Finding Value in Diversity

As we enter the summer term of the full time MBA programme, I have come to realise how much diversity I, and my classmates, have been exposed to over the past nine months.  Before I decided to undertake an MBA, I had heard some MBA graduates mention this point about “diversity” but I had underestimated the learning experience that diversity can offer.

In an MBA, diversity takes on many forms.  Firstly there’s the diversity found within the cohort itself.  This is a combination of cultural diversity (in our full time cohort of 32 students there are 10 nationalities), there’s age diversity and indeed diversity in our educational backgrounds and experiences!  The result is a multitude of perspectives that contribute to some very thought-provoking classroom discussions.  Coming from an engineering background myself, I have really enjoyed learning about other people’s previous work experiences and pre-MBA careers in various fields such as marketing, e-commerce, finance, IT and the entertainment industry. It has also helped me to realise how valuable diversity can be when it comes to problem-solving.

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Secondly, the vast range of modules also presents another element of diversity.  From accounting, financial analysis, economics and strategy to negotiation skills, ethics and executive decision-making!  The volume of information is over-whelming but the skills obtained will not only be relevant to our future careers, but will be also be helpful in others areas of life, whether one realises this at the time or not!

Thirdly, the prospects we’ve had to immerse ourselves in, outside of the classroom, pose yet another realm of diversity.  An international learning module to Japan and South Korea in March provided a unique opportunity to learn about new cultures, about doing business in Asia but also to get to know our part-time MBA classmates.  I was also lucky enough to travel to Yale for the Integrated Leadership Case Competition in April, with three other classmates.  This trip enabled us to meet other MBA students from 12 different business schools around the globe.  Over the course of three days in Yale, it was refreshing to see how all students were genuinely interested in one another and embraced the diversity around them by exchanging anecdotes about their MBA experiences and offering each other helpful advice regarding post-MBA decisions.

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To complete the international experience, we still have a week in Iceland to look forward to, where we will be working as consultants for a number of different companies.

For me, it took time to realize the value that all this diversity could bring, and I believe that I will continue to see its benefits over the coming years, in both my career and personal life.  I am certainly more open now to looking at things with a different lens, than I was nine months ago.  With this in mind, my advice for anyone considering undertaking an MBA is to truly consider its significance, not only from a career standpoint but from a non-career perspective too.

Aisling O’Halloran, Full Time MBA 2016-2017

The Clark’s Sandwich – a comforting constant in a hectic MBA week

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I find myself in week four of the second semester of my 1-year full-time MBA. The weeks just fly by and one week does not resemble the next. With three electives on top of my core modules, I run from one thing to the next: I jump on a video conference with our Yale counterparts to manage a virtual plant as part of our Supply Chain module; try to negotiate a good deal to buy a new biotech manufacturing site in my negotiations elective; am torn between Friedman and Mackey on the purpose of business in my Business Ethics class; come up with a business model for a new venture in Entrepreneurship; juggle fixed, variable, direct and indirect costs in Management Accounting; create a ‘Elena 2030’ vision with my executive coach; take a breath and literally run to the next thing.

And yet, there is a comforting constant in the hectic MBA week. Every day, at 1.30pm on the dot, the door to the MBA room opens and ten very excited (mostly male) MBA students cannot wait for the highlight of their day: the sandwich and soup deal from the Deli around the corner. I have to admit that I do sometimes join in because you cannot beat a good sandwich for lunch – may my sourdough-loving German ancestors forgive me. The comforting thing about it is, however, not so much the sandwich itself (and the obligatory basil and tomato soup), it is the fact that no matter if you buy a sandwich, bring your own lunch or just enjoy a coffee after eating in the cafeteria – every day you get to spend a peaceful 30 minutes in the MBA room with a mix of interesting, genuinely nice people who always have a good story to tell.

An MBA is an intense experience and it is a tough and sometimes scary decision to leave a great job to go back to being a full-time student for a year. Building on what Cathal wrote in his blog entry below (check it out, well worth reading!), what makes this year a lot easier and very enjoyable is the people you get to spend it with. In Germany we say ‘geteilte Freude ist doppelte Freude, geteilter Schmerz ist halber Schmerz’, which translates to ‘shared joy is double joy, shared sorrow is halved sorrow’. This definitely applies to an MBA. To make it a little less dramatic, let’s replace sorrow with stress. Sharing this experience with a great group of people is definitely double the fun and half the stress!

