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.

The Journey Continues on the UCD Smurfit MBA…bringing “an improved ability to affect and lead others”.

Week 8! It is remarkable to think that we have only had 8 weeks of the course so far, it seems like I have far too many memories to fit into only 8 weeks. Flipping that around however, it’s also amazing to think that we are already approaching the end of SEM1. Time flies when you’re having fun, and, apparently, when you’re rampaging through a labyrinth of modules, workshops, projects and deadlines.

Since my last blog, I have experienced some significant highs and lows on the course. The highs are easier to succinctly describe but perhaps provide less meaty and real content for reflection. They have come in the form of positive feedback from respected professors on work I have produced and the development of social ties within the group. The lows, on the other hand, provide for, perhaps, more interesting discussion and for better learning. My lows relate to realizations that have forced me to re-frame my view of the MBA and what I will take from it.

When I decided to come on the UCD Smurfit MBA programme, I assumed that the majority of candidates would be fiery go-getters, all driven to compete healthily and push the envelope of what can be achieved. I also assumed that we would work in teams where everyone would want to get the best results possible. In short, I assumed that people on the course would be just like me. Well, we know what they say about assumptions… The reality of an MBA is far from my mental image of academic and project jousting. The reality incorporates a variety of candidates with a multitude of different personalities and goals for the course.

I have always worked in environments which rewarded and promoted those who rolled up their sleeves and got things done and this has reinforced that mode of behaviour to the extent that it is has been my default mode of engagement. While that behaviour can drive great progress, it isn’t applicable to every environment and every group of people. In many situations, it may be more important to bring the team with you or to analyse the environment exhaustively before acting. By challenging us to work with various people and on various projects the MBA teaches us, in a very real way, how to engage with different personality types and how to step outside our standard mode of engagement. This provides an enormous, if uncomfortable, learning opportunity.

The day I found out that the rest of my team did not want to achieve first class honours in the course was a day I will never forget. It was profoundly baffling how people could not aim for the best possible result. I became dizzy trying to understand it. It took quite a bit of re-framing to accept that the grade of result from an MBA is not the most important measurement of the quality of the experience gained on the course. The breadth of experience and the skills developed that round out the individual are more important.

All of the candidates on the course are high-calibre but their primary strengths lie in various different areas. By exposure to each other’s strengths and weaknesses and through honest feedback from self and others in Leadership Development (LDP) sessions, a mirror is held up showing us how we engage and the benefits and risks of our styles. Through this challenging process the quiet analyst learns to step up, the conciliatory player learns to focus on task and the dominant go-getter learns to move with the team. Interestingly, this learning is not explicitly targeted at developing better influencing skills but that is the effect. The LDP objectives pursued relate to team development and team dynamic enhancement but will translate to an improved ability to affect and lead others.

As the Christmas exams begin to loom on the horizon it is useful to note that the pressure we experience as part of the MBA is essential to keep the personal learning real. Working on our behaviours and interactions is kept relevant and effective as we do so under pressure. The pressure calls out the true selves we will call on under fire when we are back out leading industry. Sharpening our tools for those situations is the greatest benefit the UCD Smurfit MBA can offer. So, here’s to pressure, development, the challenges behind us and the challenges to come.

Liam Doyle,

FT MBA 2014.

Playing to your weaknesses.

You don’t come on the UCD Smurfit MBA to practice things you’re already good at and avoiding falling into this trap has been a key priority for everyone thus far. When you’re pressed for time (as everyone is with such a big workload) the inclination is to get the accountant on your team to do the accounting and to get the marketer to do the marketing. But what would be the point in that?

The MBA is all about developing you into a better-rounded professional so this means you have to become comfortable doing things that you don’t have much prior experience of. Coming from an international journalism and communications background moving over to “dealing with the numbers” in Corporate Finance and Financial Reporting has been truly challenging for me but after the initial shock I can say the experience has been worthwhile and I’m now much more prepared to analyse things from a quantitative perspective.

