Business is business. I really hate this phrase – along with all related variations – and always have. What does it even mean? As far as I can tell, it was created for the sole purpose of providing us with justification for what would otherwise be dubious, questionable or unethical behaviour. In the simple context of ‘it’s just business’ we are all excused for actions we would otherwise feel personally uncomfortable with. If this were not the case – why need such a ridiculous phrase at all? The fact that we continue to champion an ethos made famous by Otto Biederman – and later Michael Corleone – is maddening to me.
We take a module called ‘Business & Society’ on my MBA programme and I am finding the class discussions fascinating. There is a broad spectrum of opinions and mind-sets on the topic of business ethics amongst my classmates – which makes for really absorbing, and revealing, debate. The phrase ‘business is business’ appeared in a discussion on corporate social responsibility last week. It arose as a supporting argument for the position that business should not be expected to have an elevated responsibility in improving our societies; that this would be confusing business and government. Government has a duty to the people, not business – commerce should be restricted to the rules of just that, commerce. We cannot continue to shift responsibility for our circumstances onto other agents.
For those of us on the other side of the discussion, this came as a deeply disappointing response. From a classroom of people with significant educational privilege and opportunity – in a country with a global reputation as a business epicentre – this became the definition of frustration for me. I believe, as many others in my class also do, that there is a uniquely collective power within the parameters of business that could be harnessed to do substantial good in the world. For me, this is at a level beyond the current limitations of our imaginations. We should be encouraged to find ways to revolutionise our thinking around business, beyond the constraints of capitalism, so that we may direct its potent influence to where it is needed most.
Do not misunderstand my meaning. I have enormous respect for the creeds of capitalism and have grown up in a commercially competitive environment – and I too have ambitions that are material. But I also think our world has degenerated to a point of crisis that can no longer be resolved with solely pure motivations. This is a prevailing fantasy of ours that needs to be abandoned. If that were a reasonable possibility, religion could have cured our ailments a long time ago; or government would have created systems that prevent inequality and promote fairness. But both of these ‘pure’ constructs have, over time, become polluted and corrupt. They no longer function to the romantic ideals we have in our minds. For many, their relevancy is declining; just look at the depleting congregations at Church or the abysmal voting statistics. And all the while, an even greater ‘collective’ construct has evolved – wholly impure – that captures the intrigue and interests of people across every possible social and geographic boundary. It has more unitive power than both religion and government put together and yet we continue to separate it from the need in the world. Because business is business.
Week three, semester two, year one, and there is a sense of calm within the class that is both unfamiliar and a little unsettling. I have to admit, I’m enjoying this part of the semester. We have time to properly read the required reading for each new module. We have the time to prepare all case study questions and example questions and problems assigned to us each week. We have a sense of clarity and calm in order to really analyse and appreciate the material and messages the lecturers are trying to get across to us. Unfortunately, this may just be the calm before the storm.
It may sound like the work load has significantly decreased but alas I fear it is more likely that I have just grown accustomed to the madness that is the Executive MBA. I’m doing 15-20 hours a week on top of lectures however I know this will continue to increase as the weeks progress. The attitude from week one of semester one of Sunday’s and Friday nights being sacred has long since disappeared. I have yet to speak to one of my classmates who did not get sick over Christmas following the marathon that was semester one and the concluding exam schedule. The talk around the class has turned to the best way to avoid getting sick – fruit, vegetables, exercise, honey, sleep, Berocca, the list is endless but will any of it work.
There is however one tiny sense of achievement that is fuelling us to continue and that is the fact that we all made it through semester one alive! We are reenergised after the Christmas break and excited for what is to come.
I was initially a little apprehensive about some of the modules this semester but following two weeks of lectures they have exceeded my expectations and I’m excited for what’s to come.
This time last year, I was only starting to consider the EMBA as being a real possibility for me. At that point, I never thought that I would be half way through the first year now. But someone along the way advised me not to keep looking for excuses to put it off and to start it as soon as I could, as there would always be plenty of excuses to delay. That was one of the best bits of advice I received. At least now I know that this time next year, I’ll be on the home straight with the future looking much brighter.
So we’re on starter’s orders for semester 2 and, as semester 1 becomes a distant memory, the Christmas break has given us time to consider the MBA to date. When I look back to the familiarisation week in September, I recall the anticipation and trepidation elicited by the presentations given by last year’s class reps and our anxious questions; “how do you manage to balance the MBA with your career and personal life”, “how many hours a week do you spend on MBA work”, et al.
While there were undoubtedly times of intense activity and commitment, there was no justification for our anxiousness because everything is quite manageable but still hard work. With the commitment comes a great sense of fulfilment, just as Amos Alcott Branson, the American Philosopher, said, “success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats.” The Christmas break undoubtedly became even more enjoyable in the context of the commitment and accomplishment of semester 1.
