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.
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.
After a busy final semester, full of long days invested in the MBA Capstone project, the MBA Golf Society Classic had arrived. Once again the stunning K Club in County Kildare – home of the 2006 Ryder Cup – played host to the annual event. This year’s chosen charities were the UCD Ad Astra Academy and CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young).
Teams arrived to the clubhouse early to prep their gear, take in the scenes and get some vital practice on the range. Attire was varied – just like the golfing abilities! From the man-in-black Cadwell to Mr “Del Monte” Hope donning police sunglasses and a quintessential panama hat. Regardless, rumour had got around that this year’s prizes were worth leaving it all on the course, and focus was on the golf and not the outfits. Competition was on!
Father and son duo Padraig and Cameron Kenny were up first. Broad-shouldered Kenny Jr, an integral part of the Smurfit MBA Rugby World Cup Team back in April, was pipped as the favorite to win the Business Performance Perspectives Longest Drive on Hole 7. He wasted no time smashing his first up Fairway 1 against a strong wind.
Next up, the team led by Chairman of the MBA Rugby Team, Cathal Murphy, with fellow Full Time MBAs Conor Hurley and Traolach “Tray” O’Connor. Also joining them was Chris Cadwell a welcome guest best known for strength training the Smurfit MBA Rugby Team at The Edge in Clontarf. A solid all-round team that knew they had a strong chance of taking home the prizes.
Finally, a mixed team of Full Time MBA students Ciaran Hope and Colin Dunne, Part Time MBA Ciarán O’Shea and MBA alum Mark Good. Paddy Power wasn’t sure what odds to give this group after their wild range practice. There was plenty of experience in the team though with O’Shea a well seasoned MBA Golf Society member and Hope an Irishman with a distinguished Los Angeles golfing career. Hope apparently took up golf so he could rub shoulders with LA’s rich and famous – unfortunately his stories of LA golf will have to be left on the K Club’s fairways. Mark Good, no stranger to an MBA Golf society outing, was striking his irons well on the range and looked like a contender for the NxtGEN Executive Training Closest to the Pin on Hole 17. Dunne started strong in this group leading the round with a par. However, it looked like his team-mates had left all the steam on the range and couldn’t match his three stable-ford points.
The wind persisted throughout the front 9 with Good convinced every hole was against it. This may, however, have been something to do with the zig zag route he took up a few fairways. The wind didn’t stop the sun shining with O’Shea making sure he was topped up with sunscreen while explaining that the Swallow Quarry rock and water feature on the 7th hole had been artificially constructed at a substantial cost. The Civil Engineers among us found it hard to believe but agreed that anything is possible with enough capital.
As suspected, Cameron Kenny hit big off the 7th to land himself the prize for the Business Performance Perspectives Longest Drive. Sharp shooter Mark Good heard that the prize for the NxtGEN Executive Training Closest to the Pin was 12 golf balls and so decided that he was going to take this on to replenish his stock, having lost a few to his wild drives. Sure enough, with a smooth 7 iron, he was the only player to hit the green and landed the ball just 17 feet from the pin to take home the prize.
Following the discussions about the rock features, there were a few attempts to check whether the water features were real; confirmed by the splashes, with the Swallow Quarry swallowing up many a golf ball. Murphy laid up on the 18th fairway to chip over the water onto the green. His chip on was perfectly in line with the pin and the palatial clubhouse in the backdrop. Unfortunately Murphy had under-clubbed marginally and the splash short of the green crushed his hopes for par. The 18th was good to the other teams though. Kenny Jr managed to hit a 240-yard shot over land and water with a strong cross to find the green and set him up for par. O’Shea chipped from off the green with precision aim and weight in front of a captive audience on the clubhouse veranda to see it roll slowly in from distance for par.
With not much between the scores the winning team of Murphy, O’Conor, Hurley and Cadwell took away the main prizes. Dunne, Good, Hope and O’Shea weren’t disappointed to take 2nd place after such an enjoyable round, while Team Kenny was still in shock after Kenny Jr’s 240-yard diamond.
