I find myself in week four of the second semester of my 1-year full-time MBA. The weeks just fly by and one week does not resemble the next. With three electives on top of my core modules, I run from one thing to the next: I jump on a video conference with our Yale counterparts to manage a virtual plant as part of our Supply Chain module; try to negotiate a good deal to buy a new biotech manufacturing site in my negotiations elective; am torn between Friedman and Mackey on the purpose of business in my Business Ethics class; come up with a business model for a new venture in Entrepreneurship; juggle fixed, variable, direct and indirect costs in Management Accounting; create a ‘Elena 2030’ vision with my executive coach; take a breath and literally run to the next thing.
And yet, there is a comforting constant in the hectic MBA week. Every day, at 1.30pm on the dot, the door to the MBA room opens and ten very excited (mostly male) MBA students cannot wait for the highlight of their day: the sandwich and soup deal from the Deli around the corner. I have to admit that I do sometimes join in because you cannot beat a good sandwich for lunch – may my sourdough-loving German ancestors forgive me. The comforting thing about it is, however, not so much the sandwich itself (and the obligatory basil and tomato soup), it is the fact that no matter if you buy a sandwich, bring your own lunch or just enjoy a coffee after eating in the cafeteria – every day you get to spend a peaceful 30 minutes in the MBA room with a mix of interesting, genuinely nice people who always have a good story to tell.
An MBA is an intense experience and it is a tough and sometimes scary decision to leave a great job to go back to being a full-time student for a year. Building on what Cathal wrote in his blog entry below (check it out, well worth reading!), what makes this year a lot easier and very enjoyable is the people you get to spend it with. In Germany we say ‘geteilte Freude ist doppelte Freude, geteilter Schmerz ist halber Schmerz’, which translates to ‘shared joy is double joy, shared sorrow is halved sorrow’. This definitely applies to an MBA. To make it a little less dramatic, let’s replace sorrow with stress. Sharing this experience with a great group of people is definitely double the fun and half the stress!
When I first told a good friend that I was going to do an MBA he responded, in true Irish fashion, by swiftly cutting me down to size. He responded by saying “Why would you bother? You do know it stands for Mediocre But Arrogant, don’t you?” As much as I knew that this wasn’t the generally accepted view of an MBA, I could not get the idea out of my head during both the application process and the run up to the start of term 1. I had a genuine fear that the class would be full of cutthroat, pompous narcissists. Thankfully, after a few weeks I could say that our very diverse class (73% of which are international students) was certainly not arrogant but instead a very down to earth one that quickly gelled into a close-knit unit. This was critical in putting me at ease about the year ahead.
The fact that I am a constant worrier meant that it was not long before my focus moved to the Mediocre part of the phrase. Did we lack arrogance because we had no reason to think highly of ourselves? Were we inferior to those that attend the top ranked business schools such as those of the Ivy League, LBS, IE etc.? Was Smurfit only able to attract mediocre candidates? After all you don’t need to be in the 700 (GMAT) club to gain entry. I was scheduled to go to Yale in mid-October for the GNAM (Global Network for Advanced Management) Global Immersion Week so I knew that would be a good opportunity to gauge the abilities of our school against some of the schools that are perceived to be the finest in the world.
The Yale trip was a fantastic opportunity. The chance to briefly attend an institution that is known across the globe and is synonymous with excellence was an honour. Upon arrival it didn’t take long to realise that many of these students had an air of arrogance about them but more importantly it did not take long to realise that we were every bit as good as them. I’d go so far as to say we were better than the majority of them and we were far more craic. Being able to see this comparison really reassured me about my decision to choose Smurfit. The fact that I didn’t feel the need to sell my kidneys to cover the considerably lower tuition fees was an added bonus.
Ok so now that we know that the Smurfiteers are as good as any MBA students, maybe it is that all MBA students are mediocre? I guess this really comes down to the perception of what an MBA graduate is. Some people who enter an MBA programme do it because they believe that companies will be lining up at the finish to throw money at them. Anybody with an ounce of sense knows that this will never happen. So why is it that certain hirers believe that by taking on an MBA graduate they are getting some super human that will revolutionize their business? If people think like this then they might think that MBAs are mediocre. Maybe that is how the rumour started.
