like the definition that states support as; “to keep from weakening or failing”.

In my case I couldn’t even countenance attending the Executive MBA without the absolute support of my wife, children, family and friends. And recently at the Family Easter Egg hunt in Smurfit School, the strength of the family support for all students is particularly evident! We simply couldn’t achieve our ambitious goals without you all, and I wanted to take this chance to say thank you for your sacrifices and support in our endeavours.

Thinking further on the support that I have drawn on specifically for the Executive MBA, I was struck by the incredible support available and eagerly offered to all students by the UCD Smurfit School students themselves. And what I believe to be a unique strength of the school and programme, this support has been offered by the past students and alumni just as much as it has been by current students.

The strength of this support network is unrivalled, and even though I had read of it before attending the school and programme, I continue to be amazed by just how vital this network of support is. I myself spoke with past students prior to application and have continued to draw on the experience and perspective of these alumni throughout my time on the programme.

This support will only strengthen as we all continue to utilise it until and after graduate. I look forward to being in a position to extend these bonds of support to future students and for any prospective MBA students reading this blog, I would strongly recommend that you reach out and contact a current or former student for their perspective on UCD Smurfit School and the MBA.

You will be generously surprised by the response and support that you will find.

James O'Rourke



– James O’Rourke, EMBA Weekend 2012-14

Linking industry and academia

One of the benefits that I find from the Executive MBA is that I go back to my day-job on a Monday morning and “noodle” on what we have discussed in class that previous weekend. I can bounce stuff off my workmates and get a different perspective on things to take back with me to class the following weekend. This is a very practical way of grounding my MBA experience into the everyday work-life on a continuous basis and creates a vital link between industry and academia.

But in writing this blog, I began to wonder are there other less obvious opportunities for linking industry and academia?
I have worked in start-up companies for the last 7 years of my life and if there is one thing that start-ups have in common it is the lack of money available and the requirement to achieve one’s aims with the smartest use of resources possible.

Earlier in my career I spent 8 wonderful years in NUIG as an undergrad and postgrad and if there is one thing that universities have in common it is the abundance of engineering equipment available for testing, analysing and characterising materials,devices, structures, etc. etc. Surely it is logical to bridge the two and create a valuable and strategic symbiosis in the process? Of course there has been continuous links between industry and academia down through the years in the form of collaborative research partnerships, sponsored post-grads,etc. which have been hugely beneficial to all parties. Such endeavours keep third-level researchers relevant, allowing them to work on problems that are very current and applied. At the same time they have provided the sponsoring company with valuable research allowing them to develop technologies and create significant value for their products.

On a routine basis, we (in our company) have need for short-term access to calibrated test equipment such as tensile testers, torque testers, fluid analysers, FTIR, DSC, etc. etc. and have had to contract this work out to third-party vendors. An opportunity exists for some of the third-level institutions to provide such services to industry and generate a valuable revenue stream in the process. Endeavours such as Metric Ireland and Connect 2013 are important drivers for fostering additional links between industry and academia so that short-term gains and benefits can be realised on both sides.

Funding for third-level is being continually stretched and industry is constantly required to operate in ever-more-efficient means to achieve their goals. I believe a significant opportunity exists at present to align all relevant parties in pursuit of this and build sustainability of the indigenous sector into the future.

Brendan Cunniffe


– Brendan Cunniffe, EMBA (Weekend) 2012-14

EMBA Yr 1 Social in the Officers Mess

A fifty strong gang from across all three EMBA YR1 classes elected to drop the books and let the hair down for a social night in the Defence Forces military Barracks on the 23rd of March.

The evening kicked off with a lively drinks reception in the visitors centre were everyone was enlightened on the eventful history of Cathal Brugha Barracks. There were some surprised expressions in the crowd to hear of some of the happenings inside the gates over the years. It was certainly an eye opener for those who would not have been previously familiar with the finer details of Irish history over the past century and a half.