The Winning Team (L-R Chris Cadwell, Conor Hurley, Traolach O’Conor and Cathal Murphy)
An extremely enjoyable round of golf in a beautiful setting with some great company. Soon we’ll be handing over the reigns of MBA Golf Society to next year’s MBA Class and I’m already looking forward to playing a few of their outings.
Colin Dunne, Full Time MBA & Golf Society Captain 2016-2017
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.
We (Lorcan, Louis, Niall & Peter) teamed up with As We Grow, an indigenous design company specialising in the design of children’s (and, as we later found out, women’s) clothing – a sector none of us had any experience in. We were originally tasked with the rather broad scope of re-designing their business plan and growing their international online sales to ISK 100 million within 3 years. (To date, their sales streams had been heavily focused on wholesale and distribution.)
We soon realised that they had more basic and fundamental problems to address and reasoned that the main issues we could assist with were:
optimisation of their online presence
clarification of their differentiating factor
selection of new markets to target
After further discussions with the company, we agreed that selecting new markets to target wasn’t a priority so we dropped this point of business from the project but agreed to prioritise the whole area of brand awareness instead.
We soon learned that what customers like about As We Grow was:
The simplicity of the garments
The concept of its production
That they are made in Iceland
We provided the client with a presentation comprising real, practical recommendations that we felt addressed:
Development and improvement of their digital sales strategy
Optimisation of their branding
Optimisation of their website
Correction of some operational issues
Improved communication of their story
One of our key learnings was that relevant industry experience or knowledge can be very valuable. One of us had two contacts operating in this industry and we set up relevant communication channels. While we may not have agreed with or used their advice verbatim, it expeditiously put us on the right path and saved us a considerable amount of time. It was also interesting that these two contacts had very differing views of the online arena, and our learning from this was that companies can have different views on the exact same market; it simply depends on their goals, priorities and, ultimately, company strategy.
Two rounds of study groups and learnings from our Global Virtual Team were great preparation for the team-working dynamic of the trip. For Year 2 of the MBA, we feel that our team-working skills are much improved by the experience and this will be a real benefit when dealing with more study groups and more GVTs over the remainder of the course.
All in all, we found the Iceland trip enjoyable, eye-opening and a great experience from start to finish. While it’s not untrue to say that Iceland is expensive, this is but a fleeting observation because the real value derived from this trip was the richness of the Icelandic culture, the beauty of its scenery, and the bonding of an MBA class – the class… of 2018.
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.
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!
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.
Stu Garrett, Yasser Matloob, Gauav Bansal and I worked on consultancy project for Reyjkavik-based start-up, Karolina Fund. Having developed their own successful crowd-funding platform with an enviable funding success rate of 74%, Karolina identified the opportunity to turn its platform into a white label engine which could be licensed to other crowdfunding platforms, creating an additional revenue stream.
Coming from the traditional environments of hospitals, utilities, banking and finance the Karolina Fund project gave our team exposure to an industry in its infancy and an exciting start-up environment.
The original scope of the assignment was to undertake a review of the company’s product and target market. However, as our scoping progressed and our interactions with our client became more frequent, we began to understand that the real scope of our assignment was to give an external opinion on whether Karolina should seek additional investment to add AI capabilities to their engine. Our client believes this would unlock a significant number of potential new uses for the company’s crowd-funding engine and become its unique selling point.
We found ourselves drawing heavily on our competitive strategy module from Semester 1. It was not long before the familiar expressions of Porter’s Five Forces, multi-sided platforms and core competences were floating around the Reykjavik innovation hub. We drew from our human resource strategy module by identifying the core competences that existed in the business and how these skills and expertise could be leveraged to achieve the company’s vision and strategy.
We thoroughly enjoyed the discussions we had with our client where we could openly explore new ideas for his business in an open and direct manner. We were motivated by his passion and inspired by the company’s success to date. We debriefed each evening with faculty members who sometimes brought us back down to earth from our “blue sky thinking” perch by constructively challenging our ideas. This was an invaluable experience.