The truth is that an MBA will not revolutionize you. How could it? Does any other degree work such magic? Of course not. What an MBA will do is equip you with a vast array of skills across many disciplines. These will not make you a subject matter expert but they will give you an edge in whatever field you choose to work. You may not use these skills immediately but at some stage I’m sure that they will be invaluable. You will only be mediocre if you do not commit to the programme and do not soak everything in.
UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School’s full-time MBA programme has been ranked 70th (a rise of 9 places) in the world and 22nd in Europe, according to the 2017 Financial Times Full-Time Global MBA Rankings, published today.
The improved ranking comes just three months after UCD College of Business published an ambitious strategy, to which it has committed €65 million, targeting Top 50 Global business school status by 2020 and is a further step to achieving this major milestone.
The Financial Times Full-Time MBA rankings analyse programmes based on several criteria including: career progress; employment success; school and programme quality; faculty research capabilities; and diversity.
Graduates from the Smurfit MBA programme saw their salaries increase by 71% on average within three years of completing the course. Smurfit’s full-time MBA programme was also placed in the top 10 in Europe for value for money and 16th globally.
Consistent with UCD Smurfit School’s mission to be for the world, the Financial Times analysis of the Smurfit MBA also highlighted increased rankings in measures of diversity including female faculty representation and female student participation with rankings of 39th and 44th respectively in the top 100.
Speaking about the rankings, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, Dean, UCD College of Business said: “UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School can be justifiably proud of its record of accomplishment in the FT Full-Time Global MBA Rankings, regarded by the market and peers as one of only a few highly-respected benchmarks of excellence in business education. This consistency puts UCD Smurfit School in a select group of fewer than 50 schools which have attained this accolade for 18 consecutive years. This is a great success and we are determined to do better for our students.
The quality of our research and teaching is a relentless focus at UCD College of Business and requires significant ongoing investment. The additional €65 million of non-exchequer funding committed over the next five years will be key to ensuring all aspects of our mission perform to the highest international standards as we compete with the very best providers of business education in the world.”
Most people would agree that taking a break is nice. Taking a break from whatever your regular routine is; taking a break from work, family, school etc. As a full-time student, taking a break means total mental and physical peace. The build up to the break gives you an almost super-human ability to switch off completely. Think of it like an over-heating car. You work tirelessly through the first semester to achieve your goals and meet every deadline. At the end you begin to burn out and all you need to do it switch off, cool down and refill.
There is something about the holiday season that makes the break that much better. Once you switch off, you can wake up at odd hours of the day without feeling any guilt. Eat way more than is necessary or socially acceptable. You start to procrastinate even the less important things in life: should I wash the dishes now or later? And you experience freedom and tranquility in large doses. Taking a break is nice.
However, taking a break means that you will eventually have to get back to work, or family, or school. People will generally fall into one of two distinct categories. The closer the return date comes, the more some people find themselves pondering time travel and the speed of time. Where did the time go? How can I go back to the beginning? On the other hand, the closer the return date comes, the more restless some people become. It’s been way too long! Can we get started already? Whichever group you belong to, you realize that life simply must move on and you simply must get back. And then your mindset changes.
Back to reality. Time to set new goals and deadlines. Time to meet new people and experience new and different things. Time to get back into a routine, feeling rejuvenated and ready. You begin to look forward to the challenges and work that will surely come. You recognise that although last semester was hard, it was fun and it was worth it. You look at the person you were at the beginning of the MBA programme, and the person you are now, and this makes you look forward to working toward the person you will be at the end of the course.
That is when you appreciate that breaks are never meant to last forever. I have every confidence that the rest of this school year will be exciting, rewarding and fulfilling.
