When the Calculator Doesn’t Have the Right Buttons

In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.

We thought we were in Iceland to solve a mathematics problem. Five EMBA students, calculators in hand, showed up on the first day of our consulting project ready to answer a straightforward question: “How can our assigned company maintain margins in an increasingly competitive field?” Four days later, we stood in front of management to present a solution that may have seemed the answer to a completely unrelated question. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t!) Thankfully, the first year of the UCD Smurfit MBA gave us the skills needed to assess the problem from less obvious angles and confidently recommend an unanticipated course of action.

So, how did we come to answer a question that wasn’t even asked of us? We listened to our first-year lecturers, of course! Through the initial assessment, we heard Brian McGrath, who taught competitive strategy, asking “What is the company good at?” We imagined his displeasure with our wishy-washy answers until a lightbulb moment when, at last, we could all agree on a few short convincing words to describe the company’s unique strengths. Next, as we mulled over a Porter’s Five Forces analysis, Brian was in the back of our minds asking “How serious is the competitive threat to the business?” With much practice forcing ourselves away from a non-committal conclusion of “Medium, I think…?”, we found ourselves surprised to conclude that, in fact, the challenge posed by the competition was more serious than we first thought.

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As we started to truly understand the challenge at hand, Ashley Hughes, who taught leadership and organisational behaviour, was top of our minds. We were starting to believe that internal rather than external factors might be preventing the company from reaching its full potential vis a vis competitors. So, we followed Ashley’s suggestion and asked the employees themselves. Mindful of the need for a consistent methodology, we developed a set of questions intended to probe employee incentives to behave in the best interest of the organisation. The results led us down the path to our final conclusion, in which Joe Hanley – lecturer in strategic human resources – helped us tie everything together with the concept of “Congruence and alignment,” still ringing in our ears after recent exams.

In the end, we packed our calculators away, cognisant that the absence of a “congruence” button rendered them relatively useless for this project. We will almost certainly need to bring them back out to practice other skills learned in the MBA, such as putting together a balance sheet or determining an appropriate internal transfer price. In the meantime, delivering a difficult answer to a question that wasn’t exactly asked of us proved to be one of the best learning experiences we have had to date!

Andrew Gebelin, EMBA 2016-2018

A Formal Initiation Into the World of Consulting

In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.

During the first week of the Smurfit MBA, our class was asked to reveal our ‘dream job’. While my mind automatically went to Consulting, I was quite surprised by the sheer number of my classmates who had been bitten by the same bug. The stalwarts of the MBA program (Read: Orla Nugent  and Karan Sonpar), in yet another display of having their finger on the pulse, had already lined up two exciting consulting opportunities for everyone in our class – the first of which was an International Consulting Project in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Our team was paired with CrankWheel, a SaaS company that offers a browser plugin designed for quick, reliable and hassle-free screen sharing. Our consulting project entailed designing a US market entry strategy for the company. We were extremely fortunate to work closely with Jói Sigurdsson (Founder/CEO) and Gilsi Sigvaldason (Co-Founder/CCO). We couldn’t have asked for two more accomplished and accommodating individuals with whom to do this project. In addition to having a great product, they were extremely forthcoming with information that we deemed necessary to carry out our research and were always available to answer our questions and critique our suggestions. This went a long way in motivating us to deliver a project that would be useful to our clients and a source of pride for us in the years to come.

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The year-long rigorous MBA programme at Smurfit equipped us with the right tools to successfully complete a project of this magnitude. The stress on teamwork, the long hours spent researching assignments, the management frameworks learned, etc helped us over-deliver on our promises. We were also extremely fortunate to have an invested mentor in Orla. She asked us all the right questions and gently nudged us in the right direction whenever she deemed it necessary, all the while supporting and encouraging our creative freedom.

The international capstone project has been instrumental in helping me internalise the learnings from the MBA programme and understand the rigors of working in the field of consulting. It was an exhilarating experience that further strengthened my resolve to succeed in this field. The major takeaway from the project for me was the importance of having an involved and interested client. Our experience and project would have been extremely different if our client hadn’t shown the enthusiasm they did. Another important takeaway was the importance of regrouping. We realised the importance of coming back to the drawing board every few hours to report progress and set hard deadlines. It is very easy to keep researching new information to fine-tune or improve your work. However, it is essential to know when to stop, especially when you’re working to an extremely strict deadline.

This project wouldn’t have been the roaring success it was – or as much fun – had it not been for my team mates – Ciaran Hope, Khanh Nguyen, Nikita Pusnakovs. I couldn’t have put a better team together had I selected it myself.

Gursheel Parmar, FTMBA

Crankwheel also took the opportunity to write about the project on its blog.

 

Last Week We Invited External Consultants …

No, not the type you’re thinking of! We were hosting UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School students for International MBA Consultancy Week (from the 5th to 8th of June).

The goal of the MBA Consultancy Week is to provide benefits to both students and their clients. We feel this goal was definitely achieved.

These motivated, driven individuals stormed through our door and, after a brief introductory session, started applying their expertise to our business. They had to research, analyze and offer a key solution to our business case using MBA-grade skills and experience to develop practical growth recommendations.

Hopefully this exercise helped them put academic theory into action, learn practical business skills and finally, use presentation and reporting abilities in a business environment. As for CrankWheel, we really appreciate this remarkable opportunity. Nothing is better for business than an external, objective perspective, fresh insights and intriguing recommendations. Would we do that again? If possible, even tomorrow!

PS. Thanks for sharing lunch with us and for hunting for an open swimming pool in the wee hours of the morning! Big thank you and shout-out to the brilliant members of our team: Ciaran Hope, Gursheel Parmar, Khanh Nguyen and Nikita Pusnakovs!

For a view “from the other side” and a demo of the product, please visit http://crankwheel.com/external-consultants/