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.

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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.

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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

Reflections on the MBA Journey and the Road Ahead

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Random acts of kindness. The greatest lesson from the MBA – our humanity.

 

“Life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards” Kierkegaard

 Forecasting is a doomed art! Those who try to predict the future invariably fail miserably. What I can forecast though is I will have mixed emotions of happiness but also sadness when this journey finishes. And boy has it been a journey! I decided to undertake the MBA because of a love of learning, for self-improvement and as a challenge: it was my treat to myself after a decade labouring as a consultant in the HSE. I also wanted to try to improve healthcare for all people within the HSE and I believed the MBA would give me skills to help achieve that goal. So was it the right decision?

It soon became apparent to me there are two tracks on the EMBA –those with and without children and partners. Where the course is a challenge for all of us, the real casualties of the MBA are the children and partners who suffer long absences, deadlines, cramming sessions for exams and late night skype calls. In the middle of my third semester my son said: “Dad, I don’t like the MBA, it means we don’t talk as much before I go to bed”. A stake through my heart! In fact my greatest stress throughout the course was, as we neared the end of the first lecture, would it end in time for me to talk to my son before he went to sleep.

It has been one of the most enjoyable learning experiences in my life. Academically highly educational with some truly inspirational teachers, a rich social interaction, life-long bonds made with team members forged through collective suffering, and most surprisingly of all, self-discovery. The Myer Briggs and 360 assessments really made me understand my motivations, passions and most of all my limitations. I also became aware that how I perceive and hear myself is very different to how others see and hear me. I gained wisdom through this course managing to avoid grade fixation and focussing on the journey itself; I feasted on the marrow of the MBA and mined the minds of the lecturers and classmates all washed down with at times contentious, but always good-spirited debate. The MBA was always about the journey to me, not the final arbitrary tabulation of effort.

So what of the future? We are clearly living in interesting and disruptive times. Moore’s law tells us computing power doubles every 18 months and we are at the dawn of AI displacing many millions of jobs as evidenced by the Fukoki-company outsourcing to IBM Watson Explorer recently. Other disruptive innovations including Crispr Cas 9 genome editing, 3D printing, driverless cars, internet of things, solar panel covered streets to power lights and cities, will all revolutionise our lives. We will live longer more affluent lives but will this necessarily translate to better quality lives? “Machinery which gives us abundance has left us in want, knowledge has made us cynical and cleverness hard and unkind, we think too much and feel too little, more than machinery we need humanity, more than cleverness we need kindness” (Charles Chaplin).

Equally compelling is the lurch to the political right, religious wars, economic stagnation with endless QE, lack of political leadership and the potential for further banking collapses with bail ins. But I have great hope for the future despite all these tumultuous events. That hope arises partly from my MBA experience because of the people I met. Simple acts of kindness: a mass card for a bereaved family member, baby hampers for a bouncing new arrival, organising a medical appointment for a child, and help for a classmate struggling with an assignment. An encouraging word, a kind smile, a nod that all will be okay.

This journey has made me wiser, walk softer and try to be kinder. Because the MBA isn’t about grades, it isn’t about degrees, it isn’t about money. It’s about people, the struggle you endure with them, learning from them and most importantly the friendship you give and graciously receive from them. I thank my classmates and lecturers for the wonderful two-year conversation we have enjoyed. Most of all I thank my family for tolerating this journey and carrying me along the way.

Maybe our journey isn’t ending, maybe it’s just beginning…

Colin McMahon ~ Executive MBA, Year 2

Road to the World Cup

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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.

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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

Beyond the MBA: A Post-Break Reflection

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Andrea Martinez ~ Full-Time MBA

Teams – A Hybrid Approach

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Undertaking an MBA was something I had considered for a long time. However, with my career progressing and being in my mid 30’s I has thought that the time to take on this challenge had passed me by. Realising that I wanted to change my career path, I spoke with friends & colleagues, and made enquiries into what options and programmes were available to me. I quickly realised the Full-Time MBA in Smurfit Business School matched exactly what I was looking for.

After 10 years in the banking industry, giving up my job (and salary!!) for a year was a scary prospect. However, unlike many of my classmates, being from Dublin was advantageous in terms of not having to move, which made things easier for me. Returning to full time education after a gap of 10 years certainly took some getting used to, but after 2 to 3 weeks of a settling in period I was back in the student mind-set.

