The Sun Never Sets on the Icelandic Empire

In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class traveled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.

We arrived at Reykjavik airport on a sunny Sunday in early June. After collecting our luggage, we were immediately taken by bus to the Blue Lagoon, the most visited geothermal spa in Iceland. It’s not an understatement to say that I was completely dumbfounded by its signature milky blue water, a pure nature’s wonder. After spending two hours in the mineral rich water, I felt so refreshed and ready for our consulting project the next day.

Unlike our previous study trip to Japan and Korea, which was more about experiencing business culture of the Far East, on the trip to Iceland we had the chance to apply what we learned during our MBA programme to help solve real business problems for local companies.

My group’s client was an herbal pharmaceutical company – a young startup whose products are aimed at treating some common diseases for women. It’s planning to enter the Danish market and wanted us to develop a go to market strategy which included a competitive analysis and a list of potential sales organisations with which to collaborate.

Our first working day in Iceland was ironically on a Bank Holiday, and as a result there were only five of us with another group in the innovation incubation centre. Walking through the empty hall, my attention was caught by a table filled with sample products, all of which were incubated in this centre.  Among these, I was most impressed by some fish skin, which is used to make waterproof wallets and handbags. Iceland certainly knows how to make unique products from its natural resources!

In our meeting room, we were given a quick introduction by the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing – it was an informative presentation and we learned how they used a differentiation strategy to achieve price premium and healthy margins. Now with an understanding of the client’s requirement, we quickly got together and used Porter’s Five Forces framework to analyse industry competitiveness. Thanks to Smurfit’s strategy class, we quickly came up with an exhaustive analysis that covered every aspect of competitive landscape.

Over the following two days, we moved on to analyse the size of our client’s customer segment and realised that by catering only to female customers, our client would lose 50% of the Danish market. Further analysis led us to some unexpected conclusions, and on the final day our presentations and recommendations challenged their existing strategy.

huy-tang-pix

On our final evening, we rented a car and drove around Iceland’s Golden Circle – a 300km route through many beautiful landmarks. As we returned to our hotel at midnight – with the sun still in the sky – we said goodbye to the land where the sun never sets.

Quang Huy Tang, Full Time MBA

A Crash Course in the Icelandic Fishing Industry

In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.

As part of the MBA capstone, the FTMBAs, joined by some of the Year 1 EMBAs, went to Iceland to complete a week-long consulting project with Icelandic companies. Our team worked with Skaginn 3x, a food processing equipment producer that focuses on the fishing industry. As an island country with a population of approximately 300,000, the fishing industry plays an important role in the Icelandic economy. The week in Iceland was for our team a crash course in the fishing industry, as we had limited collective exposure to it beforehand.

Our consulting project for Skaginn 3x focused on their Sub-ChillingTM product, a technology that creates significant innovation in the fish processing industry. This product brings sustainability and environmental benefits to fish processors, and we were asked to develop a recommendation for how Skaginn 3x could leverage those benefits to help customers gain access to government funds or grants that would make the technology more affordable for them.

Photo1

In order to complete this project, we applied frameworks that we learned in competitive strategy, we conducted interviews with industry experts in Iceland and in Ireland, and we did an extensive amount of research during the three days we had to prepare our presentation. On the final day, we presented our findings, along with an action plan for how Skaginn 3x could further develop our research.

As an added bonus – our company was based in the beautiful Ocean Cluster House – a marine innovation centre located by the harbour in Reykjavik. This building was filled with a number of companies that worked in the marine or fishing industries, and offered beautiful views.

Photo2

After making our presentation on our last day in Iceland, our team rented a car and headed out to see the Golden Circle. We got to see a geyser, a waterfall and eat some delicious ice cream, while running into other MBA teams at every stop! As we took in the beautiful views, we were able to share our experiences and talk about our projects with our classmates, bringing the Iceland trip to a wonderful close!

Laura Shumaker, FTMBA

When the Calculator Doesn’t Have the Right Buttons

In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.

