The agony and the ecstasy of the exam session

Exam season is now well and truly under way for all of the MBAs in Smurfit. On the Exec MBA we had four modules this semester, but, as Organisational Behaviour & Decision Making was 100% continuous assessment in the form of two major assignments, we have just three exams ahead of us. These finish up on the 12th of December and then it’s into town for our class Christmas party where hopefully we will be celebrating the successful completion of semester one rather than crying into our drinks.

First up though is Competitive Strategy. Again, there was a large amount of continuous assessment in this subject throughout the semester and as a result we have completed 55% of the marks, leaving 45% left to play for in the exam. It’s an interesting concept itself, as it’s a take-home exam that we have been given a week to complete. I have never done one of these before, but I have been advised that the difficulty is that you actually end up with too much time and therefore keep tweaking it at the expense of studying for other exams until you force yourself to submit it. I have decided to try and learn this lesson and get it completed first and then move on to the other subjects.

Next is Operations and Supply Chain Management, which also had a large amount of continuous assessment throughout the semester meaning that the exam itself accounts for 40% of our overall grade. Its hard to put your finger on this one but the past papers indicate that it’s a mixture of theory and essay based discussion questions so there is a little bit for everyone there. All of that is assuming that you have completed your last assignment, which is due this week also.

Finally, we have the subject that most of us find problematic, Financial Reporting, with 65% still at stake as the remainder was accounted for through continuous assessments. Its simultaneously impressive and worrisome to see the accountants in the class fill out the answers to the in-class exercises in seconds while most of us are still trying to find our calculators. This is not a subject that comes naturally to me but I have been told that it’s a matter of practice. We shall see on Friday…

Conor Connolly

Executive MBA Midweek Year 1

My final week of 1st semester, year 1

A glass one-quarter full or three-quarters empty?  I argue my MBA study is a now a quarter of the way. I wanted to use this blog as an opportunity to reflect on where I am, what I have learned – as quite frankly I have not had the chance to do so since the beginning of term. Strategy, operations and supply chain, finance and organisation behaviour all mixed together is truly the stuff of fantasy.

As expected, the last eleven weeks of term has been intense and feels like a revolving door of assignments, reading materials and reports. Combine all that with a busy full time job commitment – it truly has felt like a sprint now approaching the finishing line of first semester. Indeed, it has been an interesting journey. The lecturers have been great; my team members have been remarkable making the whole experience much more enjoyable. Coming from a Mathematical Science background where I hardly had any reason to put together a report, I have successfully written one report and collaborated on a few more.

What have I learned in the past few weeks? It is like being thrown in the deep-end, I realise time management is a critical skill for any MBA student. There is ample study material and it is important to prioritise and effectively manage reading, otherwise a candidate may sink quite literally. Organisation behaviour has truly opened my eyes to my soft side; I am now genuinely conscious of respecting how other people feel. Also, I was able to identify strategic and tactical areas of improvement for my company and articulated ideas to the senior management team. The result, more work as I have now been added to a project team to assess and implement opportunities for growth in the organisation.

On the horizon is my exams – I have not done an academic examination in five years so I am sure it would feel like a trip down the memory lane, my old college days. Going to an exam hall with hundreds of other students not knowing what to expect will be interesting. There is one thing in sight that keeps me going, the Christmas break; the much needed lifeline before we go at it again January next year.

Olumuyiwa Farayibi

EMBA Weekend year 1


Topic of the week…. Organisational Behaviour

Ask any of the Year 1 Executive MBA students this week what it as the forefront of their minds and most of them are likely to respond with an answer relating to the pairs project on the Organisational Behaviour (OB) module of the programme! That will be the case anyway for the weekend EMBAs, who are scheduled to submit the project later this week.

The OB pairs project makes up 60% of the grade for that module and represents the largest body of continuous assessment work in Semester 1. Working in pairs, it requires you to undertake an applied research project. Choosing one of the organisations you work for, you carry out an organisational assessment of an OB related topic or issue. The aim is to carry out a meaningful study and deliver some useful recommendations to the organisation at the end of the process.

