Reminiscing on the Smurfit MBA; a path to who knows where?

It’s funny thinking back to this time of year 5 years ago when I was getting ready to start my MBA; or more accurately gearing up for Electric Picnic with the MBA more an uncomfortable thought in the very back of my mind that I would deal with when off site after the event from mid-September.

When I started on the journey I was a concert promoter by trade, and had been for the previous 9 years – all of my working life. Cut to 5 years later; I’m a global project manager for Accenture and looking at the stints in between – heading up corporate communications for Hewlett-Packard, programme managing the government JobBridge internship scheme with now-Tánaiste Joan Burton, marketing in Accenture to my current Project Management role.

If anyone had asked me where I saw myself in 5 years’ time, I wouldn’t have been able to guess where the journey might have taken me – and for me that’s the exciting thing about going down a new road. For me, the MBA was the enabler as it helped by virtue of contacts, confidence, knowledge and a combination of hard & soft skills which helped me to land where I am today. Now expecting my first baby in about 8 weeks’ time it’s the beginning of another new chapter, and it’s hard to say where the next 5 years will take me. I guess it’s all to play for!

Best of luck to everyone starting out… may you all get what you want out of it, and what you don’t even know you want yet!

Siobhan O’Dowd, Accenture Enterprise Enablement PMO Services Manager (EMBA 2011)

Breaking Through the Career Ceiling

Why I did an MBA:

Before the MBA I was working as IT consultant on multi-million European-wide deals. When we were finalising these deals, I found myself in a room with the EMEA heads of HR, finance, marketing etc. I was representing the EMEA lead for consulting. I was keeping up with these high-power conversations, but only just. I had hit a career ceiling and to progress my career further, I needed to break out of my consulting zone and get on the same level as these domain specialists.

The Smurfit MBA was how I did this.

What my head knew but my heart denied:

The content of an MBA isn’t difficult; it’s the breadth and depth of knowledge that you have to consume in a compressed time that’s the challenge.

What everyone says, but I didn’t believe until I got there:

You learn quite a lot from your classmates, and yes – you get out what you put in. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you will be rewarded.

What I learned most:

Over the years, I had already worked out many of the concepts from the MBA in my own head, from first principles. The MBA put structure and a formal nomenclature on the fuzziness, allowing me again to work with other domain leaders.

What shocked me about the MBA:

In the last 5-10 years before the MBA I had gotten used to being the “smartest guy in the room”. In the first couple of weeks in Smurfit, I realised I was in the lower 50-percentile of the class. This was quite a shock to the ego.

My favourite moment on the MBA:

We had a presentation from the conductor of a concert orchestra. I didn’t engage initially – I wasn’t going to apply for the job. But he slowly explained his role: to coordinate 80 primadonnas, all who believe they are better at their job than he is at his.  All who think they could work better without him, all who wanted to give their own 90 second opinion, some of whom were just passengers, and somehow his role was to add value so the whole was significantly better than the sum of the parts.

EUREKA! I realised these were the same challenges that I faced in my role as a programme manager, and therefore certain knowledge and skills are fungible.

It was these insights that were the highlights of the MBA.

What I did with my MBA

I was hired by a major IT organisation to improve their “Value Engineering:” to create business propositions for large deals, especially where the CIO was convinced.  The CFO & CEO needed to see some financials, albeit based on the technology, and with real numbers before getting on board.

The job offer was routed through the Smurfit MBA Careers Office and the mandatory requirements for the position included an “MBA from a top European business school.”


Luke Beare

Full-time MBA 2009

Senior Director | Industry Strategy & Insight, Oracle

How did he find the time? Alum Dave Graham on his award winning first novel.

I took the UCD Smurfit EMBA from 2010 to 2012 and this is a short piece about how the time-juggling demands that the course places on people were a great help in getting my published book over the line this year.