During the Christmas break, I finally had the opportunity to stop and look at the last four months of my life and try to make sense of them. The pace of the MBA sucks you in at great speed and leaves little room for standing back for a moment and looking at the big picture: at what’s being built besides the knowledge, the practical skills, and the busy schedules. There is a wealth I have discovered in the MBA, beyond the numbers and the opportunities that the future holds, and that is the richness of the people that integrate the whole MBA experience.The promise of professional and cultural diversity in the MBA was one of the elements that most attracted me to the Smurfit MBA Programme, but envisioning it does not truly reflect the intricacies of such diversity. Of course we expect engineers to think differently from bankers, or the Irish to have different dinner habits than Mexicans or Indians, and the confirmation of those expectations is not a surprise to anyone in our modern world. However, it is the closeness that is built out of the habit of spending every day together that brings the most surprises. The spirit in the MBA room, from buying supplies collectively to sharing snacks during long days spent working on projects, is always a rewarding one. Teamwork also brings the opportunity for closeness and insight about others, even if that is through overcoming conflict.
There is much to be learned about communication and bridging the gaps of cultural and professional differences, from different working styles to varying understandings of politeness or humour. For me, part of both the challenge and the beauty of the MBA have been those bridges and connections. During foundation week, we had a talk about the importance of listening and a workshop on the Myers Briggs personality types. I remember those very clearly, not only because I found them valuable for my professional career, but also for my everyday interactions with people, and as obvious as “listening is important” may sound, we often forget how to do so once we are subjected to stress, pressure, and deadlines. I have often sat down with friends in the course rethinking our means of communication in terms of the different personality types and cultural backgrounds.
Theory and practice go hand in hand, so giving us the tools to enter into such a diverse group in order to be able to have a broader understanding of each other enriches all of us, if we allow it to happen. Day after day, the learning I’ve experienced has happened both in and outside of the classroom. I stepped away from my comfort zone in the humanities to try to analyse companies and financial statements, but I have also happily listened to my colleagues’ stories about their careers and have tried to comprehend their working styles and how we can complement each other.
After being on a break for a month, I realized I have changed during the short time I’ve been part of the MBA. My professional and personal horizons have broadened due to the new material I’m learning, and equally (or even possibly more so) from the people I have met. Their ambition, motivation, and passion are contagious, and even if there are points on the road when I feel tired, anxious, or scared, it is through the hope that we share for a better future that I am driven forward. I am certain that the new term will bring more of this knowledge and experience and I can only hope that we can continue to inspire each other during and beyond the MBA.
The first week of January usually marks a familiar return to the rhythm of office life. For the team chosen to represent UCD Smurfit at the 36th John Molson MBA International Case Competition, the first week of January 2017 proved to be an unforgettable experience. The competition is the largest and longest established of its kind in the world. Intense preparations prior to Christmas had been interspersed with end of year exams and project submissions, but finally, the time had come to put our MBA skills to the test. With a vague appreciation of the scale of the challenge facing us, we set off for Montreal satisfied that we had put in the hard yards in honing our strategy and presentation skills. Despite this, we could never have envisioned the magnitude of the experience ahead of us, the highlight of the MBA to date for our team.
Having rang in both the Irish and Canadian New Years, we were glad to have a day of respite on New Year’s Day before the action commenced on Monday. A morning stroll through fresh snow around the historic Old Port of Montreal allowed us dispatch the Christmas cobwebs and observe the city operating at full tilt despite the inclement weather. Historically the commercial capital of Canada, Montreal remains an important centre of commerce, aerospace, finance, pharmaceuticals and technology. The 270 executive judges for the week’s competition hailed from these local industries and global giants spanning companies such as E&Y, Bombardier, Pathfinder, Royal Bank of Canada, Microsoft and IBM.
The eagerly awaited draw to group the 36 teams took place at Monday morning’s impressive opening ceremony. A nervous energy filled the room, as the business school names were drawn one by one. UCD Smurfit were drawn against five leading business schools from Sweden, the US, Canada and Mexico. Over the course of the week we would go head to head with each, in a round-robin format, tackling five unpublished business cases, including a live case. Each team would be allocated three hours to read a 20-30 page business case, carry out an analysis, and develop a strategy and implementation plan. The output in each instance would be a 25 minute PowerPoint presentation to a panel of five executive judges followed by 15 minutes of questions.