We thought we were in Iceland to solve a mathematics problem. Five EMBA students, calculators in hand, showed up on the first day of our consulting project ready to answer a straightforward question: “How can our assigned company maintain margins in an increasingly competitive field?” Four days later, we stood in front of management to present a solution that may have seemed the answer to a completely unrelated question. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t!) Thankfully, the first year of the UCD Smurfit MBA gave us the skills needed to assess the problem from less obvious angles and confidently recommend an unanticipated course of action.

So, how did we come to answer a question that wasn’t even asked of us? We listened to our first-year lecturers, of course! Through the initial assessment, we heard Brian McGrath, who taught competitive strategy, asking “What is the company good at?” We imagined his displeasure with our wishy-washy answers until a lightbulb moment when, at last, we could all agree on a few short convincing words to describe the company’s unique strengths. Next, as we mulled over a Porter’s Five Forces analysis, Brian was in the back of our minds asking “How serious is the competitive threat to the business?” With much practice forcing ourselves away from a non-committal conclusion of “Medium, I think…?”, we found ourselves surprised to conclude that, in fact, the challenge posed by the competition was more serious than we first thought.

Pic 2

As we started to truly understand the challenge at hand, Ashley Hughes, who taught leadership and organisational behaviour, was top of our minds. We were starting to believe that internal rather than external factors might be preventing the company from reaching its full potential vis a vis competitors. So, we followed Ashley’s suggestion and asked the employees themselves. Mindful of the need for a consistent methodology, we developed a set of questions intended to probe employee incentives to behave in the best interest of the organisation. The results led us down the path to our final conclusion, in which Joe Hanley – lecturer in strategic human resources – helped us tie everything together with the concept of “Congruence and alignment,” still ringing in our ears after recent exams.

In the end, we packed our calculators away, cognisant that the absence of a “congruence” button rendered them relatively useless for this project. We will almost certainly need to bring them back out to practice other skills learned in the MBA, such as putting together a balance sheet or determining an appropriate internal transfer price. In the meantime, delivering a difficult answer to a question that wasn’t exactly asked of us proved to be one of the best learning experiences we have had to date!

Andrew Gebelin, EMBA 2016-2018

A Formal Initiation Into the World of Consulting

In early summer 2017, the Full Time MBA class and first year EMBA class travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for Smurfit’s first MBA International Consulting Project.

During the first week of the Smurfit MBA, our class was asked to reveal our ‘dream job’. While my mind automatically went to Consulting, I was quite surprised by the sheer number of my classmates who had been bitten by the same bug. The stalwarts of the MBA program (Read: Orla Nugent  and Karan Sonpar), in yet another display of having their finger on the pulse, had already lined up two exciting consulting opportunities for everyone in our class – the first of which was an International Consulting Project in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Our team was paired with CrankWheel, a SaaS company that offers a browser plugin designed for quick, reliable and hassle-free screen sharing. Our consulting project entailed designing a US market entry strategy for the company. We were extremely fortunate to work closely with Jói Sigurdsson (Founder/CEO) and Gilsi Sigvaldason (Co-Founder/CCO). We couldn’t have asked for two more accomplished and accommodating individuals with whom to do this project. In addition to having a great product, they were extremely forthcoming with information that we deemed necessary to carry out our research and were always available to answer our questions and critique our suggestions. This went a long way in motivating us to deliver a project that would be useful to our clients and a source of pride for us in the years to come.

2017-06-12-external-consultants

The year-long rigorous MBA programme at Smurfit equipped us with the right tools to successfully complete a project of this magnitude. The stress on teamwork, the long hours spent researching assignments, the management frameworks learned, etc helped us over-deliver on our promises. We were also extremely fortunate to have an invested mentor in Orla. She asked us all the right questions and gently nudged us in the right direction whenever she deemed it necessary, all the while supporting and encouraging our creative freedom.