For me, the OB module has been one of the more interesting modules of Semester 1. Much of my education to-date has consisted of subjects in the areas of engineering, science and maths. Some people from a similar background may view OB as one of those “softer” or “fluffier” subjects. However, I have found it to be one of the most relevant modules and one that you can immediately start to apply in any work environment. It has been fascinating to learn more about organisational topics such as: employee engagement, motivation and dissatisfaction, dysfunctional teams, power and politics, and leadership.

During lectures you often find yourself thinking of real life examples, from your own organisation, of the topic under discussion. You start to believe you have the solution to all of your company’s OB related issues! However, you also develop an appreciation for the complexity of these issues and how they vary from organisation to organisation, and from individual to individual. Unsurprisingly, there is no simple answer! Nevertheless, what you learn on the OB module gives you some tools to analyse and understand why people behave the way they do in work.

Ciarán Reilly

EMBA Weekend Year 1

“Why did it have to be snakes?”

When I first started working with Médecins Sans Frontières and was asked how willing I was to travel, I said I’d go anywhere so long as there were no snakes. Of course, within a few months I found myself shrieking and waking the entire compound in a remote South Sudanese village having brushed my bare toes off what turned out not to be a slippery, moving branch.  The guards thought it was hilarious and got great entertainment out of mimicking my running away in flip flops for days after. (It wasn’t a great start when I was supposed to be their manager; I’m pretty sure no one dared laugh at Indiana Jones.)

My feelings about snakes are similar to how I feel about spreadsheets.  It takes every ounce of strength not to run screaming from them.  My job is based around words: beautiful narratives and use of language to convey feeling, meaning, and empathy.  In first year, everyone else in the class seemed to detest a long-winded Ethics text book but I found it quite comforting.  If it’s in words, I have a chance of understanding it.

However, an MBA is all about getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself.  Achieving a B in Corporate Finance last semester was a huge boost and I began second year thinking, “Okay, maybe I can do numbers.”  All things considered, room N204 is a relatively safe environment in which to overcome your fears.  This year we all know each other better, we share mutual respect having survived first year, and the classroom sparring has grown even livelier.  One could argue that we’re strongly incentivised to engage in debate as class participation counts for between 10% and 30% of each overall grade this semester.  Whatever the reason, I really enjoy learning from my classmates in this manner.  I love listening to the different perspectives and being part of an argument as it spirals to a conclusion that we definitely don’t all agree with but we’ve had good fun bashing out.  I look forward to a meaty debate each week and hope someone will throw something controversial into the mix, just for the hell of it.

As we approach the mid-term we’re well into the thick of things and an Investment Management project is looming.  It’s impossible to avoid spreadsheets in this one.  Luckily I have a crack team again this year and I’m confident we can do a good job.  It’s not so much about feeling the fear and doing it anyway.  Its feel the fear, feel the rolling boulder of terror, through teamwork feel empowered, and through classmates feel inspired.   It’s all part of the MBA adventure.

Deirdre Mangaoang

EMBA Midweek year 2


The value of the MBA team

In week six of our Organisational Behaviour & Decision Making module we explored some of the concepts behind work groups and teams with Dr Paul McGrath. We looked at Gersick’s punctuated equilibrium model, Belbin’s team roles and how group cohesiveness influences performance. One of the key takeaway messages was that while many organisations may claim to take team based work very seriously, they don’t. This is because they don’t offer team based rewards; rather they reward individuals within the team, typically financially or with a promotion. I thought about this on the way home in relation to my own study group and I realised that actually, UCD Smurfit is offering us team-based rewards. If we work well as a team, we will get a good grade for our team assignments. We don’t get graded for our individual contribution within the group assignment; we get graded as a team. We all sink or swim together.

