Grades Don’t Tell The Whole Story

WordcloudI still vividly remember my first week at Smurfit, how nervous I was about this new chapter in my life, thinking about what I will need to be a success here, and good grades were number one on that list of requirements.

However, after almost two months on the programme, I have somehow arrived at the conclusion that grades are only a footnote in the MBA story. I did not suddenly have an epiphany about this one fine day, rather I gradually realised that our experiences and learnings are far more valuable than any grade that we get, and I am not just talking about my new found ability to read balance sheets and carry out industry analysis. In just seven short weeks this programme has helped me understand the meaning of teamwork, transformed the way I approach asks and taught me how to prioritise and manage my time. I have learnt more outside the classroom than inside. The sheer amount of work that has been dumped on us made me realise that it would have been impossible for us to complete all of it, if we did not have the help of our teams.


The competitive nature of the programme would make it very easy for us to develop a blinkered view of our goals. But the holistic approach of the programme has prevented the development of such views. Although I am not overly fond of being called either an owl or a peacock, I have learnt to put my qualities into perspective and understand their role in the larger scheme of things. I have learnt not to take myself too seriously and realised that I cared more about what I got out of a task rather than what grade I would be securing.

Mind you, given the competitive bunch of people we have here in the programme, grades are important to us and adds to our sense of achievement, but hopefully, all of us have realised that there is more to the MBA than grades, there is a lot of learning, self discovery, relationship building and fun involved along the way which cannot be graded. Hopefully in the years to come, when I look back to my time here, I will be able to give the Smurfit experience an A+.

Arka Banerjee ~ Full-Time MBA

Every Little Helps


Barilla pasta and a large Coke, delivered on a Honda while reading Stephen King, before deciding between Nintendo Wii or PlayStation! Who knew the EMBA would be so much fun? On the other side of life, no more Netflix, Champion’s League, weekly five aside or Saturday morning lie in. Although the benefits of the experience curve should see weekly 5 aside reintroduced before long. After 6 weeks now, a good routine and an addiction to Costa coffee have taken hold. I think the secret lies in getting a good start to the week and taking advantage of whatever few free moments arise in the day to think through the weekly case work. Like Tesco, every little helps. Although Financial Reporting class suggests Tesco used a little extra help.

I begin to wonder what I actually did with my free time before September, probably not as much as I should! Joking aside, I have been impressed not just by the quality of the class learning experience but also by the balance in module delivery. Personally, I look forward to CS on a Friday afternoon, the class has changed how I look at the most basic everyday products and now I look around at cans of coke and 7 Up and wonder who really extracts the value from their existence. Life was so simple before!

The first few weeks are a shock to the system but slowly you find your feet. The team based nature of assignments helps you to realise everyone is in the same boat and before long you establish some momentum. It’s hard to believe we’re just at the half way point of Semester 1 or as I like to think of it as one eighth of the way through the entire program. Week 7 sees delivery of two of the main group assignments and I’m looking forward to our well-deserved break week. Unfortunately, I am still awaiting that Satori moment but I have had a few others, regret, fear and dreaming about IFRS but all that has dissipated now. Overall, the experience is different to what I expected but I am very, very happy with it so far. The focus on team work adds a lot of value, before beginning, I naively thought I’d mastered time management, I know now I hadn’t. Hopefully with some of the big assignments out of the way, we’ll get some time to think about the exams, that long Christmas break and maybe even a holiday in January.

So far so good.

Terence Dunne ~ Executive MBA Year 1

Smurfit School’s MBA Climbs Global Rankings

School facade wide banner

UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School today welcomed validation of its international standing confirmed in two separate highly respected international rankings for 2015 – the Financial Times Executive MBA Rankings and The Economist Full-Time MBA Rankings.

The School’s programmes achieved 18th place in the European rankings (56th place in the world and a jump from  21st) in The Economist’s Full-Time MBA study and 23rd in Europe (82nd globally and a jump from 34th) in the Financial Times Executive MBA report. 2015 is the 51st anniversary of the Smurfit MBA with UCD being one of the pioneers in the delivery of MBA programmes when they were first delivered in Europe in the 1960s.

