Learnings from year 1 for Newtalk scholarship winner 2013 Niall Twomey

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.

Niall Twomey

EMBA Weekend Year 1

Time to think …

There is an element of the MBA experience that gets lost in the noise of commentary on hours, deadlines, hand ins and team meetings. The full time MBA gives you back some time in your life to think. To think about what you want to do, to think about what you have done and to think about what makes you tick. Any perspective student should know the amount of hours required on the MBA programme is a often overhyped. MBA graduates you will meet remember the pinch situations where they had to work until the wee small hours of the morning for three nights in a row, or they remember a chronic three week period in semester 1 where they had 5 projects hanging over them. But the reality of the situation is that this is the exception rather than the rule. There is a steady flow of work that (if you keep on top of) is eminently manageable. The MBA experience gives you more time out then your current career. It is NOT like having a fulltime job and there IS an element of reliving that college experience where you used to have time to think, chat and pursue some new interests and side projects.

As an entrepreneur I find this time invaluable. In the “real world” It’s hard to get time to think about new business ideas and exciting innovations. In the MBA bubble you can find that time again and more importantly, when you do find that time you are far better equipped to turn day dreams into realities should you choose to do so. You start refining your ideas from the minute they pop into your head, what are the barriers to entry? Is it an attractive Industry structure? What is the value proposition? How easily would this be imitated? Do you have access to resources required? It also helps that you now have 35 new people in your life that you can bounce ideas off and develop some thoughts you have had on your career, or a business idea or even a further course of study after the MBA (God forbid!).

So don’t let talk of “surviving the MBA”, the “divorce course” and “say goodbye to your family for a year” influence your decision complete an MBA. It is challenging but doable, and if you are at a bit of a crossroads in life, the programme will give you the time and resources to figure out the grand plan for you. That plan will change daily by the way but at least you will be thinking about it….

Trevor Whelan

Full-time MBA 2014


Breaking Through the Career Ceiling

Why I did an MBA:

Before the MBA I was working as IT consultant on multi-million European-wide deals. When we were finalising these deals, I found myself in a room with the EMEA heads of HR, finance, marketing etc. I was representing the EMEA lead for consulting. I was keeping up with these high-power conversations, but only just. I had hit a career ceiling and to progress my career further, I needed to break out of my consulting zone and get on the same level as these domain specialists.

The Smurfit MBA was how I did this.

What my head knew but my heart denied:

The content of an MBA isn’t difficult; it’s the breadth and depth of knowledge that you have to consume in a compressed time that’s the challenge.

What everyone says, but I didn’t believe until I got there:

You learn quite a lot from your classmates, and yes – you get out what you put in. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you will be rewarded.

What I learned most:

Over the years, I had already worked out many of the concepts from the MBA in my own head, from first principles. The MBA put structure and a formal nomenclature on the fuzziness, allowing me again to work with other domain leaders.

What shocked me about the MBA:

In the last 5-10 years before the MBA I had gotten used to being the “smartest guy in the room”. In the first couple of weeks in Smurfit, I realised I was in the lower 50-percentile of the class. This was quite a shock to the ego.

My favourite moment on the MBA:

We had a presentation from the conductor of a concert orchestra. I didn’t engage initially – I wasn’t going to apply for the job. But he slowly explained his role: to coordinate 80 primadonnas, all who believe they are better at their job than he is at his.  All who think they could work better without him, all who wanted to give their own 90 second opinion, some of whom were just passengers, and somehow his role was to add value so the whole was significantly better than the sum of the parts.

EUREKA! I realised these were the same challenges that I faced in my role as a programme manager, and therefore certain knowledge and skills are fungible.

It was these insights that were the highlights of the MBA.

What I did with my MBA

I was hired by a major IT organisation to improve their “Value Engineering:” to create business propositions for large deals, especially where the CIO was convinced.  The CFO & CEO needed to see some financials, albeit based on the technology, and with real numbers before getting on board.

The job offer was routed through the Smurfit MBA Careers Office and the mandatory requirements for the position included an “MBA from a top European business school.”


Luke Beare

Full-time MBA 2009

Senior Director | Industry Strategy & Insight, Oracle

Conscience as a Business Tool

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.


Eoin McDonnell

EMBA 2015

Ireland

L’Oréal, Sodexo, Imerys…oh my!

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.


Erwan Le Pavec

FTMBA 2014

France

Coaching to the Finish Line

Coaching provides a safe space for MBA participants to explore challenges that may be causing interference by focusing on personal development in a programme that is by nature competitive and challenging. It allows space for thinking, reflection and exploring more of the emotional intelligence aspect of leadership.  Now in my second year of coaching MBA participants at UCD Smurfit, I have found the participants to be very smart people from a range of countries, backgrounds and industries.

All have a shared ambition to be the best that they can be and to reach their potential. There is a formula in coaching from The Inner Gameby Tim Gallwey which reads:

Performance = (potential – interference)

At the heart of the coaching work that I do is a conversation. This conversation is led by the coachee’s agenda and my primary role is to listen and understand the coachee’s story. That story can include career development, values, patterns in their working life, motivation, managing stress and managing opportunities.

For the coachee, the sessions provide time and space to talk out loud about what is top of mind for them, in other words what is their inner game. We all have an inner game, so exploring aspects of this with a coach allows the coachee to bring into focus what they are thinking about and how they can work on it.

There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How you play this game usually makes the difference between success and failure.Tim Gallwey

Working with a coach, they explore reality, look at goals for the short term and longer, explore options for change and agree on actions for the future.