Little did I realise that the next day my five month old daughter would be rushed to Crumlin Children’s Hospital in an ambulance prompting me to drop everything and rush from an MBA event organized in Google to go to her bedside for the next four days. Both work and study were off my radar for the foreseeable future. Then the strong group cohesion that we established in the local watering hole kicked in so as to drive group performance. Graham, Colin and Marius stepped up and reorganised our workload and schedule in order to take the pressure off me. Help with assignments was given, roles in presentations were reconfigured, and strict pre-agreed timelines were pushed out to the detriment of teammates who were already under severe time constraints themselves, notwithstanding having their own partners and families. Now that the crisis phase has passed and I’m beginning to reemerge as an actual contributor to the group, I look forward to paying back the favour and taking on some extra work at the first opportunity. Well, maybe after midterm! The results are in, group sevens strong cohesion and performance results in optimal productivity on the quadrant chart. Perhaps the colleges team-based reward structure is correct. My definition of an effective team? Greater than the sum of its parts.

Oh yeah, my daughter is fine. Fortunately it turns out that it was just a nasty tummy bug. All is well that ends well. Thanks guys.

Conor Connolly

EMBA Midweek Year 1

To MBA or not MBA

Filling in the application form in March, April and May (yes that’s right 3 months to finalise the initial submission) I feel demonstrates the fine art of procrastination I had mastered over the years. Fast forward to today, 6 weeks of lectures under my belt and those precious lazy Sunday afternoons lying on the sofa gone. They have been replaced with a sea of paper and an ever growing pile of ignored emails from friends (fingers crossed they are still friends).

The question is do I miss the lazy Sundays and do I need those friends? Well I may need the friends but I don’t long for those lazy Sundays. Yes some sleep without the constant mouse on a wheel running in my head screaming, OB pairs project 60%, supply chain presentation 20%, competitive strategy report 25% would be nice, but you can’t have it all.

The learning curve has been steep to date and the group dynamics intense at times, especially when feminism is brought up, which is generally twice a week in our Group.  It is however this fast paced environment that keeps me alert, no matter what the week in work was like and what obscure place in Europe I had the pleasure of visiting.

There has not been a lecture where I have questioned why did I sign up to this? I run out of work on a Friday to get to lectures (generally with minutes to spare) and eagerly await the classroom discussion tangents we will undoubtedly force the lecture to take. So far so good!

The lyrics corner

The lyrics which sum up my first six weeks are: my face above the water, my feet can’t touch the ground. Ironically my feet are on the ground.

Darren Kelly

EMBA Weekend year 1

A lot done, more to do

A lot done, more to do. No, I am not resurrecting a Fianna Fail tag line, I am summing up my first 6 weeks of the EMBA. It’s hard to believe that only a few months ago I was flicking through the glossy course prospectus. Smiling faces and glowing testimonials expounded the virtues of the qualification. But was this course for me? Trundling along on a train to Cork one Saturday morning, I decided to complete my application. Buzzwords such as “challenge”, “opportunity” and “diversity” peppered the final version. These words have now come back to haunt me.

Induction week is a distant memory at this stage. Perhaps that is due to those memories having been pushed to the back by a plethora of readings on motivating teams, Honda and the motorcycle industry and the innovative IDEO design process. Hard to believe but I already managed to incorporate some of this new knowledge into my day job. I am not sure who was more surprised, the client or me, when I was able to discuss with him the challenges faced by the motorcycle industry AND it sounded as if I actually knew what I was talking about!

In looking for inspiration for this blog, I read the contributions of some of my classmates. Like Ruth, I have developed a greater appreciation for time. Balancing work commitments, a personal life (?), class attendance and course work can be challenging. A spare 5 minutes has become a precious commodity. 5 minutes is an opportunity to read a few more lines of an article. 5 minutes is an opportunity to send an email to a client. Over the last 6 weeks I have learnt a secret. Do you want to hear it? Ok, but keep it to yourself and whatever you do, DO NOT tell the opposite of the specie….here it is…..men can multitask!

Don’t get me wrong; the course has not been all work and no play. Our local public house, The Dark Horse, welcomes weary first and second year EMBA students on a Thursday night. Marking the end of another week of lectures, it offers students a forum to chat, unwind and network (it’s all about the networking!). But more importantly for us first years, it gives us an opportunity to grill the second years for tips and tricks on surviving the year.

