Foundation Week for 2014 has begun

The next incoming class has finally arrived on campus, that is the full-time MBA class of 2015 and the Executive MBA classes of 2016.  It was a very busy morning with handout of materials, name badges and getting to know you sessions.  The morning sessions covered the basics of who is who and who does what followed up by a session with Dr. Brian McGrath, the MBA Academic Director, who did an overview of the what the academic expectations are and if previous years are any judge he probably instilled fear in the audience.  This was followed by a ‘Getting to know you’ lunch courtesy of the MBA programme during which MBA participants began to move into their class groups trading information on backgrounds, interests and sharing GMAT war stories.  This afternoon they are to grapple with the basics of how to analyse case studies which is something they are going to be doing in their sleep very shortly.

We wish all our incoming students the very best over the course of their time with us, the journey starts here.  Updates and hopefully pictures will follow during the week.

No Wonder Dubliners Walk So Fast

I would like to use this blog post to set the record straight about a common misconception about the Irish.  Despite what you may have heard, read, or seen; the Emerald Isle’s beverage of choice is in fact coffee.  As a new MBA student you are told that you’ll be drinking lots of coffee to get through the year.  What they neglect to mention is that they try to get you hooked on it from the start.

The UCD Smurfit MBA Foundation Week started early last Monday morning with all the new students, both full-time and part-time, gathered in the Main Hall mingling and making small talk.  Everyone was exchanging names and nationalities and work histories over cups of coffee, generously provided by the university.

There were speakers and info sessions and team building activities throughout the week.  And the whole time coffee was never more than two hours away.  The unspoken question on everyone’s mind was, “How long until the next break?”  Not because everybody needed a fix (although for some that’s exactly why) but the coffee break became something more.  It was chance to speak with your classmates and bond with new people over something familiar.  Despite our diverse backgrounds it was the simple, shared experience that brought us together.

Perhaps that is the Irish way: coming together for a chat and getting to know each other.  The coffee is just an excuse to get together.

The foundation has been laid.  The relationships are growing.  And the coffee is still flowing.


Tony Downs,

FT MBA 2014.


Beginning of a new journey.

Every once in a while, I look back on the journey in life so far and look ahead to what the future has to offer. One of those introspective trips planted the seed of thought of changing the status quo.  I could feel a void that a change in job/role or internal organizational training couldn’t fill.

The business side of a venture has always interested me and I felt that an MBA from a world-class institution would lay a strong foundation to build a career upon.  Having lived in Ireland for almost six years now, the UCD Smurfit MBA was at the top of my list.  A bit of information gathering over internet, talking to alumni and attending a breakfast lecture session helped me make up my mind.

As I’m gearing up for a change of direction, here is my take on the expectations from the MBA @ UCD Smurfit.


  1. Experience a world-class business education.
  2. Learn from diverse peers both inside and outside of the classroom.
  3. Build a good network of people with shared interests.
  4. Get a wider perspective on business to enable my transition to more commercial focused roles from my past operational focused ones.
  5. Have a bit of fun and form great friendships for life.


So this is me, Sundar (you may try Sundaresan Balasubramanian for a tongue twister), a Full-Time MBA student with nine years of global work experience in telecom with the likes of Ericsson and Verizon, looking forward to an amazing journey ahead.


Sundaresan Balasubramanian,

FT MBA 2014.

Out with the old and in with the new!

Would you believe it?  Another year has come upon us.  The expression groundhog day has been used a number of times in the past weeks.  The new incoming MBA classes have completed both the Foundation Week (an intensive induction programme) and their first week of lectures culminating this evening with the annual Welcome Dinner.

Now that everyone is in the door, we invite all our MBA participants and their partners to dinner to celebrate the successful transition on to the UCD Smurfit MBA.   This dinner hosted by the MBA Office takes place on the first Friday night of the new semester.

Before we pass over to our new friends, the MBA Office would like to congratulate one of our outgoing MBA participants, Zahira Sukran, who has won the UCD International Blog Competition, which is a great achievement.  Zahira was a Full-time MBA on a scholarship from her home country, Malaysia, and her blog documented her personal experiences of doing the UCD Smurfit MBA and living in Dublin. She also provided regular contributions to the MBA Blog during her time in UCD Smurfit.  Her award winning blog can be found at http://mbamoon.blogspot.ie/ and a favourite of ours is http://mbamoon.blogspot.ie/2013/04/good-bye-kinsale.html

This blog  will now be taken over by a new batch of eager bloggers who will keep it alive and interesting throughout the new academic year.

A big welcome to our new bloggers for 2013-14!


Michael McDonnell.

MBA Programme Manager.


Year 2 – The beginning of the End!?!