The beauty of the programme is that each coachee has access to three coaching sessions, which allows time for the coaching relationship to develop, for reflection, for actions to take place and be reviewed, and for themes to emerge.

Pamela Fay

As we start 2014 I am looking forward to my coaching sessions in the coming weeks with the MBA participants. I am excited about what actions they have taken since their last coaching session and what new challenges and opportunities we will be working on together over the coming months.

Pamela Fay is a business and executive coach. Pamela has run her own business for ten years and qualified in 2009 as a coach.

“I’m a Red-Blue Peacock-Dolphin”

Not many people would understand what the title above means, but to any UCD MBA student, it conveys insight into my qualities as a group member and a leader.

Our Wednesdays have been packed with psychometric tests and learning resources, through the Leadership Development and Careers Programmes, intended to guide us through our pursuits of new roles and new industries as we develop into leaders post-MBA.

Other blog entries have discussed the activities of the first week, when we discovered a little about how we function in groups, and animals and colours were assigned to our individual qualities. Inevitably, my results provided me the least endearing animal possible: the Peacock.

During a more recent Wednesday, we explored the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI). This tool encouraged us to think about our motivational system, our behaviour, our strengths, and the ways in which we respond to conflict in a team setting. As Wednesdays go, given the introspective nature of the tasks and the need to discuss others’ strengths/weaknesses, this was the most emotionally exhausting.

From SDI, the most interesting insight I gained into leadership was the fact that “assertive” (red) leaders are not necessarily the most effective: that at times “altruistic” (blue), or “analytic” (green) will lead to better results. I’m also glad to have had the chance to actively learn from my group mates’ experience of working with me; an opportunity I have never before had in the workplace. So with pride, I announce that I am a Red-Blue Peacock-Dolphin.


Niall Ó Muiré

FT MBA 2014

Ireland


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

How did he find the time? Alum Dave Graham on his award winning first novel.

I took the UCD Smurfit EMBA from 2010 to 2012 and this is a short piece about how the time-juggling demands that the course places on people were a great help in getting my published book over the line this year.


Just as a brief background to how I came to be published. I had started writing ‘Incitement’ ( see http://www.davidgrahambooks.com/incitement/ ) around the time our second child arrived. I’d finished the book, submitted it to what I thought were likely agents, got serially rejected and then pretty much tore the book apart and rewrote 75% of it. The problem was I never got around to resubmitting it between work, family and starting the MBA. Then one day driving to work, I was listening to The John Murray Show on RTE 1, Ireland’s national radio station. A piece came on asking whether you’d ever written a book that hadn’t been published. The competition was being run in conjunction with The RTE Guide and the prize was a publishing package. When I got to the office, I thought about it for a while, decided ‘why not’ and submitted the book with no expectation whatsoever.


A couple of months later, I received a phone call saying I’d made a shortlist of five from over 500 entries. I still didn’t feel I’d go further in the competition but was pleased with that. Then in August, the five finalists were invited to go on air while two of the three judges discussed the books and announced the winner. To my surprise I won and, just like that, my book was going to be published. Well, not quite, there was quite a bit of work to be done between edits, cover design and preparing to promote the book.


I’m married with two young boys and run a small business, so finding the time to get the multiple edits and other pieces done was going to be a challenge. Luckily, though, the MBA had been great preparation for this. When originally considering taking the course, my wife and myself had both looked at our routines because we knew it would mean a commitment from both of us. An added complication was moving house and having the new house extended and renovated during the same time period. We cut away a lot of the extraneous stuff and really prioritized things like time with the kids, there were easy sacrifices like TV and some others that weren’t so easy and, at times, eight hours of sleep was a luxury foregone. Thing is, though, it was manageable; at times it got a little stressful but all of the work got done. So, when it came time to do the book work, what might have seemed otherwise difficult with a temptation to compromise on quality, ended up being quite doable. We just looked at it like a two month resumption of the MBA.


Funnily, the MBA helped in one other way. The book deals with a conflict between two global drug cartels which unbeknownst to the protagonists has been incited by third-parties. Part of the story deals with the issues of drug shortages, what impact they would have on demand and pricing and the possible societal impact. During the rewrites, I was able to subtly change some of these passages to have a firmer economic footing. Saying this, I should provide a disclaimer to my economics and finance lecturers, none of them ever lectured on the supply-and-demand dynamics of the international drug trade and any flaws that remain are solely mine.


The hope with the book now is that people will check it out and spread the word amongst their family and friends. To read a little about some of the books I would recommend and that have influenced my writing you can see some blog pieces at http://www.davidgrahambooks.com/category/blog/

Dave Graham,

EMBA 2012.

How the UCD Smurfit MBA has improved my time management skills.

The end of 2013 is one of the busiest times in my life.  I have just come back from Global Network Week at Yale School of Management. Right after I arrived in Dublin, I must come back to UCD Smurfit’s campus immediately to study Financial Reporting for the next examination. Whenever you open your Google Calendar, it is full of tasks from day to day.  

After class in the morning, we also spend time to work in groups for the next assignments or presentations. At the weekend, we also have an abundance of readings for the following week. At first, I felt quite overloaded but Google Calendar and EverNote applications have helped me so much in time management.  I did a workshop on time management as part of the Leadership Development Programme (LDP) which is part of the UCD Smurfit MBA.

Every week, I always list a series of tasks that need to be done and put all of them in To-do-list Folder in Evernote so I can open it on my smart phone. I order them from the least to the most important tasks and begin to solve in that order.


Having good time management skills helps you not only to solve all duties in class but also allows you to join in many school events.

It’s a big world and there’s a lot to be done!


Hung Nguyen,

FT MBA 2014.