It would not have been an MBA study trip without networking opportunities. We got to share our experiences and challenges with over 50 members of the current MBA class, all happy to provide insights and ideas. More importantly, we got to experience networking in typical Icelandic fashion – in a circus tent with the Icelandic version of Eminem, trapeze artists descending from the apex and a special appearance by Pepper the Robot! Amidst the entertainment we met our company chairman and other members of the start-up community in Reykjavik.
In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class traveled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.
We arrived at Reykjavik airport on a sunny Sunday in early June. After collecting our luggage, we were immediately taken by bus to the Blue Lagoon, the most visited geothermal spa in Iceland. It’s not an understatement to say that I was completely dumbfounded by its signature milky blue water, a pure nature’s wonder. After spending two hours in the mineral rich water, I felt so refreshed and ready for our consulting project the next day.
Unlike our previous study trip to Japan and Korea, which was more about experiencing business culture of the Far East, on the trip to Iceland we had the chance to apply what we learned during our MBA programme to help solve real business problems for local companies.
My group’s client was an herbal pharmaceutical company – a young startup whose products are aimed at treating some common diseases for women. It’s planning to enter the Danish market and wanted us to develop a go to market strategy which included a competitive analysis and a list of potential sales organisations with which to collaborate.
Our first working day in Iceland was ironically on a Bank Holiday, and as a result there were only five of us with another group in the innovation incubation centre. Walking through the empty hall, my attention was caught by a table filled with sample products, all of which were incubated in this centre. Among these, I was most impressed by some fish skin, which is used to make waterproof wallets and handbags. Iceland certainly knows how to make unique products from its natural resources!
In our meeting room, we were given a quick introduction by the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing – it was an informative presentation and we learned how they used a differentiation strategy to achieve price premium and healthy margins. Now with an understanding of the client’s requirement, we quickly got together and used Porter’s Five Forces framework to analyse industry competitiveness. Thanks to Smurfit’s strategy class, we quickly came up with an exhaustive analysis that covered every aspect of competitive landscape.
Over the following two days, we moved on to analyse the size of our client’s customer segment and realised that by catering only to female customers, our client would lose 50% of the Danish market. Further analysis led us to some unexpected conclusions, and on the final day our presentations and recommendations challenged their existing strategy.
On our final evening, we rented a car and drove around Iceland’s Golden Circle – a 300km route through many beautiful landmarks. As we returned to our hotel at midnight – with the sun still in the sky – we said goodbye to the land where the sun never sets.
“Life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards” Kierkegaard
Forecasting is a doomed art! Those who try to predict the future invariably fail miserably. What I can forecast though is I will have mixed emotions of happiness but also sadness when this journey finishes. And boy has it been a journey! I decided to undertake the MBA because of a love of learning, for self-improvement and as a challenge: it was my treat to myself after a decade labouring as a consultant in the HSE. I also wanted to try to improve healthcare for all people within the HSE and I believed the MBA would give me skills to help achieve that goal. So was it the right decision?
It soon became apparent to me there are two tracks on the EMBA –those with and without children and partners. Where the course is a challenge for all of us, the real casualties of the MBA are the children and partners who suffer long absences, deadlines, cramming sessions for exams and late night skype calls. In the middle of my third semester my son said: “Dad, I don’t like the MBA, it means we don’t talk as much before I go to bed”. A stake through my heart! In fact my greatest stress throughout the course was, as we neared the end of the first lecture, would it end in time for me to talk to my son before he went to sleep.
It has been one of the most enjoyable learning experiences in my life. Academically highly educational with some truly inspirational teachers, a rich social interaction, life-long bonds made with team members forged through collective suffering, and most surprisingly of all, self-discovery. The Myer Briggs and 360 assessments really made me understand my motivations, passions and most of all my limitations. I also became aware that how I perceive and hear myself is very different to how others see and hear me. I gained wisdom through this course managing to avoid grade fixation and focussing on the journey itself; I feasted on the marrow of the MBA and mined the minds of the lecturers and classmates all washed down with at times contentious, but always good-spirited debate. The MBA was always about the journey to me, not the final arbitrary tabulation of effort.