I hope the people on the course from a more quantitative background are feeling similarly positive about crossing over to more “woolly” subjects and that we are all using our experiences to make each other stronger

Conall Campbell,

FT MBA 2014

Leadership dilemmas

Among the big things that Smurfit offers is the opportunity to learn about and enrich ourselves. One of these points came during the conflict resolution and mediation workshop carried out in February this year. We had to role play a few different conflict situations and see what we learnt from these interactions.

In one of the situations, I was the leader of a project where the team had three staff with excellent competencies and the fourth member was a new staff in the company. My leadership style is very much a mentoring-coaching-facilitating style, so during the (pretend) conflict, I tried to listen as much as I could to what the team members had to say and asked them how they thought the issue should be solved. Time ran out, and we weren’t able to fully close the issue.

The feedback I received from one of my role-play group mates was – “you’re the nicest leader” before she shot the steel bullet, “I was waiting for you to give the direction, but you never did.” She was frank, and I really appreciate that. This comment hit a really strong cord in me because in my previous life, the first time I had people formally report to be at work, that was the same feedback I felt they were giving me (though they never said it aloud, in retrospect, I knew sometimes they needed my direction more than my ears).

Leadership is very contextual. Despite the amount of literature doled out on the importance of being humble leaders, facilitating leaders, coaching leaders, empathetic leaders, at times a leader has to be what he has to be – give the directions strong and clear. The question is, sometimes you don’t know which situation you are in, and which role you should play. And often, just reading Harvard Business Review articles or Academy of Leadership journals don’t prepare you for the real role you have to play when you’re in those shoes. In the real world, you just have to learn to lead and think on your feet. Read, do, think, get feedback, improvise and keep getting better.

Nur Zahirah M Sukran

– Nur Zahirah M Sukran, FT MBA 2012/13

Networking Matters – Of course but only when you do it right.

Your Net worth is directly proportional to your Network.

Kingsley Aikins from Networking Matters, who we met during the course of the first semester, stressed on the importance of networking driving home the point that in a real world scenario, your ‘social capital’ could be your catalyst of change.  Is that true? Let’s see.

Everybody in the class aspires to land up with a good job with a great pay and people had started networking actively from the beginning of the second semester although we have the career office, which we are hopeful, will weave the magic wand someday. Our approach to networking is quite straight forward.

‘Spray and Pray’: This happens to be the most common and preferred way of networking. The modus operandi is quite simple. Through your active connections, references or LinkedIn, get in touch with ‘somebody’ who generally would be a professional at a management level in a brand well reckoned and then plan a chat over coffee. You go for the meet with the halo of Smurfit shining right behind and expect ‘your man’ to open a few doors instantly for you. With optimism running high, you kiss good bye and get home to tick one more box in your to-do list and the story ends. What happens there after, I have no idea but is this networking? Not the right way.

Networking is a tool well utilised only when you learn to weave it the right way. Now, having been a recruiter all my life, here’ an approach that I advocate:

  • Be clear about what you want: Chart out a career map and if not an exact one, at least know what you want to do in life. That’s a fair expectation I would have from an MBA grad. Only then you would know who to connect with.
  • Start small, start easy: Your peers are your primary contacts. Based on your canvas, look for people with similar backgrounds in the class and connect with them. Talk about your aspirations and be cognizant about theirs as well. Look at common goals and initiate self-help group to do things like sharing information, jobs, events etc. Expand your reach to the EMBA’s as they could be a better bet given the fact that they are current in the market.
  • Use a ‘warm’ handshake: When you zero in on a company of interest, look for contacts who would know a ‘somebody’ up there. Owing to the sheer might of references and in this globally connected village, I am sure you would find an alumni, friend’s friend/girlfriend or your earlier employer who would know somebody there. Use the contact to initiate a warm handshake rather than cold calling.
  • Do not meet everybody and anybody: The ‘spray and pray’ attitude might actually boomerang as people might start seeing you as desperate and that will dilute your brand. Also, you might end up with making too many connections that might not be of great use to you, not to mention the time and resources lost.
  • LinkedIn: It’s a great tool but is a doubled edged sword. Initiate contacts and try meeting up people locally. Be careful as your profile is public and as you keep adding contacts, the rest in your network would know who you are connecting with.  Example, do not add the ‘recruiter’, recruitment manager’ and ‘head of resourcing’ of, say ‘ABC’ in a short span of time. The first guy to accept; say the ‘recruiter’ will also know that you have added his boss and his boss’s boss to your network. You do not intend to give him ideas, right? For connecting with people who are out station, use ‘InMail’ which will cost you but will also leave the impression that you are serious.
  • Consultants: Do a market research to see who are the specialized search firms or consultants who hire in the space that you want to get into. Once you have a list ready, start connecting and try meeting them. Top notch search firms say an ‘Egon Zender’, ‘Hendrick Struggles’ ‘Spencer Stuart’ might not be open to see you as they work on active mandates and will be hesitant to meet a ‘student’. By the end of May 2013, you should have built a network of consultant who should be able to relate to you and will be open to pitch your profile for any suitable opening which might come up there after.
  • WIFM factor: When you meet somebody, the person who is sparing time to meet you might be a well-wisher and can be of help but also remember, there is nothing called free lunch. The guy on the other side of the table will always be interested in “What’s in for me”. So to evince interest, send the message beforehand that the meeting could be a ‘mutually beneficial’ one.  You will see better responses.

