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

Foundation Week 2017

In some respects, it is hard to believe that we are already a week into our MBA programme. Thinking back over the past year there have been so many experiences that felt like finish lines by themselves. Passing the GMAT, getting accepted into Smurfit Business School, wrapping up your life and work to prepare for the task ahead; every point felt like a victory.  It is only now, standing at the end of Foundation Week, that we can look back and clearly see these accomplishments weren’t finish lines but qualifications to enter the race. On your marks, get set, go!

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The real starting line came at the threshold of the grand entrance to the main hall at Smurfit. On Monday morning, one by one, eager faces presented themselves at the door and joined the growing crowd around the banks of gently flowing coffee. Everyone was happy. Everyone was aware that the people in this room would become significant in each other’s lives. When our crowd was complete, we made our way to the lecture hall to get started. We were introduced to the faces of the many helpful names we’ve been interacting with via e-mail for the past several weeks. After warm greetings from the cadre of administrators, Damien McLoughlin took over.

Damien’s presence in the room is felt by everyone. By impressions, it seems that he might have had a bit more coffee than the rest of us.  He can smell the fear in the room. All of us are a bit anxious about our very first case study class. He peppers questions around the classroom while making soft jabs. He likes some manner of sports that I, as an American, didn’t recognise; it could’ve been soccer or hurling or… who could say.  He kept turning the screw by highlighting that “his team” had beat someone else’s team in an epic victory the night before. In between the jokes and jabs are very real questions about the task at hand. I can tell you, I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one who didn’t read the case study.

After an hour and a half with Damien, we could breathe again.  We had made it through the case study and no one had died. The afternoon of the first day was much like the morning.  We spread our attention across a range of topics from Finance to the Library. We were introduced to Professor Niamh Brennan for a primer course on report writing.  I’ll talk more about her later.  I slept very well on Monday night.

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For the second day of the MBA the Executive MBAs and Full Time MBAs split up.  Foundation Week is not only about getting a peek into the programme but also it is a very small window of opportunity to quickly galvanize our team.  It turns out that if you want to accelerate team development for a group of people who are all, individually, capable of being leaders, you have to blindfold them and then tell them to hurry up. In fact, blindfolds, giant spider webs, oversized jigsaw puzzles, inner tubes, and giant Rube Goldberg contraptions were all part of the craziness of day two. Without giving too much away I will tell you that the leadership development team did a masterful job at making 30 strangers quickly feel like good friends.

The third day of the MBA was a wake-up call for me.  The voice on the other end of the phone said “Good morning, remember how you said you wanted a world-class education?  Go get it!”  After some housekeeping presentations first thing in the morning we were back in the ring with Professor Niamh. Being in Niamh’s classroom (she does prefer to operate on a first-name basis) is a bit hard to describe. If you’ve ever thought that your educational aspirations are akin to growing a garden or perhaps a sprouting tree, you might be too delicate for her class. She is an intellectual fire-hose and you had better damn well be on fire if you are going to excel in her class. Day three is a veritable blitzkrieg of Financial Reporting. The MBA cohort consists of people from every professional background, financial and otherwise. As we rounded the fourth or fifth straight hour of Financial Reporting, you could pretty clearly guess who had the chops and who didn’t based upon the looks on their faces. Personally, I looked like an Edvard Munch painting.

Let it not be said that “Graduate school isn’t all fun and games” because that is precisely what the fourth day of Foundation Week was.  Games are a great way to learn, especially for the losers. I will go ahead and tell you that I learned a lot on day four. What was the game? It was a simulation game that brought the use of financial papers into focus. A team of game-makers (a-la Hunger Games) from Germany brought their talent to the Talbot hotel, the off-site location for the day.  In a re-mixed group of Executive MBA and Full Time MBA students, we were asked to build a company.  Each member on the team became a department head of a widget factory. Sales, Process, Procurement, and Finance, the teams competed against one another to try and flip a profit. Before lunch each team felt the stinging slap of the invisible hand as too much competition drove prices to the ground. After lunch, and after a great lesson on pricing strategy and competition, each team re-entered the market and tried to claw their way back from red to green. Most teams made it. Mine did not.