UCD College of Business has also been formally admitted to join the PIM network – an invitation only exclusive Business School network; with Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, Dean, UCD Business attending the 42nd annual PIM Conference, hosted by FGV-EAESP, 14th-16th October, in São Paulo to accept the honour . The Partnership in International Management, or PIM, is a consortium of top business schools from around the world that exchanges select graduate students for one academic term. UCD Smurfit School is now one of 63 business schools worldwide sharing a reputation for upholding the highest degree of academic excellence both regionally and globally and driving cooperation among its students, faculty and administrations. PIM member institutions including Duke; NYU; LSE; HEC; Warwick and Chicago Booth, have exchanged several thousands of students through the years.

131023C -096 high res main hall

Speaking about the rankings and the PIM membership, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, Dean, UCD Business said:

These consistently high rankings help us to attract high calibre students and faculty and to partner with other leading business schools internationally – as signalled by  our new membership of PIM which we are delighted to have been invited to join this year.  This creates a first-class learning environment in the service of our students and of Ireland as a considerable player in business education internationally. We remain dedicated to delivering education and research programmes to the highest standard to those who study at UCD Smurfit and Quinn Schools, so that we can develop their capacities for life in a highly competitive environment where our society and our economy depends on high standards and an openness to the world.”

Earlier this year UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School rose 18 places to 73rd in the world in the 2015 Financial Times Top 100 Global Full-time MBA Rankings. The analysis, which also ranks UCD Smurfit School as 22nd in Europe (a climb of three places on 2015), is considered the most respected of business school rankings along with those published by The Economist and Businessweek.

The consistent high rankings are reinforced by the fact that UCD Business School remains the only business school in Ireland (and one of less than 60 worldwide) to hold the triple crown of accreditation from three centres of business and academic excellence; EQUIS (Europe); AACSB (US); and AMBA (UK).

Student group walking through front door banner

This month UCD College of Business launched its second annual report for the 2013/2014 academic year, which confirms its position as Ireland’s leading business educator and amongst the top 100 business schools in the world. The annual report, a voluntary disclosure, highlighted the schools’ increased student intake, its continued status as the leading Irish business educator across each of the respected international rankings and international accreditations, underpinned by a strong financial performance.

During the academic year 2013/14 the college had a turnover of €48 million, with 70% of revenues at the College of Business derived from non-exchequer sources. As a leading international business school, UCD College of Business continues its focus on providing a transformational learning experience which develops graduates who are skilled, engaged and reflective and who are prepared to make a significant contribution to the world of business, both nationally and internationally.

Avril Donohue ~ MBA Alumni Relations, Marketing & Events

Facing My Fears

Team 7
Team 7

I have two fears, spiders and heights! When filling out our team charter during the foundation week we were asked for our fears, some had a fear of failure, some death or illness and other quite profound and meaningful fears. Please excuse my scepticism as a medic, but most of those things are inevitable so they were not top of my list. What did make the sceptic doctor’s list was spiders and heights.

To help our group hit the road running we decided to do a team bonding activity. Well done to Daire for the suggestion! I had imagined a few drinks but being that two of us live a considerable distance from Dublin that was not the easiest to organise. So out to Extreme Sports in Santry with us for a sky climb. Sorry, what… a SKY CLIMB??? Can you imagine the horror on my face when I heard! I had thought of every excuse under the sun to cancel but I couldn’t! One of my team members remembered my fear and the group kindly offered to change the activity, but there was no way I could lose face! I knew deep down it was an irrational fear but it was a very real one, but I simply could not back down.

Total Horror!
Total Horror!

So shaking one Wednesday afternoon, I began the drive from the Midlands to Santry! I got there a little early, just to try to prepare myself, (punctuality is not a strength of mine!), but that did little to relay my fears. As i stood looking up at this course almost twenty meters high a sense of nausea overtook me.