We moved from there to the Officers Mess where we indulged in the military’s finest cuisine! It wasn’t long before the weekend [class] crew had the wine opened and began to set the pace. Spirits were high and the “craic” as one says was mighty.

The meal complete we retired to the bar to enjoy the rest of the evening.  If the event was to be judged on the amount of people who stayed until the end well it would surely be marked as a great success, with many moving to the realms of Lesson Street to perfect their dance moves once the bar closed! In all the event provided an excellent opportunity for all of us to get to know and network with counterparts many of whom we would not have seen since the induction week.


Many thanks to all who attended, no doubt we will all see out the last few academic weeks of year one with success and hopefully we will soon meet again in high spirits.

– Conor Ryan, EMBA MidWeek, 2012-14

Executive MBA Family Day

It’s easy to forget that your class mates are actually people with lives outside of the this world with husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and children – and not merely fellow captives trying to help you get through the many, various assignments! So with the goal of getting to know our class mates a little better and having some harmless fun we conceived of the idea of the eMBA Family Day.

We are a time poor group at the moment with little capacity for extravagant party planning so our core focus in getting the event organised was to pool everyone’s talents and resources to see what we could come up with. Before we knew it we found we had an ‘Egg Hunt Director’, Jenn Boyer (EMBA Weekend), who brought significant experience from her childhood in the US, a jewellery designer class mate with a flair for face painting (Claire McAllister, EMBA Weekend), and the offer of a 7 feet tall dragon costume from a class mate’s marketing department! With these various resources and the support of the MBA office the eMBA Family Day Egg Hunt and Picnic was launched!

The path of the MBA student is never smooth and despite the fact that almost every Saturday that the weekend group has spent in Blackrock has been bathed in glorious sunshine, the day of the egg hunt coincided with the torrential rain and floods in Dublin. Not a group to be easily defeated, we brainstormed, innovated, discussed and debated and quickly relocated the party indoors and crated an indoor Easter woodland.

More than 15 families with over 20 children and even a few grandparents attended the event, eating approximately 2 metric tonnes of chocolate! The children were very excited to meet the eMBA Easter Bunny (graciously played by James O’Rourke, EMBA Weekend) and were a little astounded to encounter the eMBA Friendly Dragon (a stunning performance by Steve Kelly, EMBA Weekend). Despite our various obstacles and limited time we were delighted with the success of the event and are already looking forward to a bigger and better event for Year 2.

In addition to the kid’s enjoyment it was great to see the partners of the eMBA class mates spend some time together in such a fun setting – to commiserate over their missing spouses in some cases, to regale everyone with tales of practice presentations in front of the fire in others! There is a life outside of the eMBA, even if it’s sometimes easy to forget, so it’s good to give ourselves a little reminder every once in a while so that we remember why we’re doing this.

– Ciara O’Brien, EMBA Weekend 2012-14

Spring is in the air…

Spring is in the air and as thoughts turn towards Summer days and the Galway Races, the more forward-looking and future-focussed among you are looking even further again and asking yourselves “is this August the right time to start my MBA journey?” I was in that place exactly 12 months ago and as we steer towards the end of Semester 2 (and Year 1) I can happily announce to any prospective MBA candidates that there is light at the end of the tunnel!! Last August in our induction week, the MBA experience was quite accurately described as a “conveyor belt of work” and looking back this description was pretty much on the button. However, it’s important to realise you’re not the only person standing at that conveyor belt since you have your team-mates beside you for the most part and this makes the workload more than manageable. I had the added complication of commuting from Galway each week and this does make team-work a little more challenging since getting face-to-face time is limited to Friday mornings or Saturday afternoons. In addition, our company at the time was entering probably its busiest time as we were concluding a clinical trial in Germany so there were trips to Europe to add into the mix as well. But endless emails and conf calls every week usually keep things on track and there’s nothing like an imposing deadline to focus the mind!!! You don’t have to be Dublin-based to enjoy the full experience of MBA life at the Smurfit School.

