It is exactly one year since I completed one of the most challenging, transformative, and enjoyable journeys I could have imagined. My MBA journey started on a beach in Vietnam. A month travelling around South East Asia provided space to reflect on those latent goals that you procrastinate on until the time is right, or invariably, perfect. Like everything in life, there is no right time, there is certainly no perfect time. I decided that the time was now, and in fact, the time would be six weeks after returning from my travels. Little did I think I was about to set out on an even greater adventure, and this time round there would be no Lonely Planet to neatly signpost the challenges and highlights.
The MBA adventure kicked off with an induction and team building week on the soggy grounds of the Smurfit campus. I imagined sharp suits and laptops but the wellies, rain jackets and blindfolds were the perfect leveller! Running around with buckets of water on what I can only describe as an adult sports day, I forged friendships that would endure long after the MBA chapter closed. There are so many more highlights since those first few days in Blackrock, and each of them, like the best adventures, were unexpected and unplanned!
My Lonely Planet collection expanded more than I had anticipated during an MBA. Together with four colleagues, I had the opportunity to travel to Montreal in Canada to represent Smurfit at the John Molson International MBA Case Competition. Next stop, the International Study Tour saw eighty MBAs travel to Japan and South Korea to learn about doing business in international markets and visit global corporate giants including KIA and Samsung. My MBA passport was stamped again when I travelled to the US to undertake a week long module in the Behavioural Science of Management with global MBAs at Yale University. Smurfit is a member of an international global MBA network which offers students the opportunity to attend a Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM) week at one of a number of partner business schools. International travel aside, there were so many more highlights – the class debates, the team presentations, the countless coffee breaks with your colleagues amid writing papers on GE, Coca Cola and Southwest Airlines, and the ‘odd’ beer down the Dark Horse to catch the Six Nations after class!
The application process was straight forward. I applied online in mid-July with my CV, two letters of recommendation, my university transcripts and a short written application. At the same time I also scheduled my GMAT aptitude test for mid-August. My application was reviewed by the Board and I was called for an interview within two weeks. I interviewed with the MBA Director who assessed my suitability and rationale for pursuing the MBA. In parallel with the application process, I commenced study for the GMAT aptitude test. I received a conditional offer from Smurfit in early August pending a sufficient GMAT score. In mid-August I sat the GMAT and obtained the score I needed to get into Smurfit, and with that my MBA journey kicked off a little over two weeks later.
A Chartered Engineer by background, prior to the MBA I had over seven years’ experience in the utility industry across asset development, trading, strategy and innovation. Since completing the MBA, I have taken up a new role as a Manager in Accenture’s Resources practice where I work with utility sector clients on strategy and transformation projects. The skills which I gained during the MBA from leadership and strategy execution to client consulting have proved invaluable as I navigate my new role.
While I believe everyone sets out on the MBA in pursuit of their own personal goals, I will share a few of my reflections and insights. A substantial portion of the learning on the MBA is attained through working in teams with colleagues from varied backgrounds. Embrace the diversity and opportunity to explore diverging perspectives. There will be different styles, there will be conflicting views and there will be frustrations – be open to different approaches and use the opportunity to truly understand and test your own leadership style. The leadership development aspect of the MBA was one of the most enriching elements of the journey. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, go first, have a shot, challenge your self-perceptions – you are there to learn and to push boundaries – nothing grows in a comfort zone. Take time and make the effort to bond with your colleagues. Your colleagues soldier with you and support you every step of the way. The MBA network has been one of the biggest enduring benefits, and the value of being able to tap into the network you formed while at Smurfit is immeasurable.
To those sitting on the fence procrastinating and considering if the time is now, take the leap and put in the application; there will never be a perfect time. To those who have already secured their place, you are about to embark on an incredible journey, it will challenge you on so many levels but you will grow in equal measure. Enjoy every step of the journey!
Catherine O’ Brien EMBA 2015/17