The international capstone project has been instrumental in helping me internalise the learnings from the MBA programme and understand the rigors of working in the field of consulting. It was an exhilarating experience that further strengthened my resolve to succeed in this field. The major takeaway from the project for me was the importance of having an involved and interested client. Our experience and project would have been extremely different if our client hadn’t shown the enthusiasm they did. Another important takeaway was the importance of regrouping. We realised the importance of coming back to the drawing board every few hours to report progress and set hard deadlines. It is very easy to keep researching new information to fine-tune or improve your work. However, it is essential to know when to stop, especially when you’re working to an extremely strict deadline.

This project wouldn’t have been the roaring success it was – or as much fun – had it not been for my team mates – Ciaran Hope, Khanh Nguyen, Nikita Pusnakovs. I couldn’t have put a better team together had I selected it myself.

Gursheel Parmar, FTMBA

Crankwheel also took the opportunity to write about the project on its blog.

 

Last Week We Invited External Consultants …

No, not the type you’re thinking of! We were hosting UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School students for International MBA Consultancy Week (from the 5th to 8th of June).

The goal of the MBA Consultancy Week is to provide benefits to both students and their clients. We feel this goal was definitely achieved.

These motivated, driven individuals stormed through our door and, after a brief introductory session, started applying their expertise to our business. They had to research, analyze and offer a key solution to our business case using MBA-grade skills and experience to develop practical growth recommendations.

Hopefully this exercise helped them put academic theory into action, learn practical business skills and finally, use presentation and reporting abilities in a business environment. As for CrankWheel, we really appreciate this remarkable opportunity. Nothing is better for business than an external, objective perspective, fresh insights and intriguing recommendations. Would we do that again? If possible, even tomorrow!

PS. Thanks for sharing lunch with us and for hunting for an open swimming pool in the wee hours of the morning! Big thank you and shout-out to the brilliant members of our team: Ciaran Hope, Gursheel Parmar, Khanh Nguyen and Nikita Pusnakovs!

For a view “from the other side” and a demo of the product, please visit http://crankwheel.com/external-consultants/

 

Golf in Historic Surroundings – A Day in the Luscious Parklands of Luttrellstown Castle

 

Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.

Superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn unless it achieves results. 

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Just ahead of our recent exams and final assignments, we set out for a day’s leisure in the peaceful and historic surrounds of Luttrellstown Castle. While the golf was at best mediocre, we were fortunate to get some fine weather for the day and had the opportunity to catch up with classmates at the “19th hole” to reflect on our endeavours over the course of the MBA programme.

MBA Luttrellstown - 3 Golfers

Many esteemed graduates note that doing an MBA is like “going on a journey” and the mediocre standard of golf on the day ensured that we got to see more of the tracks and trails that Luttrellstown has to offer than most regular golfers. In conjunction with the challenges posed by the variety of elements of our MBA programme, the championship course we played also provided many obstacles with a lot of water features to be overcome among other challenging features.

The MBA Golf Society will hold its main event of the year in the splendorous surrounds of the K Club on Saturday, July 1st. The day will be held in aid of the UCD Ad Astra Scholarships/UCD Foundation and Cardiac Risk in the Young. Details of how to enter are on Eventbrite at:

https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/ucd-smurfit-mba-golf-society-classic-tickets-34792133207?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&aff=escb&utm-source=cp&utm-term=listing

Ciarán O’Shea,

Executive MBA.

Finding Value in Diversity

As we enter the summer term of the full time MBA programme, I have come to realise how much diversity I, and my classmates, have been exposed to over the past nine months.  Before I decided to undertake an MBA, I had heard some MBA graduates mention this point about “diversity” but I had underestimated the learning experience that diversity can offer.

In an MBA, diversity takes on many forms.  Firstly there’s the diversity found within the cohort itself.  This is a combination of cultural diversity (in our full time cohort of 32 students there are 10 nationalities), there’s age diversity and indeed diversity in our educational backgrounds and experiences!  The result is a multitude of perspectives that contribute to some very thought-provoking classroom discussions.  Coming from an engineering background myself, I have really enjoyed learning about other people’s previous work experiences and pre-MBA careers in various fields such as marketing, e-commerce, finance, IT and the entertainment industry. It has also helped me to realise how valuable diversity can be when it comes to problem-solving.

