The Week That Was In It

The 1st of September is traditionally the first day of school but for us (this year’s MBA class) that day’s metaphorical 5.30pm bell marked the end of Foundation Week, and what a week it was.

Monday morning had made palpable everything we had been meticulously preparing for; writing essays, submitting applications, sitting our GMATs after tense weeks of studying and sending in piles of documentation to rival even German paperwork. Before we received a warm welcome from the MBA programme management team and Prof. Karan Sonpar, the Academic Director of the programme, we had nervously started chatting to complete strangers with whom we would soon be spending more time with than with our families and friends. I had felt sorry for myself for the early start but my self-pity immediately abated upon hearing that some of the students had landed from India just the night before, only to stagger into UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business tired and jet-lagged that morning.

Our anticipated, but nonetheless fascinating, mix of nationalities included students from, among others, Greece, Kazakhstan, India, US, Canada and South Africa. And while there were the typical crowd of engineers, accountants, sales managers and marketeers, what completed our illustrious band of MBA candidates were doctors, teachers, pilots and a number of graduates from other disciplines not traditionally associated with a business degree.

For our first challenge we embarked on analysing the case study which we had been assigned in preparation for what turned out to be an entertaining class with Prof. Damien McLoughlin. He made it clear that bowing your head was the surest way to be called upon but judging by our time with him this is going to be a likely prospect anyway.

The day was completed by introductions to Report Writing and Persuasive Writing. Instructing on the former, Prof. Niamh Brennan drove home that a report was only ever as good as its presentation and that receiving seven pages of criticism on her notes was gratifying rather than annoying. Dr Megan McGurk in turn provided some insight into how to package a simple message to make it stick with the reader.

Tuesday saw us part-timers tackle Financial Reporting where Dr. Colette Yeates patiently took us through the world of basic accounting. Buzzwords like “assets”, “liabilities” and “depreciation” were quite comprehensible in the morning before the post-lunchtime crunch seemed to make their digestion more difficult.

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Whereas Financial Reporting had united us in the goal of mastering the recording of cash transactions, Wednesday’s team building exercises with the delightful Fintan Ryan teased out our competitive side. The first exercise ensured birthdays would never mean the same before we moved on to blindfolded chaos. In smaller groups we tackled tasks such as “Ski Slopes”, “Get the message” and the very appropriately named “Spiderweb” (which despite initial reservations turned out to be a lot more manageable than the “Jigsaw”). The part-timers then reunited for the overall task of making the Jedi return. I shall not say anymore on this so that Fintan can torture future classes with his challenges. Despite the playful approach we left enlightened with the useful understanding that theoretical knowledge does not guarantee successful application under pressure. Or, as one student summarised his team’s work “Things were going really well until other people started chipping in.”

Thursday awaited with a business simulation which reminded us of a less colourful Monopoly as we were purchasing fake materials with fake money, taking out fake loans and paying fake employees. The main aim of the activity was to show the complex task of running a business, trying to balance financial and production forecasts with the overheads. The day was a complete success as most of us produced spectacular losses in year one but were much improved by year two.

Friday came and with it arrived not only sleepy students but lessons on listening and personality types by the insightful Ann Flaherty and Damien Killen. One of the things we took away from a class debate was the realisation of how many negative associations the word “banker” now evokes.

And there could have been no better way to finish this demanding week than with the already infamous Paul Slattery. He gave us pointers on how to present (or rather how not to) and as he did so, entertained, challenged and encouraged everybody.

We would like to thank the MBA programme team for organising this week so well. Now that we have had a glimpse of what is ahead, with lectures, trips and what is sure to be a steady and challenging stream of assignments, projects and presentations, we are terrified but equally thrilled to be part of MBA class of 2018/2019.

Kirsten Dottermusch, Executive MBA 2017-2019

Lux et Veritas – The Light and Truth of our GNAM Trip to Yale University

When I first signed up for the MBA, I was aware that Smurfit is part of a global network of business schools but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to travel and visit Yale School of Management that I fully understood the global reach and impact of this network. The Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM) connects 29 leading business schools from diverse regions, countries, cultures, and economies in different phases of development.

