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Exactly 3 hours and 10 minutes earlier, we had been given an unpublished case and locked in a room with no internet access, robbed of our phones, smartwatches and anything to connect us to the outside world.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

Huge Success for the EMBA team representing Smurfit at the 2018 John Molson MBA International Case Competition at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada

Congratulations to our EMBA team of Andrew Gebelin, Ruth Lalor, Gearoid O’ Briain, Maria Barry and Paul Donnelly and their Coach Prof. Pat Gibbons who performed exceptionally well to claim victory with stiff competition from 36 international business schools from over 18 countries to be crowned 2018 Champions!

The many hours of hard work and preparation of the team as well as their drive and ambition was evident throughout and demonstrated the quality of our MBA cohort. Congratulations and a huge thank you to their team Coach Prof. Pat Gibbons who spent a huge amount of his own time preparing and training this team and who has travelled with previous Smurfit teams, offering his insight, expertise and vast academic knowledge, to Concordia over the last number of years. Paul Slattery our renowned MBA Presentation Skills expert was hugely influential and invested time and offered much support to the team. Thanks also to all the academic staff, the MBA team (notably Zoe O’ Connor) and previous EMBA Molson teams who have all played an important role in this victory for our MBA Programme, the Smurfit School, UCD and Ireland.

The John Molson MBA International Case Competition is open to top business schools worldwide, and is recognized as the largest case competition of its kind. Taking place over five days this is a tough and intensive competition which requires hard work, stamina and excellent preparation. The competition format is a round-robin tournament consisting of seven unpublished business cases, the highlight of the week is a live case presentation by a major company facing a real-life business challenge. With up to three hours of preparation time, teams of students must analyse and evaluate unpublished business cases using the skills, knowledge and experience they have acquired from their respective MBA curriculum. The students must then present their detailed plan of action to a panel of judges. More than 300 business executives serve as judges, using their unique backgrounds, experiences and perspectives to critically assess the participants’ presentations. Teams are evaluated on creativity, insight, substance and plausibility of implementation.

Roisin Downing

MBA Leadership Development Manager

Revisiting great GNAM memories in Yale

What is the best time for writing a reflection after a new experience? For some people, it would probably be right after the experience when the memories are still fresh and vivid. For me, it’s before the exams.

Our brain is amazing. When we’re not having fun, it either makes us want to go to sleep or reminds us of the good times. Being in the middle of the hectic revision period myself, I find it a perfect occasion to reflect on one of my best experience in Semester 1 as a Smurfit MBA student – the Global Network Week (GNW) at Yale.

  1. The morning walk on Yale campus:

When you’re too lazy for the gym but enthusiastic enough to take some amazing photos, I would recommend booking accommodation at a location not too close to Yale SOM as you can enjoy a long morning walk while contemplating some of the best American architecture of the last hundred years. Though we also had the campus tour on the GNW schedule, in which we were introduced to the history of famous spots such as the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Silliman College, Sterling Memorial Library and the Old Campus. It was an exotic feeling to be immersed in the tranquillity and ancient feeling all by myself in the middle of picturesque Georgian and Gothic buildings.

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  1. Cramming for Financial Reporting at Book Trader:

Coming to the GNAM with me, besides my 5 other MBA cohorts from Smurfit,  was a friend called ‘Financial Reporting’ with an exam coming the following week. I struggled to find a quiet place to cram for my Financial Reporting until I found Book Trader – one of Yale students’ most favourite spots in New Haven. Not only offering great coffee and cheap books, the place is ideal for those who prefer a quiet space to study, but not so isolated  that you can fall asleep.

  1. The lectures:

If someone asked me about what opened my eyes during one week at Yale I could go on forever: the lecturers, the class debates, the panel discussions, etc. Neuroscience and behavioural psychology were my areas of interest and they were the main reason why I signed up for GNW at Yale.  However it was not until I attended the classes that I realized the enormous possibilities to influence people and businesses with findings about the human brain. From Framing Effects, Context Effects and Choice Architecture lectures, we learned that consumer judgements and choices greatly depend on the context, and marketers could use this knowledge to nudge consumer’s decisions by structuring defaults, feedbacks, incentives and product design. In the Negotiation Mindsets lecture we learned the research-based steps and tactics to “carve out a larger slice of the pie”. And last but not least, from a panel discussion with the directors of lpsos and PepsiCo, we learned how behavioural science has become such an important resource for business decision making, especially in communications, product assortment, packaging design and in-store display.

