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…

equipmentprotection3

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!

The lyrics corner

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

Learning to collaborate and excel in Teams

Our journey of 1 year Full-time MBA has already got into full swing. Though, there have been numerous learning opportunities during the last one and a half month, experience of working in teams (formally known as study groups) has been the most enriching. This has enhanced our learning curve exponentially. Collectively working on various assignments, presentations, simulation exercises and case studies has helped us to learn immensely from each other’s knowledge, views and experiences. All the teams have been made very thoughtfully consisting of team members of different nationalities and varied educational & professional backgrounds.

Group work has been immensely useful as it gives the real business world experience, where we would be constantly working with number of cross-functional business teams. It has given fillip to our communication, presentation and inter-personal skills, which is the core of business management. We are learning to appreciate everyone’s ideas and opinions and excelling in the art of collective decision making in the context of varied business and management situations. In addition to intellectual stimulation, working in teams is also helping us to develop the feeling of bonding and companionship, which would be lasting for lifetime.

Smurfit MBA study teams clearly demonstrate that “Individually we are one drop, but together, we are an Ocean”.

Ashutosh Singla

Full-time MBA 2014-15

The half-way point….. of semester one

We are now half way through semester 1, or a quarter of the way through year one, or an eighth of the way through the MBA. It doesn’t matter how you put it, it’s all the same. Some of us focus on the big picture while others are taking one day at a time. When I applied for the MBA, I knew it was going to be a tough two years, but I thought if I managed my time well, I would go to lectures on Monday and Thursday nights and try and fit in a few hours of study on the nights in between, thereby I would still have my weekends to relax. During the induction week that dream was shattered. It was announced that a further 20 hours on top of lectures would be required – four hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday evenings along with a full day on Saturday would allow us to take a full day off on Sunday. Impossible I thought to myself, I’ll never be able to do all that. Now at the week 7 mark, my average week is that as described above with the addition of approximately four to five hours on a Sunday. Personal time, what’s that?  But as Albert Einstein put it, “Time is an illusion”.

When in school or college, you know you should be spending the day studying, you watch the clock and will it to move on. Now in the MBA, I watch the clock as a reminder to go to bed and will it to slow down.  Honestly, there are days that I think my watch has broken because it has skipped a couple of hours. I now have to balance reading something really interesting versus sleeping. If you ask anyone to give one negative comment about the MBA, the response is always, “I want to read everything, but there just isn’t the time”. There are no boring topics, lectures or assignments. In fact, we are now approaching the stage that we can start to apply, in our own work situations, what we have learnt thus far. What makes it even better, is how the semester one courses seem to have been selected – they all seem to interlink in some way. What you learnt in one, does actually help with another. The MBA is like no other course that I have done before. I am interested in the topics, I want to do further research and I actually don’t mind the fact that I have missed the first two episodes of Love Hate. Before I get carried away, they are recorded and will be watched over Christmas with an entire box of celebrations by my side.

This of course would not be possible without the other 30 odd people in my class. Funnily enough, before commencing the MBA, I didn’t worry about the academic side of the course. I worried about the other people in the class and hoped that they would be like minded individuals that I would get on with. That fear was put to rest  after the induction week and buried not long after. Each of us have the same problems of balancing the MBA with sleep, work, and where possible friends. And believe it or not, we all want each other to succeed. This became apparent during a presentation last week when I momentarily let my attention drift away from my group’s presentation to look around the room. The expressions were all the same – everyone was willing our group make a successful presentation and not hoping that we would trip up and fail. Each of us is in this for the long haul and together as one big team rather than 30 or so individuals.

Two more weeks until mid-term and then four weeks until exam week – nine weeks until Christmas break…… not that anyone’s counting!

Dorothy Chestnutt
EMBA Midweek year 1

The view from Week 6

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see (Amazing Grace, John Newton 1725-1807).

This is how it feels after six weeks of the E-MBA programme. The fog of confusion in which I have lived for the last few years is starting to clear. What makes a company stand out from the crowd? What are they doing differently? Why do their employees enjoy going to work? Where is the meaningful information in an Annual Report? All of these questions and more are being addressed simultaneously in our first semester. There are more questions each week but at least I feel they are starting to resemble intelligent questions.

The group work is great – Carlsberg don’t do groups but if they did it would be Group 2, EMBA Weekend 2014! It is like early morning training on a Saturday, you might not want to do it, but you are not going to let the team down. Being in a team drives you to do more. You don’t want to be that person everybody talks about during the Intro Week – The one who doesn’t pull their weight, the weak link in the chain, the slacker. Although when I look around my class I am left thinking this fictitious creature must be taking the mid-week course? This person is like a unicorn or an elf, they are the subject matter of great stories but we all know they don’t really exist.

