The Networking Controversy

Networking is one of those words that started out sounding interesting and catchy and came to mean the soulless pursuit of people you can manipulate into thinking you like them and use to achieve your own objectives. Nowadays, only people with fangs and razor-sharp claws participate in ‘networking’.  Even in an MBA programme that is ranked in the Financial Times as one of the world’s best, networking started as a bad word, whispered only in dark corners of hidden corridors.

A wise man (my dad) once told me that he thought that out of all of his clients built up over his more than 20 year career, the ones that ended up staying with him were the ones that, had he just met them in the street, would have ended up being his friends anyway.  After spending several years in marketing, sales and PR, that’s how I see networking.  It’s just meeting as many people as you can to find out with which you might share a connection.  You meet a person, you like them, you might even become friends, and then they are in your network.  It’s easy.  It’s fun.  If you do it right, it will make your life better and happier.  Why then, does the term ‘networking’ get such bad reactions? Continue reading The Networking Controversy

Challenge the heights

It is 7 PM, Just finished reading a chapter from competitive strategy on “Analyzing resources and capabilities”, one more to go and then two articles to be read followed by a case-study. All this is to prepare myself for tomorrow’s strategy class. Can I afford to sit quiet and trying to hide myself from Professor Gibbon’s cold calls?

From my 14 years of career in IT and telecom, I can’t quite remember how many technology solutions I have architected and how many clients I have consulted. But did I know how tightly coupled are the IT strategy and the business goals of an organization? Did I know how Conway’s Law works while developing an IT strategy? Everything that I have done so far in my career was based on my industry experience, common sense and intuition. Did that work? Yes it did. However, with this new knowledge that I am gaining, I hope not just to make things work in future, but to make things work the best way possible.

It’s not all about reading and assignments, here at Smurfit. Last week we had a Career Leader workshop and a week before that we had a 16PF workshop. I was little shocked and equally thrilled to learn some of my unexplored career interests from the Career Leader report and some personal attributes that I myself was never aware of.  Can’t really say how much of these workshops are going to help me in my future endeavors career-wise, but they certainly helped me knowing myself better than before.  And an MBA after all, is not only about learning from books and earn a credential, but also to learn about yourself, come out of your limitations and to challenge the heights.

– Nihar Panda, FT MBA 2011/2012

It was not ‘just another day in my Life’…

Today is the beginning of my wonderful MBA journey; from the inception of the thought of doing an MBA till the first day of the class at Smurfit, it was all very decisive. I met many people, contacted many more over emails and over phone, did all of this just to make sure that this one step I take should make me a better person both personally and professionally. The decision to join Smurfit Business School was very strongly influenced by two factors; the first one being the reputation and strength of the course and the second being the city that made many a people fall in its love by its sheer charm, Dublin.

Before I landed in Dublin, I had many apprehensions written all over my face; Cold weather, new people, heavy work load, no Indian food and no native language were the important ones. But the moment I was greeted by an Indian friend at the airport I felt like home. The very day I went around the streets of Dublin city centre and it gave me a good insight into the culture of Ireland. With all its diversity, amicable people and rich culture, Dublin reminded me of my own country. I could find people from different countries especially India spread across the city and it was no wonder because Ireland as a country has so much to offer.

The long wait was over; 29th of August, the day after which my perspective towards things around me would never be the same, had come. I entered the campus all excited to meet my family for the next one year; I was delighted to see a well represented group of 40 people, all of them were carrying their dreams and aspirations into the class room. After meeting everyone in the class, I was directed into a lecture hall where the entire class was cordially welcomed into the MBA program. All along the day, the class was provided with loads of information required to survive the year and come out with flying colours.

That night I retired to my bed with a completely relaxed mind as all my fears were addressed; then I realised it was just not another day in my life, but it was the first day of my new journey, MBA.

– Aditya Koppula, FT MBA

And so it begins….

Day one of the MBA in Smurfit Business School is done and dusted and what a whirlind of a day it has been!

This morning, as I stepped into the entrance hall which was brimming with almost one hundred new MBA candidates, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the possibilities that lay ahead.

It began with a brief introduction from the MBA faculty who gave us a comprehensive overview of the School, the support available to us and the workload that lay ahead.

While I expected a heavy volume of academic work, I was impressed by the commitment of the MBA team to develop the potential of each MBA candidate. We were told about the extensive Personal Development Programme (PDP) available to us throughout the year which includes personal coaching, leadership and other personal development tools.  It seems to me that the Smurfit Business School has struck a good balance between academic riguour and the leadership/personal development requirements of the next generation of MBA’s.