My advice is to divide modules into manageable bite size pieces, sequence submissions and engage in the lectures in order to gain as much as you can from the course. So for anyone considering the MBA or indeed for anyone starting the MBA in 2015/16, my advice is to embrace and enjoy the experience.
January 2015 is the one year anniversary of when I first seriously started considering taking the MBA program. I had toyed with the idea for several months before but with a new year came a new impetus to push myself and develop new skills that would help me develop professionally and personally. The initial stages of my MBA curiosity was to visit the Smurfit school website and look up the academic programme, entry process and pre-requisites. All very daunting stuff! Then I stumbled across the MBA blog. This was different to any of the other sources of information online as it was impressions of the MBA student written for their peers. The blog gave a great insight into the rollercoaster that is the MBA and it gave a window into the experience of the MBA.
Reading these blogs were the catalyst for me to move from the curiosity phase to the activism phase. Over the coming months I attended the open days, spoke to alumni and started to look at the practicalities of taking on the MBA.
Fast forward 12 months and I am one semester in and looking forward to part two with optimism. I wouldn’t have imagined a year previously that I would be sitting here writing an entry for the very blog I had been reading when first considering taking this path. There’s no doubt that the past 12 months have gone by in a flash and that the last four months in particular were a whirlwind but I do look back on 2014 as a successful year. It was the year that I stepped up the challenge and taken the bull by the horns.
As I conclude this entry I am aware that there may be some who are right now thinking tentatively about taking the first steps of the MBA journey. There’s no doubt that the experience and the sacrifices that come with the MBA is not for everyone but until you move from the curiosity phase into the activism phase you won’t know. To those people who are in the curiosity phase I would advise reading the blog entries to get a window into the MBA experience. This might be enough to nudge you into the activism phase.
I’m writing this after attending my first two classes of semester 2, year 2 of the EMBA. There is no doubt but my enthusiasm for attending class has reduced significantly when compared to 15 months ago! However, on the up-side I am six months away from completing the programme and that is a huge motivation to continue!
There was a very different feel to this afternoon’s classes. Firstly, we were all there by choice (we can choose from a range of modules in the final year) and secondly there was a mixture of three class groups in the room (EMBA mid-week, EMBA weekend and MBA full-time students). These two factors led to a much larger class and a different lecture dynamic.
This semester will largely be evaluated based on individual assignments. This is in contrast to much of our course work in previous semesters which was primarily group based. While I thoroughly enjoyed working on teams in the past, I am also looking forward to gaining back my Saturday mornings which had previously been ear-marked for group work!
Personally, I am only attending three classes this semester. For my fourth module I will be participating in the Emerging Markets International Study Trip to China. Already, I feel that it will be a highlight of the programme. There is a buzz amongst classmates when we discuss the trip and we are very much looking forward to receiving the itinerary that the MBA Programme Office staff have arranged for us. Roll on China on March 7th. . .
Many of the posts on this blog touch on the aspect of time, and how little of it we have when immersed in the MBA. It is true that the workload is intense and takes up much of your time. Each semester consists of 12 busy weeks of lectures, assignments, group work etc. This is then followed by a week of exam prep and then the exams themselves.
However, the good news is that there is a break! This year, the Year 1 Executive MBAs finished their last Semester 1 exam on December 12th and we return for Semester 2 on January 16th, meaning there was a solid month’s break for us to enjoy and regain our strength! At the end of Semester 2 we will commence a nice long summer break. Year 2 will then follow a similar structure, except that it will be followed by the Capstone project.
Anyone considering the Exec MBA may be a bit daunted by the notion of undertaking the MBA for “2 years”. Hopefully, you may take some solace in the above information! The best way to view the MBA is to break it into its semester-long sprints. After each sprint you can enjoy a bit of downtime and relaxation. Of course, for those of you who just can’t get enough, there is plenty of additional reading and online courses for you to enjoy in your spare time!
To celebrate ‘International Day of the Girl’ on 11th October, Plan Ireland held its Because I am a Girl Ball in the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel, Dublin.
Because I am a Girl is Plan International’s global initiative to educate girls across the developing world. To do this, Plan International identify the key barriers to girls’ education – child marriage forced labour, sexual violence, early pregnancy and more – and break them.
The focus of the campaign is girls, because a girl in the developing world faces overwhelming odds from the day she is born. But Plan is reversing these odds, they have reached a crucial tipping point and are making real progress. More girls than ever are being given the chance of education and the tide is turning. More and more of today’s mothers have seen the value of education. Fathers, communities and governments are following.
Associate Professor, Susi Geiger, was amongst the attendees at the ball; “Every girl has the right to an education. It’s apt that the female MBA staff support this great cause (and we have a great night out while doing so)!”