Day 1: Our opening round saw us drawn against the highly reputable Simon Business School from the University of Rochester in New York. The case challenged us to develop a competitive strategy for Swatch as the company faced the rise of the Apple iWatch. A strong opening performance saw us grind out a win against Simon. This victory would be the platform that gave the team confidence that we belonged on the global stage. We were off the mark.
Day 2: The famous ‘double case day’ dubbed as the toughest day of the week. First up, a global expansion and growth strategy for a complex Portuguese retailing conglomerate. A tough case, and facing very challenging opposition from LSBE of Wifrid Laurier University Canada, we were delighted to notch up another win. Following a short break for lunch, the third round saw us develop a strategy for Uber for South African market entry which we lost to tough opponents from Haskayne Business School from the University of Calgary. After three rounds we were placed 2nd in our division, just behind Sweden’s highly regarded Lund University School of Business and Economics, who were positioned to top the group and make the semi-finals. Any thoughts of coming here to get one victory had soon turned to calculating what results we required to qualify for the semi’s.
Day 3: Proceedings took a different twist, Dave McLaughlin, the General Manager of WeWork, a US shared office space start up founded in 2010 with a current valuation of $16bn, presented a live challenge from his company. We were tasked with developing a new business line for the company. To add to the pressure, having heard of UCD Smurfit, Dave selected to attend our presentation to scout for his next business innovation. We faced off stiff competition from LUND to jointly top the division with Canada’s Haskayne at the end of the day. It would be an early night for the team with thoughts firmly fixed on Thursday’s final round.
Day 4: The final division case on Thursday saw us pitted against the energetic Mexican business school EGADE and challenged to develop a growth strategy for an Indian agri business. A tough case, we debated possibilities at length and felt the pressure ramp up as the time ticked down. Despite the frantic preparations, we made an excellent presentation and impressed the judges by competently validating our strategy under intense scrutiny.
We nervously awaited the announcement of the division winners and semi-finalists as we dined on lunch. When ‘UCD Smurfit’ flashed up on the screen as division winners and semi-finalists we jumped from our seats ecstatic that our hard work had reaped reward.
Following lunch, the team took a well-earned rest in preparation for battle in the semi-final that evening, where we would face the American University of Beruit (Lebanon) and Queensland University of Technology (Australia). We were tasked with developing an integration strategy for a LinkedIn acquisition. The semi-final ran very close with eventual 3rd placed finalists Queensland winning our semi-final. Emotions were mixed at the announcement on Thursday night. We were disappointed to have narrowly lost out on a place in the final but incredibly proud of our achievements in topping the division and beating off strong competition to reach the semi-final.
Despite the packed daily case schedule, the competition organisers ran a full programme of evening events which allowed participants to experience Canadian culture, make new connections from all over the world and kick back after long days of competition. Attending Montreal’s home of ice hockey at the Bell Centre to see Canada play the Czech Republic was one particular highlight. The games’ roots are professed in some quarters to originate from ancient hurling, still though, nothing comes close to a day out at Croke Park! Thursday night’s movie theme party saw us trade business formal for superhero costumes with some of our team discovering hidden super powers at the karaoke machine! The final banquet dinner on Friday night celebrated the end to an incredible week. Canadian university, Memorial, were presented with the Concordia Cup. As one of six division winners, we were also presented with a cheque in recognition of our performance.
As we face into the final semester of the Executive MBA, we look forward to further challenges and further adventure as we visit Japan and Korea on company visits later this year. Molson has however been the stand out experience of the MBA to date and the learning, laughs and friendships forged will remain indelibly engraved in our memories as we wistfully reflect on our time at Smurfit.
We were expertly guided throughout the week and in preparation by Professor Pat Gibbons and we would like to express our deep gratitude to Pat for his encouragement, time, and expertise. We would also like to acknowledge and thank Paul Slattery for his guidance on presentation skills and Ro Downing and all at Smurfit for supporting the team from the outset. The competition itself was also excellently organised and hosted by Concordia University’s John Moslon School of Business and great credit and thanks is due to the organising committee who looked after us so well during the week. A final note of thanks to the UCD Alumni Association Montreal Chapter and local business community representatives who hosted a reception for us during our stay.
