‘Lonely Planet – The MBA Journey’

 

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

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Bizworld’s Dragons Den

As part of the Social Outreach Club a total of eight members from the Smurfit FT MBA recently spent two days on nearby Carysfort National School running the Bizworld programme. A form of Dragons Den crash course in entrepreneurship for Primary Schools. Having recently pitched our own business ideas at the conclusion of our Entrepreneurship module this was an opportunity to sit on the other side of the fence and listen to pitches from young entrepreneurs.

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In February six of us had met with Bizworld CEO Fiona McKeon and had been hugely impressed with her enthusiasm and the Bizworld programme she briefly outlined to us. Fresh from recent international trips to the US, Singapore, Vietnam, Peru and Chile we met Fiona again in April for a quickfire training afternoon to prepare us for the programme.

Somewhat uneasy from Thom’s horror tales of teaching we approached the school with trepidation, would we face an audience more challenging than our management accounting presentations? Jayinth, Spilios and I headed for one 6th class as Anita and Thom disappeared towards the other group. Thankfully we need not have worried as the pupils were extremely enthusiastic and by the afternoon session were eagerly working away themselves on their business ideas.

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Jayinth and I took them through their tasks for the day with Spilios regaling them with stories of his own entrepreneurial experience.  Within each 6th class the students had been broken into groups of five prior to our arrival.  Each groups task over a day and a half was to brainstorm and come up with a business idea, assign company roles to everyone, develop a marketing plan and raise finance before finally pitching their business idea to the dragons. They would aim to secure as large an investment as possible while retaining as much control over their business as they could.  They were provided their own Bizworld currency to achieve this. As we neared the end of the first day ideas included a healthy eating app, light up blanket for reading, solar powered wifi, compression pyjamas, sunshine contact lenses and remote-controlled furniture.

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On Thursday morning we returned for some last-minute presentation preparation before the pitching stage. It was clear from the pre-pitch practice that many of the students had done considerable work since our first visit on Monday. As nerves (ours more then theirs) frayed the first group got ready to meet the dragons. Armed with instructions to take a tough approach they marched into the staff room to pitch.

While Deepti and Spilios played good Dragons, Dragon Osmond took a harsher line trying to take as much of the businesses as possible. Sadly, his skills from our Managing the Negotiation Process module were no match for these wily 11 and 12-year-old budding entrepreneurs. Dragon Himanshu managed to get a present of a slice of cake from the students although having attended a Business and Society module (which considered the role of ethics in business) he assured us this had no impact on his investment decision!

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Next the students got a chance to impress their peers as 5th class students entered the classroom to listen to the pitches. Not having personally witnessed the pitch to the Dragons it was great to see the final product after the two days of work from the students.  After some robust questioning the 5th class students had an opportunity to buy a share in a company of their choosing. With the presentations finished the students repaid their loans and counted their cash. Concluding the two days we were delighted to hear many of the students would now consider setting up their own business in the future.

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We were extremely impressed with not just the students business ideas but also their presentation skills many of which would not have looked out of place in the MBA. Perhaps we will see some of these future entrepreneurs on the Smurfit MBA in a few years’ time?

 Overall it was a hugely enjoyable two days and a lovely end to the second semester before we ready ourselves for upcoming exams. Thanks go to Fiona in Bizworld and also to Carysfort National School for giving us the opportunity to present to such enthusiastic students.

Ruary Martin, Full Time MBA 2017/18

 

Learning On a Different Dimension

The last few weeks have been interesting. It feels like yesterday, when we all gathered around the main hall of the Smurfit business school on the first day of induction. Each person starting the MBA walked around trying to get to know the person standing next to them. In my case, the enormity of what I had led myself into and the challenges ahead left me almost shell-shocked. It all sunk in in the Foundation Week. I reassured myself, “you have to keep a cool face. This is only the start”.

The diversity of the group was readily apparent, different sexes, ethnicities, educational and professional backgrounds, and industries. Yet, we all shared a common purpose, to get the Michael Smurfit UCD MBA qualification. As I spoke briefly to a few people in the group, I started to notice some common similarities. Each one of the people present was successful, career driven, well educated, but perhaps felt they were at a point where they wanted more in life.

