PROBLEM STATEMENT: How do we get from Dublin to Montreal?

The Smurfit MBA Molson Team. L-R – James Owens, Cormac Kelleher, David Cashman & Conor Connolly

While the bags may have been packed, the airline certainly was not ready to let us go. The beep of a phone at 5.03am on January 2nd casually notified us that our flight was cancelled due to ‘aircraft maintenance’ – no other information provided! For the Smurfit Molson team, this was the first challenge – how do we get to the competition? A quick scan of the airline’s site indicated that all flights that day were full (…well of course they were, it was the 2nd of January after all!). Undeterred, data analysis revealed alternative routes via Heathrow / Paris / Schiphol / Madrid as potential alternatives. Two issues were apparent …time wise it would be tight, but more importantly, could we talk our way into getting those four seats? What ensued was a masterclass in strategy, supply chain management, and flattery (hello to Francine in United) …or at least that is what Cormac is contending. However, he must have done something right as we did manage to secure the seats andthe Smurfit Molson team were off!

How we traveled to Montreal in the end!
How we traveled to Montreal in the end!

The Molson MBA Case Competition is an international case competition organised by students, for students. It involves analysing cases in a time pressured environment, offering students an opportunity to put into practice newly acquired skills and competencies learned during the MBA curriculum. Students are further required to draft recommendations and implementation plans which are then challenged by senior panel of judges. A hectic week exposed us to real life and current business issues from various multinational companies. Our recommended strategies drew from our supply chain, HR, finance, strategy, marketing, and OB learnings. Indeed, the closing ceremony seemed the most apt when ‘learning by doing’ was referenced. The event is most certainly a great opportunity for students considering a career in consulting or anyone keen to get some Capstone practice in early!

The highlight of the week, without a doubt, was the live case study when students were presented with a board of directors of a new venture seeking a growth strategy. The board was comprised of the owners of a large well known luxury cosmetics brand, one of the largest fruit producers in Spain and a tech company who had been instrumental in launching the internet in Holland. These directors had recently launched the next generation in cosmetics – functional beauty products in a drinkable form. Packed with macro-antioxidants, BEAUTY & GO’s products are positioned as having a positive effect on your body via a selection of ingredients extracted from fruit skins. The company were looking to the Molson participants to advise them on their expansion strategy and how they should go-to-market with their products. Clearly the live case presented something of a conundrum for the Smurfit team … four Irish fellas advising on a beauty care strategy! Despite our initial apprehension, the team drew from ‘surprising’ hidden depths of SME knowledge with Conor’s slogan ‘From Skin to Skin’ getting a special mention from the judges.

The week was far from all work, as we also enjoyed an equally active social diary. Strong networking opportunities were afforded during the week with a particular emphasis on integration between the schools and meeting fellow participants. Throughout the week, we attended great events including an ice hockey game, a comedy gig, and a fancy dress party which were all equally excellent. We are happy to report that the Smurfit team’s creativity in the fancy dress party was widely acknowledged and appreciated! Also a special thanks to the UCD Alumni Association in Montreal who kindly hosted a reception for us in the Irish Embassy Pub & Grill.

After an uneventful return flight back to Dublin, there has been much reflection and discussion in relation to the trip. Are we glad we did it? Would we recommend it? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. The competition itself provided immense practical experience and was a super opportunity to ground and pull together all our key learnings from the past three semesters. As a group we found the experience to be invaluable, and one that really illustrates the values of hard-work, teamwork and the spirit of collaboration.

We would like to thank:

  • The John Molson School of Business for hosting such a fantastic event;
  • Pat Gibbons, our coach, for all his help and guidance over the week;
  • Paul Loftus who organised the UCD Alumni reception in Montreal;
  • The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School for offering us the wonderful opportunity to take part in such a prestigious event.

James Owens, Cormac Kelleher, David Cashman & Conor Connolly ~ Executive MBA

50th Anniversary of First MBA Graduate Awards

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The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School is about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first MBA graduate awards.

