The Icing on the Cake

 

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Tokyo, Japan

After a grueling first semester and when it again began to look all too busy in the second half of the MBA, there came this opportunity to travel down to the Asian giants – Japan and South Korea. The experience could not have been more insightful had it not been earned from within their courtyards. It was time to unleash how Japan has been the front-runner in giving leading technologies, manufacturing methods and services across the globe. It was time again to get acquainted to how South Korea, after having gone through such a tortured past amidst the hostility of North Korea, picked up itself in becoming a leader in telecommunications, electronics and auto-mobile industry. Finally, the pleasant wait was over when the MBA caravan landed in Tokyo on March 12th.

The build-up to this trip was such that some students reached Dublin airport long before the departure. Although the journey took more than a day to reach with jet-lag started playing its role in disturbing our sleep cycles, there was no dearth of enthusiasm in the MBA cohort. Tiresome flight, sleepy eyes and even a bad stomach could not deter me to dwell out on the streets of Shinjuku on the first night. As I had lived in Japan 4 years back, it made this trip even more nostalgic personally and relevant to my travel diary.

Imperial Palace Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tokyo

The formal itinerary commenced with three guest lecturers speaking at large on Japanese business ethics, bureaucracy, the national politics, and how they managed to live a satisfying life in Japan though they were all from much more liberal and free societies. I found the words from Mr Michael Cucek, one of the speakers, extremely insightful in uncovering how Japanese politics thrives and it was very surprising to know that political families have been at the forefront in shaping the politics in Japan. The next event at NTT DoCoMo R&D centre was no less than looking in the near future as they showed some of their revolutionizing prototypes. It would be unfulfilling not to mention the dinner at “Gonpachi” restaurant. Though I don’t have a great taste for fish, I must admit I absolutely loved their salmon. For those who doubted the Japanese style of partying, they had a shout out at the Karaoke later.

View from The Observatory, Shinjuku, Tokyo
View from The Observatory, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Time to fly across to the neighbouring South Korea.

The very first impression I made of South Koreans was that they were a bit more relaxed and flexible than the conservative Japanese. Fortunately, the weather was fantastic with bright sunshine during the next three days which was quite unusual according to our tour guides, Grace and Jenny. Being an ardent lover of cars, I particularly looked forward to visiting KIA Motors. KIA had recently announced to start manufacturing in India and luckily, I got a good 5 minutes’ chat with the presenter conversing on the same topic. I don’t think I would have ever got this opportunity to hear directly from KIA’s official. Thanks to this trip!

Night Market in Myeongdong
Night Market in Myeongdong

The itinerary was so tightly packed that people would have taken some 3-4 days of good rest to recover back to the Dublin time zone. Here, I would like to make a specific mention to Mr Karan Sonpar who selected the destinations for this trip, Ms Avril Donohue and Legacy Ventures for organising and making this week memorable. Of course, the tour guides in Tokyo and Seoul also as they were outstanding in terms of the depth of knowledge they had about the respective countries.

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Samsung Innovation Museum, South Korea

It was hard to condense down the scintillating week into limited words, but words would never be enough to express this great time that we, the Smurift ambassadors, had across the Pacific. This was truly the icing on the cake!

Vishal Sharma ~ 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

The Smurfit MBA – A Diverse & Rich Learning Experience

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As a marketer, I have to learn how to tell an exciting, relevant, and believable story about the products, the brands and of course, the companies. As a person, I am a keen listener. Through stories, I learn not only the tellers’ interests, perspectives and experience in life but also a tonne of random facts – all of which are equally interesting to me. For all of the years I have spent working and travelling around the world; I have been told many great stories, yet very few of them could be exciting as the stories I have heard from my mates in the MBA Programme.

From memorable social experiences to nights out on the town, from the context in Asia, Europe to the Americas (continent not country!), all those narratives not only gave me some good laughs but also taught me so many things about the world – one of them is that funny accountants exist! And two of them happen to be in my class. How cool is that!

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Diversity (70% of our class are not from Ireland) and rich experience (average of more than five working years and some wiser ones have worked for twenty years) would be the things that I appreciate the most from the MBA experience at Smurfit. Very often, I – a Vietnamese – drink American beer (illustration purpose only, my favourite is Irish now) with Indian classmates; and we will soon travel to Africa and China together.

The world seems much smaller to me because of the experience here. And now, during group discussions, when someone speaks up, I no longer think “oh, a different opinion…” I think “oh, a different perspective that I should listen to.”

Duc Le ~ Full-Time MBA

The Difference Between Learning & Understanding

 

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After a hectic term of lectures and projects in the six modules of the Full Time Smurfit MBA Programme, my first feeling about end of terms exams was abject fear. With my background in Psychology, English and Foreign Language, I’ve made it through an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree without ever having to take an exam with right or wrong answers. The prospect of finding success in MBA exams, with their numbers and complex theoretical models, hid behind an impenetrable wall. I didn’t know what to do.

In the past, any time I have tried to cram objective information, I have had a lot of trouble. I’ve found that it doesn’t suit the way my mind works. In order to learn even basic concepts, I have to indulge my curiosity and find understanding. I realised quickly that I would have to adjust my studying technique to something that would work for me.

My resolution through the process was to learn as much as I could during my weeks of study and exam review. The MBA is a choice I made for myself and my career and I realised early on that focusing on rote memorisation would do little to serve me in the future.  To get the most out of my exam preparation, I decided to learn through applications of concepts, thinking through ways that they could be applied in the real world. For some courses, I went through case study notes. For others, I was able to find more information through research on how MBA concepts work in the real world.