Just as a brief background to how I came to be published. I had started writing ‘Incitement’ ( see http://www.davidgrahambooks.com/incitement/ ) around the time our second child arrived. I’d finished the book, submitted it to what I thought were likely agents, got serially rejected and then pretty much tore the book apart and rewrote 75% of it. The problem was I never got around to resubmitting it between work, family and starting the MBA. Then one day driving to work, I was listening to The John Murray Show on RTE 1, Ireland’s national radio station. A piece came on asking whether you’d ever written a book that hadn’t been published. The competition was being run in conjunction with The RTE Guide and the prize was a publishing package. When I got to the office, I thought about it for a while, decided ‘why not’ and submitted the book with no expectation whatsoever.


A couple of months later, I received a phone call saying I’d made a shortlist of five from over 500 entries. I still didn’t feel I’d go further in the competition but was pleased with that. Then in August, the five finalists were invited to go on air while two of the three judges discussed the books and announced the winner. To my surprise I won and, just like that, my book was going to be published. Well, not quite, there was quite a bit of work to be done between edits, cover design and preparing to promote the book.


I’m married with two young boys and run a small business, so finding the time to get the multiple edits and other pieces done was going to be a challenge. Luckily, though, the MBA had been great preparation for this. When originally considering taking the course, my wife and myself had both looked at our routines because we knew it would mean a commitment from both of us. An added complication was moving house and having the new house extended and renovated during the same time period. We cut away a lot of the extraneous stuff and really prioritized things like time with the kids, there were easy sacrifices like TV and some others that weren’t so easy and, at times, eight hours of sleep was a luxury foregone. Thing is, though, it was manageable; at times it got a little stressful but all of the work got done. So, when it came time to do the book work, what might have seemed otherwise difficult with a temptation to compromise on quality, ended up being quite doable. We just looked at it like a two month resumption of the MBA.


Funnily, the MBA helped in one other way. The book deals with a conflict between two global drug cartels which unbeknownst to the protagonists has been incited by third-parties. Part of the story deals with the issues of drug shortages, what impact they would have on demand and pricing and the possible societal impact. During the rewrites, I was able to subtly change some of these passages to have a firmer economic footing. Saying this, I should provide a disclaimer to my economics and finance lecturers, none of them ever lectured on the supply-and-demand dynamics of the international drug trade and any flaws that remain are solely mine.


The hope with the book now is that people will check it out and spread the word amongst their family and friends. To read a little about some of the books I would recommend and that have influenced my writing you can see some blog pieces at http://www.davidgrahambooks.com/category/blog/

Dave Graham,

EMBA 2012.

Taking action is really the key in getting that job.

After the rush of adrenaline while on the UCD Smurfit MBA, Playing Grownup (my post MBA start-up), and the UCD Smurfit Student of the Year award, it was difficult to switch into job hunting mode.   I made all the rookie mistakes starting out- applying for random jobs online, sitting in front of a computer rather than actively networking. Fortunately the wisdom of the UCD MBA and Brian’s preaching on networking allowed the light bulb to go off thinking back to his tennis swing analogy and doing something you love hitting that sweet spot on the racket and swinging without thinking all led me in a better direction.

First, I reached out to a local non-profit called DurhamCares to help them with a project interviewing businesses and using readings from the MBA to help them create a framework. This started to get me in front of local business leaders and build up a local reference from the non-profit who actually got me an interview with a local company that I declined because I had another offer from CrossComm. I went from getting no responses to multiple offers all starting from this decision to get involved in a cause that I loved and could add value so that started the momentum.

I learned about CrossComm through Amy, my better half, who did some part time book-keeping for them and before I knew it I received a job description for a Chief Business Development Officer position for this small  mobile app development company. The reason I think this will be of interest to the current class is that instead of creating a standard cover letter I submitted a 100 Day Plan. It impressed the CEO enough to hire me and made me more confident it would be the right fit having taken the extra time to present my ideas for the role and what I would try to accomplish in my first three months. And to wrap the story up with a bow – my first marketing sponsorship was with DurhamCares non-profit in a campaign they are doing locally so getting involved and taking action is really the key!