The school’s Executive MBA (EMBA) programme was established in 1964 by the late Prof Michael MacCormac, who designed the course on a transatlantic voyage following the completion of his MBA in Harvard. “The EMBA is a two-year part-time course and the first students graduated in 1966,” says MBA programme director Orla Nugent.

“The full-time one-year MBA programme began 25 years ago in 1991. The Smurfit School MBA is the only one in Ireland to hold the triple-crown accreditation from AACSB in the US, EQUIS in Europe and AMBA in the UK. We also have consistently maintained our presence in the Financial Times highly competitive global MBA rankings.”

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She describes the courses as having three elements – IQ, EQ and RQ, IQ being the academic element, EQ leadership and personal development and RQ dealing with reputation.

“The IQ piece is the academic curriculum and teaches you about all aspects of business. It is very much based on action learning with classroom work combined with case studies and work with companies. Students also learn from their classmates.

“The MBA brand is only as good as the people in the class and when we select people for the programme following the admission interviews, we try to have people who are a good fit and who are committed to the course. Students find themselves sitting with people who have completely different world views and ways of interpreting data.

“It is a very collegiate and supportive environment where people share experiences and learn from one another.”

While the academic curriculum is the backbone of the programme, Nugent stresses the importance of the EQ element.

“This is about leadership development and complements the academic work,” she says. “It’s where people get a chance to step back and reflect on who they are, where they are and how they got there.

“They can think about their personal style, how they influence others and how they can be better leaders and better at what they do.”

Students also receive non-judgemental advice and coaching. “It’s about giving people space to think about who they are, what they do and their personal development. The best leaders practise mindfulness even if they don’t know they’re doing it; they step off the treadmill and take time to think.”

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The third element deals with careers. The dedicated MBA career development team works with students to define their career vision and equip them with the career-related skills, know-how and confidence to pursue their own post-MBA career goals.

Through a variety of tools, workshops, events, one-on-one career advice and access to other resources, students are helped to take the best possible advantage of the new opportunities which the MBA qualification will open up for them.

It’s more than just about their next steps after graduation, though. “We try to give people the skills they need to manage their careers throughout their lives,” Nugent says. “It’s a question of what story you tell about yourself and what story others tell about you.

“Many of our students on the EMBA programme will not have done interviews for quite a while and we prepare them for that experience as well.”

Networking is also important. “This is a key part of the programme,” she says. “You are going to make friends on the programme. The course is demanding and time-consuming but there is a great sense among the students that they are all in it together.

“Students build up networks based on friendships and relationships. We run courses in networking to help people with this aspect. It’s amazing how many people think they are good at it but are actually quite poor.”

There is a strong international element with both the full-time and part-time programmes featuring international study trips.

“We all need to be more globally aware. In the first semester of the full-time course, students have the option of visiting one of leading business schools in the world for a global network immersion week and in the second semester, they visit South Africa, Vietnam, Dubai or India for an international study trip which involves a mix of classroom and practical work with companies. EMBA students have the option of an international study trip as well.

“There is quite an international flavour within the programmes as well, with 20 per cent of the part-time students and 70 per cent of the full-time students coming from overseas. On the teaching side, 30 per cent of the lecturers come from an international background.”

Nugent says the MBA programmes are particularly suited to people who are already quite advanced in their careers. “Somebody who is already very proficient in a particular area of expertise and wants to put a wrapper on it, which gives them the general business acumen to make better decisions, will benefit greatly. The key thing is that students get a good grounding in business across all sectors.

“They come out able to understand financial statements, capable of putting a marketing plan together and so on. They gain a rounded set of competencies which enables them to be more effective leaders.

“They are able to have a much greater impact and influence on people outside of their zone of expertise.”

Overall, the qualification prepares people to achieve their career goals. “It gives students a better understanding of where they want to go in their careers and what the next steps should be. It also gives them the skills to their goals – if you aspire to be a CEO, it helps you to become a better leader and develop the strategic mindset to set a vision and chart a course for an organisation.”

Applications are being accepted for the 2016 programmes now and the process is quite rigorous, according to Nugent.