I go back to the example that Kingsley had given about the guy he worked for, Tony O’Reilly (I hope I got the name correct) who used his rugby connection to build a business spread across those countries that he played in. Networking is an art just that you need to know who to tango with. That million dollar job that you aspire for will not get advertised but will get finalized at a golf course or at a black tie dinner table. In the words of Ashutosh Sinha, my senior colleague in Deloitte, Be ‘IN’ it to ‘WIN’ it.

Sundeep Patnaik

– Sundeep Patnaik, FT MBA 2012-13

Spring is in the air…

Spring is in the air and as thoughts turn towards Summer days and the Galway Races, the more forward-looking and future-focussed among you are looking even further again and asking yourselves “is this August the right time to start my MBA journey?” I was in that place exactly 12 months ago and as we steer towards the end of Semester 2 (and Year 1) I can happily announce to any prospective MBA candidates that there is light at the end of the tunnel!! Last August in our induction week, the MBA experience was quite accurately described as a “conveyor belt of work” and looking back this description was pretty much on the button. However, it’s important to realise you’re not the only person standing at that conveyor belt since you have your team-mates beside you for the most part and this makes the workload more than manageable. I had the added complication of commuting from Galway each week and this does make team-work a little more challenging since getting face-to-face time is limited to Friday mornings or Saturday afternoons. In addition, our company at the time was entering probably its busiest time as we were concluding a clinical trial in Germany so there were trips to Europe to add into the mix as well. But endless emails and conf calls every week usually keep things on track and there’s nothing like an imposing deadline to focus the mind!!! You don’t have to be Dublin-based to enjoy the full experience of MBA life at the Smurfit School.

The point of all of this for me is as follows. A misapprehension on my part before the MBA started was that it was just a continuation of what we did as undergrads, i.e. attend lectures, write reports and do presentations and (hopefully) regurgitate as much as possible at the end-of-semester exam. To a degree this is accurate but there is a much bigger picture around the whole MBA experience. Yes it’s about gaining knowledge in areas that are new to you, e.g. Supply Chain Management, Corporate Finance, Accounting, etc. but it’s about developing yourself even more so. But what exactly does this mean? It’s about understanding how you interact with others, why you react in a particular way when that imposing deadline is tomorrow and you’re still a million miles away from where you need to be, do you motivate your team or do you strike fear into them, how do you react when one of your team-mates is along for the ride? Are you able to handle the stress and pressure of juggling multiple priorities and deadlines whilst still maintaining perspective and some semblance of balance in your life? It’s about learning about yourself in scenarios that are typical of what you will inevitably face on a continual basis in your working lives but you perform this self-examination in a safe environment for 2 years before you cut lose again. It gives you an opportunity to ask hard questions of yourself and fix the things that you want to fix. Don’t assume that there is an expected right answer to these questions. The only right answer is the one that’s right for you. Ultimately you want to be a better motivator, a better manager and a better team-player because it’s just easier that way.