Class Photo - AisO'Hall

Secondly, the vast range of modules also presents another element of diversity.  From accounting, financial analysis, economics and strategy to negotiation skills, ethics and executive decision-making!  The volume of information is over-whelming but the skills obtained will not only be relevant to our future careers, but will be also be helpful in others areas of life, whether one realises this at the time or not!

Thirdly, the prospects we’ve had to immerse ourselves in, outside of the classroom, pose yet another realm of diversity.  An international learning module to Japan and South Korea in March provided a unique opportunity to learn about new cultures, about doing business in Asia but also to get to know our part-time MBA classmates.  I was also lucky enough to travel to Yale for the Integrated Leadership Case Competition in April, with three other classmates.  This trip enabled us to meet other MBA students from 12 different business schools around the globe.  Over the course of three days in Yale, it was refreshing to see how all students were genuinely interested in one another and embraced the diversity around them by exchanging anecdotes about their MBA experiences and offering each other helpful advice regarding post-MBA decisions.

AisO'HallBlogPic2

To complete the international experience, we still have a week in Iceland to look forward to, where we will be working as consultants for a number of different companies.

For me, it took time to realize the value that all this diversity could bring, and I believe that I will continue to see its benefits over the coming years, in both my career and personal life.  I am certainly more open now to looking at things with a different lens, than I was nine months ago.  With this in mind, my advice for anyone considering undertaking an MBA is to truly consider its significance, not only from a career standpoint but from a non-career perspective too.

Aisling O’Halloran, Full Time MBA 2016-2017

“If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain”

31665-Dolly-Parton-Quote-The-way-I-see-it-if-you-want-the-rainbow-you

As semester two draws to a close, and the finish line is starting to come into focus, now is the perfect time to reflect on what has been one of the biggest decisions of my life thus far – surrendering the 9-5 to return to education and the MBA.

There have been highs, there have been lows, and many sleepless nights either as a result of excessive studying or excessive partying!

Even as I write this entry, on the sunniest day of the 2017 thus far, the thoughts of getting over the finish line provide enough motivation to skip paying “respect to the man in the ice-cream van” for one day and keep the head in the books (H.P. Baxxter).

Without doubt, getting to spend seven days with my colleagues, immersing ourselves in Japanese and South Korean culture was the highlight. The historical significance of these countries, as well as being modern day industrial powerhouses, was such a fantastic journey to take with such close friends.

Figure 1 War Memorial - Seoul
War Memorial – Seoul

Taking in everything those cities had to offer, from the sushi to the singing at a karaoke bar ensured there was sufficient, and much needed, down-time to a very hectic schedule.

Soaking up authentic Asian culture
Soaking up authentic Asian culture

But it won’t stop there. No sooner will our exams finish in May that we will be back in the air once more to experience Iceland for a consulting trip and the excitement is palpable! “On the road is where we come alive” (David Brent).

The whirlwind nature of the programme so far shows no signs of stopping, and who would like it any other way?

Patrick Whelan ~ Full-Time MBA

A Walk Down Memory Lane of Recent Irish Economic History

ecoa

Kevin Cardiff of the European Court of Auditors addresses the Dean’s Speaker Series

The Dean’s Speaker Series had another event last Wednesday when Kevin Cardiff of the European Court of Auditors and also Auditor of the European Stability Mechanism visited Smurfit School. The Dean, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh welcomed Mr. Cardiff to Smurfit. Mr. Cardiff is a decorated senior civil servant and regaled attendees with a detailed summary of economic history in recent decades, spanning the 1992 currency crisis and various iterations of the ERM up to the recent financial crisis of 2008 and beyond.

In a detailed address resembling memoirs, Mr. Cardiff described the tribulations of the 1992 currency crisis in fine detail – featuring newspaper clippings of the big events at the time including the days of major turmoil for Sterling and the Púnt, including the devaluation of the Púnt. He also touched on the advent of the Maastricht Treaty and the departure from the single currency of certain countries in its early days.