The Entrepreneurship Club – I went to my first event at the Google HQ last night. For me it was fascinating. There were talks from industry experts who explained the available supports for start-up ventures, from pre-seed capital right through to International scalability. This is not an area I have any previous experience in so I am looking forward to future events.

Now all I need is a lightning bolt moment where I think of a concept that will change the world. Maybe I will leave that to the end of Semester 2!

Barry Griffin

EMBA Weekend 2014-2016

The MBA and work/life balance – any suggestions?

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

In The Economist of 19th November 1955 Cyril Northcote Parkinson published for the first time the famous law which bears his name. From the everyday observation that work expands to fill the time allocated, he was able to prove that x = (2k^m+p)/n. Where k is the number of staff seeking promotion through the appointment of subordinates; p represents the difference between the ages of appointment and retirement; m is the number of man-hours devoted to answering minutes within the department; and n is the number of effective units being administered. Then x will be the number of new staff required each year.

In the case of application to the Smurfit MBA program, we can take x to be 38 (the number of new students every year); k to also be 38 (the number who would like to have a subordinate) and p to be one (the amount of years we spend in the program). A little simple arithmetic, and the use of a handy online logarithmic calculator, and we arrive at m = 0.8. That means that between the 38 of us, we have just 48 minutes to spend on answering minutes all year. To put it another way, we don’t have a whole lot of time to waste.

In the maelstrom of the past five and a half weeks I’ve tried to waste as little time as possible. I’d love to start up a conversation where we can exchange useful tips for efficiency and keeping our work/life balances optimal. There’s probably no magic trick that’s going to make completing the MBA easy (although if there is I’d like to hear it) but I’m sure some creative thinking and teamwork will make it bearable. I’m going to write up my bright ideas for next week. All suggestions gratefully received in the comments – maybe we could develop an MBA survival guide? I’d particularly like to hear from EMBA students. I’m sure you guys have had to be even more inventive than us full timers.

Richard Mitchell

Full-time class 2015

The MBAache

Apparently I am a month into my MBA experience. Not quite sure how that happened but I’ll accept it must be true; I have a fairly reliable calendar (big numbers, at least 12 point; nice, sensible Times New Roman font – nothing barbaric like Arial – and exceptional inch-width margins). So it really must be 4 weeks since I first walked through the doors for our induction week in August – and time has just flown in.

Ah, time. I am tempted to stop my blog post right here as those two words pretty much sum up my experience of the last few weeks. I have never, in all my life, valued time in the way I do now. Every spare minute must be allotted some kind of inherent ‘value’ to be acceptable. Learning that you can read – and highlight – while eating an M&S farmhouse cheddar cheese sandwich at your desk is an absolute revelation. Waiting for a train offers a window for a quick brainstorm on a notepad (or back of an IKEA receipt, depending how prepared you are for your train’s delay). A flight from London offers an uninterrupted hour’s reading time (with optional car hire or scratch card purchase). And Friday nights are now so supremely hideous, they are best not spoken about. But this is all just part of The MBAche. I can’t say that this is exactly news to me – the demands on time were fairly hammered home before I started. What IS a wonderfully welcome surprise though, is the group of people around me.

It’s not often you find yourself in a hyper-ambitious environment like this. You might perhaps meet the odd ambitious person in work, come from a competitive family background or have fiercely demanding sales targets. But you rarely find yourself totally immersed in an environment in which every single person has heightened ambitions and targeted plans for the future. Awareness of this on your first day is – I have to admit – a bit disconcerting. You just can’t imagine yourself chatting at ease with anyone like that; even if, by implication, they are actually a reflection of yourself.

So when you then find yourself standing in a field watching 4 grown men wrap an elastic band around a wonky spoon and a plank of wood in order to achieve the high glory of removing a piece of cork from a bucket of water 10 feet away – it tends to make you stop and think. Particularly when it seems, to all intents and purposes, that this might just be the most important task said men have attempted in their lives, thus far. The point of doing these team bonding events is of course to promote strong group dynamics and foster good working relationships; and while I understand that, for me the most important aspect of it was a whole lot simpler. You are reminded that – personal ambitions aside – everyone is just human (READ: children). Which is an absurd thing to need to be reminded of, but I’ve been a little busy lately.

Ruth Cranks

Weekend year 1