At this point, it became clear to me that I was no longer in my comfort zone. I was in the midst of some very talented people. If there was anything I could do during the two years of the MBA, it is to learn as much as possible from the group.

5 weeks now into the MBA, the notes, articles, assignments and projects all keep coming at the speed of light. Weekends seem to have disappeared. Reading has a different meaning. Time feels like an expensive luxury of which there is not enough in the day. Someone once commented that he brings some of the readings to the bathroom, okay maybe this is an extreme case. Or maybe that point is on the horizon for me and would come around the end of term when we all have to sit exams. Yet, the positive I have found from all this is that the smile we all had on the first day remains despite the pressure.

As I embark on the remaining weeks of term, I hope that I enjoy the forthcoming weeks of study as much as I did the preceding weeks. One thing is vividly clear the workload will not get any easier, so I have given up hope that it will. Another thing is for sure the learning curve is real and has certainly taken off in my life. Where it will lead me, I do not know yet but I cannot wait to find out.

Olumuyiwa John Farayibi

Weekend year 1


The joys of being an EMBA class rep

The first days of the MBA are a whirlwind. Smurfit School staff and former MBA’s go to great lengths to impress upon you what a huge draw on time the MBA is going to be. There are lectures, assignments, leadership development activities, extracurricular events, networking opportunities and endless readings. They also tell you that you should also spend some time on your job and with your family, but this is optional.

The words “class” and “rep” are mentioned somewhere in the middle of this whirlwind. With everything else that is thrown at you in these first days, anything else could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. When the time comes to choose class rep arrives, everyone is very wary that this could be that straw. However, in a moment of clarity, I put myself forward to represent the weekend class. Upon reflection, this turned out to be one of my better decisions.

In a year where networking is so important, the class rep role gave me the opportunity to engage with my class mates more frequently, put the class perspective forward to lecturers and get insights from the second year exec class that I definitely would not have had the chance to do otherwise. As the intermediary between the class and faculty, the class rep role allowed me get a feel for the pulse of the entire class and aspects of modules that maybe at first were not apparent to me.

Class reps are offered first refusal to attend events at various points throughout the year. Examples of this were the Michael Smurfit Book Launch & the UCD Smurfit School Business Journalist Awards. These are excellent opportunities to network and a welcome break to the list of readings and submissions. They help highlight why we sign up for the MBA in the first place and give focus on the end goal.

Networking opportunities and engagement with class and faculty are great, but one benefit of being class rep outshines the rest. Class reps decide where we get to have the post exam party!

Far from being the straw that broke the camel’s back, I found the class rep experience to be extremely rewarding and actually helped me with the academic side of the MBA. I am glad I stuck my head above the parapet in that first week and recommend future Smurfit MBA’s to also.

Paddy Wall

EMBA Weekend year 2

Use your UCD Smurfit MBA to pursue that dream.

Ciara O’Brien (weekend eMBA 2014), founder of iSave, recently joined UCC’s start-up accelerator Ignite.

My advice to new MBAs is to really make the most of every resource that’s available to you within the MBA system. While there’s lots to learn from your core modules and lecturers, don’t forget to look outside the curriculum to find other opportunities. Two years is quite a short time frame to achieve big things!

My only regret from the MBA is that I didn’t seek out those opportunities even sooner.  Starting the course is such an overwhelming experience – learning to deal with the teams, assignments and exams.

In year 2, once I kick-started my start-up idea, the various MBA structures were a huge asset. Michael McDonnell brought me the UCD Student Innovation Fund (which we subsequently won!), Brian Marrinan connected me with MasterCard’s start-up accelerator which was invaluable and Bruce Martin, entrepreneurship lecturer, supported me to refine iSave’s value proposition even though I wasn’t in his class!

This has all been key to our success in winning seed funding, acceptance to the Ignite programme and now a potential spot at The Summit’s APLHA programme for start-ups.