Networking is a crucial part of the MBA, and business in general, and so the first coffee break provided us with an ideal opportunity to hone our skills. In the end, it wasn’t very difficult. Everyone was very friendly and within a nano-second, people from all backgrounds – engineering, non-profits, business, technology and finance, were engaged in deep discussion. One of the benefits of the MBA is the diversity of the group which helps you see business challenges  through the eyes of someone with a different perspective than you, which can be invaluable.

One of the sessions today was entitled ‘Getting Things Done’ and we were given an insight into best practice in terms of becoming more effective managers of our time and of ourselves. While I had always sworn by a daily ‘to do’ list, what I took away from the session was the importance of deciding on what was really important and what was less so, and of taking immediate action on the important tasks. It seems simple but how often do we get caught up in the small stuff?

After lunch, Prof. Niamh Brennan brought her no-nonsense approach to the class in her report writing session. We had been asked to prepare a five page report in advance of the first day and to critique each other’s work. Critiquing the report of someone you had just met was a little daunting. However, it soon became clear that there was much to learn. While I waxed a little lyrical in my report, my colleague provided an engineer’s perspective and proposed key structural alterations that vastly improved my work. I was able to make some good suggestions for his report too.The key take-away’s for me were the importance of preparation, of clear and concise communication and of continually critiquing your work and seeking to  improve it on a continuous basis. I think the Japanese call it Kaizen.

In the afternoon, Emma Ledden of MTV fame and now a highly regarded communications consultant, along with her business partner gave us an overview of the Communications Bootcamp. For some of us, it meant the unexpected news that we would have to deliver a presentation at 7.45am the following morning with our new groups. We were told about this at 3.30pm and also that the full presentations had to be submitted by 5.30pm that evening…. They don’t call it bootcamp for nothing!

– Conor O’Donovan, EMBA City Centre Yr 1

Foundation Module 2011: The UCD Smurfit MBA kicks off a new season.

Friday 02 September was the final day of the MBA Foundation Module and for those involved it has been quite an experience.  Lengthy and complex preparations have been set in place for the new Fulltime and Executive MBA classes who have been onsite here in UCD Smurfit all week.

Likewise, countless hours have been spent by the Marketing Office, Admissions, Interviewing Panels, MBA Career Manager,  and MBA Director to have everyone signed up and ready to go by Monday 29th August last: D-Day.

The MBA Foundation Module itself is designed to be a tough and an intense intro week and despite all of the information available to participants in advance through websites, interviews, the Incoming MBA Student Portal and regular updates, the full impact of the week’s workshops, activities and networking will not really hit them until they come out the other side Friday evening.

As much as possible is squeezed in; Team Building, Communication Bootcamp, Time Management & Effectiveness, IT, Study Skills, Case Study Analysis, Report Writing and MBA Club launches to name only a few.  All of these sessions launch both the Academic Programme and also the Personal & Professional Development Programme and equip all new UCD Smurfit MBAs as much as possible for the semesters ahead.

It is no wonder that the mantra for those who have been involved this week has become: ‘Start as you mean to go on’.

Stay tuned to hear from the new Smurfit MBA students…

– Michael McDonnell, MBA Programme Manager

Class Rep for the year – What a year!!

So there I was, in September 2010, sitting in  my class , Mid-Week Executive MBA; I think it was a Thursday night.  Roisin O’Loughlin, the EMBA Programme Manager, comes in and announces to the class that we need to elect a Class Representative (Class Rep) for the year:

They will be a conduit for information between the staff and the sudents”, she says.  In my own mind, I was expecting a vote to elect someone. Before you can say “Decision Making” , I am proposed and elected as Class Rep.  Done deal!!  So, thats how I came to the role; by the “democratic” will of the Mid-Week Executive MBA class of Year 1.

I must admit, though, it has been a thoroughly fulfilling role and it is a role that I would recommend to anyone on entering into the MBA programme either Full-Time or, as in my case, the part-time EMBA.

The academic year between September and May has flown by and it is now June as I put down my thoughts to paper on the role of the Class Representative and take time to reflect on the year that has been. It really has been a fast year but, I can honestly say, a massively challenging year. But, ultimately, it has also been rewarding and satisfying. The MBA is always about developing the person as we are expected to broaden our thinking from the tactical or micro into the global and strategic. This is the type of thinking that we are now expected to be equipped with as students of the top business school in Ireland.

The role of Class Representative is a key leadership and management role that is given to one of the students.  As Class Rep, your role is one of liason between the lecturers, programme management staff and fellow class members.  All of the above assist with the smooth running of the many moving parts that make up an Executive MBA Course at UCD Smurfit. From a Personal Development aspect, the role has been excellent, as it gives you good practice at putting simple management procedures into play when acting in the role within the class.