“There are three questions on the application form and they are designed to get applicants to really reflect on themselves, what they want to achieve, what they expect from UCD and what they think UCD should expect of them.

“We also ask applicants to talk to two referees who know them well and will challenge them on whether the programme is really for them.”

The process also involves an aptitude test which requires several weeks’ preparation and an interview. “We go through all the applications very carefully at a weekly applications committee meeting,” she says.

“The programmes are limited to class sizes of between 30 and 40 and we want to make sure that the students we accept will be right for the course and that it will be right for them.”

Article taken from The Irish Times – January 25th 2016 – Barry McCall & Orla Nugent 

For further information on how to apply for the Smurfit School MBA programme click here.

Avril Donohue ~ MBA Alumni Relations, Marketing & Events 

The Irish Times Executive MBA Scholarship



UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School is delighted to partner with The Irish Times to offer readers the chance to win a scholarship to cover full tuition fees for a part-time Executive MBA at UCD Smurfit School, worth €30,700.

Over four weeks from Friday January 15th to Monday February 8th applicants have the chance to answer 3 GMAT questions. Applicants for the scholarship must answer the three questions correctly, submit a short form, complete a short essay and submit a copy of their CV.


Those who answer the questions correctly will be asked to submit a full MBA application form if they have not already done so. These will be assessed and successful candidates will be invited for interview. The best candidate will win the overall scholarship prize.

Hear from previous Irish Times Scholarship winners:


How to Apply:

Entrants to the scholarship competition must complete the online application form before the deadline of Monday 8th February 2016.


As part of the application process you will be asked to submit (a) personal information, (b) your current CV, (c) employer information (if applicable), (d) education/qualifications (e) a 400 word essay and (f) answers to 3 GMAT questions.


Before commencing your application, please review the entry criteria and terms and conditions.

Avril Donohue ~ MBA Alumni Relations, Marketing & Events

Time To Relax and Rejuvenate!


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

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

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

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

Grace Milton ~ Executive MBA, Year 1

The Executive MBA & Work-Life Balance


I cannot complain, as I was warned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You won’t regret it.

Ger Kenny ~ Executive MBA, Year 2

There Is Nothing So Practical As A Good Theory

Often the starting point when analysing a case is to conduct an industry analysis in order to establish the attractiveness or otherwise of a given industry. For this we usually use Porters Five Forces theory, which has as one of its considerations, the barriers to entry that may hinder a competitor who is considering moving into a particular market. Examples of these barriers include high initial capital requirements, access to distribution, proprietary product issues, and expected retaliation (more on this last one later).

A few weeks ago I needed to get some milk on my way home from class, and as I had heard that a new Supervalu had opened nearby, I decided to go check it out. The store is located in a small commercial park that already has a large Dunnes Stores. Obviously no business is happy when a competitor moves in next door, but it seems that Dunnes Stores were determined to do something about it.


Perhaps the management in Dunnes are disciples of Michael Porter because they took his theory to the ultimate, and a brilliant, conclusion by erecting an actual barrier to entry. Yes, they retaliated by bricking up the wall and closing off access. If you look closely at the picture you can see the evidence of this by the newer brickwork in the wall as well as the old road markings.


However, not to be outdone, Supervalu also retaliated by erecting a large electronic sign that flashes psychological warfare messages directly into ‘enemy territory’. Perhaps it’s no wonder that the locals are calling it the Berlin Wall!

Conor Connolly ~ Executive MBA Year 2

There Is No ONE Answer…


My class and I are now nearly half way through Semester 1, Year 2 of the Executive MBA. The respite of mid-term is upon us as we take a breather before the run in of the last few weeks of the semester.

As I reflect on the progress we have made to date, one key learning sticks in my mind. Subjects such as Leading the Innovative Enterprise, Performance Driven Marketing, Strategy (corporate and competitive), Business and Society and Organisational Behaviour have taught me one thing: There is no One Answer.

My background is a technical one – a degree in chemistry and a number of years of experience in manufacturing pharmaceuticals. In those environments, technical problems, investigations and experiments have a root cause, a numerical answer or a concise conclusion. The subjects already mentioned have required some reprogramming of my brain.