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

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

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

My foundation week tips for incoming students are as follows:

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

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

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

– Shaun O’Keeffe, EMBA Yr 2

Spring is in the air…

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

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

Brendan Cunniffe

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


– Brendan Cunniffe,  EMBA Weekend,  12-14

What my first weeks as a Smurfit MBA student have taught me….

Driving to the Smurfit School for Foundation Week at the end of August I remember having a mild panic attack and asking myself “Claire what are you doing? What are you actually doing?” With a deep breath to get me through the doors, and a coffee supply that would last me a few months, I found myself swallowed by a crowd of people who were all probably in a similar panic. First cup of coffee down and I’d already meet some really interesting people, and that set the tone for the rest of the week…..I just kept meeting incredible people!

From only a few minutes chatting with some of these new characters I could see that they oozed charisma, passion and natural leadership. So there’s the benchmark, and I feel honoured to be studying alongside everyone, I’m sure they’ll teach me a lot!

My first few weeks have taught me a few things:

  1. I need to learn to talk louder in class because SOMETIMES there is a lot of ego to be heard over.
  2. In this slightly male dominated environment I might need to improve on my “sports-talk”…I wonder, maybe, do Lyons have a tea for that?
  3. From Foundation Week, one point that has really stuck with me is that being in control and managing your time effectively is about staying relaxed, focused and inspired. I’m inspired, I’m focused and Jacob, our Organisational Behaviour lecturer, has made it his mission to ensure the entire weekend EMBA stay relaxed with our 5 minute meditation practices at the end of class! Time management is sorted!

I am thoroughly enjoying my lectures, the heated class discussions and the varied teaching styles of our lecturers. I have just joined the Entrepreneurship Club, I am neck deep in assignments, and I am loving every minute of it!

– Claire McAlister, EMBA Yr 1

And so it begins…

27 Aug 12 – Week Nil

And so it begins… day one of the MBA.  Like everyone else arriving in for 0830 registration, I was filled with the usual sense of trepidation that accompanies any life-changing event.  We all piled into LT1 after coffee and croissants, and the tentative exchanging of pleasantries.  I looked around to see full-timers, execs, weekenders, mid-weekers and every other category of MBA student that could be mustered on a damp and dreary Irish summer’s morning.

The morning passed in a blur of advice, introductions and name tags.  Lunch came and went as we got to know one another over a bowl of soup.  And then the class we had all been dreading- the one with the homework.  Professor Niamh Brennan’s class on Report Writing was being spoken about since early that morning.  Nobody seemed sure if they had done the assignments properly.  Some hadn’t printed them out as per instructions.  Some had lost their formatting in printing.  Many sensed they were going to get critiqued to within an inch of their lives.  In the end Niamh (as we were to call her) was entertaining and engaging in her delivery.  I successfully managed to come away with all three learning outcomes from the class, which were:

  • Fight the bull,
  • Do not write a letter to one’s mother in the passive voice, and
  • Email Niamh, don’t tweet her.

At least I think that’s what they were.


03 Sep 12- Week One

In a week in which we earnestly discussed Robin Hood’s strategy options in his quest against the Sherriff of Notingham, Foundation Week ended on a high note with a very enjoyable day’s team building conducted mainly on the lawns of the Smurfit Business School.  Some of the panthers in the group got to cool their jets as buckets full of water spilled on their heads; the owls on the other hand suggested we do one more rehearsal of the plan before committing to the precarious 4×2 board.  All told, I think everyone enjoyed the team building and especially enjoyed the excellent organiser, Fintan who made it fun, but also reflective and meaningful to the year ahead.

So with Foundation Week over, it was straight into the thick of things on Monday morning where we continued to apply ourselves to Financial Reporting and were offered a first glimpse into the world of Competitive Strategy with Prof. Pat Gibbons.  They say an MBA class become close friends over the course of their studies, and Group Six certainly showed refreshing candour in outlining to Pat, and the rest of the course, what they hoped to achieve from his strategy class.  Suffice it to say, I’m sure Pat never expected his insights into strategy could have such wide-ranging application!

So the assignments and presentations are coming in thick and fast.  Groups can be seen forming (and possibly storming) in all corners of the building, coming to terms with the vista that presents itself to us.  But hey, we volunteered for this, so let’s make the best of it.

– Morgan Mangan, FT MBA 2012/13

September 4th 2012

I previously never thought much of the term time management, regarding it as a cliché and innate but with the list of group presentations and reports  beginning to gain momentum this week, I now realise it will be a valuable skill to develop and employ.

Foundation week was very well organised with a good mix of practical information on the course requirements,  how to utilise the IT services fully and the prohibition on booze and barbecues on campus as well as the team building exercises which were good fun with the ‘occasional’ difference of opinion and squaring up amongst some of the participants.