As I bring this post to a close I confess to you, dear reader, that there aren’t 1000 words in any language that could’ve done justice to describing the experience of Foundation Week at Smurfit Business School. But, I would like to offer a two-word description of the final day of Foundation Week as a gold-letter promise that the MBA programme is going to be everything we have hoped for: professional development. On Friday we discussed how to be better listeners, how to understand people better and, most importantly, how to be better communicators. We began the process of being better public speakers. The lessons on Friday made me realise that when this race is over, and I cross the finish line on graduation day, I won’t have merely learned – I will have evolved.

Thomas Strimbu, MBA 2017-2018

Foundation Week & the start of the MBA

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When I embarked on my Smurfit MBA journey, I said I will start a blog. I didn’t expect the workload to be so high though.

Three weeks later I am posting my first blog entry. I am still very excited to share my experience with you, and I hope you are still interested in reading it. I promise writing more often and on time in the future.

Foundation week.

The foundation week is a pre-programme part of the MBA to get everyone to know each other, and get everyone “up and running”, as they say.

It definitely involved a lot of running! From Monday to Friday we spent all day from 8.00 to 18.00-19.00 at the school. The week was so intense and beneficial in terms of learning that at the end of it, it was hard to realize that the programme itself had not even started. I felt I already learned so much! It would be easier to describe the week day by day.

Monday

Monday was a “getting to know each other day” with programme directors and staff greeting us, several lecturers giving introduction to specific fields, as well as a bit of talk on leadership and the year to come.

I was positively surprised by the quality of lecturers and by the experience of my fellow classmates. I obviously knew Smurfit is one of the top schools, but the quality of lecturing turned out to be beyond any expectations! Also I was happy to get to know my classmates. People in this programme are probably a bit older and more experienced compared to many other MBAs. It seems that the average experience among full time cohort is about 8-10 years, while among the Executives about 10-12. I was very happy to be among people older than me, even though at first felt a little bit weird, recognizing I am one of the youngest and less experienced in the class.

Tuesday

Tuesday was Financial Reporting all the day. Boring, you might say, right? Yes, not the most exciting subject on Earth, I agree! That is why our class was amazed that our professor Niamh Brennan managed to keep our attention for the whole day! Truly fascinating, and it adds to my previous comment about the quality of lecturers.

Wednesday

Team building activities. Many people have certain stereotypes regarding outside team building activities. People would picture running around, doing crazy stuff with no purpose, falling on their backs and hoping their team mates would catch them.

This workshop was very similar and very different. We did a lot of outside activities: we solved puzzles, did physical exercise, and even walked around with our eyes blindfolded trying to form a certain figure. However, a very distinct feature of this particular workshop was that it served a purpose of understanding, how teams operate. The facilitator gathered us together after every activity, and we debriefed what happened. The lessons adaptable to real life would be evident afterwards.

For example, we were given a task in groups of 4 and 20 minutes to plan, how we tackle it. Then 5 minutes into the exercise we were approached and told that the task had been changed, and we will have to perform it with other 2 groups of 4. We would spend the remaining 15 minutes still in the same group of 4, planning the task. When the time to perform comes, we would not perform well enough, of course.

Why is it so? Because we were blind to see that 5 minutes into the task our group has changed, and instead of planning in a group of 4, we should be planning in a group of 12. Now think how often you experience at your job that two departments (say sales and marketing) are doing something on their own? This funny experience in an outdoor game was a good illustration of how groups of people fail to see what are the boundaries of the team.

Friday

Thursday was a business simulation that I will not go into details about just to save your reading time. One distinct feature about that day was that it was my birthday, which I celebrated by getting a 2 for 4.25 EUR salad deal from Marks and Spencer.

Friday was another day full of highlights. First we had a workshop on listening and personality types (Myers Briggs). I think it might be because of the background of trainers in psychology, but they delivered the best workshop on listening and personality types I have ever seen (out of at least 3). The personality types was a more interesting part. They explained what it means, how it affects the working preferences, as well as sources of stress for various types. We didn’t do the test, but they explained each component and two extremes so well that my self-assessment completely corresponded to the results of the test I took later.