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  1. New Haven’s “apizza”: 

Home to a number of Italian families in the twentieth century, New Haven offers some of the best pizza in the United States. Thin-crusted, charred and crispy, the pizzas brought by Yale SOM’s GNAM organizing team was a real feast!

  1. Getting connected with friends from around the world:

If the karaoke night, drinking nights and on-campus reception created opportunities for us to relax and reach out to one another and form new friendships, the lunches and dinners enabled us to have passionate conversations about things such as other’s interests, goals and experiences. In one meal I was fascinated to become a “trial customer” of a Berkeley fellow’s latest business venture, exchanged ideas about how learning from GNAM shed new light on our understanding of the business. In another, we were carried away with discussions about hiking trips in Machu Picchu with friends from Chile, Austria, Hong Kong and Spain.

To my amazement, GNAM is definitely not only about lectures and networking. It is also about exploring the world from different perspectives, exploring yourself, and feeling connected to different parts of the world.

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Huyen Tran, Full Time MBA 2017-2018

A Practice Run – Global Virtual Teams (GVT)

One of the main attractions of an MBA is leadership development. Within the first semester of the Smurfit MBA, we were presented with two challenges to develop our leadership skills. The first was an introduction to the Leadership Development Programme which is a yearlong, standalone program that develops student’s self-awareness, team skills and organisational leadership. The second challenge was the Leadership & Organisational Behaviour module which addressed the complexity of organisational structure.

In semester two, we will be challenged with a project where we work with students from around the world in a global virtual team (GVT). This project is part of the involvement with GNAM (Global Network for Advanced Management) and will partner with students from EGADE (Mexico), HEC(Paris) and Yale(US). The project will involve a simulation of a production line where cooperation and engagement from all team members is critical. This follows on from the learning in the Leadership & Organisational Behaviour module which included a trial GVT project.

The trial GVT project was designed to practice working in the unfamiliar situation of having remote team members who you had not interacted with before. The task was to analyse organisational issues within a case study, review related literature and provide a plan of action for the organisation. The submission format was not your typical MBA report or presentation, instead we had to create a video to provide our recommendations. One last curveball was that we were told not to meet in person.

The case study involved a character – Greg James, who had trouble managing his global team of 45 employees in the company Sun Microsystems. A sub optimal team performance had caused a recent problem for a customer and the organisation was starting to suffer. We identified GVT issues within Greg’s team as problems in communication, feelings of separation, feelings of unequal working conditions and lack of team spirit and camaraderie. I will omit our suggested solutions!

My trial GVT team included two full time MBA members, two mid-week EMBAs and one weekend EMBA. Some of our challenges included communication channels, finding meeting times to suit everyone, changing schedules, fluctuating engagement of team members, rapidly approaching deadlines and completely different personalities. We experimented with different IT solutions to facilitate remote meeting and work flow management. After many headaches, we settled on Google hangouts and Google Drive which gave us the most hassle-free work environments. We managed to scramble together an unpolished video and submit within the timeline . . . not our finest work but the learning is far more important.

Working in a global virtual team is never going to be straightforward, there are no perfect solutions and there will always be hurdles to overcome. I am looking forward to working with the GVT project next semester, the added variables of schools, locations, time zones and cultures will bring our skills to the next level. With the range of theory, challenges and experiences covered during the Smurfit MBA, we should be well positioned to excel in the increasingly global environment.

 

Eoin Carroll, Full Time MBA 2017-2018

Thought Leadership Club

On 23rd November, towards the end of our first semester, the Thought Leadership club organized its first event. We couldn’t have expected a better student organized event to start with. The club was really keen to organize the first event in the first semester itself. At the same time, with all the case studies, exams and assignments it was a really huge task.  Firstly to reach out to prospective speakers and then to organize the event and get others to attend the event. However, James Kelly (Full-time MBA) from our club actively reached out to Stephen Somers, co-founder of Marketplace SuperHeroes, an information product that teaches you how to start an international eCommerce business selling on Amazon, to share his experience as an entrepreneur with us. There was a lot of excitement in the full time MBA class, especially in the Thought Leadership Club, to organize and attend the event.
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Stephen Somers is a 30-year-old serial entrepreneur, who has developed multiple businesses in different industries. Before becoming an entrepreneur, he worked as a data processor with a government agency by day and a musician by night. However, having studied Business in college he also had an urge to start a business of his own. Therefore, when he was introduced by his aunt to Robert Rickey who owned an e-commerce business, he found a way to achieve his dream of starting a business.