As I read case studies and analysed the information, I came to a conclusion. I entered class with my notes in hand confident I had found the right “one” answer.

“Honda’s strategy was sound no luck involved – well planned and executed.”

“Developing a customer relationship by pretending to have a keen interest in thorough bred bulls – no ethical dilemma here, this is fair game in the sales world”

“Flat organisational structures – ideological, can’t work in practice”

As I waited in anticipation, throughout the lecture, for the various professors and doctors to validate my rock solid conclusions I was often disappointed. Why are they not giving us the answer?

As my brain adjusted to this new environment, I realised that me finding that one correct answer was futile. What is important however is the discussion, the insights of fellow classmates, my study group members and the theory outlined in articles and course text books. Eventually I stopped worrying about finding the right answer and more about incorporating the appropriate learning to strengthen my analysis and reasoning.

Michael Collins ~ Executive MBA

Every Little Helps


Barilla pasta and a large Coke, delivered on a Honda while reading Stephen King, before deciding between Nintendo Wii or PlayStation! Who knew the EMBA would be so much fun? On the other side of life, no more Netflix, Champion’s League, weekly five aside or Saturday morning lie in. Although the benefits of the experience curve should see weekly 5 aside reintroduced before long. After 6 weeks now, a good routine and an addiction to Costa coffee have taken hold. I think the secret lies in getting a good start to the week and taking advantage of whatever few free moments arise in the day to think through the weekly case work. Like Tesco, every little helps. Although Financial Reporting class suggests Tesco used a little extra help.

I begin to wonder what I actually did with my free time before September, probably not as much as I should! Joking aside, I have been impressed not just by the quality of the class learning experience but also by the balance in module delivery. Personally, I look forward to CS on a Friday afternoon, the class has changed how I look at the most basic everyday products and now I look around at cans of coke and 7 Up and wonder who really extracts the value from their existence. Life was so simple before!

The first few weeks are a shock to the system but slowly you find your feet. The team based nature of assignments helps you to realise everyone is in the same boat and before long you establish some momentum. It’s hard to believe we’re just at the half way point of Semester 1 or as I like to think of it as one eighth of the way through the entire program. Week 7 sees delivery of two of the main group assignments and I’m looking forward to our well-deserved break week. Unfortunately, I am still awaiting that Satori moment but I have had a few others, regret, fear and dreaming about IFRS but all that has dissipated now. Overall, the experience is different to what I expected but I am very, very happy with it so far. The focus on team work adds a lot of value, before beginning, I naively thought I’d mastered time management, I know now I hadn’t. Hopefully with some of the big assignments out of the way, we’ll get some time to think about the exams, that long Christmas break and maybe even a holiday in January.

So far so good.

Terence Dunne ~ Executive MBA Year 1

Facing My Fears

Team 7
Team 7

I have two fears, spiders and heights! When filling out our team charter during the foundation week we were asked for our fears, some had a fear of failure, some death or illness and other quite profound and meaningful fears. Please excuse my scepticism as a medic, but most of those things are inevitable so they were not top of my list. What did make the sceptic doctor’s list was spiders and heights.

To help our group hit the road running we decided to do a team bonding activity. Well done to Daire for the suggestion! I had imagined a few drinks but being that two of us live a considerable distance from Dublin that was not the easiest to organise. So out to Extreme Sports in Santry with us for a sky climb. Sorry, what… a SKY CLIMB??? Can you imagine the horror on my face when I heard! I had thought of every excuse under the sun to cancel but I couldn’t! One of my team members remembered my fear and the group kindly offered to change the activity, but there was no way I could lose face! I knew deep down it was an irrational fear but it was a very real one, but I simply could not back down.

Total Horror!
Total Horror!

So shaking one Wednesday afternoon, I began the drive from the Midlands to Santry! I got there a little early, just to try to prepare myself, (punctuality is not a strength of mine!), but that did little to relay my fears. As i stood looking up at this course almost twenty meters high a sense of nausea overtook me.