Justin Thomas, FT MBA 2012.



Leveraging the UCD Smurfit MBA: “I call it networking”

In his career development workshop Brian Marrinan explained it’s more effective to talk to someone you know than to send your CV to someone you don’t know. This made me reconnect with a Dutch company I’d done an internship with as an undergrad. I didn’t want to move back to the Netherlands and was keen to leverage the MBA. I mentioned this upfront and added ‘but I’m interested in something suitable in Dubai’. I have no idea why I said ‘Dubai’, but it turned out they were looking for someone with my profile in the UAE. Brian helped me prepare for the interview; Stephen Boyle gave me valuable negotiation tips and with Prof Damien McLoughlin’s advice in mind (change jobs during the MBA) I accepted the offer.

Robert Burgers (EMBA, City Centre, 2010)


My biggest fear while doing my MBA was not getting a job after the completion of the course. I heard the word “networking” several times, but didn’t believe in its power until I benefited from it. When my fiancé had a job interview in Dubai I decided to go with him to make some contacts myself. Simon Teevan, an MBA colleague and friend also searching for a job in the UAE, mentioned Robert Burgers, a principal consultant with DNV GL, who also did an MBA. I contacted Robert and we went for lunch to discuss career possibilities in the energy sector in Dubai. During the conversation we both talked about how interesting the MBA programme was and how it changed our thinking and ways of working. A few weeks later I was called for an interview and offered a job. I met only one person in Dubai and this person helped me to get a job. Some people call this destiny; I call it “networking”!

Elisa Cataldo (FTMBA, 2012-2013)


Alum Dave Byrne uses UCD Smurfit MBA as platform to set up “Buzzoo”.

The June 2013 Business eConnect magazine (official e-zine for UCD Business Alumni) features one of the FT MBA ’12 students…

In Profile: Dave Byrne FT MBA ’12

Taking a year out to do a full-time MBA helped fill in the gaps in Dave Byrne’s (MBA 12) business knowledge and gave him the space to come up with the idea for and set up his online music technology company Buzzoo. For Byrne, the company – a social music service for bars and retailers that play background music – is the perfect combination of his dual interests in technology and business.

Byrne’s primary degree was a bachelor of science in computer applications in DCU, which he graduated from in 2001. “That really sparked an interest in technology for me,” he says. “Ireland had become a major player in IT so it was an exciting degree to be studying at the time.”

After graduating, he joined PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as a management consultant. “It sounded like it would be an interesting job and the graduate induction programme involved a three-month training programme in Florida. It was a fantastic experience and a great way to kick off my career in consulting.”

He spent two years with PwC, before the consulting arm was bought out by IBM. After two years with IBM, he moved on to Accenture for the next six years. “I had the opportunity to work with some really talented people over the years and to learn a huge amount from them,” he says. “I saw consulting as ideal for my early career because it allowed me to work across a vast array of projects in a variety of roles. Every project started as a bit of a trial by fire but you quickly adapt. I always viewed them as very good learning opportunities and the constant challenge and change kept the work very interesting.

“Consulting really teaches you to figure out how things currently work and how they can be improved. That’s the basis of most of the projects. The work brought me to some interesting locations like Arizona and South Africa.

“Consulting can be pretty demanding so I took a six-month career break in 2008 to travel around the world with my wife. It was a once in a lifetime experience and really helped to recharge the batteries.”

While technology consulting offered a good mix of technology and business, he felt there was a lot he still needed to learn. “I’d always wanted to do an MBA to fill in the gaps in my business knowledge, to learn about things like strategy, marketing, accounting and entrepreneurship. The MBA at UCD Smurfit has a great reputation so I was thrilled to get a chance to do it. I guess it was a difficult decision to leave a very good job at a very good company but I’m glad I did.”

