One year down (almost!), one more year to go and what a year it has been! Looking back on the past twelve months the experience has been both fun and challenging. I don’t think any applicant can fully appreciate the opportunities the Smurfit MBA offers until they experience them first-hand.
The MBA is all about teamwork, and understanding your strengths and weaknesses in a team setting is vital in order to develop your career. The calibre of your fellow students is second to none. You quickly realise you are being given the opportunity to work with future leaders from different industries. Through team interactions I have come to recognise that because I have only worked in the IT sector my opinions were actually quite fixed and need to be challenged and matured. My teammates certainly helped me there.
The style of classroom learning is very different to anything I have experienced before. You are expected to have completed a large amount of self-study and research before class. This means the classroom is an interactive learning experience where you learn from your lecturer and your classmates through discussion and debate. You realise that you need to be on top of your game in order to participate, but it is a lot of fun to challenge yourself.
The academic content is just one strand of the MBA; the leadership development programme, speaker series and society events are just as important. The connections to industry mean that your network goes far beyond your classmates.
Having the good fortune of receiving the 2013 Newstalk MBA scholarship has opened up the Smurfit MBA experience to me, and one which I will always be grateful for. The opportunity to be interviewed by Bobby Kerr on his “Down To Business” show was a great way to finish off the first year.
We thought things would quieten down here this week as all the current MBAs both full and part time make the most of study week and prepare for their semester 2 exams next week. Today was busy though with the Schools Executive Education “Executive Edge’ day running on campus and some of the current students are using it as an opportunity to add to their learning experience and do a little networking at the same time. Trust MBAers to make the most of all opportunities wherever they find them.
Team Shamrock have created another video for their recent trip to Yale to take part in the Yales Raw Case Study competition. While narrowly missing out on a place in the final they did do UCD Smurfit proud by winning the ‘Best Leadership and Team Dynamic’ award and clearly had a great time doing it. Yale looks amazing. Thanks to Steve Kelly for the video and well done on subtly working Aer Lingus into it. Congratulations again to Steve, Shaun O’Keefe, Jim Gannon and Peter Lee.
The Yale School of Management Integrated Leadership Case Competition was held over the 5th and 6th of April at their campus in New Haven. With 13 universities selected from premier US business schools and the Yale Global Network for Advanced Management, the participant list benefitted from a geographical breadth as well as quality in depth. Teams were evaluated on their resolution of a 7 hour case in the Yale RAW Case Study format, a data rich format that requires the teams to focus on key issues early and to filter out the key relevant information and data. The Smurfit School of Business team (Jim Gannon, Steve Kelly, Shaun O’Keeffe and Peter Lee) were evaluated by a panel of judges and an in-room invigilator who considered leadership and team dynamics against pre-determined metrics. Although narrowly missing out on a place in the Final, the Smurfit team were successful in winning the overall award for Leadership and Team Dynamics, which included Yale School of Management, MIT Sloan and Carnegie Mellon Tepper schools of business among others. The team are very grateful for the support provided by both Smurfit and Aer Lingus, and are confident that the bond between the schools has been further strengthened by their participation, ensuring value for both faculty and future students.
The CV book launch event, “Ireland – Realising the Potential,” was a beautiful evening that provided an opportunity to meet alumni and expand networks to people from varied companies. The evening was prepared far in advance by student representatives and the MBA Careers team, who contacted and invited many companies to attend. This was a special time for MBA students on the full-time and executive programmes to get together and meet guests from prestigious companies.
The evening began with a cocktail hour before welcoming two Smurfit MBA alumni speakers, Julie O’Neill and Fintan Slye, who gave accounts of their professional life leading up to becoming senior leaders in the pharmaceutical and energy sectors. By listening to them, we realized the extent of the opportunities available after an MBA. The speakers provided strong messages about passion, independence of thinking, and finding courage in his/her convictions, which are the characteristics of a leader who unites people in business. These human values derive business as well as innovation, entrepreneurship, performance, incentive, investment and infrastructure development.
Listening to them, we found there are a number of routes available to each of us.
The evening continued with Dean Ciaran O’hogartaigh providing a strong message to keep, maintain and build this special link with other students who are future alumni, with the school and companies.
The evening ended with the distribution of the 2014 CV Book, the resume synthesis of the Smurfit Business School’s MBA cohort which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Everyone met afterword around a friendly nightcap.
As the Dean said: “Stay connected, Stay plugged in.”
Semester two is tough. It is not tough because the workload is greater than Semester one. Nor is it tough because the courses are more challenging. In fact, for a vast majority of the class the workload is lighter for the option modules. It isn’t the obvious things that make Semester two tough. It is the growing realisation of the need to figure out where the next stage of my life, post-MBA, is going to take me. Deciding what and then moving onto the how should be the focus of my time. It is, let’s face it, the reason anyone embarks on an MBA. Whilst some of the academic staff may not wish to admit it, the academic parts of an MBA course are a means to an end. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to learn and plenty to stimulate the intellectual curiosity, but the MBA is a springboard into a potentially new and exciting career.
Semester two is tough. There are so many pulls on your time and it is too easy to neglect the longer and longer shadow being cast on a future career. Many will say this is simply down to time management, and there is a certain degree of validity in that assertion. There is more complexity to it, however. Using the year in an MBA is, as has no doubt been noted by my colleagues previously, a unique opportunity to explore a totally different career path. However, this requires a depth of research and contact building that could in its own right be a full time job. Notwithstanding the HR strategies to get you around, the Activity Based Costing in Managerial Accounting and Investment Management classes that leave you mentally exhausted, trying to forge a new career is a considerable challenge.