The role of the Class Rep is an excellent mechanism for the class to speak with the “one” voice especially if there are certain issues that need to be addressed. The Class Rep will canvass fellow students to get their soundings on an issue and then he/she will liaise with the relevant UCD Smurfit personnel. Good clear communication is an essential part of being Class Rep between fellow students and staff.

There are a few duties associated with the job.  Twice per year, once each semester, a lunch of all Class Reps and programme management staff is organised and at very nice locations i might add. This is a good chance to compare notes with the other Class Reps from the other UCD Smurfit EMBA cohorts. A good bond between the various Class Reps pays dividends when trying to organise the functions that the Class Reps organise at the end of a semester as it’s often better to unite and hit the one location. I think anyone that was at the Christmas function will vouch for this, a good example of pooling resources!

All in all, the role of the Class Rep, whether elected each semester, each term or as in my case for the duration of the academic year, is an excellent opportunity to get stuck into the running of the class and programme and it is an essential appointment. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my year as Class Rep. Year 2 is upon us soon , so roll on!  And,  I think a handover is in order, time to vote , time for a new leader of the soon to be Year 2 Executive MBA Mid-Week Blackrock for 2011-12.

Fintan McGovern, Class Rep, EMBA YR1 Mid-Week Blackrock 2010-2011      

Sleep, Thought and the MBA

I usually sleep soundly. A couple of years ago I found myself waking in the morning with a sense of anxiety, which I could not explain. Then one morning I woke in the middle of a dream, in which I had arrived at an exam for which I was absolutely unprepared. Well, I thought as a not particularly academic person, I will never study or sit an exam again, so I can relax. And I did. The sense of anxiety departed. How then do I find myself in the tenth month of a full time MBA; surely the epitome of all that created my anxiety?

Without delving into the details, I found myself at a point in my life where I had worked in the government, commercial, self-employed, charity and entrepreneurial sectors, over 20 years. Yet my CV did not say what I was; a soldier, a facilities manager, a property developer, a do-gooder or an  e-tailer? I entered the Newstalk MBA scholarship competition, did not win, but did secure a place on the course. I realised that the MBA was just what I needed to focus my CV, so I accepted the place and started the course in September.

So, how has that worked out for me? Apart from not yet having secured a job, it was a brilliant decision. The MBA is an amazing product, experience and challenge. Central to the MBA is understanding relationships; between people, decisions, structures, markets etc. This applies to the subject matter but also to the students. For 10 months we have been ‘mushed’ together in class, groups, at lunch and socially.

However, I believe that the MBA is essentially a course about thought, about thinking and about joining the dots. It is a slow burner. During the first seven week term we were so busy, and the subjects so seminal, that we gained five separate perspectives. The second term saw the thought, the dot joining, commence. Financial Reporting was leveraged by Managerial Accounting, Decision Making contextualised by Financial Markets & Valuations, Business Economics de-mystified by, well everything. By May, when the In Company Projects were in full flow, we were deep in the art of demonstrating ‘cross learning’s. This cross pollination of ideas is what the MBA takes away from the course, not the T Account, Black Scholes, ROI, Decision Trees or Porters Value Chain. No, the MBA graduate is a business thinker, leader and manager. She is primed for the future. He is launched into an interconnected world, with an interconnected way of thinking.

But is he/she the stereo typical arrogant MBA? I will leave you with this anecdote and let you make up your own mind. A student on the premier UCD Smurfit marketing course, the MDP, asked me “what do you do on the MBA?”. “Well” I said “they teach us to be your boss!”. I presume he got my point.

David Gosling, FT MBA Class of 2011

The Charity Chat

Undertaking an MBA changes the way one’s mind works.

In fact, right there is an example; I would previously have written “your” instead of “one’s”. Formal writing is inherent throughout the many assignments that we have done this year. But the changes have been far, far more serious than changing my word-usage.

The changes have also affected my pub chat.

Recently, sitting in Murray’s bar on Bow Lane, Dublin, I was talking to a friend about charity events. Specifically, she perceived the spending of money on charity events such as black-tie balls as a waste of money.  In other words, she proposed that the money spent on them should be put towards the charity itself, thus earning the charity more money.

In reply, I began by explaining a fundamental business concept that the price of a product or service has to exist somewhere between its perceived value by the consumer and the cost to produce that good or service:

Benefit (value to the consumer) – Price – Cost

In the case of charity events, the perceived value of a ticket to a black-tie ball is greater than the value of a ticket to a session down the pub. Of course, the costs of organising a black-tie ball are higher than the costs of organising a session in a pub.

I continued by explaining that the difference between the money that can be raised through the sale of black-tie event tickets and the costs of organising said event (especially for charity) far exceeds the profits that can be made by having the same people down in the pub for a networking session.

