John Molson International Case Competition: The Moment of Truth!

molson-pic1Months of intense preparation and coaching, facilitated by UCD Smurfit, had prepared us for this moment. As we took our places on stage in front of 200 plus people, we were totally in sync, a true team. We knew we could win if we made this the best show of our weeklong adventure at the John Molson MBA International Case Competition, the world’s largest business case competition for MBAs. And so, after a slow and measured breath, we assumed our temporary roles as Smurfit Consulting and dared the audience to buy into our unconventional pitch.

Exactly 3 hours and 10 minutes earlier, we had been given an unpublished case and locked in a room with no internet access, robbed of our phones, smartwatches and anything to connect us to the outside world. The challenge: How was Wal-Mart’s e-retail business to survive in the face of the ever powerful Amazon? Just as we had practiced, we methodically analysed Wal-Mart’s core competencies and opportunities, with each of the four team members developing a particular part of the analysis, solution or proposed implementation strategy. The 20 minutes of allotted time for group debate were, as always, the most intense. But with everything riding on our solution to this case, today was a flurry of ideas in which we debated the future of retail, the internet and even basic human needs for interaction. Finally, we settled on a plan and with 2 hours of furious scribbling, calculating and putting together a power point, we were ready.

2 minutes in to the presentation, we witnessed an abundance of raised eyebrows and sideways glances in the audience asking “how could they be proposing that?” As time progressed, quizzical looks changed to heads nodding in agreement, even a few smiles. At the end of our 25 minute presentation and 15 minutes of grilling from the judges, we exited the stage to resounding applause knowing that we had sold our plan. If this wasn’t going to win the competition, well, it just wasn’t meant to be.

The moment of truth: despite our knowledge that we had given it our all, we had watched a number of the other 35 teams present during the week and knew that the competition was formidable. They were, after all, some of the brightest and most engaging students from many of the world’s top business schools. By the time Smurfit was announced as the winner of the 37th annual competition at the formal dinner on Saturday evening, we had lost track for the first time that week of the slow count of breathing in and out, instead holding our breaths in anticipation. Collecting the Concordia cup on stage, it finally sunk in that all the Sundays we spent pouring over cases and being drilled on presentation skills had paid off. Indeed, we will certainly remember that moment every time in the future when we take a deep breath and pitch a crazy, innovative idea in a boardroom whose occupants aren’t quite prepared for what they are about to hear.

How did UCD Smurfit’s team solve the Wal-Mart case? Find the video recording here (third finalist presenters): https://mbacasecomp.com/media/videos-2/.

Maria Barry, Paul Donnelly, Andrew Gebelin, Ruth Lalor, and Gearóid O’Briain travelled together with coach Professor Patrick Gibbons to compete in the 2018 John Molson International Case Competition in Montreal, Canada. Professor Gibbons and Paul Slattery deserve many thanks for coaching the team

 

Andrew Gebelin, EMBA 2016-2018  and Ruth Lalor, EMBA 2016-2018

An MBA… So What’s It Really Like?

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As I near the end of Semester Two of my first year I have reflected on my experience so far. I thought I’d write a post which, had I read one year ago, would have given me a real insight into what was in store for me when I was considering the MBA Programme at Smurfit Business School. So here it goes………

Semester and Grading Structure – so what do you actually do?

Each semester has 4 modules (subjects). You’ll be assigned, by the school, to your study-team with 4 other classmates which will last for each semester. Some modules will be fully graded on the basis of a combination of individual or study-team assignments. Others will be graded by means of assignment (team or individual) coupled with an end of semester exam. If you have never experienced the delight of the Exam Hall in the RDS –this pleasure awaits! Some of the team assignments involve studying a particular case study or topic and formally presenting this to the full class. Your team’s class presentations will include low cost US airline Southwest Airlines (HR Strategy aspect) and Online UK supermarket Ocado (Supply Chain aspect). Every two weeks the Competitive Strategy module will require your team to prepare a one page assessment report in response to a problem outlined in the assigned case study on topics ranging from the Asian airline industry to an online dating company. You will learn.

Skills development

The program will take you out of your comfort zone straight away. If you are a reluctant orator / presenter, the program will assist in the development of your skills. In the opening orientation week Paul Slattery will give you a small taster of his Presentation Skills Workshop. You will have an opportunity to sign up for a 1 day workshop with Paul later in Semester 1 – make sure you sign up! You will have plenty of opportunity to practice and refine your presentation skills (and gain confidence) in front of your class as part of your presentation assignments. You will develop.