Looking at my color-coded calendar, red (warning!) is a prevalent color for the coming weeks. We have just completed a project on financial accounting and are due to give a group presentation this week. Projects on organizational behavior and strategy will also be worked on in the coming days. For a third party looking in, the workload may appear daunting. For those of us on the inside, the workload is heavy but manageable. It is only manageable by virtue of a supportive employer and collaborative classmates. A lot done, more to do? Absolutely. The next number of weeks will be challengeable, but if they are as interesting as the last 6, it will be manageable.

Cormac Kelleher

EMBA Midweek year 1


Executive Decisions being made in Smurfit

This week sees an international module taking place in UCD Smurfit as part of the Global Network in Advanced Management immersion week which is taking place this month in a number of international partner schools.  Currently 14 members of the Full-time MBA class are abroad undertaking modules variously in Yale, IE Business School in Spain, Indian Institue of Management in Bangalore and Pontiificia Universidad Catolica de Chile in Santiago Chile.

The UCD Smurfit contribution to the networks modules is ‘Executive Decision Making’ lead by module co-ordinator Stephen Boyle and a select group of guest speakers.  Participants on this module include Smurfit full-time and EMBA students and participants from Yale, Remin (China), Koc (Turkey) among others.

The module includes lectures, a simulation game and company visit to Accenture to see decision making in practice.  Not to mention some social activities and the practically mandatory visit to the Guinness Storehouse in town.

Watch this space for bpogs from the various modules as participants have a chance to think the experience through and report back on it.

Feelings on returning to the MBA frey

September 1st 2014 marked “back to school” for primary students and MBA students alike. I am now at the end of week 2, year 2 and it still amazes me how quickly you forget things that you simply don’t want to remember! One would assume that after two semesters I would recall how time consuming this programme is but alas, I again got a shock when we were introduced to the course outlines for each of our four modules last week (namely, Global and Corporate Strategy, Strategies for HR, Investment Management and Performance Driven Marketing).

My evenings from September 1st to September 4th inclusive were tied up with the MBA. Classes are every Monday and Thursday. I had an inaugural meeting with my newly assigned group on Wednesday (groups of 4/5 people are assigned by the college and change every semester) and on Tuesday I attended an MBA event on entrepreneurship in the Hibernian Club on Stephen’s Green. Needless to say I was happy for the weekend to arrive!

Although I may sound as if I am feeling sorry for myself (which, of course, happens on occasion) the truth is that I am thoroughly enjoying my time on the programme. I was looking forward to catching up with all my classmates last week (some of which have gotten married, given birth, bought houses etc. since May) and getting back into the routine of student life. When ‘student life’ gets too much, the Smurfit School organise an array of evening events to cater for all interests. Last week I attended the aforementioned entrepreneurship evening, next week I will be working one-on-one with a CV coach and on September 30th we are invited to an evening with Dr. Michael Smurfit. That’s not to mention all the MBA club events that are initiated by current students.

Time has never been so precious. . . I am already on the countdown for Christmas!





Aoife Mc Mahon

EMBA Midweek year 2

How do you market to an MBA student?

One of the main reasons to do an MBA is to gain exposure to areas you have absolutely no experience in, and marketing is definitely one of those for me.  Business strategy + marketing = success, it is a simple enough equation that even I can work with. Add in the marketing 5C’s and 4P’s (I had never heard of them either) and I now know infinitely more about marketing than I did last week.

The subject of marketing got me thinking what has had the greatest effect on me lately? Well, I have really fancied a Grolsch since Sunday, I am now convinced there is no point vacuuming unless it is with a Dyson, and if I ever buy a motorbike it will have to be a Ducati. As I am sure you have guessed they are all recent case studies we have spent hours analysing.

So how do you market to an MBA student? Write a good case study! You’ll be sure to have a captive audience.








Niall Twomey

EMBA Weekend year 2