So whatever your goal: take the knock-backs in your stride, seek out people who believe in your idea and can help and don’t waste any of the resources that are available to you. If you have an idea you want to pursue this is probably the best time in your life to do it. It’ll all be over before you know it!

Ciara O’Brien, EMBA 2014 and Founder of iSave.

“The Secret Ingredient”

So what do you do when school’s out for summer and the first year of your exec MBA is over…?

You start to push the boundaries where you work, build new teams across departments, apply the learning AND hit the media.

That’s what I’ve been up to. I joined a fundraising team in our hospital and helped to create a cookbook to raise much needed funds for family rooms on site.

Continue reading “The Secret Ingredient”

The Biggest Surprise on the MBA…

When you begin your MBA journey you are facing into the world of the unknown. You may anticipate some of the challenges and benefits that are to come but many will present themselves from the blind spot of your consciousness throughout the program. In the words of Donald Rumsfeld,

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

I have encountered many unknown unknowns during my MBA journey. One such example is the reality that everyone in your peer group has something important to offer and nobody is even close to being the definitive article. This was exactly the sort of fluffy MBA speak that I turned my nose up at before I drank the Kool-Aid myself.

I previously held the view that relatively few people in this world have something truly great to offer and the rest would make great employees. I also engaged in a very black and white mental grouping of the two demographics. I, like many other incumbent MBA participants reviewed the LinkedIn profiles of my classmates before the first day of the program. I made a mental note of the winners and losers and set off to be proven right. The fact that having that sort of outlook put me in the loser category early on was entirely lost on me. Over the next six months or so I was proved wrong on a daily basis. I began to realise that there was significant talent in everyone and everyone was a potential superstar given the right context.

I now firmly believe that you could give me any two of my classmates at random, be they engineer or marketer, red or green, extrovert or introvert and I could easily give you a scenario where one could deliver more value to a project than another. I’m not saying that there aren’t stronger and weaker candidates in the MBA world, of course there are. But every student can outshine everyone else some of the time and there is certainly no one who can outshine everybody else all the time. After you realise this you become more comfortable in your own flaws. You also realise that there may be one small area of expertise that you are truly great at, and you start trying to figure out how to make it a career.

If a company chairman had asked me one month into the program if there was anyone in my class I would recommend as a CEO for his company. I would have said, “yes, x y and z would do a great job for you” before even asking what his company did. Now the first thing out of my mouth would be, “Well what do you need? I have someone for every situation.”


Trevor Whelan

Full-time MBA 2014

Ireland

Vietnam Culture Night

Let’s remember and be proud of yourself and your ethnic identity. We often feel lost in a complex and large world. However, you will feel consoled if you have a knowledgeable background of your ethnic cultural heritage. It gives you a historical root, a sense of your place in the present and a unique permanent though this world is always changing.

– Le Hong Diem, MSc Strategic Management & Planning, UCD Smurfit

Traditional Costume “Ao dai” Performance

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, though living far away from home, Vietnamese MBA students in Dublin were involved in organizing a successfully special and meaningful event – Vietnam Culture Night. The event’s purpose, along with introducing and promoting Vietnamese culture, was to raise funds to support poor children in mountainous areas of Vietnam through the programme, “Only rice is not enough.” The event attracted more than 400 international friends, expatriates and Vietnamese students in Ireland.

Guests attending the event enjoyed the traditional foods of Vietnam such as Gac sticky rice, spring rolls, salt roasted chicken, Vietnamese salad, and a traditional five fruits tray garnished with apricot, peach blossom and Lunar New Year calligraphy. The entire space of the event was decorated with red and yellow symbolizing “luck” and “prosperity”. International friends were excited to take memorial pictures in Vietnamese Tet space and enthusiastic to participate in quizzes about Tet traditions in Vietnam.

I want to send best wishes to the MBA program staffs and my classmates in the new year!

Chuc mung nam moi!

Happy Lunar New Year 2014!


Hung Nguyen

FTMBA 2014

Vietnam

Haaaaaave you met Emma Jordan*?


The author and Emma Jordan on a recent class trip to Galway. Don’t be fooled, Emma Jordan doesn’t get cold; cold gets Emma Jordan.