After lunch we had a presentation skills workshop. Again, when you have attended several poorly delivered presentation skills workshops, there is not much to expect. However, this one was brilliant! I did a lot of debating during my undergrads, and speaking in public is never an issue for me. I learned loads of useful tips and information from the workshop. It was not only the information, but also real time interaction, practicing, and coaching that turned the knowledge into practice. Now that we also had a second workshop in week 2 of studies, I see that not only me, but every single person in the class massively improved their presentation skills.

Cheers Smurfit for the fun and beneficial week! Thumbs up for the quality! We ended the week with a visit to a local pub, as Irish traditions require.

First weeks of studies

I am now in my third week of studies, and I will not lie, if I say I have mixed feelings about it. The quality is outstanding and beyond any expectation! People in class, lecturers, learning environment, and leadership workshops contribute massively to my development. I feel like an empty book shelf, gradually being filled with new skills and knowledge. I will write separate entries on the class, subjects/lecturers, and the leadership development part of the programme. The downside to this is that I find myself studying literally for 12-14 hours on most days. “Gotta run and keep going” I suppose! At least I know that all the effort put into studies will benefit my development.

I think it is enough of reading for the first entry. In the future, I promise to write shorter articles. I plan to write on several topics: (i) why I chose Smurfit; (ii) about the class, lecturers/subjects, and other components of the programme, so that people considering MBA in the future are better informed about Smurfit; (iii) about scholarship opportunities here and at other institutions, and why you don’t necessarily need to pay 100K+ for a degree.

Cheers for now!

Nikita Pusnakovs ~ Full-Time MBA

Check out Nikita’s Blog ‘MBA In Ireland’ here

UCD Smurfit MBA Foundation Week

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When I joined the military 10 years ago, we had to complete an induction week. The week was designed to give us a ‘soft landing’ into the organisation and dismay any anxiety or fear. Now, ten years later I have completed a similar week as part of the EMBA Programme in UCD Michael Smurfit Business School and the induction week seemed to have quite a different objective; a hard landing!

If I was to walk away from the Programme now, the week, as a standalone undertaking, would have been worth attending. Although ‘life-changing’ may be a little dramatic, it certainly challenged me, questioned some of my long-standing beliefs, taught me several practical life-skills and allowed me to meet some truly interesting people.

The Why Marketing Lecture with Prof Damien Mc Loughlin
The Why Marketing Lecture with Prof Damien Mc Loughlin

Although I have attended college before, UCD Michael Smurfit feels different when you arrive. The campus feels modern and all the staff (and fellow students) are particularly friendly. After arriving we received our ‘welcome pack’ and then sat through a series of presentations. The faculty introduced themselves and very soon the message was clear; hard work was the name of the game and there would be no hiding from it. The straight forwardness was refreshing; we all knew where we stood.

Tuesday involved a day-long team building exercise. I found myself at the edge of my comfort-zone before the end of the day, leading the class in the final challenge. I had been determined not to risk exposing myself to a position like this so early on but here I was. In the military, standing out early in a course of training is usually a bad thing. I expected that leading a group of natural leaders like those who might enroll in an MBA Programme, would lead to a ‘too many chiefs’ situation. Surprisingly there were no counter-ideas or subversive actions after I voiced my plan. Each individual acknowledged the action required to achieve the teams objective and played their part diligently. I have never experienced a team of this size come together and operate with such efficiency, in such a short time.

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The rest of the week saw us meet our study groups, complete a day-long business simulation, practice our presentation skills and learn about our personality styles and those of others. I left on Friday, looking forward to seeing my new classmates again and in particular working with my new study group.

No one could say they weren’t challenged, no one could say they didn’t learn something new and it’s pretty clear what lies ahead: hard work, the development of great friendships and the opportunity to overcome huge challenges.

To quote Gordon B. Hinckley – “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds”.

Gearóid O’Briain ~ Executive MBA, Year 1

Learning On a Different Dimension

The last few weeks have been interesting. It feels like yesterday, when we all gathered around the main hall of the Smurfit business school on the first day of induction. Each person starting the MBA walked around trying to get to know the person standing next to them. In my case, the enormity of what I had led myself into and the challenges ahead left me almost shell-shocked. It all sunk in in the Foundation Week. I reassured myself, “you have to keep a cool face. This is only the start”.