When I shifted my exam study goal from learning to understanding, I got a lot more out of my hours of preparation. It remains to be seen whether this paid off with my grades (they aren’t posted yet!), but I definitely felt confident and calm walking into each exam. More importantly, I know that I learned a lot more than I would have if I had crammed information in my brain that didn’t mean anything to me.

I couldn’t go as far as to say that I enjoyed studying for exams, but I did get a lot out of the process and I now have a solid understanding of my first six modules in the Smurfit MBA programme. Although I would be delighted to get good grades, the real hope is that I will be able to use this information and understanding later in my career. In the meantime, I am really enjoying a few weeks off.

Elsa Heffernan ~ Full-Time MBA

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“In many ways, the MBA is the codification of common sense…”

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After buckling in for a manic ride in August, the Christmas break has given me time to take stock of all that I have learned and experienced in the recent months.

During the break, my daughter got an ‘old school’ snow globe as a present and one evening I gave it a shake, and as I watched the flakes circulate and begin to land, so I started to think, which is never a good idea!

As I watched I recalled a moment I had when preparing for the exams.  I was thinking about a concept and a case, but I could not remember what subject it related to.  Was it Ops?  Marketing?  Competitive Strategy?  I then realised that it did not matter what subject it was.  I am not studying Ops, or Marketing or Competitive Strategy; I am studying Business.

In the whirl of the first semester it is easy to see all the new things we learn like the snowflakes in the globe.  They are thrown around, seem disparate and random and not at all connected.  But then they settle and become part of the overall picture.

That is how I rationalise my first semester.  There is a lot thrown at us.  There are new concepts, new subjects, new cultures and significant time management challenges.  The flakes swirl in a haphazard fashion, going up, going down and presenting a confusing and incongruent picture.  But then the pace slows, absorption happens and suddenly the picture becomes apparent – the flakes settle and the scene is clear.

For me, the realisation struck that the marks I receive for my work in Semester 1, whilst important, are not actually the point.  The point is the journey, learning how to learn, how to get the best from yourself and from your team and learning the difference between time management and energy management.  It is a rare opportunity, an intellectual indulgence that we should not waste by obsessing about grades; they are merely the output for how you travel the learning journey.

In many ways a lot of what we ‘learn’ is not new as such, just that we have not looked at it in the ordered way it is presented.  Through our business experience, we have known a lot of what we learn, but we now understand it, not as random thoughts, but as a coherent strategy.  In many ways, the MBA is the codification of common sense.

Who knew a snow globe could be so thought provoking!

Paul Kelly ~ Full-Time MBA

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There Is No ONE Answer…

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My class and I are now nearly half way through Semester 1, Year 2 of the Executive MBA. The respite of mid-term is upon us as we take a breather before the run in of the last few weeks of the semester.

As I reflect on the progress we have made to date, one key learning sticks in my mind. Subjects such as Leading the Innovative Enterprise, Performance Driven Marketing, Strategy (corporate and competitive), Business and Society and Organisational Behaviour have taught me one thing: There is no One Answer.

My background is a technical one – a degree in chemistry and a number of years of experience in manufacturing pharmaceuticals. In those environments, technical problems, investigations and experiments have a root cause, a numerical answer or a concise conclusion. The subjects already mentioned have required some reprogramming of my brain.

As I read case studies and analysed the information, I came to a conclusion. I entered class with my notes in hand confident I had found the right “one” answer.

“Honda’s strategy was sound no luck involved – well planned and executed.”

“Developing a customer relationship by pretending to have a keen interest in thorough bred bulls – no ethical dilemma here, this is fair game in the sales world”

“Flat organisational structures – ideological, can’t work in practice”

As I waited in anticipation, throughout the lecture, for the various professors and doctors to validate my rock solid conclusions I was often disappointed. Why are they not giving us the answer?

As my brain adjusted to this new environment, I realised that me finding that one correct answer was futile. What is important however is the discussion, the insights of fellow classmates, my study group members and the theory outlined in articles and course text books. Eventually I stopped worrying about finding the right answer and more about incorporating the appropriate learning to strengthen my analysis and reasoning.

Michael Collins ~ Executive MBA

The True Meaning of Learning


The True Meaning of Learning

Fifteen months ago I contemplated embarking on the executive MBA. It was something I thought would benefit my career. Then, I had just completed my professional accountancy examinations and couldn’t imagine a greater workload from doing the course. Fast forward fifteen months, the EMBA has been a rollercoaster. It is a four-semester course with continuous assessment exercises contributing to final grades. For me, in terms of workload this represents the key difference between professional accountancy exams and the EMBA. Individuals learn the skill of combining the pressures of assignments with readings without forgetting the demands of their full time jobs and family lives. In truth, the intensity of this semester hasn’t yet scaled the heights of the last semester perhaps due to knowledge of a two-week mid-term break with an added week for Easter. However, with several projects due after the mid-term break, there is a general feeling that we are about to quickly shift through the gears.

Before I enrolled, I questioned myself whether I had made the right decision to do the EMBA, whether the benefits of the EMBA outweigh the financial and non-financial cost. In the last week, I have seen an NPV calculation in one of my finance lectures that shows how financially valuable the course is. While that is nice to know, it is not as important as the self-development programmes which I have found equally as valuable as the academic learning. Regardless of time constraints, I would encourage anyone considering the Smurfit Executive MBA to take advantage of the invaluable non-academic sessions included in the programme. To date, my eight academic modules and the non-academic ones of presentation seminars, career development sessions are interactive making the EMBA programme a truly unique experience. This is not surprising considering the rich blend of experience in the classrooms. As Benjamin Franklin once said “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. For me, this encapsulates the essence of true learning.

Olumuyiwa Farayibi ~ Executive MBA