Black Wednesday

Mr. Cardiff described in detail the events of the 16th of September 1992, when the United Kingdom withdrew from the Exchange Rate Mechanism. What happened on this day was that Sterling had come under pressure from speculators who had begun a massive sell-off and the UK Government raised interest rates from an already high 10% to 12% with a promise that they would raise further to 15%, in a scenario that was unfolding by the hour. One of the causes of the acuteness of the crisis was the rules of the ERM, particularly that the Bank of England were required to accept any offer to sell Sterling.

The eventual advent of the European single currency was also addressed by Mr. Cardiff. He highlighted the widening of fluctuation bands via the Brussels Compromise of 1993 and Stages II and III of ERM, when mutual exchange rates between member currencies became fixed and the physical currency was introduced in the form of notes and coins.

Mr. Cardiff also gave a detailed review of the events of the financial crisis of 2008, including key developments in relation to the recapitalisation of financial institutions, which he also deals with in his book, “Recap”.

A short question and answer session followed Mr. Cardiff’s address, when the recent event of Brexit was noted and a discussion was had around the future for the European Union. All in all, the event was a thought-provoking and interesting perspective on recent economic history and food for thought in terms of what will happen next in the EU with respect to both regulatory developments and the overall structure of the Union.

Ciarán O’Shea ~ Year 2, Executive MBA

Road to the World Cup

 1

How many people get the opportunity to play in a World Cup? Not many. How many people would like the opportunity to play in a World Cup? Everybody you would imagine? Surprisingly that is not the case. Apparently many are only interested if it’s an all-expenses paid free ride.

This year we were much later getting started than the groups of other years. This was probably due to each of us waiting for someone more experienced than ourselves to take charge. Eventually, fearing that it would not go ahead at all I decided to have a go at getting it started. This was quite successful, 9 likeminded MBA students attended the first meeting with the collective goal of getting to Duke. We formed a committee and ran through a basic outline of tasks that were critical to success. These were focused on two main streams: fundraising and training. We knew we needed MSc students for not only numbers but also for skills. We quickly held meetings with those interested to get them on board.

As January drew to a close we were acutely aware of the need to get training immediately. This presented two main challenges. The first was finding an experienced coach to train us and the second was finding a rugby pitch to train on. We interviewed Warren Gatland but he said he was too busy preparing for the Lions tour and Joe Schmidt said he was fully committed to Ireland setup. Luckily we secured the services of David Mannion (Current Monkstown & Ex Leinster Juniors Coach). Securing a pitch was more difficult. Unfortunately we were told categorically by the IRFU that the Aviva was off limits until the summer and the GAA told us no more rugby would be played in Croke Park unless the World Cup 2023 bid was successful. We looked closer to home. We were denied a spot in Belfield due to the high volume of activity on the pitches including believe it or not American Football. Fortunately, through our coach we secured the use of Monkstown’s ground for training.

16265673_1396863657012343_2343878342206895622_n

Obviously sending a team to the U.S. is not cheap. There is the cost of flights, accommodation, transfers, insurance, tournament entry, jerseys, medical equipment, food amongst other things. Fundraising is key to the success of it all. The earlier you start, the easier it will be. It’s certainly not an easy task. Begging people, even Alumni, for money is a challenge in itself. It’s even harder when they say no. Although you are asking on behalf of the college it is still quite difficult not to take the rejection personally. Nevertheless, you must pick yourself up and ask again. We are hugely grateful to all of our sponsors, particularly Sinnotts Bar for being our main sponsor, they backed us early when finances were looking bleak. Without them we would almost certainly not be going.

We also held a table quiz. We hit up our family, friends and classmates to dig deep into their pockets and back us financially. The response was overwhelmingly brilliant. People came in their droves and the venue was packed to the rafters. It’s great to see that those who know us believe in us.