There is a wide diversity in the class in terms of experience, industry, and nationality. Adapting to different people’s way of doing things takes time and includes some trial and error – but I am always learning. An engineer and a banker certainly have different ways to tackle the same problem! However, what I have learned is that there are many ways to successfully complete a task. Quite often a hybrid approach between team members proves to be the most efficient way of achieving success.

The past 4 months have flown by. It has been tough at times and the hours have been long, however I have learned a huge amount both academically and personally and I have met some great people along the way. Semester 1 is complete, however there is still a long road ahead and I am looking forward to the challenges that 2017 will bring.

I have really enjoyed the MBA experience to date, but having said that I am certainly enjoying the Christmas break! Lots done – even more to do!

Mark Kavanagh ~ Full-Time MBA

Barriers to Entry

Noticed in canteen last week (look closely at the top-centre of the window!) – Proof that not all high-fliers get into the Smurfit MBA. I just hope the unsuccessful candidates weren’t exposed to these “barriers to entry”…(Porter, 1979)
Noticed in canteen last week (look closely at the top-centre of the window!) – Proof that not all high-fliers get into the Smurfit MBA. I just hope the unsuccessful candidates weren’t exposed to these “barriers to entry”…(Porter, 1979)

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!

Teamwork
Teamwork

Conor Hurley ~ Full-Time MBA

There Is No ONE Answer…

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My class and I are now nearly half way through Semester 1, Year 2 of the Executive MBA. The respite of mid-term is upon us as we take a breather before the run in of the last few weeks of the semester.

As I reflect on the progress we have made to date, one key learning sticks in my mind. Subjects such as Leading the Innovative Enterprise, Performance Driven Marketing, Strategy (corporate and competitive), Business and Society and Organisational Behaviour have taught me one thing: There is no One Answer.

My background is a technical one – a degree in chemistry and a number of years of experience in manufacturing pharmaceuticals. In those environments, technical problems, investigations and experiments have a root cause, a numerical answer or a concise conclusion. The subjects already mentioned have required some reprogramming of my brain.

As I read case studies and analysed the information, I came to a conclusion. I entered class with my notes in hand confident I had found the right “one” answer.

“Honda’s strategy was sound no luck involved – well planned and executed.”

“Developing a customer relationship by pretending to have a keen interest in thorough bred bulls – no ethical dilemma here, this is fair game in the sales world”

“Flat organisational structures – ideological, can’t work in practice”

As I waited in anticipation, throughout the lecture, for the various professors and doctors to validate my rock solid conclusions I was often disappointed. Why are they not giving us the answer?

As my brain adjusted to this new environment, I realised that me finding that one correct answer was futile. What is important however is the discussion, the insights of fellow classmates, my study group members and the theory outlined in articles and course text books. Eventually I stopped worrying about finding the right answer and more about incorporating the appropriate learning to strengthen my analysis and reasoning.

Michael Collins ~ Executive MBA

“Why did it have to be snakes?”

When I first started working with Médecins Sans Frontières and was asked how willing I was to travel, I said I’d go anywhere so long as there were no snakes. Of course, within a few months I found myself shrieking and waking the entire compound in a remote South Sudanese village having brushed my bare toes off what turned out not to be a slippery, moving branch.  The guards thought it was hilarious and got great entertainment out of mimicking my running away in flip flops for days after. (It wasn’t a great start when I was supposed to be their manager; I’m pretty sure no one dared laugh at Indiana Jones.)

My feelings about snakes are similar to how I feel about spreadsheets.  It takes every ounce of strength not to run screaming from them.  My job is based around words: beautiful narratives and use of language to convey feeling, meaning, and empathy.  In first year, everyone else in the class seemed to detest a long-winded Ethics text book but I found it quite comforting.  If it’s in words, I have a chance of understanding it.