To the next generation of MBAs, ‘the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity for growth’.
Go forth and seize the opportunity.
Catherine O’Brien ~ Executive MBA, Year 2
On behalf of: Derek Anderson, Anne Marie Barcoe, Tanya Kenny and Declan Walsh.
Sunday 18th of December and it is two days after the end of some of the busiest weeks of the Executive MBA to date. With Semester 1 of Year 2 complete, most students could be found making up for lost time with family and friends, Christmas shopping, or simply enjoying their freedom again. All except for our team of five daring Executive MBA students who traded Dundrum Shopping Centre for a small meeting room in The Radisson St Helens Hotel. Acting as a team of consultants, we were challenged to dissect a case on McDonald’s proposed global turn-around strategy within three hours, followed by a 25 minute presentation outlining our proposed strategy and rationale. Armed with the knowledge gleaned from the MBA to date, we set to work confident we could solve McDonald’s strategy dilemma. The Smurfit MBA team’s preparations for the John Molson International Case Study Competition 2017 were truly in full swing.
The journey began on October 11th when the second year Executive MBAs were invited to participate in ‘trials’ to establish the UCD team that would travel to Montreal to participate in the competition. Organised by John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal, the competition is the largest and longest established business case competition of its kind in the world. It takes place in Montreal every January and is a round-robin tournament consisting of seven rounds of unpublished business cases over five days. A total of 36 international universities will be represented in 2017 including teams from Canada, America, Australia, Brazil, China, Mexico, Chile, Sweden and Germany.
The UCD team was selected following individually prepared presentations on a sample case on microfinancing in rural India. We were informed by Smurfit School that we would receive all the support we required and determined to make the most out of this opportunity, we set about honing our strategy and presentation skills.
First up was an intense session on strategy analysis with Professor Pat Gibbons. Pat is the team’s coach and will travel to Montreal to provide guidance and support throughout the competition.
Next up, Paul Slattery took the team for a master class on how to present, prepare Power Point slides and communicate effectively with an audience, in this case the local business executives who will act as judges in Montreal. For anyone who has had a class with Paul Slattery, they will appreciate how valuable a session in such a small group proved to be. The evening with Paul was challenging but thoroughly enjoyable, provoking more than a few laughs from the group along the way as we perfected the art of corporate story telling amongst other skills.
With our foundation sessions complete, it was agreed that real life practice cases would be the best way to develop our skills. Our first practice case revealed to us the scale of the challenge we were facing within a tight three hour preparation window. It highlighted many areas for development; we lacked structure, time efficiency and a clear direction. This led to a sense of panic during our preparations as the clock ticked down and this was apparent to Pat from our rapidly cobbled together presentation slides. However, we surprised ourselves in getting through the presentation fluidly. Whilst we had some doubts about the arduous challenge facing us, they were quickly eradicated at this point as we knew we could only improve with practice.
Over the next few weeks we worked rigorously to evolve as an effective team under time pressure and developed a clear process for tackling case studies. Our rate of improvement as a team has been incredible and has only been matched by the rate of learning as individuals. Speed reading, effective group brain storming, clear communications, strong Power-Point slides and strategic thinking have all been key takeaways for the group.
The preparations are now complete and all that is left for us is to execute our plan. The team travel to Canada confident that our committed preparations will bear fruit as we represent UCD on the world stage. In reality, we are unsure of what to expect from our competitors but ultimately; win, lose or draw we are satisfied that we have already learnt more about strategy, presenting and most importantly team-work than would ever be possible in a classroom. It has truly been a fantastic experience to date, and we look forward to jetting off to Montreal to put our MBA skills to the test.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Professor Pat Gibbons for the huge amount of time and advice he has given, Paul Slattery for his guidance on presentation skills and finally Ro Downing and all at Smurfit School for facilitating this invaluable experience and providing all the support we could have wished for.
The competition runs from the 1st – 6th January and a further blog post will follow in relation to our experience in Montreal. Hopefully we will be talking about the first UCD team to win the John Molson International Case Study Competition. One has to believe to achieve.