Semester two is tough. As more and more gets thrown at you from preparing for the trip to China to extracurricular activities to assignments and late night classes, many things can knock you down. The prospect of developing an exciting new career from September is enough to motivate you to keep bouncing back off the canvas. But it is easy to lose track, no matter how often you are reminded of the real reason you are doing an MBA.
As the days get longer and (hopefully) the sun starts to get warmer, it is a great time to revaluate priorities and at the same time maintain the commitments you have made to family, friends and colleagues. That is the challenge.
It’s strange, even unnerving, to hear a CEO speak about society, about community, about the need to do not just what is profitable, but what is right. Last week our EMBA class heard from Niall Fitzgerald, former CEO of Unilever and corporate success par excellence, on how modern capitalism was failing because of a fundamental lack of values – and perhaps even a lack of morals.
The title of his address, “You Can’t Have Successful Business in a Broken Society,” invited a certain level of skepticism among some of my more cynical classmates. I think it’s fair to say that most of us would see a certain degree of truth in the tired cliché, “nice guys finish last,” and that few would feel the modern corporate environment is a warm, fuzzy place where everyone just tries to be friendly and get along. But I would be confident that Mr. Fitzgerald’s central point reached even my most jaded colleagues – it’s not a question of whether businesses should be more ethical, but that they must be more ethical in order to survive.
In this globalised world, short term approaches to growing profits, using resources or managing workers will simply no longer work, we were told. Gouging customers will merely open opportunities to more reasonable competitors. Today’s factory workers in low-cost economies are also the consumer class of tomorrow’s growth markets. And as for reckless exploitation of the environment – if China’s population were to reach a Western standard of living at today’s rate of resource usage, we will need nine more Earths to meet this demand. Clearly, if a business (never mind humanity) is to survive in the 21st Century, a long-term approach is needed.
Having listened to Mr. Fitzgerald’s address, I don’t think any of my classmates can now doubt his central point. If anything, I think, his cornerstone argument in favour of a long-term, responsible approach to the challenges of the modern era needs to be widened beyond business, to encompass society as a whole. After all, during the boom period in Ireland until 2007, the very banks who are now pilloried for being reckless were being criticised for not giving out enough mortgages. Undoubtedly, business in the West needs to take a good long look at itself. But the same might be said of society in general.
The Carnet Alliance is a group of 12 business schools, including UCD Smurfit Business School, which develops links between employers, students and schools.
Recently, I participated in The Global Talent Day, an event organised by EDHEC in Paris, France, with the help of my Career Manager. The event brought together business schools from Ireland, France, England, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Scotland to meet with French companies including L’Oréal, Sodexo and Imerys.
As well as attending a series of company presentations, the event provided an opportunity to discover a wide range of sectors through roundtable discussions and question and answer sessions.
Through meeting other students, developing new branches of networks, and obtaining feedback from a recruiting firm, I gained direct contact to domestic firms and took advantage of the multi-national event. I made the most of the network with the help of Smurfit.
“Oh, what have we done!” As December dawned, the realisation of what our team had committed to was finally hitting me. Whilst undertaking final lectures, finalising projects, preparing for exams and thinking ahead to the annual dilemma posed by Christmas presents, we were also preparing for a case competition, trying to find sponsorship and planning our journey to Montreal. In hindsight, it was lunacy!
The John Molson International Case Study Competition is the preeminent MBA case competition and it provides an opportunity for MBA students to benchmark their learning against the best that other global schools have to offer. It is truly global with schools from Australia, Brazil, Israel, US, Canada and Sweden to name but a few.
Thankfully, everything came together prior to the Christmas holidays with Aer Lingus and Molson Coors Ireland seeing our cause as a worthy one and providing the necessary sponsorship. Also, having some seasoned travellers in our midst was a great assistance when plotting the best route to Montreal via Boston and a road trip.
Whilst driving from Boston to Montreal between a polar vortex and the worst snow storms that have hit the North East in a decade, we realised that things were conspiring with us for once (although we were still happy to have chosen the largest vehicle in North America to transport us). This got us in good spirits from the off and provided ample time for some craic and team bonding! Arguably, the most interesting moment came when we passed a man seated on a snow mobile at the side of the road with a rifle resting on his legs… One of those eternally peculiar spectacles!
When we arrived in Montreal, it was straight to business, buying the requisite stationery and attending the opening ceremony where we discovered that we would be competing against Universities from Nanyang, Singapore, Wilfred Laurier, Kent State & Lund. From here it was onwards to the seemingly endless barrage of cases, presentations, questions, and conversing with new acquaintances.
Who would have known that you could learn so much about yourself in a 3 hour period? Time has never flown by as quickly as the time that we spent in the preparation room. Reading, understanding, analysing, synthesising, discussing, agreeing, recommending, debating and implementing a case regarding a strategic proposal for a company should be given more time! However, we were confident in our own ability and ultimately we learnt that as a team, we are rock solid (a point where others noticeably failed). If we were ever going to crack, it would have been when PowerPoint crashed with only 10 minutes of preparation time to go in one of the cases, however the team stepped up to the mark and we performed admirably to complete the task in front of five high level executives acting as judges.
Completing five case studies in four days is unfathomably taxing on both the body and mind. However, it wasn’t all work, as we had ample opportunities to get to know the other competitors, their entourage and the organisers through events as diverse as an ice hockey match, a networking dinner and a fancy dress party, not to mind the specially organised hospitality suite in the hotel! It was a fantastic experience overall getting to know people ranging from students in Kaiserslautern to a coach from Singapore.
With the weather transpiring against us, we had to cut short our last evening in Montreal to make a midnight dash for Burlington, USA ahead of the imminent freezing rain which the resident Canadians advised us would shut down all efforts to travel out of Montreal for a few hours. Thankfully, it all worked out and we arrived safely in Boston in time for Aer Lingus to deliver us safely back to the Emerald Isle.
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)