However, an MBA is all about getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself.  Achieving a B in Corporate Finance last semester was a huge boost and I began second year thinking, “Okay, maybe I can do numbers.”  All things considered, room N204 is a relatively safe environment in which to overcome your fears.  This year we all know each other better, we share mutual respect having survived first year, and the classroom sparring has grown even livelier.  One could argue that we’re strongly incentivised to engage in debate as class participation counts for between 10% and 30% of each overall grade this semester.  Whatever the reason, I really enjoy learning from my classmates in this manner.  I love listening to the different perspectives and being part of an argument as it spirals to a conclusion that we definitely don’t all agree with but we’ve had good fun bashing out.  I look forward to a meaty debate each week and hope someone will throw something controversial into the mix, just for the hell of it.

As we approach the mid-term we’re well into the thick of things and an Investment Management project is looming.  It’s impossible to avoid spreadsheets in this one.  Luckily I have a crack team again this year and I’m confident we can do a good job.  It’s not so much about feeling the fear and doing it anyway.  Its feel the fear, feel the rolling boulder of terror, through teamwork feel empowered, and through classmates feel inspired.   It’s all part of the MBA adventure.

Deirdre Mangaoang

EMBA Midweek year 2


The value of the MBA team

In week six of our Organisational Behaviour & Decision Making module we explored some of the concepts behind work groups and teams with Dr Paul McGrath. We looked at Gersick’s punctuated equilibrium model, Belbin’s team roles and how group cohesiveness influences performance. One of the key takeaway messages was that while many organisations may claim to take team based work very seriously, they don’t. This is because they don’t offer team based rewards; rather they reward individuals within the team, typically financially or with a promotion. I thought about this on the way home in relation to my own study group and I realised that actually, UCD Smurfit is offering us team-based rewards. If we work well as a team, we will get a good grade for our team assignments. We don’t get graded for our individual contribution within the group assignment; we get graded as a team. We all sink or swim together.

Little did I realise that the next day my five month old daughter would be rushed to Crumlin Children’s Hospital in an ambulance prompting me to drop everything and rush from an MBA event organized in Google to go to her bedside for the next four days. Both work and study were off my radar for the foreseeable future. Then the strong group cohesion that we established in the local watering hole kicked in so as to drive group performance. Graham, Colin and Marius stepped up and reorganised our workload and schedule in order to take the pressure off me. Help with assignments was given, roles in presentations were reconfigured, and strict pre-agreed timelines were pushed out to the detriment of teammates who were already under severe time constraints themselves, notwithstanding having their own partners and families. Now that the crisis phase has passed and I’m beginning to reemerge as an actual contributor to the group, I look forward to paying back the favour and taking on some extra work at the first opportunity. Well, maybe after midterm! The results are in, group sevens strong cohesion and performance results in optimal productivity on the quadrant chart. Perhaps the colleges team-based reward structure is correct. My definition of an effective team? Greater than the sum of its parts.

Oh yeah, my daughter is fine. Fortunately it turns out that it was just a nasty tummy bug. All is well that ends well. Thanks guys.

Conor Connolly

EMBA Midweek Year 1

To MBA or not MBA

Filling in the application form in March, April and May (yes that’s right 3 months to finalise the initial submission) I feel demonstrates the fine art of procrastination I had mastered over the years. Fast forward to today, 6 weeks of lectures under my belt and those precious lazy Sunday afternoons lying on the sofa gone. They have been replaced with a sea of paper and an ever growing pile of ignored emails from friends (fingers crossed they are still friends).

The question is do I miss the lazy Sundays and do I need those friends? Well I may need the friends but I don’t long for those lazy Sundays. Yes some sleep without the constant mouse on a wheel running in my head screaming, OB pairs project 60%, supply chain presentation 20%, competitive strategy report 25% would be nice, but you can’t have it all.

The learning curve has been steep to date and the group dynamics intense at times, especially when feminism is brought up, which is generally twice a week in our Group.  It is however this fast paced environment that keeps me alert, no matter what the week in work was like and what obscure place in Europe I had the pleasure of visiting.

There has not been a lecture where I have questioned why did I sign up to this? I run out of work on a Friday to get to lectures (generally with minutes to spare) and eagerly await the classroom discussion tangents we will undoubtedly force the lecture to take. So far so good!

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The lyrics which sum up my first six weeks are: my face above the water, my feet can’t touch the ground. Ironically my feet are on the ground.

Darren Kelly

EMBA Weekend year 1