With the philosophy of “The best way to start a business is to be in business” he worked in Robert’s warehouse for 9 months without pay so that he could learn and understand the nuances of an e-commerce business. This conviction, which I guess is one of the traits of a thought leader, helped him to take risks and believe in himself. Working in the warehouse he identified inefficiencies in the existing system and observed that there was a lack of well-defined process. He also observed that the products such as TV mounts that were sold by the business had a saturated market therefore a minimal growth prospect. Consequently, he removed inefficiencies, defined appropriate processes and looked for products with unsaturated demands. After working on all these improvements he decided to start online sales on e-commerce websites. Once the online sales business started doing well, he realized that a lot of other people were trying to do the same however without proper guidance they would inevitable either fail or give up. Furthermore, he noticed that numerous “How to make money online” courses in the market were scams. This motivated him to become a THOUGHT LEADER and share his knowledge of how to start a successful online sales business with other people through Marketplace Superheroes.

With Marketplace Superheroes, they teach people how to build a 5-7 figure global online selling business through eCommerce websites by selling simple, low-competition, high profit physical products without “risking it all”. Listening to Stephen, I found a practical implementation of a lot of theoretical concepts of marketing that I had learned in the class. He used direct marketing, through Facebook, for customer acquisition. Coincidentally two days prior, in our marketing class we discussed the importance of marketing channels in any business. He let us in on his secret to successfully selling on an ecommerce website which is “don’t create demand, instead fulfil the existing demand”.  Having had a business degree and having read loads of books about business he introduced us to some business concepts such as customer conversion and value proposition.

He told us how important it is to differentiate your products in an online selling business. He started selling products with a very unorthodox method i.e. by reaching out to people and selling products that did not exist. He reasoned that most businesses first put in 6 months to develop a product and then find out that there is no demand for that product, whereas he tries to identify demand and then address that demand through his products. He also stressed the importance of focusing on a limited number of products instead of too many products to keep the business simple and efficient.

Stephen Somers has demonstrated that being a thought leader in your business differentiates you from your competitors. While others in the business were just selling basic information on how to start an online business selling on e-commerce websites. Marketplace Superheroes was sharing information how to be successful at selling online on e-commerce websites, by proper market research and inventory management. Stephen Somers spoke about his journey and his business for about 50 minutes, however he took us through a very descriptive narration about how he came into business, how he struggled,  and then how he made it successful, and currently how he is utilizing his success and knowledge to help others become successful through his startup Marketplace SuperHeroes.

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At the end of the event, I realized how much these 3 months in the MBA have changed my perspective: I have developed a new way of looking at businesses. In the past 3 months I have been through numerous case studies, which have changed the way I absorb information about businesses and organizations. This change has been so significant that all through the presentation I was just relating information from Stephan Somers, about his businesses, to the concepts I had previously learned in class. Therefore, I am looking forward to finding out how the rest of the course will guide my thinking. Thank You!

Devinder Sharma, Full-Time MBA 2017-2018

IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2017


sauyith-cueva-pic-3From the entrance of the Clayton Hotel Ballsbridge in Dublin the grandeur of the venue is noticeable as soon as you set foot in the lobby. To mark the occasion of the 2017 IMAGE Businesswoman of the year awards the Clayton Ballsbridge was garnished with rich pink and purple imagery and decorations. Inside the ballroom the tables were detailed extremely tastefully with gifts for everyone in attendance. What a fitting location for such a special, meaningful and glamorous event I thought to myself as I made my way through the reception and into the bar to meet some of the inspirational women attending, some of whom were also up for nomination.

The IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards recognises all the women who have worked with passion, commitment and perseverance throughout their careers. Some of these women have come from abroad, inherited their family business, created a new company, found solutions to improve our society or developed remarkable innovations. Being able to listen to their stories on the night was truly inspiring and an evening I will never forget. It is not often that you get to sit in a room full of the most powerful businesswomen in Ireland, women so gracious, authentic and kind and also to see the human side of these outstanding women before, during and after the awards.