It was at this point I realised that I have changed. My pub arguments have become far more coherent and informed…especially given the number of pints I’d had. So I decided to sit back, relax and watch the end of the Eurovision.

– Jamie O’Connell

MBA event: “Media Relations & Reputation Management – Ignore at Your Peril”

Some of the top players in the media space gathered at UCD Smurfit on Saturday May 21st last.  This was the last in the series of events that are part of the Personal & Professional Development programme for our MBA students.

The morning was broken into two sessions:

Session 1: Value of Media Relations to drive an Organisation’s Reputation.

Joe Carmody, Director at Edelman presented a lecture based on The Edelman Global Trust Barometer:  The State of Trust in corporations, media, NGO’S and Government, finishing with quite an intensive and lengthy Q&A.

Session 2: Why Media Relations is critical to your business. This second session saw a panel discussion followed by a Q&A between the panel guests and audience. The event was held in the magnificent Laurence Crowley Boardroom. The panel were:

Jim Glennon, Chairman (Edelman) – Former Fianna Fáil TD, Senator, former Irish rugby international as well as a long-established media analyst on the game in both broadcast and print media.

Tommy MacDonnell, Director (Ogilvy & Mather), one of Ireland’s leading communications companies. A regular contributor to the national media on issues relating to brands and reputation. Previously with Saatchi & Saatchi  International working in a number of global markets.

Ann O’Dea, Director & Editor in Chief (Business & Leadership) – Founder-director of Whitespace Publishing Group whose publications include, responsible for the group’s executive magazines and strategy in new media. Was responsible for the development of back in 2002, today Ireland’s leading technology website.

The Chair, Jim Glennon, led topics on strategic alignment of a company’s profit targets and its purpose to the new expectations of business leaders to the new rules of PR in today’s technology-driven world and personal branding.

Breaks throughout gave the attendees and panel a chance to mingle and network.

Full time MBA student, Rob Downes, spoke highly of the event, saying “it was a wonderful opportunity to hear such highly regarded experts discuss topical and relevant issues during these times.”

Pictures from Media Day 2011

– Text: Megan Molloy FT 2011 & Michael McDonnell, MBA Programme Manager

– Photos – Nargiza Kalmamatova

The MBA Rollercoaster Experience™

Apparently a picture speaks a thousand words, but I find a confusing chart takes those words and puts them into an indecipherable language that only the overly-enthusiastic engineer, who created it, can understand. Thus, the genesis of my MBA Rollercoaster Experience™ Chart:

Click on the chart for details

As I come towards the end of my MBA at Smurfit, I’ve tried to capture the emotional car wreck of the MBA and chart the journey along three main variables: ‘Fear & Uncertainty’, ‘Motivation & Enthusiasm’, and ‘Self Development’.

Fear & Uncertainty:
Obviously this starts high as I entered the unknown. I gave up a full-time job in a time of recession, I was investing a huge amount of money – some of which I didn’t have, and I was entering a class of strangers – all of whom I feared would be hard-nosed business types. It got worse. Lecturers randomly asked questions, the workload at the end of the first week seemed insurmountable, and my genetic inability to remember names was just plain rude! Luckily things got better once the first round of exams were over. Our class really gelled and celebrated achieving our quarter-MBA. As the year has progressed things have got so much better: we manage work together better, we aim to beat deadlines by weeks, and confidence springs from our newly acquired knowledge. The end horizon does bring with it the need to scavenge for hard fought careers, but we are now MBAs and we have less to fear than we did!

Motivation &Enthusiasm:
In a class of achievers, it’s hard not to succumb to the competitive motivation. I’ve had just one slump in February, when the motivation for yet another module was zapped from me. International trips and the support of my team, pulled me through!

Self Development:
Every moment on the course is an opportunity to learn, but learning takes a different pace in terms of self development throughout the year. The first few weeks are particularly introspectively enhancing as team situations, new concepts and subjects are thrust upon you, and a place in the class dynamic is carved out.

So is the MBA worth it? Well, to answer this, I’ve listed out just some of the things that I’ve done, but never would have without the MBA:

  • Written a blog (this is number six!).
  • Interviewed for a job by the CEO, CFO, CCO, and Company Secretary of a major Irish plc.
  • Thought about a life/career beyond engineering (and even pharma!).
  • Discovered the joys of ferreting for ‘weasel-words’ and ‘jiggery-pokery’ in Company Annual Reports.
  • Networked with strangers.
  • Developed a self-confidence in my business acumen (or should that be over-inflated sense of myself?).
  • Met a group of strangers from all over the world, who are now my friends.

– David Lawton