This week has plunged us into the full rigours of the programme and totting up in my head the hours that will have to be committed to assignments or study as well as the non-academic stuff, I feel  my waking hours will have to be extended. Looking forward to our first meeting with Brian Marrinan about careers tomorrow.

No regrets!

– Cathal O’Ceallaigh, FT MBA 2012/13

The Trials and Tribulations of Foundation Week

Exhilarated. Ecstatic.  Relieved.  All of these emotions struck me when I received the email stating that I had been accepted for the Executive MBA.  Completing the admission process had involved an amount of effort, studying and self reflection but it was not without its joyful moments (such as achieving the required GMAT score).  Shortly afterwards, I received details of the login for the incoming student website – a myriad of information.  This outlined what to expect when we arrived in UCD and is intended to set you up for the coming years.  Admittedly the site confused at times!  Surely it gets easier from here?!?

Anticipation. Excitement. Terror.  Day 1 of Foundation Week and I didn’t know what to expect as I drove from Cork.  Having joined the LinkedIn group for the Executive Class, I had an idea of the calibre of people I would be rubbing shoulders with.  An exciting mix of people from all walks of life, all at the top of their game.  What was a lowly engineer doing in this illustrious company?!  Thankfully, within minutes of arriving in UCD, my apprehension transformed to enthusiasm due to the friendliness of the faculty and fellow classmates alike.

Day 1 began well with general introductions to some of the faculty, their areas of expertise and their aims for the year ahead.  However, we were brought back to earth with a bang during Dr Brian McGrath’s lecture when the full weight of the academic expectations for the students was set out… 32 hours study per week in addition to lectures and the demands of employment, surely that couldn’t be right?!?  When would we sleep?  The sense of panic in the hall escalated when the requirements for a top grade were outlined… Devouring the contents of the library during our ‘spare’ time!  Uh oh…

The fear returned in the afternoon!!  Any lecturer who sets an assignment for students before the course begins is obviously not to be trifled with.  And 2 minutes into Prof Brennan’s Report Writing lecture proved exactly as expected.  Following a vigorous beginning to the lecture, a poor unsuspecting student in the front row was labelled “Fool!”  The student was unfortunate to be feeling the brunt of Prof’s forceful point regarding the use of acronyms!!  This, of course, was sarcasm, and was delivered humorously, however it did focus the collective mind of the class!

Trepidation. Fun. Camaraderie.  Team building with Fintan occupied half of Tuesday and all day Wednesday.  Tuesday’s highlights included a blindfold and plenty of physical contact.  No it wasn’t based on a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey… as a team, we were constructing three concentric heptagons with rope while blindfolded!?!  Tuesday also entailed deciding which animal represented our Communication/Leadership style – with the Peacock’s among us loving the attention!! Wednesday began with a team challenge involving water, with our poor volunteer, Tom, getting soaked but we successfully navigated the task.  The rest of Wednesday involved a large team task.  After a slow start, where it appeared that someone would be sacrificed (literally), a Chairman was appointed, a plan was put in place and we successfully worked together as a team to complete the task.  By the end of this, we had been divided into our Study Groups for Semester 1.  I was on a team that I could definitely relate with – 3 fellow engineering graduates.  Happy days!

As an aside, I recently read Peter Robinson’s “Snapshots from Hell: The Making of an MBA”.  Not a book for the faint-hearted MBA student.  However, it does provide an interesting perspective on what can be involved in completing an MBA.  The abiding phrase which I will take through my studies from the text is the motto “illegitimi non carbarondum est. Don’t let the bastards grind you down”!!

Thursday began with an entertaining class where we analysed the economic woes of Robin Hood and his Merry Men!  This gave most people their first taste of Case Study learning – a very new concept to most!  Thursday afternoon also introduced the class to a new concept – exercising our voice (and gestures)!  Paul, the communications guru, began the class with a bag on his head (literally) and concluded by transforming the class into a literal mix of friends and enemies.  The class was hugely entertaining and the intended message from the class was heeded by all – to be a good presenter, you must constantly reassess and work on your presentation skills.  The alumni tips which were delivered at the end of Thursday did little to allay people’s fears about time commitment, they did however provide people with an insight into what to expect.  Most importantly, the presenters provided students with the belief that the MBA qualification is achievable!

Relief. Anticipation. Enthusiasm.  The week finished with a taste of real subject work with an Introduction to Finance.  As an engineer surrounded by numerous people with finance experience, I must admit that I definitely wasn’t looking forward to being found out here!  The lecture began, I listened and astonishingly I understood (most of it anyway)!!  This was a welcome surprise, maybe I wouldn’t be left too far behind!

Following the interesting and diverse events of Foundation Week, I left UCD on Friday evening believing “I can deal with this”!  Onwards and upwards…

-Shaun O’ Keeffe
Executive MBA Student 2012-14