The key insight that really resonated with me from the incredible award winners are that you should never give up, you should keep working hard, face failure and stand back up, if you do that no one can stop you on the path to success. Be a leader, don’t be afraid to stand up. Be humble because nothing in life can be accomplished alone. Be balanced, there is no reason why you cannot be successful and have a family. “Follow your intuition”, said one of them, “you must trust yourself for others to trust you”.

This event is proof that everyone can achieve great things once the mind and body are focused on an objective. We are all different and the main lesson is that we should play to our strengths. The skills required to win each individual award were all different, the women in the room encompassing a wide spectrum of talents and socio-economic backgrounds. The amazing women have understood their strengths, capabilities and used them to great effect.

This year’s IMAGE Businesswoman of The Year Awards has been completely delightful, it was fantastic to spend it with everyone who attended from UCD, everyone at the table was extremely proud to see Orla Nugent present on the night. I will definitely be back again as I set out to not only make my mark on the MBA at Smurfit but also the Irish business world upon graduation.

I hope that new generations find inspiration from the experiences and the courage of the business women of today and that the coming years will be filled with the accomplishments of the women of tomorrow.

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Sauyith Cueva, Full Time MBA 2017-2018

A Challenging but Rewarding Journey

It feels like the MBA started yesterday, but three months have already passed, and this is the last week of semester one. What an amazing and challenging journey so far! Sometimes I ask myself if it was a good idea to bring my wife and daughter to join me on this journey, but quickly I realize that we are all growing and learning in this wonderful country.

Looking through my calendar from the last three months, I can give a quick snapshot of this journey. Beginning the 7th of November, after more than two months looking for a nice house for my family, I finally received a positive answer from Alan (our letting agent), and I could finally move with my family to a house just for us, right behind my daughter’s school. Even though Ireland quickly recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, the housing market is still suffering from the lack of houses available to rent.
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The following week, I had the privilege to visit Howth together with my team members and family. Ayush was responsible for the spicy egg sandwiches (delicious 😊, considering that it was his first time preparing them), Lucy leading us on the first part of our scary walk on the edge of the Howth cliffs (not recommended for those with a fear of heights), and Marina (my daughter) leading us on our way back (I thought we would never return!). At the end of this incredible afternoon, we stopped at a little market to warm our bodies drinking a hot chocolate and to burn our tongues eating Ayush’s spicy sandwiches. Everyone ate them except for Marina who preferred a half kilo Nutella crepe.

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Last week, a big new challenge was scaring all the teams in the class. By Sunday (26th of November) we had to submit the Performance Marketing assignment, the main project for this subject. During the whole week, we could see all the teams working late, including Saturday with all syndicate study rooms full. By 11:28pm on Sunday, after the last few Google Hangout calls with my team, Eoin pressed the send button, and we could feel again a pleasant, but temporary relief.

The next day, here we are here again in the MBA room on a Monday morning discussing the next steps for our last two assignments of this semester. As we get closer to the end of the semester, I’m starting to have mixed feelings of relief, nostalgia, and gratitude.

I’m looking forward to the next steps of this challenging and rewarding journey!

Marcelo Cardozo de Mello Boccuzzi, Full Time MBA 2017-2018

Nearing Half Time

ruary-martin-pic-1Having only had time to take a week off after finishing work any delusions I had of easing myself back into full time education were shattered within the first few minutes of MBA Foundation week with our first Performance Driven Marketing lecture. To be honest there has been little let up over the last two and half months.

We have had the same group for assignments for the first semester and had our final group presentation recently. The five of us led the rest of the class in a discussion around the difficulties of adaptive leadership within an organisation. Any fear I may have had of presenting has long since disappeared thanks to the sheer volume of presentations we have made. It’s difficult to overstate how our group (2 Indians, 1 Filipino and 2 Irish) have bonded over the last 12 weeks as we spent what seemed like weeks in the syndicate rooms completing seemingly never ending assignments. A brief move to the library ended when we realised there was no eating or drinking allowed. We have now returned to the MBA suite for assignment preparation where we can safely sample exotic pastries in the name of broadening our international experience.  Sadly, we’re still waiting on that Indian beer.