Declan Walsh ~ Executive MBA, Year 2
On behalf of: Derek Anderson, Anne Marie Barcoe, Tanya Kenny and Catherine O’Brien
On 22nd November, the Women of the MBA Group and their guests came together to explore the importance of mentoring and how both mentoring and networking can be crucial to career development. The group were delighted to welcome speakers Irial O’ Farrell, Evolution Consulting & Mary Cronin, Thousand Seeds.
We heard how mentoring is a two way relationship, and that we all need someone to inspire us to do better than what we know. An interesting statistic shared at the event from a WXN survey was that 91% consider mentoring critical to career advancement. Irial advised us on the benefits of having a sponsor that is not our line manager. We should develop relationships with people outside of our own function or department, who will promote and recommend us and introduce us to their network. Hearing stories from Irial and Mary on how mentors have helped them get where they are today left us in no doubt of the importance of mentors and sponsors. Attendees, both male and female included current students, recent graduates and more experienced graduates of the MBA programme. Those of us in more senior positions were reminded by Kevin Spacey that “if you are lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down!”
The focused networking session had us at different times interacting with one another, sketching like Van Gogh and sipping on wine by the roaring fire! We were reminded to attend networking events with a plan and a goal, even when sometimes that goal may not be clear. If you don’t know what you are looking for it is harder to find! And during those awkward initial conversations, be interested before you are interesting!
We were left with the final words from Mary; “It is not the mountain we need to conquer, but ourselves”. In today’s world with all the noise and potential burnout, we need to decouple the chaos, challenge our self-limiting beliefs and trust ourselves. We can make the most of ourselves by believing in those tiny inner sparks of possibility and turning them into flames of achievement.
On Monday evening, November 21st, among 800 guests, the winners of the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2016 were announced at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. The Smurfit MBA Team and IMAGE MBA Scholarshipwinners were delighted to join in the celebrations.
Now in its tenth year, the much anticipated IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards champions trailblazing businesswomen’s contribution to Ireland’s economy and their vital role within the Irish business community at home and abroad. There were nine categories, with over 90 nominees; all inspirational, talented, not to mention glamorous, Irish businesswomen.
Ahead of the awards we enjoyed Winter Wonderland themed cocktails and admired the amazing, glittering backdrops by Miller & Lamb. It was a fantastic evening which left all guests feeling inspired and empowered. It was a pleasure to share it with so many extraordinary women. The Smurfit Team didn’t come away empty handed, we won the much coveted prize of ‘Best Selfie’, chosen by IMAGE and The Irish Independent.
I’m sure I speak for all guests when I say that I’m already looking forward to #BWOTY17!
To find out more about the IMAGE MBA Scholarship; application dates, entry criteria and how to apply, click here.
Avril Donohue ~MBA Alumni Relations, Communications & Events
Whoever screened the applications did a pretty good job. As Ciarán rightly said below, there’s always that trepidation before meeting your assigned study group. How will we interact? Will there be a common work ethic? What are the others’ beliefs around team values and respect? In our first week together, we were encouraged to set in writing a team charter. I’m happy to report that we haven’t had to revert back to it (too much!) as we wade through the perils of group assignments!
I’ve learned some valuable lessons in teamwork already. Last week we spent hours debating the best option for a competitive strategy assignment. The vote came to three against two, and I wrote a report that was the complete opposite of my initial opinion. But having engaged with, acknowledged and understood the other’s viewpoints, writing the report became surprisingly easy.
There were more than a few raised eyebrows when people heard I was considering an MBA so soon after my son was born. The MBA office gave me honest and frank warnings of the time demands involved, along with plenty of tips and success stories. When you have to get home every evening to see your children before bedtime, time-management and motivation to get work done efficiently, suddenly come a lot easier.
On a final note, I’ve spent nearly a decade in engineering (half of that in Brisbane), but I had a growing desire for something radically new and different. I’m not able to put my finger on what that desired change is, and being honest I seem to alter my target career every fortnight! But I’m ok with that, as all of those post-MBA opportunities are thrilling. The past few months have been the most enjoyable learning experience of my life, and my classmates are simply extraordinary.
Our group are particularly lucky – we have 6 members!