We each got strapped into the harness and began the climb up the tower, I had an impending sense of doom! Something akin to what the prisoners on the green mile might feel! I realised I had another fear, I wasn’t ready to die! My team mates were fantastic about it, they quickly realised that this was no ordinary fear but a real earth shattering, freeze on the spot kind of fear! What made the climb a even worse was the fact that there was two levels! I was weak at the knees, praying for a hurricane to land but my prayers were not answered!

Our instructor was amazing and helped me every step of the way, literally every step because as soon as he let go of my hand I froze! But what really made the difference was the kind words of support and encouragement I was getting from my team mates, they really wanted me to finish and really didn’t want to let them down.

Elegance and Agility from Findan and Laura
Elegance and Agility from Findan and Laura

I am proud to say that I completed the course, not in the most stylish of manners, I was like a sack of potatoes compared to Laura’s gymnastic type manoeuvres. But between the team fighting for me and sheer determination I came out the other side, with a slightly less fear of heights and a new group of friends!

This is how I envisage the EMBA to work out, we all will have our moments when we need that little extra bit of help and encouragement from others, but together we will all get each other to the finish line!

Christine Kiernan, Laura Tunney, Daire Nolan, Findan Cox ~ Executive MBA, Team 7

Reward and Sacrifice


Heat is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s a classic tale of cops and robbers, except with everything turned up to eleven. Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino both give stellar performances as antagonist and protagonist, ably assisted by Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore. Meanwhile, director Michael Mann brings the plot of high-stakes crime to life with a sober crispness that has each scene brimming with energy. It’s arguably his magnum opus, and I urge you to watch it if you haven’t already. Handy tip: if anyone levels accusations of laziness at you while watching it, you can tell them that it’s an artistic study of the risk/reward curve.

One of Heat’s greatest successes is marrying high-octane action with a mature reflection on sacrifice and isolation. Both antagonist and protagonist have chosen to channel their time and energy, perhaps even their life itself, in pursuit of excellence in their chosen profession. As they reach the twilight of their careers, the question that has reared its unwelcome head is whether or not what they have sacrificed is worth what they have gained. DeNiro’s character is a career criminal who has already experienced life behind bars, and is, unsurprisingly, not overly eager to return to that environment. As a result, he now lives his life by the creed of never getting attached to anything that he isn’t willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat, should any threat arise. Given his chosen method of putting bread on the table, it’s hard to argue with his solitude-espousing philosophy. In his world, emotional attachments are a weakness that can be exploited.

As detached from our reality as the film’s premise is, the issues of reward and sacrifice that the film explores are something to which we can relate. We all volunteered to do an MBA because we believe that the subsequent reward will be worth the substantial sacrifices that we’ve made. We should all make sure, though, that the sacrifices we’re making are the right ones. Never forget that you’ve chosen to surround yourself with some of the most diverse, brightest and ambitious people you’ll ever meet. Just like Porter’s Five Forces, or an NPV model, those people will help you become a better, more insightful and more complete person.

In ancient times, the Celts used to build crannógs – dwellings built in a river or lake – to afford themselves protection. To successfully traverse the river or lake, the owners often used stepping stones that were hidden underwater, out of sight. Without knowing exactly where the stones lay, the inevitable result for any would-be intruder was, at best, an unwelcome dunk in icy water. Imagine that the crannóg is your chosen goal and the body of treacherous water is the lifetime of difficult decisions and unexpected problems that you have to negotiate to successfully arrive at your destination. The people you’ll meet while doing your MBA are like the hidden stepping stones. You can ignore them and make your journey more difficult for yourself, or you can take the time to discover more about them and see how they might be able to help you on your way.


The importance of building your emotional and social support network cannot be overestimated. Much like investing for your financial future, the best day to start building that support network was yesterday. The second best day to start is today. In five or ten years, people in your class unfortunately won’t recall that amazingly insightful presentation you gave on EVA. They will, however, remember that you took the time to really get to know them, and they just might be there to give you a helping hand when you need it most. Michael Porter’s journal articles probably won’t be quite as quick to answer your telephone call in your hour of need.

Keith Boyle ~ Executive MBA