Elena Nock ~ Full-Time MBA

Celebrating Lunar New Year in Dublin

Vietnamese Student Body

On February 2nd 2017, our Vietnamese study body organised a warm celebration of Lunar New Year with international students, Irish families with adopted Vietnamese children and members of the Vietnamese community in Dublin.

Lunar New Year is a very meaningful occasion for many Asian countries such as China, Korea and Vietnam, etc. In Vietnam, Lunar New Year is called Tet, which means the ‘feast of the first morning of the first day’. Tet is an important occasion for family reunions, when we cherish the success of past year, let the troubles go and look forward to happiness, success and good fortune in the upcoming year.

Quiz contest about Vietnam’s facts
Quiz contest about Vietnam’s facts

As an organising member, I was glad to see many international students interested in the event. We welcomed over 300 guests despite the heavy rain over the whole day. All the efforts spent over the last 3 months seemed to be rewarding when we engaged with participants through traditional games, when international students enjoyed and took pictures in our traditional dresses or when they attentively watched the performances. Looking back, I was reluctant to take the role as Event Director due to a heavy schedule in the first semester and unfamiliar study environment. But now I felt all the experience I had was such a great one. There were moments of tension the ‘ brain-storming’ stage, yet we had gone a long way to learn how to be flexible in our plan, to be appreciative of each other’s ideas, to give more than to take and to put ourselves forward.

Myself in ‘ao dai’ - traditional dress
Myself in ‘ao dai’ – traditional dress

When I first landed in Dublin 4 months ago, I was impressed by a small little thing – signage. All are written in English and Gaelic. Although nowadays, Gaelic is becoming less popular among young people, the presence of Gaelic in almost all public areas is such a great reservation of culture and traditions. Recent years in my home country have seen debate over whether Lunar New Year should be combined with New Year holiday in the Gregorian calendar. Advocates would point to economic loss and overspending during such a long holiday. For me, I still hope that every year we will still celebrate Lunar New Year and that our people will never lose tradition because of a so-called cost-benefit analysis. Simply, globalization and revolution are not to be carried out at the expense of intrinsic values. 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

 Khanh Nguyen ~ Full-Time MBA

MBA: Mediocre But Arrogant?

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When I first told a good friend that I was going to do an MBA he responded, in true Irish fashion, by swiftly cutting me down to size. He responded by saying “Why would you bother? You do know it stands for Mediocre But Arrogant, don’t you?” As much as I knew that this wasn’t the generally accepted view of an MBA, I could not get the idea out of my head during both the application process and the run up to the start of term 1. I had a genuine fear that the class would be full of cutthroat, pompous narcissists. Thankfully, after a few weeks I could say that our very diverse class (73% of which are international students) was certainly not arrogant but instead a very down to earth one that quickly gelled into a close-knit unit. This was critical in putting me at ease about the year ahead.

The fact that I am a constant worrier meant that it was not long before my focus moved to the Mediocre part of the phrase. Did we lack arrogance because we had no reason to think highly of ourselves? Were we inferior to those that attend the top ranked business schools such as those of the Ivy League, LBS, IE etc.? Was Smurfit only able to attract mediocre candidates? After all you don’t need to be in the 700 (GMAT) club to gain entry. I was scheduled to go to Yale in mid-October for the GNAM (Global Network for Advanced Management) Global Immersion Week so I knew that would be a good opportunity to gauge the abilities of our school against some of the schools that are perceived to be the finest in the world.

The Yale trip was a fantastic opportunity. The chance to briefly attend an institution that is known across the globe and is synonymous with excellence was an honour. Upon arrival it didn’t take long to realise that many of these students had an air of arrogance about them but more importantly it did not take long to realise that we were every bit as good as them. I’d go so far as to say we were better than the majority of them and we were far more craic. Being able to see this comparison really reassured me about my decision to choose Smurfit. The fact that I didn’t feel the need to sell my kidneys to cover the considerably lower tuition fees was an added bonus.

Ok so now that we know that the Smurfiteers are as good as any MBA students, maybe it is that all MBA students are mediocre? I guess this really comes down to the perception of what an MBA graduate is. Some people who enter an MBA programme do it because they believe that companies will be lining up at the finish to throw money at them. Anybody with an ounce of sense knows that this will never happen. So why is it that certain hirers believe that by taking on an MBA graduate they are getting some super human that will revolutionize their business? If people think like this then they might think that MBAs are mediocre. Maybe that is how the rumour started.

The truth is that an MBA will not revolutionize you. How could it? Does any other degree work such magic? Of course not. What an MBA will do is equip you with a vast array of skills across many disciplines. These will not make you a subject matter expert but they will give you an edge in whatever field you choose to work. You may not use these skills immediately but at some stage I’m sure that they will be invaluable. You will only be mediocre if you do not commit to the programme and do not soak everything in.