That decision was helped by the fact that he was awarded a full scholarship. “I was on the fence up until then. I decided to go for the full-time programme to really throw myself into it and get the most out of it.”

He describes the experience of taking a year out to go back to college after 10 years of working as refreshing. “It opened up a lot of opportunity outside of what I’d done previously. I think the MBA really helps you to think about business at a higher level, to think more strategically and have more of a commercial focus. It’s a great way to look at opportunities outside the area you have worked in to date and maybe to bridge into a different career in a different area. As a learning experience, I would say it’s second to none and I think anyone in a professional career is really lucky if they can get the chance to do an MBA.

He came into the programme without definite plans around his future direction. “I was quite open. I knew that as part of the MBA I needed to spend the year exploring the opportunities and trying to figure out what it was I was going to do afterwards.

“I’ve always felt I like to work with business and technology, which is quite a broad scope so I was looking for something that would marry those two together.”

Beginning Buzzoo

The idea for Buzzoo came to him during the year. “One day we were in a bar complaining about the music that was playing in the background. I noticed that we had our smartphones on the table in front of us and suddenly wondered if we could solve this problem with our smartphones.”

The solution itself is aimed at any business that plays background music, including bars, restaurants and retail. “It enables everyone on the premises to control the music by using their smartphone,” says Byrne. “It’s like moving the jukebox onto the smartphone so that the crowd becomes the DJ.  You can vote up the tracks you like and vote down the ones you don’t like.” The product as it is now includes an admin application that allows venues to schedule and play music from any location, while a smartphone app allows visitors to influence the playlist.

Byrne asked two of his fellow MBA classmates to come on board and, as part of the entrepreneurship module, the three developed a business plan which ended up winning the UCD business plan competition for 2012.

Byrne says that new job opportunities that came up during the course of the year made it a tough decision to launch the start-up after the MBA. “It was a bit of a risky decision, but the challenge and the excitement of it was too much to resist,” he says.

After graduation, Buzzoo was accepted onto the National Research Centre Launchpad Accelerator programme. “The programme provides investment and mentorship to help early stage digital technology companies to get their business off the ground. They’ve a top team of mentors and you’re surrounded by likeminded people going through the same process.”

Over the last year, Buzzoo has also received EnterpriseIreland support and been accepted onto and completed the Irish Times Fusion programme. In January 2013, it was selected as a finalist in the Best Irish Startup category at the Europa Awards. Most recently, the company won bronze in the Food & Drink Entrepreneurial Startup of the Year category at the Startup Awards 2013.

“We’ve built out a really solid team,” says Byrne. “We’ve built the minimum viable product and we have some great partners and customers lined up.”

Alpha-testing has now been carried out in a couple of bars in Dublin and a commercial launch is planned in the next couple of months. “We’re looking at Ireland as a bit of a testbed and the hope is that we can go to a couple of key reference sites in Ireland and then start looking at overseas markets. We’re working with a big drinks company on a proposal that would see a fully branded version for one of their products rolled out in 10 bars on a pilot. So we have the ability to offer a fully branded version of the application as well.”

Future developments of the product may include integrating video, he adds.

Outside influences

Byrne says that learning has always been a key driver for him and that he has learned the most from the people he has worked with. “My family is also a big influence on me. I’ve a great wife and I’ve two fantastic girls and they’re very important to me. Between my family and some of the guys I’ve worked with, they would be the key influences rather than a public celebrity.”

His advice for anyone considering starting a business is not to be afraid of taking risks and to give new things a shot. “If you fail, it’s no big deal. You’ll still learn from it. Sometimes the things that scare you the most are the things that are most worth doing.

“With regard to starting a new business, the first thing to do would be to talk to lots of potential customers and sketch out a one-page overview of the business using a business model canvas. Get advice from people in the know, figure out what gaps you have, build a strong team and go for it.

“I think it’s important to be as lean as possible so you can give yourself as long a runway as possible. And I think you need to experiment and be prepared to pivot the business as required.