We made it crystal clear from the beginning that players would need to cover their own flights. Although this was not the ideal situation, it was useful for separating out those who were serious about competing and those who were just looking for a free ride. This was tested further when it came to paying for the flights where more people dropped out. Thankfully we had a core group that believed in one another and in our ability to get this off the ground and they all committed their money. I believe the group is stronger because of this and we know that those who have committed are serious.

With less than a week remaining until the tournament, now our focus is on player management, specifically how we will need to be smart to try and avoid injuries and keep our composure whilst playing numerous games in the heat. Hopefully the next blog I write will be telling positive tales of the tournament. A ferocious amount of work has been done by everybody to get us this far. Please wish both teams (men’s and women’s) well.

Cathal Murphy ~ Full-Time MBA

The Icing on the Cake

 

swap-japan-splash
Tokyo, Japan

After a grueling first semester and when it again began to look all too busy in the second half of the MBA, there came this opportunity to travel down to the Asian giants – Japan and South Korea. The experience could not have been more insightful had it not been earned from within their courtyards. It was time to unleash how Japan has been the front-runner in giving leading technologies, manufacturing methods and services across the globe. It was time again to get acquainted to how South Korea, after having gone through such a tortured past amidst the hostility of North Korea, picked up itself in becoming a leader in telecommunications, electronics and auto-mobile industry. Finally, the pleasant wait was over when the MBA caravan landed in Tokyo on March 12th.

The build-up to this trip was such that some students reached Dublin airport long before the departure. Although the journey took more than a day to reach with jet-lag started playing its role in disturbing our sleep cycles, there was no dearth of enthusiasm in the MBA cohort. Tiresome flight, sleepy eyes and even a bad stomach could not deter me to dwell out on the streets of Shinjuku on the first night. As I had lived in Japan 4 years back, it made this trip even more nostalgic personally and relevant to my travel diary.

Imperial Palace Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tokyo

The formal itinerary commenced with three guest lecturers speaking at large on Japanese business ethics, bureaucracy, the national politics, and how they managed to live a satisfying life in Japan though they were all from much more liberal and free societies. I found the words from Mr Michael Cucek, one of the speakers, extremely insightful in uncovering how Japanese politics thrives and it was very surprising to know that political families have been at the forefront in shaping the politics in Japan. The next event at NTT DoCoMo R&D centre was no less than looking in the near future as they showed some of their revolutionizing prototypes. It would be unfulfilling not to mention the dinner at “Gonpachi” restaurant. Though I don’t have a great taste for fish, I must admit I absolutely loved their salmon. For those who doubted the Japanese style of partying, they had a shout out at the Karaoke later.

View from The Observatory, Shinjuku, Tokyo
View from The Observatory, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Time to fly across to the neighbouring South Korea.

The very first impression I made of South Koreans was that they were a bit more relaxed and flexible than the conservative Japanese. Fortunately, the weather was fantastic with bright sunshine during the next three days which was quite unusual according to our tour guides, Grace and Jenny. Being an ardent lover of cars, I particularly looked forward to visiting KIA Motors. KIA had recently announced to start manufacturing in India and luckily, I got a good 5 minutes’ chat with the presenter conversing on the same topic. I don’t think I would have ever got this opportunity to hear directly from KIA’s official. Thanks to this trip!

Night Market in Myeongdong
Night Market in Myeongdong

The itinerary was so tightly packed that people would have taken some 3-4 days of good rest to recover back to the Dublin time zone. Here, I would like to make a specific mention to Mr Karan Sonpar who selected the destinations for this trip, Ms Avril Donohue and Legacy Ventures for organising and making this week memorable. Of course, the tour guides in Tokyo and Seoul also as they were outstanding in terms of the depth of knowledge they had about the respective countries.

SAMSUNG CSC
Samsung Innovation Museum, South Korea

It was hard to condense down the scintillating week into limited words, but words would never be enough to express this great time that we, the Smurift ambassadors, had across the Pacific. This was truly the icing on the cake!

Vishal Sharma ~ Full-Time MBA