Cathal Murphy ~ Full-Time MBA

Back to Reality

Beautiful Amsterdam
Beautiful Amsterdam

Most people would agree that taking a break is nice. Taking a break from whatever your regular routine is; taking a break from work, family, school etc. As a full-time student, taking a break means total mental and physical peace. The build up to the break gives you an almost super-human ability to switch off completely. Think of it like an over-heating car. You work tirelessly through the first semester to achieve your goals and meet every deadline. At the end you begin to burn out and all you need to do it switch off, cool down and refill.

There is something about the holiday season that makes the break that much better. Once you switch off, you can wake up at odd hours of the day without feeling any guilt. Eat way more than is necessary or socially acceptable. You start to procrastinate even the less important things in life: should I wash the dishes now or later? And you experience freedom and tranquility in large doses. Taking a break is nice.

However, taking a break means that you will eventually have to get back to work, or family, or school. People will generally fall into one of two distinct categories. The closer the return date comes, the more some people find themselves pondering time travel and the speed of time. Where did the time go? How can I go back to the beginning? On the other hand, the closer the return date comes, the more restless some people become. It’s been way too long! Can we get started already? Whichever group you belong to, you realize that life simply must move on and you simply must get back. And then your mindset changes.

Back to reality. Time to set new goals and deadlines. Time to meet new people and experience new and different things. Time to get back into a routine, feeling rejuvenated and ready. You begin to look forward to the challenges and work that will surely come. You recognise that although last semester was hard, it was fun and it was worth it. You look at the person you were at the beginning of the MBA programme, and the person you are now, and this makes you look forward to working toward the person you will be at the end of the course.

That is when you appreciate that breaks are never meant to last forever. I have every confidence that the rest of this school year will be exciting, rewarding and fulfilling.

4 months down, 8 more to go.

Joanne Muchai ~ Full-Time MBA

Beyond the MBA: A Post-Break Reflection

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During the Christmas break, I finally had the opportunity to stop and look at the last four months of my life and try to make sense of them. The pace of the MBA sucks you in at great speed and leaves little room for standing back for a moment and looking at the big picture: at what’s being built besides the knowledge, the practical skills, and the busy schedules. There is a wealth I have discovered in the MBA, beyond the numbers and the opportunities that the future holds, and that is the richness of the people that integrate the whole MBA experience.The promise of professional and cultural diversity in the MBA was one of the elements that most attracted me to the Smurfit MBA Programme, but envisioning it does not truly reflect the intricacies of such diversity. Of course we expect engineers to think differently from bankers, or the Irish to have different dinner habits than Mexicans or Indians, and the confirmation of those expectations is not a surprise to anyone in our modern world. However, it is the closeness that is built out of the habit of spending every day together that brings the most surprises. The spirit in the MBA room, from buying supplies collectively to sharing snacks during long days spent working on projects, is always a rewarding one. Teamwork also brings the opportunity for closeness and insight about others, even if that is through overcoming conflict.

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There is much to be learned about communication and bridging the gaps of cultural and professional differences, from different working styles to varying understandings of politeness or humour. For me, part of both the challenge and the beauty of the MBA have been those bridges and connections. During foundation week, we had a talk about the importance of listening and a workshop on the Myers Briggs personality types. I remember those very clearly, not only because I found them valuable for my professional career, but also for my everyday interactions with people, and as obvious as “listening is important” may sound, we often forget how to do so once we are subjected to stress, pressure, and deadlines. I have often sat down with friends in the course rethinking our means of communication in terms of the different personality types and cultural backgrounds.

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Theory and practice go hand in hand, so giving us the tools to enter into such a diverse group in order to be able to have a broader understanding of each other enriches all of us, if we allow it to happen. Day after day, the learning I’ve experienced has happened both in and outside of the classroom. I stepped away from my comfort zone in the humanities to try to analyse companies and financial statements, but I have also happily listened to my colleagues’ stories about their careers and have tried to comprehend their working styles and how we can complement each other.

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After being on a break for a month, I realized I have changed during the short time I’ve been part of the MBA. My professional and personal horizons have broadened due to the new material I’m learning, and equally (or even possibly more so) from the people I have met. Their ambition, motivation, and passion are contagious, and even if there are points on the road when I feel tired, anxious, or scared, it is through the hope that we share for a better future that I am driven forward. I am certain that the new term will bring more of this knowledge and experience and I can only hope that we can continue to inspire each other during and beyond the MBA.