The diversity of the group was readily apparent, different sexes, ethnicities, educational and professional backgrounds, and industries. Yet, we all shared a common purpose, to get the Michael Smurfit UCD MBA qualification. As I spoke briefly to a few people in the group, I started to notice some common similarities. Each one of the people present was successful, career driven, well educated, but perhaps felt they were at a point where they wanted more in life.

At this point, it became clear to me that I was no longer in my comfort zone. I was in the midst of some very talented people. If there was anything I could do during the two years of the MBA, it is to learn as much as possible from the group.

5 weeks now into the MBA, the notes, articles, assignments and projects all keep coming at the speed of light. Weekends seem to have disappeared. Reading has a different meaning. Time feels like an expensive luxury of which there is not enough in the day. Someone once commented that he brings some of the readings to the bathroom, okay maybe this is an extreme case. Or maybe that point is on the horizon for me and would come around the end of term when we all have to sit exams. Yet, the positive I have found from all this is that the smile we all had on the first day remains despite the pressure.

As I embark on the remaining weeks of term, I hope that I enjoy the forthcoming weeks of study as much as I did the preceding weeks. One thing is vividly clear the workload will not get any easier, so I have given up hope that it will. Another thing is for sure the learning curve is real and has certainly taken off in my life. Where it will lead me, I do not know yet but I cannot wait to find out.

Olumuyiwa John Farayibi

Weekend year 1


The MBAache

Apparently I am a month into my MBA experience. Not quite sure how that happened but I’ll accept it must be true; I have a fairly reliable calendar (big numbers, at least 12 point; nice, sensible Times New Roman font – nothing barbaric like Arial – and exceptional inch-width margins). So it really must be 4 weeks since I first walked through the doors for our induction week in August – and time has just flown in.

Ah, time. I am tempted to stop my blog post right here as those two words pretty much sum up my experience of the last few weeks. I have never, in all my life, valued time in the way I do now. Every spare minute must be allotted some kind of inherent ‘value’ to be acceptable. Learning that you can read – and highlight – while eating an M&S farmhouse cheddar cheese sandwich at your desk is an absolute revelation. Waiting for a train offers a window for a quick brainstorm on a notepad (or back of an IKEA receipt, depending how prepared you are for your train’s delay). A flight from London offers an uninterrupted hour’s reading time (with optional car hire or scratch card purchase). And Friday nights are now so supremely hideous, they are best not spoken about. But this is all just part of The MBAche. I can’t say that this is exactly news to me – the demands on time were fairly hammered home before I started. What IS a wonderfully welcome surprise though, is the group of people around me.

It’s not often you find yourself in a hyper-ambitious environment like this. You might perhaps meet the odd ambitious person in work, come from a competitive family background or have fiercely demanding sales targets. But you rarely find yourself totally immersed in an environment in which every single person has heightened ambitions and targeted plans for the future. Awareness of this on your first day is – I have to admit – a bit disconcerting. You just can’t imagine yourself chatting at ease with anyone like that; even if, by implication, they are actually a reflection of yourself.

So when you then find yourself standing in a field watching 4 grown men wrap an elastic band around a wonky spoon and a plank of wood in order to achieve the high glory of removing a piece of cork from a bucket of water 10 feet away – it tends to make you stop and think. Particularly when it seems, to all intents and purposes, that this might just be the most important task said men have attempted in their lives, thus far. The point of doing these team bonding events is of course to promote strong group dynamics and foster good working relationships; and while I understand that, for me the most important aspect of it was a whole lot simpler. You are reminded that – personal ambitions aside – everyone is just human (READ: children). Which is an absurd thing to need to be reminded of, but I’ve been a little busy lately.

Ruth Cranks

Weekend year 1

Foundation Week and a bucket of ice

Settling into an MBA is very similar to making a sports team. You have a large buildup of anticipation leading up to the opening of training camp and then you’re tossed head long into the thick of everything the school can throw at you. As I sat in the lecture hall on the first day of Foundation week I couldn’t help but feel relaxed that I was finally starting after all the preparation to make it to this stage. But as I soon found out, the week was a dive straight into the deep end of the pool. The hours were long and the amount of information being packed into your brain to get you ready for the official start of classes was overwhelming.