The point of all of this for me is as follows. A misapprehension on my part before the MBA started was that it was just a continuation of what we did as undergrads, i.e. attend lectures, write reports and do presentations and (hopefully) regurgitate as much as possible at the end-of-semester exam. To a degree this is accurate but there is a much bigger picture around the whole MBA experience. Yes it’s about gaining knowledge in areas that are new to you, e.g. Supply Chain Management, Corporate Finance, Accounting, etc. but it’s about developing yourself even more so. But what exactly does this mean? It’s about understanding how you interact with others, why you react in a particular way when that imposing deadline is tomorrow and you’re still a million miles away from where you need to be, do you motivate your team or do you strike fear into them, how do you react when one of your team-mates is along for the ride? Are you able to handle the stress and pressure of juggling multiple priorities and deadlines whilst still maintaining perspective and some semblance of balance in your life? It’s about learning about yourself in scenarios that are typical of what you will inevitably face on a continual basis in your working lives but you perform this self-examination in a safe environment for 2 years before you cut lose again. It gives you an opportunity to ask hard questions of yourself and fix the things that you want to fix. Don’t assume that there is an expected right answer to these questions. The only right answer is the one that’s right for you. Ultimately you want to be a better motivator, a better manager and a better team-player because it’s just easier that way.

Brendan Cunniffe

When you look to your right and see no end to that conveyor belt of work, if you’re a strong motivator and a strong team player it makes it so much more manageable when everyone wants to take a piece. As we say in Irish “ní neart go cur le chéile”, – strength in numbers folks!!


– Brendan Cunniffe,  EMBA Weekend,  12-14

What’s in a Grade?

To return to university after a gap of ten years since last attending a lecture or class is a daunting experience. To do so in tandem with your 9 to 5 and family responsibilities is bordering on insanity. Six months in to the Executive MBA, I don’t feel less insane for my decision but thankfully I am glad I lost my senses for those moments whilst filling in the Smurfit School application form! Surprisingly however, the satisfaction and benefits of my decision have not been derived from what I had previously assumed.

The decision to attempt to find 480 hours a semester in addition to work and family life was brought back to me in recent weeks, when receiving my semester 1 results. I must admit the most surreal experience of the Executive MBA to date has been waiting to sit an exam in the UCD RDS Exam Hall the week before Christmas with 18 year old first year undergraduates! I never knew I had such levels of ignorance of youth and self-consciousness of my own age in equal measure!

It was not the doing of the exams however that has triggered my reflection but rather the arrival of the results themselves. It has made me revisit why I decided to return to school in the first instance. Most organisations today ask a similar question as to what I did, which centre on the theme of what does success look like in any given situation.

What surprised me the most was the answer that I arrived at. It is very easy once in an academic environment to gauge one’s performance and success based on the quantifiable grade at the end of your module of effort, learning and long hours. This grade takes on a surprising level of significance not just for the student but also their peer group, friends, family and associates. What surprised me about my reflection is that whilst the grades I received were gratifying, they are not the reason that I or my classmates are here.

Each weekend I am surrounded by 21 extremely driven, intelligent, curious and accomplished individuals. In a wider sense there are nearly 100 equally impressive colleagues in the other classes of the 2013 Smurfit MBA Class. The insight, learning and enjoyment we are providing to each other through the facilitation of our lecturers is truly incredible. This is an aspect which may be outlined by numerous institutions as a sales point but it is the experience of this richness of experience on the Executive MBA which is challenging, stretching and ultimately enlightening.

And to the question of what success looks like to me on this MBA, it revolves around a new way of thinking and appreciating issues I face every day and this success is as dependent on my classmates and their contribution to the programme as much as it does my own or that of our lecturers. So to my classmates I say thank you and let’s continue to challenge each other as we make the most of this unique lifetime learning opportunity.

James O'Rourke



– James O’Rourke, EMBA Week-end 2012-14