Over the next four years, Because I am a Girl projects will support four million girls to get the education, skills and support they need to move themselves from poverty to opportunity.
Plan Ireland held the ball in support of this initiative and both the Smurfit MBA team and students supported the event and enjoyed a wonderful evening at the ball.
Support from events such as the ball allow Plan to implement projects that tackle some of the biggest challenges that girls face in developing countries. They believe that supporting girls is one of the best investments we can make in the world today. Removing barriers for girls’ means, not only a better life for them, but a safer, healthier and prosperous world for us all. To find out more information or to support to the cause, click here
It is hard to believe that we are just over half-way through our second semester in Year 1. We are now all settled into our ‘new’ teams and working our way through our submissions and plans for the second half of the term. However this semester is more balanced towards individual assessment rather than group submissions and our first mid-term exam of the course took place on Saturday last in Corporate Finance. The mid-term was worth 20% of our overall grade and was definitely effective in focusing my attention on what we have covered in the module so far.
The Corporate Finance module has taught us many calculations, including how to determine the future and present values of cash flows and the cost of capital for a business. We have also focused on assessing market risk and return, and how to evaluate various investment opportunities for a business.
However as those of you familiar with this area know, there is a lot more to Corporate Finance than formulas and calculations. This was reflected clearly in our mid-term exam of which at least half of the content was based on theory from the module material. One needed to know the functions of financial markets and intermediaries and why market investors are not concerned with individual stock risks, as well as be able to calculate the value of a perpetuity, in order to successfully demonstrate their knowledge gained on the topic.
I found my revision of the module material during the last few weeks invaluable, while not infallible, in clarifying the module concepts and enabling me to embrace the topics we are due to cover in the next part of the term with a much greater appreciation.
We are all busy with the demands of the MBA and it is difficult not to regularly focus on what submissions are due. However this directed module revision has reinforced the importance of taking a point in time during the semester to reflect on my understanding of each module. Mid-term break seems like the perfect time to avail of this opportunity so luckily that is fast approaching.
The MBA Programme is proud to be collaborating with Bizworld Ireland, a group of educators and business people who have come together to inspire and empower children aged 10-13 to learn about money management, critical thinking and enterprise in a fun and creative way.
As a not-for-profit organisation, Bizworld are training mentors to provide 2-day workshops to children towards the end of Primary School. Children are brought through the entire entrepreneurial cycle from company formation, applying for jobs in the companies, and conducting market research to acquiring seed capital from venture capitalists. Each student company designs, produces, markets and sells their unique product to a ‘Dragon’ in a Dragons Den style format. In Bizworld’s case it is a short animated movie. The currency used is BizBucks and children must keep ledgers and balance the books at the end of the workshop. The following year, children are invited to use their new skills to address a need in their local community and enter Bizworld’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year competition.
Students from the full-timg MBA class have been acting as mentors in Carysfort National School and yesterday UCD Smurfit Dean Ciarán Ó’ hÓgartaigh acted as a ‘Dragon’ for the student presentations. A joint event will also be held between Yale and the Smurfit School MBA in the Cathal Brugha Barracks on Tuesday March 18th and Bizworld will be in attendance to lead a Strategic Discussion about the charity. It promises to be a great night!
You run into one brick wall and you’re labelled for life. Such has been my experience driving in Ireland. Let’s get one thing clear: the whole steering wheel on the right, driving on the left thing still freaks me out. It’s seems unnatural and (yes I’ll say it) a little unwholesome too. Caution – Puritanical, American judgement at work.
So for the time being I’m content getting lifts from other people and letting them worry about the driving. It’s probably for the best though. One time in high school I got lost on the way home and ended up twenty miles from my house. Oops.
When it comes to my career however, I’m not so keen to let others do the driving. That’s part of my reason for doing this programme in the first place. I didn’t want to feel like a casual, passive observer of my own life anymore. Instead of floating along and muddling through I wanted an active role in where my career was heading.
I started asking myself if the path I was on was really where I belonged. Just asking the question feels a bit daunting. Should I be questioning myself? Isn’t it safer to stay where you are? For me the answer was yes to both. It’s the next set of questions that led me to where I am now. The questions and answers are different for everyone. My answers told me it was time to make a change in an active way because I wasn’t satisfied with my complacency.
There is still much work to be done. I don’t have a clear route yet in my career journey but I have the map* out and I’m trying to plot a course. Google Maps does not exist for this trip. I have to do it the old fashioned way. Surely there will be unexpected detours along the way but I’m driving myself and enjoying the ride.
*For anyone younger than 25 reading this: a map used to be a depiction of the world on paper. Paper was a material made from trees that was used for writing or drawing. And writing was a method of communication pre-dating typing and texting.