So what of the future? We are clearly living in interesting and disruptive times. Moore’s law tells us computing power doubles every 18 months and we are at the dawn of AI displacing many millions of jobs as evidenced by the Fukoki-company outsourcing to IBM Watson Explorer recently. Other disruptive innovations including Crispr Cas 9 genome editing, 3D printing, driverless cars, internet of things, solar panel covered streets to power lights and cities, will all revolutionise our lives. We will live longer more affluent lives but will this necessarily translate to better quality lives? “Machinery which gives us abundance has left us in want, knowledge has made us cynical and cleverness hard and unkind, we think too much and feel too little, more than machinery we need humanity, more than cleverness we need kindness” (Charles Chaplin).
Equally compelling is the lurch to the political right, religious wars, economic stagnation with endless QE, lack of political leadership and the potential for further banking collapses with bail ins. But I have great hope for the future despite all these tumultuous events. That hope arises partly from my MBA experience because of the people I met. Simple acts of kindness: a mass card for a bereaved family member, baby hampers for a bouncing new arrival, organising a medical appointment for a child, and help for a classmate struggling with an assignment. An encouraging word, a kind smile, a nod that all will be okay.
This journey has made me wiser, walk softer and try to be kinder. Because the MBA isn’t about grades, it isn’t about degrees, it isn’t about money. It’s about people, the struggle you endure with them, learning from them and most importantly the friendship you give and graciously receive from them. I thank my classmates and lecturers for the wonderful two-year conversation we have enjoyed. Most of all I thank my family for tolerating this journey and carrying me along the way.
Maybe our journey isn’t ending, maybe it’s just beginning…
The first week of January usually marks a familiar return to the rhythm of office life. For the team chosen to represent UCD Smurfit at the 36th John Molson MBA International Case Competition, the first week of January 2017 proved to be an unforgettable experience. The competition is the largest and longest established of its kind in the world. Intense preparations prior to Christmas had been interspersed with end of year exams and project submissions, but finally, the time had come to put our MBA skills to the test. With a vague appreciation of the scale of the challenge facing us, we set off for Montreal satisfied that we had put in the hard yards in honing our strategy and presentation skills. Despite this, we could never have envisioned the magnitude of the experience ahead of us, the highlight of the MBA to date for our team.
Having rang in both the Irish and Canadian New Years, we were glad to have a day of respite on New Year’s Day before the action commenced on Monday. A morning stroll through fresh snow around the historic Old Port of Montreal allowed us dispatch the Christmas cobwebs and observe the city operating at full tilt despite the inclement weather. Historically the commercial capital of Canada, Montreal remains an important centre of commerce, aerospace, finance, pharmaceuticals and technology. The 270 executive judges for the week’s competition hailed from these local industries and global giants spanning companies such as E&Y, Bombardier, Pathfinder, Royal Bank of Canada, Microsoft and IBM.
The eagerly awaited draw to group the 36 teams took place at Monday morning’s impressive opening ceremony. A nervous energy filled the room, as the business school names were drawn one by one. UCD Smurfit were drawn against five leading business schools from Sweden, the US, Canada and Mexico. Over the course of the week we would go head to head with each, in a round-robin format, tackling five unpublished business cases, including a live case. Each team would be allocated three hours to read a 20-30 page business case, carry out an analysis, and develop a strategy and implementation plan. The output in each instance would be a 25 minute PowerPoint presentation to a panel of five executive judges followed by 15 minutes of questions.
Day 1: Our opening round saw us drawn against the highly reputable Simon Business School from the University of Rochester in New York. The case challenged us to develop a competitive strategy for Swatch as the company faced the rise of the Apple iWatch. A strong opening performance saw us grind out a win against Simon. This victory would be the platform that gave the team confidence that we belonged on the global stage. We were off the mark.
Day 2: The famous ‘double case day’ dubbed as the toughest day of the week. First up, a global expansion and growth strategy for a complex Portuguese retailing conglomerate. A tough case, and facing very challenging opposition from LSBE of Wifrid Laurier University Canada, we were delighted to notch up another win. Following a short break for lunch, the third round saw us develop a strategy for Uber for South African market entry which we lost to tough opponents from Haskayne Business School from the University of Calgary. After three rounds we were placed 2nd in our division, just behind Sweden’s highly regarded Lund University School of Business and Economics, who were positioned to top the group and make the semi-finals. Any thoughts of coming here to get one victory had soon turned to calculating what results we required to qualify for the semi’s.