We each got strapped into the harness and began the climb up the tower, I had an impending sense of doom! Something akin to what the prisoners on the green mile might feel! I realised I had another fear, I wasn’t ready to die! My team mates were fantastic about it, they quickly realised that this was no ordinary fear but a real earth shattering, freeze on the spot kind of fear! What made the climb a even worse was the fact that there was two levels! I was weak at the knees, praying for a hurricane to land but my prayers were not answered!

Our instructor was amazing and helped me every step of the way, literally every step because as soon as he let go of my hand I froze! But what really made the difference was the kind words of support and encouragement I was getting from my team mates, they really wanted me to finish and really didn’t want to let them down.

Elegance and Agility from Findan and Laura
Elegance and Agility from Findan and Laura

I am proud to say that I completed the course, not in the most stylish of manners, I was like a sack of potatoes compared to Laura’s gymnastic type manoeuvres. But between the team fighting for me and sheer determination I came out the other side, with a slightly less fear of heights and a new group of friends!

This is how I envisage the EMBA to work out, we all will have our moments when we need that little extra bit of help and encouragement from others, but together we will all get each other to the finish line!

Christine Kiernan, Laura Tunney, Daire Nolan, Findan Cox ~ Executive MBA, Team 7

The Monte Carlo Simulation, Chicago Real Estate, Modelling Competitions and Creating Sensitivities


The title covers some of the topics covered in today’s Excel session with Aidan Corbett of Kubicle, and while it wasn’t as exotic as the title sounds, it was another of the practical classes that deliver “real world” practical learning and know-how, as part of the MBA Leadership Development Programme. The challenge with Excel training in the full-time MBA class is that there’s a huge gap in terms of competencies in the class. Some of the class have come from quantitative backgrounds with high levels of expertise in Excel, while others like me, need all the practice that we can get.

Today’s session was a deep-dive into financial modelling and construction of the different elements that make up the models. We were challenged to advise a real-estate investor on his proposed purchase of an apartment in Chicago, along with the construction of a model to base our recommendations on. Besides giving us the practical steps on how to build the model, Aidan explained the processes and steps that make the model flexible and robust. Most importantly however, Aidan explained how this type of exercise feeds into the decision-making process, especially when it comes to advising clients while working in management consultancy.

I spoke to some of my classmates after the session, and despite the big gap in competencies when it comes to proficiency in Excel, it was clear that everyone got something out of the class.

Des Warner ~ Full-Time MBA

Jiggery Pokery to Tomfoolery


When I embarked on this MBA journey, I was cautioned to “Be afraid”. That warning was not aimed at the MBA Programme but at the Jiggery Pokery done in financial statements. Six weeks into the course and that fear has turned into appreciation for the quality of education I have received to date. I realised soon after the start of the MBA Programme, that I am surrounded by some very talented and intellectually curious minds. My peers in the programme who bring with them a wealth of experience and diversity have made these first few weeks exciting, despite the heavy workload.

From convincing my class to invest in a runaway alarm clock to sending game theory ‘moonshots’ that there may be free cookies in the MBA room, this course has taught me a lot. The pace at which the course progresses is recognised when you sit to write your first blog and realize it’s October. The Deans’ words from the welcome dinner ring true “Thank your partners for letting you do this MBA, they are doing this MBA with you”. When I get home and have a stack of case studies and readings with me, I do thank my wife for being patient while I optimise the supply chain for dinner.

So I am ready to learn more and no amount of tomfoolery, barriers to entries or Cournot games are going to stop me or 40 of my peers from being successful on this journey.

Ashish Babbar ~ Full Time MBA

Prof. Prabhu Guptara talks Business Ethics at Smurfit

Prof. Prabhu Guptara (Source - Wiki)
Prof. Prabhu Guptara (Source – Wiki)


Six weeks into the MBA Programme, students have discussed and deliberated the malfeasance, fraud and buck-passing policies adopted by companies such as Enron, Arthur Andersen, HealthSouth, FreddieMac, Lehman Brother etc. As future business leaders, we have occasionally questioned if we are at the brink of ‘ethical business crisis’?