Andrea Martinez ~ Full-Time MBA

Teams – A Hybrid Approach

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Undertaking an MBA was something I had considered for a long time. However, with my career progressing and being in my mid 30’s I has thought that the time to take on this challenge had passed me by. Realising that I wanted to change my career path, I spoke with friends & colleagues, and made enquiries into what options and programmes were available to me. I quickly realised the Full-Time MBA in Smurfit Business School matched exactly what I was looking for.

After 10 years in the banking industry, giving up my job (and salary!!) for a year was a scary prospect. However, unlike many of my classmates, being from Dublin was advantageous in terms of not having to move, which made things easier for me. Returning to full time education after a gap of 10 years certainly took some getting used to, but after 2 to 3 weeks of a settling in period I was back in the student mind-set.

There is a wide diversity in the class in terms of experience, industry, and nationality. Adapting to different people’s way of doing things takes time and includes some trial and error – but I am always learning. An engineer and a banker certainly have different ways to tackle the same problem! However, what I have learned is that there are many ways to successfully complete a task. Quite often a hybrid approach between team members proves to be the most efficient way of achieving success.

The past 4 months have flown by. It has been tough at times and the hours have been long, however I have learned a huge amount both academically and personally and I have met some great people along the way. Semester 1 is complete, however there is still a long road ahead and I am looking forward to the challenges that 2017 will bring.

I have really enjoyed the MBA experience to date, but having said that I am certainly enjoying the Christmas break! Lots done – even more to do!

Mark Kavanagh ~ Full-Time MBA

Barriers to Entry

Noticed in canteen last week (look closely at the top-centre of the window!) – Proof that not all high-fliers get into the Smurfit MBA. I just hope the unsuccessful candidates weren’t exposed to these “barriers to entry”…(Porter, 1979)
Noticed in canteen last week (look closely at the top-centre of the window!) – Proof that not all high-fliers get into the Smurfit MBA. I just hope the unsuccessful candidates weren’t exposed to these “barriers to entry”…(Porter, 1979)

Whoever screened the applications did a pretty good job. As Ciarán rightly said below, there’s always that trepidation before meeting your assigned study group. How will we interact? Will there be a common work ethic? What are the others’ beliefs around team values and respect? In our first week together, we were encouraged to set in writing a team charter. I’m happy to report that we haven’t had to revert back to it (too much!) as we wade through the perils of group assignments!

I’ve learned some valuable lessons in teamwork already. Last week we spent hours debating the best option for a competitive strategy assignment. The vote came to three against two, and I wrote a report that was the complete opposite of my initial opinion. But having engaged with, acknowledged and understood the other’s viewpoints, writing the report became surprisingly easy.

There were more than a few raised eyebrows when people heard I was considering an MBA so soon after my son was born. The MBA office gave me honest and frank warnings of the time demands involved, along with plenty of tips and success stories. When you have to get home every evening to see your children before bedtime, time-management and motivation to get work done efficiently, suddenly come a lot easier.

On a final note, I’ve spent nearly a decade in engineering (half of that in Brisbane), but I had a growing desire for something radically new and different. I’m not able to put my finger on what that desired change is, and being honest I seem to alter my target career every fortnight! But I’m ok with that, as all of those post-MBA opportunities are thrilling. The past few months have been the most enjoyable learning experience of my life, and my classmates are simply extraordinary.

Our group are particularly lucky – we have 6 members!

Teamwork
Teamwork

Conor Hurley ~ Full-Time MBA

The Importance of Teamwork

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When I decided to put my music business on hold and to take a year out of life and return to college at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the raw intensity of what was to come. Even after 15 years of intense work in the Hollywood entertainment industry, MBA life often seems to be an exercise in survival training for business more than academic learning. Part of me feels that this is the point of it all. From the beginning, the high pressure environment has created a strong bond between the Full-Time MBA students. We realise that supporting each other is the cornerstone of our fast evolving class culture, and this family attitude increases the chance of us making it through the year relatively unscathed!

Teams, teams and more teams

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From the start, teamwork has been a huge part of our MBA experience. We work in assigned teams, in self-selected pairs, and as individuals. We also share ideas as a class on a regular basis. The thing about assigned teams, as you can well imagine, is that there’s no choosing who you get. At the start of Semester One, I think a lot of us collectively held our breath before meeting our teams after hearing all the rumors about teams being customized to create minor conflict to challenge us. I feel I have been very lucky. I have four teammates from different backgrounds, countries and cultures who support each other and have been there for each other every step of the way. It has been a great support to me personally.