Day 3: Proceedings took a different twist, Dave McLaughlin, the General Manager of WeWork, a US shared office space start up founded in 2010 with a current valuation of $16bn, presented a live challenge from his company. We were tasked with developing a new business line for the company. To add to the pressure, having heard of UCD Smurfit, Dave selected to attend our presentation to scout for his next business innovation. We faced off stiff competition from LUND to jointly top the division with Canada’s Haskayne at the end of the day. It would be an early night for the team with thoughts firmly fixed on Thursday’s final round.
Day 4: The final division case on Thursday saw us pitted against the energetic Mexican business school EGADE and challenged to develop a growth strategy for an Indian agri business. A tough case, we debated possibilities at length and felt the pressure ramp up as the time ticked down. Despite the frantic preparations, we made an excellent presentation and impressed the judges by competently validating our strategy under intense scrutiny.
We nervously awaited the announcement of the division winners and semi-finalists as we dined on lunch. When ‘UCD Smurfit’ flashed up on the screen as division winners and semi-finalists we jumped from our seats ecstatic that our hard work had reaped reward.
Following lunch, the team took a well-earned rest in preparation for battle in the semi-final that evening, where we would face the American University of Beruit (Lebanon) and Queensland University of Technology (Australia). We were tasked with developing an integration strategy for a LinkedIn acquisition. The semi-final ran very close with eventual 3rd placed finalists Queensland winning our semi-final. Emotions were mixed at the announcement on Thursday night. We were disappointed to have narrowly lost out on a place in the final but incredibly proud of our achievements in topping the division and beating off strong competition to reach the semi-final.
Despite the packed daily case schedule, the competition organisers ran a full programme of evening events which allowed participants to experience Canadian culture, make new connections from all over the world and kick back after long days of competition. Attending Montreal’s home of ice hockey at the Bell Centre to see Canada play the Czech Republic was one particular highlight. The games’ roots are professed in some quarters to originate from ancient hurling, still though, nothing comes close to a day out at Croke Park! Thursday night’s movie theme party saw us trade business formal for superhero costumes with some of our team discovering hidden super powers at the karaoke machine! The final banquet dinner on Friday night celebrated the end to an incredible week. Canadian university, Memorial, were presented with the Concordia Cup. As one of six division winners, we were also presented with a cheque in recognition of our performance.
As we face into the final semester of the Executive MBA, we look forward to further challenges and further adventure as we visit Japan and Korea on company visits later this year. Molson has however been the stand out experience of the MBA to date and the learning, laughs and friendships forged will remain indelibly engraved in our memories as we wistfully reflect on our time at Smurfit.
We were expertly guided throughout the week and in preparation by Professor Pat Gibbons and we would like to express our deep gratitude to Pat for his encouragement, time, and expertise. We would also like to acknowledge and thank Paul Slattery for his guidance on presentation skills and Ro Downing and all at Smurfit for supporting the team from the outset. The competition itself was also excellently organised and hosted by Concordia University’s John Moslon School of Business and great credit and thanks is due to the organising committee who looked after us so well during the week. A final note of thanks to the UCD Alumni Association Montreal Chapter and local business community representatives who hosted a reception for us during our stay.
To the next generation of MBAs, ‘the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity for growth’.
Go forth and seize the opportunity.
Catherine O’Brien ~ Executive MBA, Year 2
On behalf of: Derek Anderson, Anne Marie Barcoe, Tanya Kenny and Declan Walsh.