Last week, many of our questions were answered. The Smurfit MBA Thought Leadership Club couldn’t have timed its next speaker session more aptly.

Prof. Prabhu Guptara, Executive Director, Relational Analytics Ltd (Cambridge), came as a respite!

He discussed Business Ethics and the importance of maintaining high-integrity for leaders. He explained the dynamics of democracy and capitalism that influence decision making for various CEOs. He emphasized that as future leaders we should keep true to original values. High integrity CEOs had a multi year return of 9.4%, while low integrity CEOs had a yield of just 1.9%.

Prof. Guptara referred to reform movements that united ordinary people to fight the atrocities of corrupt rulers. He strongly believes that in this dynamic society as people get more aware of social, environmental consequences and whistle-blower protection rights a positive wave of change will come.

Pooja Dey ~ Full Time MBA

Reward and Sacrifice


Heat is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s a classic tale of cops and robbers, except with everything turned up to eleven. Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino both give stellar performances as antagonist and protagonist, ably assisted by Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore. Meanwhile, director Michael Mann brings the plot of high-stakes crime to life with a sober crispness that has each scene brimming with energy. It’s arguably his magnum opus, and I urge you to watch it if you haven’t already. Handy tip: if anyone levels accusations of laziness at you while watching it, you can tell them that it’s an artistic study of the risk/reward curve.

One of Heat’s greatest successes is marrying high-octane action with a mature reflection on sacrifice and isolation. Both antagonist and protagonist have chosen to channel their time and energy, perhaps even their life itself, in pursuit of excellence in their chosen profession. As they reach the twilight of their careers, the question that has reared its unwelcome head is whether or not what they have sacrificed is worth what they have gained. DeNiro’s character is a career criminal who has already experienced life behind bars, and is, unsurprisingly, not overly eager to return to that environment. As a result, he now lives his life by the creed of never getting attached to anything that he isn’t willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat, should any threat arise. Given his chosen method of putting bread on the table, it’s hard to argue with his solitude-espousing philosophy. In his world, emotional attachments are a weakness that can be exploited.

As detached from our reality as the film’s premise is, the issues of reward and sacrifice that the film explores are something to which we can relate. We all volunteered to do an MBA because we believe that the subsequent reward will be worth the substantial sacrifices that we’ve made. We should all make sure, though, that the sacrifices we’re making are the right ones. Never forget that you’ve chosen to surround yourself with some of the most diverse, brightest and ambitious people you’ll ever meet. Just like Porter’s Five Forces, or an NPV model, those people will help you become a better, more insightful and more complete person.

In ancient times, the Celts used to build crannógs – dwellings built in a river or lake – to afford themselves protection. To successfully traverse the river or lake, the owners often used stepping stones that were hidden underwater, out of sight. Without knowing exactly where the stones lay, the inevitable result for any would-be intruder was, at best, an unwelcome dunk in icy water. Imagine that the crannóg is your chosen goal and the body of treacherous water is the lifetime of difficult decisions and unexpected problems that you have to negotiate to successfully arrive at your destination. The people you’ll meet while doing your MBA are like the hidden stepping stones. You can ignore them and make your journey more difficult for yourself, or you can take the time to discover more about them and see how they might be able to help you on your way.


The importance of building your emotional and social support network cannot be overestimated. Much like investing for your financial future, the best day to start building that support network was yesterday. The second best day to start is today. In five or ten years, people in your class unfortunately won’t recall that amazingly insightful presentation you gave on EVA. They will, however, remember that you took the time to really get to know them, and they just might be there to give you a helping hand when you need it most. Michael Porter’s journal articles probably won’t be quite as quick to answer your telephone call in your hour of need.