If that hasn’t scared you off then you have made it over the first mental hurdle of the year. The foundation week really feels more like a mental preparation for the semester ahead than anything else. The week was full of lectures from everyone who wanted to pass on useful information that will come in handy at some point during your studies. This overflow of information necessitates notes if you’re able to take them. But overall there is information that you begin to use right away in your first week of classes.

Getting to know your classmates that you will spend the next year or two years of your life with is essential. Throughout foundation week there are times that you get to work in these teams. It all culminates with the team building exercises’ at the end of the week. Where you work hands on at building your team and hopefully accelerating past the forming and storming stages of team building. Everyone in the class seemed to enjoy the build up to the final team task. By far this showed the ability of all members in the full time MBA of being able to work together in many different tasks.

My personal favorite activity however was the Ice Bucket Challenge that Yale University MBA was so kind enough to nominate our class for. For me, growing up next to Lake Superior were the water rarely rises above 10 degrees centigrade I knew what was coming. The best part for me was my classmates’ reaction to the water. I think the video says it all, I’m the one calmly walking towards the camera after nominating the next schools.

This year has just begun, so the only thing left to do is find out what it has in store for us. There is so much to do. Yet at the end there is what we all hope will be a new career with the title of an MBA. We all have untapped potential and now is the time that we will find out exactly what and where that is.

Nickolas Boyle

FT Class 2015

Early days on the MBA

As I enter week three of my journey on the Smurfit MBA Programme, I’ve only really had a chance in the past few days to stop, think and take stock of the MBA experience to date. The first few weeks were a bit of whirlwind, which began with our Foundation Week at the end of August. This ‘orientation’ type week is an excellent idea by the school and helps the students to become firmly settled in before the lectures start in earnest. As early as the end of Day 1 of Foundation Week, you could sense that most students had already gotten to know many others on the programme quite well and that any initial anxieties had been quickly eroded away! The core elements of Foundation Week taught us some valuable team building, report writing and presentation skills, all of which I feel will contribute significantly to our work on the MBA.

Now having completed the first two weeks of lectures, including our first assignment (and yes, most of us made the classic MBA-newbie mistake of spending far too long on that!), we are all well settled into our class and assignment teams. This year’s weekend class is relatively small, with only 20 students. However, this means we have already gotten to know each other quite well and hopefully we will form mutually beneficial close working relationships during the programme. Working in our assignment teams, most of us have mapped out the workload ahead for the semester, and there is a general realisation that we are only at the tip of the iceberg!

Looking forward to the adventure ahead!

Ciarán Reilly

EMBA Weekend Year 1

The end of the beginning – Foundation week 2014

Foundation week is over for another year and all the incoming Full-time and EMBA students are spending their last weekend of freedom for the foreseeable future or at least until the Christmas break.  Well it isn’t entirely free as there are already book chapters to read and case studies to analyse for the first day of classes.

The week went very well and after the initial shock to the systems of the new participants by mid week friends had been made and study groups started to work together on small tasks all with the aim of ensuring everyone is ready to hit the ground running next week.

Many thanks to all everyone staff and incoming students who made this week such a success and good luck to the Full-time class of 2015 and the EMBA classes of 2016.  The journey begins here.

Celebrating 50 years of the UCD MBA

On day two of this years Foundation Week programme the students took a little time out from the business of the day to meet with Ciarán Ó Hógartaigh, Dean of the UCD Business Schools who hosted a coffee break for the incoming classes at which he welcomed both full-time and EMBA classes to to the School, wished them the best on their MBA journey and hoped they would use this time to explore their interests and abilities in a safe environment.

He also noted that this is an important year for the School since it marks the 50th anniversary of the first intake of MBA students to the university in 1964 making the programme Irelands first MBA and one of the first in Europe.

Once the formal greeting was over it came time to cut and of course eat the cake supplied for this auspicious occasion.  Ciaran did the honours and slices were distributed to all interested parties.   All students and staff who sampled it were very complimentary.

PS It was chocolate biscuit cake in case any0ne is wondering.