“I’ve no idea what the future will bring but that keeps things interesting I guess. As long as I’m doing something that has a focus on business and technology I’ll be happy.”

More about Dave’s experiences on the MBA Programme

UCD Smurfit MBA alum goes from strength to strength!

Last Autumn we covered the success of MBA Alumn Cathal Brady. Here’s another win for Cathal…

“A break-through contract for Dublin start-up Ultan Technologies will see the company work with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to help public authorities around the country manage their energy use.

Ultan’s founder, Cathal Brady (MBA 2004), valued the three-year deal at €300,000 or more to supply a version of the web based technology it has developed to monitor and manage utility devices and sensors,.

“This is huge for us” he said. “It has been in the pipeline for a number of months now and we have just signed the contract in the last few weeks. It is a three year contract with the probability of it being renewed. Over time, it could be worth maybe €300,000 to €400,000. It is going to open up bigger customers to us. We sell to a lot of water companies in Ireland, but this is a different type of market and it is a great validation of the platform and the company.”

A software developer by trade, Brady established Ultan Technologies in early 2011 in Dublin’s Docklands Innovation Park. The idea behind the company’s web-based software is to allow utility companies to bill and manage their customers more easily and efficiently. “We develop products that work with any device, meter or sensor to take readings from them and put them up on the cloud, allowing people to monitor usage, set alerts or manage the device, report on the various readings and compare them to historical or external readings,” said Brady.

The software can be used by energy, water and gas providers. “We can take in readings from meters and generate bills, but the software could also be used by other device manufacturers ,” said Brady. “For example, you might have a guy making devices to monitor diesel tanks or bins to see when they’re full. They can monitor their device to be uploaded on to the web and to manage them and control them from there.”

Ultan Technologies employs four people in Dublin and eight sub-contractors in Ukraine.  Brady said the company was preparing to ramp up sales to the British and US markets in the coming months and would create ten further jobs in Dublin this year and next. A graduate of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, Brady recently scooped the Association of MBA’s 2012 Entrepreneurial Venture Award. Ultan Technologies also topped the best investment proposal category at last year’s Bolton Trust Docklands Innovation Park Awards.

Source: www.smurfitschool.ie

– Michael McDonnell

Kanban Blog

I have recently started a job with a small company called one2edit . We are using the methods described by Personal Kanban, and the tools at LeankitKanban.com in order to organise our tasks and time. It is part of the “agile” workflow used by so many software organisations.I am finding it to be incredibly useful on many levels.

For starters, a core concept of Kanban is that there should be “information radiators”, meaning that there should be an easy way to see what is going on at any moment, without the need to go digging for any information. A Kanban board will do this by default. At a glance, it is possible to see what a person is doing at any time, what is on hold, why it is on hold, what still needs to be done, and what is important. Yes, a Kanban board can look quite full of sticky notes, but the organisation of those notes has meaning, which users can interpret quickly and easily. As a user, I can use this radiation of information to show both my co-workers and my bosses exactly what it is that I’m doing at any given point. It also allows them to check if the next item they wish to add to my “to-do list” is more or less important than what I am working on right now. If it is less important, then they will not mind if I don’t get working on it right away. In other words, it makes it far easier for me to say, “I have to put that on hold right now, but I will get to it” because they see that I have a system in place – a system that will allow me to tackle every task without forgetting any.

This concept is, to quote Jim and Tonianne’s (very informative and well-written) book, “limiting your work in progress” (WIP). This limitation of the number of tasks that one is working on at any given moment is critical to working effectively. John Medina’s book, “Brain Rules”, also mentions how the human brain physically cannot multitask effectively. Multitasking is an inherently inefficient way of working. Kanban seeks to rectify this by allowing a person to concentrate on fewer tasks at a time, unlike the “to-do list”, which just throws every task into the “doing” pile at once. The Kanban board then allows all others to see what is one one’s plate at any time, demonstrating that one is not slacking off.