Sunday 18th of December and it is two days after the end of some of the busiest weeks of the Executive MBA to date. With Semester 1 of Year 2 complete, most students could be found making up for lost time with family and friends, Christmas shopping, or simply enjoying their freedom again. All except for our team of five daring Executive MBA students who traded Dundrum Shopping Centre for a small meeting room in The Radisson St Helens Hotel. Acting as a team of consultants, we were challenged to dissect a case on McDonald’s proposed global turn-around strategy within three hours, followed by a 25 minute presentation outlining our proposed strategy and rationale. Armed with the knowledge gleaned from the MBA to date, we set to work confident we could solve McDonald’s strategy dilemma. The Smurfit MBA team’s preparations for the John Molson International Case Study Competition 2017 were truly in full swing.
The journey began on October 11th when the second year Executive MBAs were invited to participate in ‘trials’ to establish the UCD team that would travel to Montreal to participate in the competition. Organised by John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal, the competition is the largest and longest established business case competition of its kind in the world. It takes place in Montreal every January and is a round-robin tournament consisting of seven rounds of unpublished business cases over five days. A total of 36 international universities will be represented in 2017 including teams from Canada, America, Australia, Brazil, China, Mexico, Chile, Sweden and Germany.
The UCD team was selected following individually prepared presentations on a sample case on microfinancing in rural India. We were informed by Smurfit School that we would receive all the support we required and determined to make the most out of this opportunity, we set about honing our strategy and presentation skills.
First up was an intense session on strategy analysis with Professor Pat Gibbons. Pat is the team’s coach and will travel to Montreal to provide guidance and support throughout the competition.
Next up, Paul Slattery took the team for a master class on how to present, prepare Power Point slides and communicate effectively with an audience, in this case the local business executives who will act as judges in Montreal. For anyone who has had a class with Paul Slattery, they will appreciate how valuable a session in such a small group proved to be. The evening with Paul was challenging but thoroughly enjoyable, provoking more than a few laughs from the group along the way as we perfected the art of corporate story telling amongst other skills.
With our foundation sessions complete, it was agreed that real life practice cases would be the best way to develop our skills. Our first practice case revealed to us the scale of the challenge we were facing within a tight three hour preparation window. It highlighted many areas for development; we lacked structure, time efficiency and a clear direction. This led to a sense of panic during our preparations as the clock ticked down and this was apparent to Pat from our rapidly cobbled together presentation slides. However, we surprised ourselves in getting through the presentation fluidly. Whilst we had some doubts about the arduous challenge facing us, they were quickly eradicated at this point as we knew we could only improve with practice.
Over the next few weeks we worked rigorously to evolve as an effective team under time pressure and developed a clear process for tackling case studies. Our rate of improvement as a team has been incredible and has only been matched by the rate of learning as individuals. Speed reading, effective group brain storming, clear communications, strong Power-Point slides and strategic thinking have all been key takeaways for the group.
The preparations are now complete and all that is left for us is to execute our plan. The team travel to Canada confident that our committed preparations will bear fruit as we represent UCD on the world stage. In reality, we are unsure of what to expect from our competitors but ultimately; win, lose or draw we are satisfied that we have already learnt more about strategy, presenting and most importantly team-work than would ever be possible in a classroom. It has truly been a fantastic experience to date, and we look forward to jetting off to Montreal to put our MBA skills to the test.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Professor Pat Gibbons for the huge amount of time and advice he has given, Paul Slattery for his guidance on presentation skills and finally Ro Downing and all at Smurfit School for facilitating this invaluable experience and providing all the support we could have wished for.
The competition runs from the 1st – 6th January and a further blog post will follow in relation to our experience in Montreal. Hopefully we will be talking about the first UCD team to win the John Molson International Case Study Competition. One has to believe to achieve.
Declan Walsh ~ Executive MBA, Year 2
On behalf of: Derek Anderson, Anne Marie Barcoe, Tanya Kenny and Catherine O’Brien
Peter Thiel once said “Tell me something you know, that nobody else understands”. What I know, is that Google is an old age pensioner and online advertising is old hat.
You see, 2 years ago I knew I wanted to work in Tech, IoT to be specific, and I knew I wanted to work in Advertising but I hadn’t yet had my lightbulb moment. Looking for change and a way to open doors or create options, I started an MBA. I was full of enthusiasm about the future but with a healthy dose of nervous anticipation. So what does this have to do with herding cats? I’ll get to that.