Keith Boyle ~ Executive MBA

Just the Beginning


Five presentations, five writing assignments and more than twenty reading materials, how much time do you think you need to finish all of these? – We have just five weeks.

This is how my MBA programme started. It is never a relaxing beginning but a difficult one, sometimes even a bit stressful. However, it is substantial, interesting, and most importantly, makes you feel that everyday counts. Especially looking back at all of the outcomes to date, I myself even can’t believe we have finished so many tasks in such a short space of time. It is not until I started the Smurfit MBA Programme that I realised I can push myself this hard. The magic five weeks have taught me, changed me and enlightened me.

I have gained a lot of knowledge within the five weeks. Although I can’t call the lectures  pleasant just yet, as I still have to try my best to keep up with the professors’ pace in almost every class, I can now read through the scary financial statement with certain senses; I understand what 5Cs or 5 Forces is; I know how to evaluate the cases by scientific approaches.

I have changed my way of managing multiple tasks and managing time. I don’t waste any minute in the day – if I have five minutes before my next appointment, I read cases instead of wandering. I don’t spend a lot of time surfing on Facebook now. I don’t watch soap operas any more. I concentrate most of my time on studying. The amazing thing is, although this journey is obviously much more tense than my life before the MBA, I am so energetic because I know I am doing something meaningful with my time.


The last but most inspiring thing is, I am enlightened a lot by the professors, by the MBA Office Team and by my classmates – my friends now. I really can’t think of any place else where you can meet so many interesting people from different backgrounds and cultures. The diversity enables us to learn from each other and thus complete the understanding of other cultures, the entire world and life.

After starting the MBA programme, time has a different meaning to me. On the one hand, every single day becomes so long and the calendar looks endless; on the other hand, the time flies and five weeks feel passed in the blink of an eye. It is a brand new experience in life and it is just the beginning. People say ‘A good beginning is half the battle’. I can’t wait for the adventure that follows in the year ahead.

Minjuan Wang ~ Full Time MBA 

Zurich Insurance CEOs share Leadership Perspective with Smurfit MBA Students


One of the most relevant and appealing events at Smurfit is the MBA Leadership Talk Series. The MBA candidates have great aspirations to make impact in the business world and The MBA Thought Leadership Club provides excellent environment to supplement just that.

On Friday October 2nd, Mr.Martin Senn, Global CEO and Mr.Patrick Manley, EMEA CEO of Zurich Insurance were the coveted speakers who officially kicked off the first session of the series. Both visited Smurfit to share insights from their personal and professional journeys.

As MBA candidates we found it really insightful to hear their inspiring stories of cultural diversity while working in different continents from Americas to Asia, maintaining a positive attitude in challenging situations both truly manifesting the significance of leadership skills.

Mr.Martin Senn - Global CEO Zurich
Mr.Martin Senn – Global CEO Zurich

Mr.Senn candidly talked about his experience as a soldier for Swiss army and how he learnt to see the silver lining even in the most challenging situations. He called this phenomenon ‘Artist of Life’. He inspired students with thought provoking ‘coin story’ that his mentor told him. The closer we keep the coin to our eye the lesser we see. He advised that leadership is not about chasing money but great good of society and maintaining integrity.

Mr.Manley discussed the key ingredients required to be a great leader. He highlighted that leadership is about credibility. He mentioned a number of things including ‘therapy to let go’…with companies aggressively adding more portfolios, a CEO needs to learn to extract only relevant information from the clutter. Mr.Manley also mentioned that it is the leader’s responsibility to hire people he can trust and not micro manage a team’s every move.

He succinctly gave us MBA candidates a tip that it is imperative to be vigilant followers as we move to the corporate world to take on leadership roles.

I am fortunate to have the opportunity of being in this company. What a great start to the MBA program!

On behalf of the club I would like to thank Mr.Brian Hunt, Head of Regulatory Affairs at Zurich Insurance, who was instrumental in making the event a success and of course the MBA Programme Office that supported us in this endeavor.

Pooja Dey ~ Full Time MBA