Brendan Cunniffe

When you look to your right and see no end to that conveyor belt of work, if you’re a strong motivator and a strong team player it makes it so much more manageable when everyone wants to take a piece. As we say in Irish “ní neart go cur le chéile”, – strength in numbers folks!!

– Brendan Cunniffe,  EMBA Weekend,  12-14

The Smurfit Consulting Initiative

As the Smurfit Full Time Class of 2012 near the closing stages of the MBA programme, they get an opportunity to put into action all the new tools, theories and techniques that they have learned over the year with the Smurfit MBA Consulting Initiative.

It’s an opportunity for the students to go out implementing their new working styles, make contacts and apply their learning’s over an intensive seven week period before presenting their findings to the companies and Smurfit staff. In addressing the organisation’s business task, students immerse themselves into the business environment and develop a solution that is ready for implementation.

Armed with workshops in advance on management consulting skills, research methods, leadership, project management, presenting to boards and more, students have the opportunity to improve their analytical, problem solving and communication skills by developing a solution to a real problem faced by an organisation.

These projects are an exciting time not only for the students, but for the companies involved also. This year we were once again massively over-subscribed by companies looking to gain the insights of a team of MBA’s, with many unfortunately ending up disappointed.

The students on the other hand now have the opportunity to join some of the world’s leading names across the Technology, Life sciences, Financial Services, Digital Media, FMCG, Not-For-Profit, Aviation and Energy sectors. Companies such as SAP, Microsoft, GSK and many others are this week welcoming a team to assist in solving strategic problems in their organisations.

This year also sees an exciting partnership with the Walton School of Business in the United States whereby their students will collaborate with ours for an incredibly exciting global project for Henkel.

We wish the students well as they step back into working life over the coming weeks, I know they are relishing the opportunity to get their teeth into real strategic issues and an insight into what their future working lives will be as executives in organisations large and small.

– Brian Marrinan, MBA Careers

Coaching on the MBA

I had the privilege of coaching the leaders of tomorrow at UCD Smurfit and have been asked to reflect on the experience during the past year. The one-to one coaching experiences started a little earlier with the Exec (2-year) MBA students in November. As coaches we each met our coachees for this first coaching session at this stage. Most of them had a pretty clear idea of what they would like to achieve from the experience, although many were unsure of the process (as is the case for anyone who has not experienced coaching before).  The topics broadly related to specific business challenges, leadership style and career. This first session allowed us to gain a common understanding of the end goal as well as raising awareness of the challenge they faced. Most walked away with areas to reflect on before we would meet again.

By the time the 2nd coaching session came around (late January/ February), there had been a noticeable shift in perspectives. Due to the increased gap between the coaching sessions this year and the time available over the Christmas break, it was obvious that ample time had been available to the MBA students to consider their challenge. At the beginning of each coaching session I have a tendency to reflect back on where we left off so that the coachee can bring me up to date. At these coaching sessions I was invariably met with ‘Goodness at lot has changed since we last spoke’. At this point a path was emerging and during this coaching session we would continue to thrash out the situation and options that emerged.

Between session 2 and 3, my coachees went on their International Trip to either Brazil or China. They returned fulfilled by the trip albeit a little overwhelmed by virtue of the fact that so many things were now coming together. They were trying to keep the day job going, assignments were kicking in en-masse and the end of the MBA loomed. There was a mixture of relief (in terms of the juggling this necessitated) and also sadness at the prospect. These guys have juggled for two years now and many described the camaraderie in the class and the ‘hole’ they would feel in their lives which they wanted to fill with something else constructive.  We continued our coaching conversations reflecting back on the initial goals which were set. Broadly speaking we stayed very much on course and in the main, MBA students achieved what they had wanted from the process.

What strikes me from the experience is the concept of the coaching process being akin to stepping on ‘the balcony’. The Executive MBAs are endeavouring to juggle work, MBA programme and their personal lives for 2 years and the coaching process allows them a little time to step out of all this and reflect on a challenge which is important to them. For the coaches it is rewarding to see this journey and support them in the challenges which they face.

Eadine Hickey, Executive Coach on the UCD Smurfit MBA