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Although it sometimes feels like I have been at Smurfit for years it’s still hard to believe next week is the end of lectures for the first semester. This week we had our last lectures in both Performance Driven Marketing and Leadership & Organisational Behaviour and have our last Competitive Strategy case to prepare. The background reading for the case includes an interesting you tube video on “the Lego Story” which my 10-year-old son very much enjoyed, although he was less impressed with the standard of their board game offering. “It’s just Ludo Dad”. Perhaps I should have sought his insight on previous case studies !

One of the most attractive elements of the Smurfit MBA for me was the emphasis on personal development and as part of this we have been editing, re editing (and re editing again) our CV’s for the upcoming Class of 2018 MBA CV book. Enormous credit must go to Conor for the remarkable perseverance and patience he showed in pushing this over the line.

As I look back and reflect on the last few months it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience to date. The widely differing cultural and professional backgrounds within the full-time MBA class have certainly broadened all our outlooks on life. Now just the small matter of three exams to get out of the way before we enjoy the Christmas and get to briefly re charge the batteries before we enter the second semester.

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Ruary Martin, Full-Time MBA 2017-2018

A Home Away from Home

This year’s Smurfit MBA Class are a diverse cohort from different parts of the world. Although it has only been two and a half months it already feels like we’ve known each other for a long time! It is amazing how a group, made up of such varied cultures have learned and found a way to work together so coherently . Each and every one has something unique to offer and I can’t believe I’m saying this so early in the programme but it has become my safe place to explore and try something new each day.

After an intense GNAM week at different universities, we had an even more difficult week with our first exam on Financial Reporting. Immersed in balance sheets and income statements the week went by and we completed our first module in the MBA! As such, we deserved to unwind and celebrate, and what better way than celebrating Halloween together! Thom and Nicole were kind enough to host us all at their place. It was a fun-filled evening with music, dancing, food, and wine, and can only be described as a truly wonderful experience.

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The Smurfit MBA is an intensive experience but at the same time extremely rewarding. One of my reasons for pursuing an MBA was for personal development and it has been an absolutely incredible journey so far. With lots more left to experience and learn, I can’t wait to see what else is in store for us.

Anita Louis, Full Time MBA 2017-2018

 

Team Coaching

“You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal. Does that answer your question?”

                                                                                            — The Breakfast Club

 

It’s hard to believe that just one month ago we were enjoying a fun day of team building exercises that required leadership, teamwork, logic and patience. On this day, we were introduced to our Semester 1 study groups for the first time. Each group drew up a team charter, to clarify direction and common goals, while establishing boundaries. My team found no significant commonalities amid ourselves, yet we took immediate comfort in our differences, instantly recognising that they made us stronger. Like every study group, we are diverse, with not only distinct career experience, but also different nationalities; Irish, Canadian, Vietnamese and Indian. My team came from unique industries; from program management to teaching to technology management to marketing. We now have four approaches to business administration, four flavours of strategy, four perceptions, and the chance to see each challenge from four distinct angles. Nevertheless, in time all great teams will face hurdles.

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Fast-forward 30 days, and we participated in a team coaching session at the Talbot Hotel. Since our team work is continuous throughout the year, it was important to debrief using a lessons-learned approach. Each team had the benefit of a coach to facilitate the afternoon session. We were provided with the opportunity to discuss openly as a team what we feel our issues have been, and then had the chance for one-on-ones with each team member to discuss what went wrong, what went right, what may be improved, and ways the improvements can be made. It was interesting to hear my teammates’ first impressions of me. The team coaching session helped us identify ways to improve our time management and teamwork efficiency. It was the perfect opportunity to reflect over the first month and recognise mistakes, errors, and failures, and make any necessary adjustments to our team charter.

Now that we have a better understanding of our colleagues’ individual strengths, weaknesses and personality types, it will be interesting to see how we evolve from here!

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The days are long, and the years are short. After several 12 hour days at Smurfit, numerous hours spent in the syndicate rooms (for which we all received warning emails for overbooking!), social events, and communication outside of school hours, it feels like we’ve known each for months! With the close-knit nature of the program, I think it’s obvious to us all, that many life-long friendships are developing, and I’m looking forward to the countless adventures we will experience together throughout the year!

 

Laura Cunningham, Full Time MBA 2017-2018