I didn’t wake up last Wednesday thinking I’d be taking on a leadership role within the full-time MBA class. But the programme is full of unexpected twists that you have to be prepared to handle as they come your way. That’s an important lesson for anyone thinking about doing an MBA or just living in general, I suppose. Flexibility is a beneficial skill and when opportunities present themselves it’s sometimes best not to over analyse the situation. Just go with the flow.

Each semester the student body is responsible for choosing two class reps to liaise with the students, faculty, and administration. The requirements for class rep stipulate that one male and one female student, one of whom is Irish, the other international, must be selected for the positions.

This brings me to Emma Jordan.

Haaaaaave you met Emma Jordan?

If not, you might want to sort that out ASAP. That lady is going places. Not only is Emma Jordan a CrossFit™ enthusiast, physio turned MBA student, she is also a recently appointed class rep for the second semester of our fulltime MBA. There are big shoes to fill after the retirement of our semester one reps, Ken Barry and Kim Jones, but I have no doubt Emma Jordan will represent our class well. It should also be noted this blog post is in no way intended to curry favour with my colleague. That would be futile. Emma Jordan would see that coming from 100 miles away.

Doing some basic calculations at this point leaves us with one Irish woman rep and a vacancy. This post is long enough so yada, yada, yada, I’m a new class rep too.

The two of us are representing our colleagues for the current term. The coming months will undoubtedly have unforeseen challenges but I believe the fulltime MBAs are in capable hands. Overall this position will add to the total learning experience that is the MBA and build additional skills for the future. I look forward to the new responsibilities and serving my class. As well as learning a thing or two about being empowered, assertive, and self-assured from my counterpart.

Key takeaways from this blog post:

  • Be flexible. If necessary work on stretching.
  • Take chances. By serving others you help yourself to grow.
  • Don’t buy green bananas. You don’t know what the future holds when you get up each morning.
  • Porridge with cinnamon and a cut-up, ripe banana is a tasty winter breakfast.
  • That post-porridge hot flash is an added bonus when walking to college.
  • *Out of deference, the author only refers to Emma Jordan as Emma Jordan. Anything else would be disrespectful.


    Anthony Downs

    Full-time MBA 2014

    USA


    Looking Forward to Looking Back

    With a new year upon us, I’ve been reflecting on the highs and lows of 2013 which included completing my first semester of the mid-week Executive MBA (EMBA).  Given that I questioned my sanity on a number of occasions during semester 1, I am pleased to say that the EMBA was close to the top of my list of highs.

    In my experience, maintaining a sensible balance between study, work, and a personal life was the largest challenge of the past 3 months. Be it lectures, readings, assignments, team meetings or guest speakers, the MBA can consume all of your time! In the case of the MBA, the old saying of “you get out what you put in” is certainly true, however the ability to prioritise and effectively manage your time is key.

    Aside from the academic benefits of an MBA program, some personal highlights to date have been:

    • Attending an entrepreneurship club event which had a number of guest speakers from Irish start-ups
    • Participation and insight gained in class group presentations
    • Attending a series of guest speaker panels organised by a group of MBA alums, with a particular highlight being the visit of Des Traynor of Intercom.
    • The Leadership Development Programme events

    Above all, the essence of the MBA program is the people (legends) you meet, be it team mates, classmates or those in the alumni network.  In just 3 months, the MBA has provided numerous opportunities to meet and work with exceptionally talented people. As a group, the midweek class has learned a great deal outside of academics, such as:

    • Tina is an awesome electric guitarist.
    • Not all pharmacists are boring!
    • Tullow Oil is the greatest company to work for in the history of the world, ever.
    • Frankie works in a bank.

    So as we embark on semester 2 in just over a weeks’ time, where we will have new teams and no doubt new challenges, three pieces of advice I have are:

    • Manage your time & work hard but make sure to maintain a work/study/life balance
    • Attend as many extra-curricular MBA events as possible (and in particular the monthly guest speakers organised by Joe Kenny)
    • And, most of all, enjoy yourselves!


    Over and Out

    Michael O’Dwyer

    Midweek EMBA 2015