Year 1 passed in a busy blur of challenging learning and making good friends. If you have a natural curiosity and passion for learning, the MBA doesn’t fail to disappoint. But be prepared to work, and work hard. It’s certainly not easy, but it is extremely fulfilling. The quality of the lecturing is far beyond what I experienced previously, and everyone wants to do their part to not let their team down. Interestingly, I have since found that many of the qualities required for an MBA are the same qualities required from an entrepreneur; stubborn perseverance, a passion for learning, flexibility and intelligence to name a few.
I was always quite entrepreneurial; my mother loves gardening and when I was a child she taught me about the benefits of ladybirds on her roses (They eat Greenfly). I had an 8 year old lightbulb moment and proceeded out to the adjacent corn field, collected a box of Ladybirds and sold them door to door at 10p each for our neighbours’ gardens. I’d like to say I reinvested the profits or retained some capital, but Kearn’s sweet shop was my downfall! During Semester 1 of the MBA, a good friend of mine installed a home control system; I don’t have space here to tell the full story, but suffice to say that through really good timing, a twist of faith and a little bit of luck, I had a 35 year old lightbulb moment. I already had a 400 page business plan (I know!) completed when I approached the UCD Entrepreneur in Residence. Suffice to say she didn’t mince her words, the plan went into the bin and she quickly pulled me out of the rabbit hole and back on the right track.
You see, I realised that the future of Advertising is the Internet of Things, but not in the way everyone else seems to understand it. Thus I reached a crossroads, one of those very rare moments in life where you can do something huge, something global that will change the world forever. This is one of the most significant things about the Smurfit MBA that nobody ever mentions; it gives you what I like to call with admiration an ‘American attitude’. A belief that no challenge is too big and no matter what you want to achieve, the world is your oyster and you can do it. Being surrounded by really capable, driven people, breeds a belief in yourself and a belief in others. A belief that hard work and perseverance will prevail. I started talking to prospective customers and with my partner Manuela formed Promo Pads. And I jumped in! Thus began the cat herding.
Over the last few months the business has pushed ahead at an incredible pace, and I switched into survival mode on the MBA. People talk about the intensity of start-ups, but you don’t really understand it until you live it. A Global tech start-up only amplifies this further. When we’re not building sales leads speaking to customers or project managing with our development team, we’re planning our International expansion strategy or optimizing our market positioning and financial forecasts. Everything needs to be done yesterday, but the MBA gave me a basis of knowledge for areas where I previously had no experience. Every minute of life is filled with either MBA work, incubator work or now vastly more importantly, real business. I have developed a new level of disdain for procrastination, because I simply don’t have any time. Keeping everything balanced really is like herding cats. In fact, I’m writing this blog in my car for a short break before a business meeting. But yes, we’re building something amazing and loving it.
So I launched into MBA Year 2 with the business ramping up into what feels like 7th gear, and having secured a place on an incubator. You see, anything I’ve ever had to do, I’ve always just got on with it. Procrastination frustrates me. However, the MBA has provided new insights about the ways that other people like to work; it turns out that not everyone wants to get the 5 week assignment 90% finished in week 1, just so it’s off the desk. But it also turns out that ‘getting on with it’ is what a start-up needs. If you have a start-up idea, the best advice I can give you is stop thinking and start doing. It won’t build itself and if you truly believe in it, then the train is leaving the station no matter what.
I would like to think that without being on the MBA, I’d be in the same position I am now. But realistically it was the overall environment of UCD Smurfit that prepared me mentally for this. In an ideal world the business would have been started after the MBA, but once-in-a-lifetime opportunities don’t tend to wait around.
I come from a military background. In the military, leaders sometimes have to be tactically clever, sometimes they need patience, and sometimes they need to charge headlong down the middle of the battlefield with nothing but smoke for protection. A good business analogy is Uber’s headlong rush to global domination. Well, I always did like smoke…although mirrors are a good complement. So back to what I know and nobody else understands; I’m unashamedly using this blog to plant Promo Pads flag at the top of the hill. Hello Google. We’re coming.