Students from the various schools within this network can travel to and experience a week-long module in another school. This June, some of my classmates stayed in Dublin to learn more about the food industry in Ireland and play host to the visiting students; another classmate travelled to Berkley University. Along with 7 of my classmates, I visited Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut to live out our Rory Gilmore life!

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In truth, I debated whether or not to sign up for this trip. The module was not for credit and it would take place when we would be in the middle of our biggest challenge – the Capstone project. However, I could not escape the thought that this was such a marvellous opportunity – this was Ivy League! So off I went to Yale to learn all about the Behavioural Science of Management. Cut to me sipping cocktails with my classmates on a rooftop bar on *quick* pitstop in Manhattan en route, and I knew I had made the right decision and the next week really exceeded all our expectations.

The people we met were absolutely fantastic; over 70 MBA students from around the globe in one classroom sparked lively debates! Outside the classroom, we formed fast friendships and built our network with people in similar and different careers. The group WhatsApp still goes off in the middle of the night with updates from our friends in China or Mexico. Even during my final Capstone project in the last month, I bounced ideas and emails off to new friends to get fresh thoughts from a different perspective. The value of the network was immediately obvious.

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In the classroom it was fascinating to hear first-hand from academics who are often published in the Harvard Business Review or whose studies are referenced in articles or books. Each lecturer was so high energy and polished, it was like we were sitting through a sequence of riveting TedTalks!

The bat and the ball problem (A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Try Google to check your answer!) had us rethink our immediate assumptions on how we think. Shane Frederick explained to us the two ways the mind works. System 1 is our immediate intuitive way of thinking which is very difficult to override and System 2 is that slow thinking that requires more reflection. This is important to address in customer engagement, in order to capture which way they are thinking at the point of sale. (Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow goes into this in detail if anyone is interested!)

Another important lesson we learned was from Zoë Chance, whose lecture on Influence and Persuasion had us leaving the room ready to make our mark! Her one overriding message was to “just ask”. Often in life we think we are asking for something, when in reality we may not be putting it as directly as we could be – and it’s often simple enough to do!

With a variety of other interesting lectures, company visits and a campus tour, the week flew by in the most enjoyable way, totally exceeding my expectations. We are incredibly lucky that Smurfit is part of this fantastic network to get this opportunity which really was a key highlight of my MBA experience.

Ruth McEvoy, Executive MBA 2015-2017

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

Wind Downs and Tee Offs – The MBA Golf Society Classic

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.

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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

With sincere thanks to the following:

Business Performance Perspectives

http://www.pamelafay.ie/

 

NxtGEN Executive Training

http://nxtgen.ie/

 

The Edge Clontarf

http://www.theedgeclontarf.com/

As We Grow … as a Team

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.)

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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
  • Classic designs
  • The concept of its production
  • That they are made in Iceland

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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.

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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.

Niall Gallagher, Executive MBA 2016-2018

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

Reykjavik “High Fliers”

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.phoyo1

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.

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Oonagh O’Grady, Executive MBA 2016-2018

The Sun Never Sets on the Icelandic Empire

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.

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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.

Quang Huy Tang, Full Time MBA

Reflections on the MBA Journey and the Road Ahead

Humanity
Random acts of kindness. The greatest lesson from the MBA – our humanity.

 

“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…

Colin McMahon ~ Executive MBA, Year 2

UCD Smurfit Team Return as Molson Division Winners

UCD Smufit Molson Team with Prof. Pat Gibbons
UCD Smufit Molson Team with Prof. Pat Gibbons

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.

UCD Smurfit Molson Team - L-R: Declan Walsh, Anne Marie Barcoe, Catherine O'Brien, Tanya Kenny, Derek Anderson
UCD Smurfit Molson Team – L-R: Declan Walsh, Anne Marie Barcoe, Catherine O’Brien, Tanya Kenny, Derek Anderson

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.