I’ve actually been discovering a lot of hidden things about teamwork that will benefit me for many years to come. So many of us are being reminded that there is a lot more to it than simply having a meeting and then going our separate ways to work on tasks. For example:

  1. What are our individual and collective strengths?
  2. How can we learn from and with each other?
  3. How do we engage with each other?
  4. How can we align our goals or expectations?

Virtual Teamwork at Smurfit

Recently, we were hit with a new challenge – working in virtual teams across the various Executive MBA and Full-Time MBA classes. The task seemed simple: collaborate through virtual communication and make a video about the experience. In reality, it proved to be an engaging challenge. Trying to agree on simple things such as an online platform or when everyone is free is apparently harder to do with teammates you don’t know or see!

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We tested the virtual team experience in a “safe psychological environment” (a phrase heard a lot in our class) and had a lot of fun doing it. When two of us attended Global Network Week in Yale’s School of Management for example, we took the time to organise a Skype call from Yale with our teammates back in Ireland to give us an authentic international Global Virtual Team experience.

Our final video project revolved around interviews with fellow Global Network Week students and our own team discussing our experiences.

The MBA Leadership Development Programme

There is a growing awareness among many of us, that developing our ability to work with and lead a team of diverse individuals is a far more significant part of our growth as future business leaders than simply getting the top grade in an MBA exam. It’s proving to be an interesting psychological transition. The ego wants to be selfish and to focus on what is best for the self, yet we see time and time again that the collective delivers better decisions and outcomes.

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The Leadership Development Programme (LDP) focuses on the skills necessary to help us. It IS all worth it. This voyage of self-discovery feeds our emotional growth, and our capacity to be more productive both individually and collectively. At the end of the day, we unquestionably need to understand who we are, before we can lead others in the future. To help us understand our psychological preferences and our emotional strengths and weaknesses, we have done a barrage of personality tests such as an ESCI 360 Peer Review and a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test based on C. Jung and I. Briggs Myers type theory.

Honestly, it sometimes feels like we are doing a new test every second week!

Moving Forward

So what is next for me? I think most of all, I simply look forward to continuing on this voyage of self discovery and enjoying the remainder of my MBA experience.

Ciaran Hope ~ Full-Time MBA

 

Home from Home!

Moving to another country is never easy; especially when it is your first time. My journey started with my enrolment in UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. I started my preparation with a lengthy visa process and then scheduling my arduous travel accordingly. I am from the northern part of India which is one of the most scenic places in India: Jammu & Kashmir. Like Ireland, there are lots of lakes, rivers and mountains.

My Home Town
My Home Town

Amidst many differences between India and Ireland, there are similarities also. We both share the same tri-colour in our respective national flags: Saffron, white and Green. Both nations have emerged through similar historic experiences. Moreover, Indian constitution resembles Irish constitution more than any other constitution in the world. When Indian constitution was being drafted, Eammon De Valera was frequently approached. There is uncanny similarity between the Irish pronunciation of numbers and pronunciation of numbers in Hindi and between old Irish and Sanskrit. Also, it is amazing to know that Irish time is the same as Indian time, which pretty much means, not on time.

Ireland
Ireland

Well all the hassle becomes easy if you have good company, warm welcomes and friends around you. We can learn to be happy with very little things in life. My first day in Dublin made quite an impression, while taking bus to my temporary accommodation, I went off the route. The driver pointed to the correct location and dropped me there. It is not just me; one of my Indian colleagues had a similar experience. He (guess who) was stranded because someone robbed him but then a complete stranger helped him with the travel fare and guided him home. I have to say Irish people are very warm, which is something that they share with us.

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A diverse classroom and welcoming staff made the transition easier. Next was our culturally and functionally diverse study group. I have a spread of different cultures (Irish, Kenyan, Chinese and Indian) and experience (Engineer, Music Composer, Chef and Sales Analyst). It may be perceived that we would have a lot of differences but unexpectedly there are not, making it easier to overcome the cultural lag and innate hesitation. Out of the blue was the GNAM Global Network Week, a week full of learning, fun and frolics. We engaged with students across 10 different Business Schools. This provided the level of exposure and networking platform to expand one’s perspective. The surprises don’t end here. Everyone here seems to love Indian food. In addition to that, the food may be very different here but there’s still the sort of bickering and slanging going on that I’m used to. In future, I would love to stay here in Ireland after my studies. For now, I hope my stay here is pleasant and I am looking forward to more surprises and to explore more of Ireland.

Medhav Gondi ~ Full-Time MBA