Developing Skills
Developing Skills

Resilience

You’ll figure out that your resilience is put to the test. Semester 1 is “full-on” – by week 5 you will wonder if you (or anyone!) can manage the combined workload of (1) your commitments to team assignments (2) your own assignments (3) your preparation for next week’s lectures and (4) all the while doing the regular 9 to 5 day job. By week 12, you will know that somehow you made it and that you won’t have left anyone behind. You’ll figure out how to make it work, how to find time and how not to waste time.  You’ll get your reading and preparation for the next classes done before work a few mornings a week and you’ll spend one day out of the weekend between study-team meetings and assignments. Occasionally on weekends you’ll need to do more but life will go on. By Semester 2 – you’ll feel much more in control, less daunted and more organised.  You will balance.

Not just Teamwork but Friendships

You’ve heard lots about the emphasis on teamwork. Trust me, you’ll form close friendship bonds that will last beyond the 2 years of the program. You will quickly learn to trust your assigned teammates not just in the narrow sense of the course work but in a broader sense. You’ll get to know them on a personal level and them you – you’ll closely share the ups and downs of the MBA life experience with them. Just before the end of semester 1, when final exams are closely coming into focus, you’ll find that you’ve given up a whole Saturday to coach your fellow teammates and some other classmates on an exam subject that you studied before. You’re motivated to ensure that no one is left behind. You will impact.

You will belong.

 Derek Anderson ~ Executive MBA

The Job Interview: Does An MBA Make A Difference?



The Job Interview: Does an MBA make a difference?


One of the main reasons I decided to do an MBA at Smurfit was career progression. After nine years of working in the turbulent banking industry, I was lucky enough to secure voluntary severance and a scholarship which enabled me to start the Executive MBA last September. Finding the right job – and ensuring that I was selected for that job – were top priorities for me once I had settled into the MBA Programme.

It soon dawned on me that the labour market was awash with job-seeking bankers as a result of downsizing across the sector and that a brutal ‘survival of the fittest’ regime was in play. Advice from many quarters suggested that I may have to take several steps backwards in my career as well as a huge pay-cut, such was the ferocity of competition for financial services roles. If I had a euro for every time I heard ‘it’s an employer’s market’….

The first benefit the MBA offered me during this waiting game was brain training. Many of my former colleagues were happy to take an extended break from working life to spend time with family or to work on their golf handicap. For me, the MBA provided a focus to divert my attention from a potentially disheartening job search. In fact, I became so distracted by Semester 1 that only in January did it occur to me that four months had passed and I had only applied for one job.



Shaking off old habits...


Which brings me neatly to the second benefit of the MBA: networking. The single job I had applied for was advertised by the very lady who had interviewed me for the MBA Programme during applications season. So far, so good. We had a successful phone interview and I was progressed to the next round immediately.

The next part of the process is where the MBA learnings really kicked in. The second phase involved a comprehensive interview, psychometric testing and Powerpoint presentation, the likes of which would have made me quake in my boots pre-MBA. But the programme had by this point taught me some valuable skills:

1)      Presentation Skills: we had completed a two day extra-curricular workshop during which we were filmed until we had shaken off any poor habits

2)      Research Methodology: I approached the interview like a project assignment, using all the knowledge and databases at my disposal, including lecturers’ views on sectoral developments and ‘best practice’ organisational behaviour

3)      Career Development: Smurfit’s Head of Careers Brian Marrinan provided me with valuable tools for preparation including sample psychometric tests, interview tips and encouragement

4)      Powerpoint: my MBA team-mate introduced me to powerful animation tricks, making for a much more impressive presentation than I had produced in the past

Above all, the MBA has boosted my confidence, which it seems is the key reward offered by the programme. I entered the interview process much clearer on my own strengths and competencies as well as my areas for development, which made for a more relaxed and honest exchange throughout the second and third interviews. Previously, I had been struck by a dose of Ms. Sandberg’s Imposter Syndrome. Not so this time.



Learning the importance of Personal Branding


Finally, I should point out that two of the six interviewers that I met indicated that they were specifically looking for MBA students and graduates. I mention this because it is good to know that all of the hard work and expense of an MBA is worthwhile.

I start in the new role next week, with a bank that is growing rapidly and steadily enhancing its brand. Just like me.



Invest time in creating and enhancing your Personal Brand


Rachael Dunne ~ Year 1 Executive MBA