Beyond this information radiation, it is both mentally and physically satisfying to see one’s tasks go from the backlog, to “ready”, to “in process” and then to “done”. Each time a task is moved to “done”, the brain releases a bit of reward, which is motivation for doing more. Furthermore, even the number of tasks doesn’t seem so overwhelming when there’s a system in place and one can see the tasks getting done.

Finally, as a recent MBA graduate who was job-hunting for a few months, every interview I did asked about previous achievements. A CV should also have these achievements listed in order to attract employers. In other words, I should have been taking note of all my measurable achievements over my working life in order to use them in the future. Moreover, it is vital when filling out an annual review form to have a list one’s achievements for the year.

Kanban can help with this.

Everything in the “done” column of a Kanban board is something that can be pointed to along with the phrase, “I did this”. It is not necessary for one to create a special document and remember to update it regularly, if the collation of completed tasks is already part of one’s daily process. Of course, some of the tasks will be small and not relevant or worth mentioning on a CV. But even these small tasks usually serve as reminders of the larger project upon which we worked.

This is also a reason why I am using an online tool for my Kanban board alongside my office whiteboard – I won’t have to trawl through physical post-it notes in order to see my achievements.

–          Jamie O’Connell, FT MBA 2010-11

UCD Smurfit MBA alums join European elite at the Europas!

Best of luck to fledgling company Buzzoo who take on the best in Europe at the Europas on 22nd Jan. 2013.  Buzzoo are made up of FT MBA 2012 alumns – Dave ByrneVishal Balasubramaniam, and David Pierce.

The Europas have been deemed the premier European awards for early, mid-, and late-stage technology start-ups, by leading investors and media. The Europas seek out the “hottest new start-ups in Europe, Middle East and Africa” and have previously recognised such household names as SoundCloud, Mind Candy, Spotify and Betfair.

Buzzoo made the shortlist for the forthcoming Europas start-up awards in Berlin on 22 January from more than 1,000 nominees that were put through the judging process.   The nominees were judged by venture capitalists from firms like Kleiner Perkins, Accel and Google Ventures, as well as founders like Bebo’s Michael Birch, Cloudflare’s Matthew Prince and YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, not to mention journalists from various tech news sites across Europe.


– Michael McDonnell, MBA Programme Manager

Success for MBA entrepreneurs

Congratulations to Lynne O’Donnell, MBA 2012, who came second in the final of the entrepreneurship accelerator programme, LaunchPad, run by the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC).  Lynn is founder and CEO of the start-up company, Tempity, which took second place at yesterday’s final granting access to an investment fund of €20,000.

Tempity is a cloud-based platform, which allows Recruitment agencies to easily monitor the availability of temporary candidates and match their clients with temps in real-time, based on skills match and location. Tempity dynamically tracks candidate availability so recruitment consultants will only see temps who are available for work now.  On the other side, Temps can actively manage their availability, location & accept jobs directly from their smart phone.

Lynn was in good company yesterday with a second UCD Smurfit MBA start-up company also competing on the day – Buzzoo.  Three graduates from the Fulltime MBA 2012 are part of the management team – Founders Dave Byrne and Vishal Balasubramaniam and Business Development manager – David Pierce.  Buzzoo is social music software for businesses that play music. It allows people at a premises to control the music by using their smartphone to view and influence the music playlist for the venue. It’s like moving the jukebox onto the smartphone and turning the smartphone into a remote control for the music so that the crowd becomes the DJ. Buzzoo also represented UCD Smurfit in the inaugural ‘Ireland Funds Business Plan Competition’ last June.

NDRC LaunchPad is Ireland’s first digital accelerator, ranked 1st in Ireland and 6th in Europe, supporting the next generation of digital entrepreneurs to accelerate good ideas to sound startups. This innovative programme is managed by another UCD Smurfit MBA graduate – Gary Leyden, who has worked with over 80 digital ventures to date on LaunchPad.


– Michael McDonnell, MBA Programme Manager