A View From the MBA Finish Line

Nothing worthwhile comes easy. The MBA has certainly not been easy but it has been hugely worthwhile. This week marked the finish line as we handed in the final ‘capstone’ project, the culmination of our learnings over two years applied to a real company problem. I have anticipated the feeling of elation for months, but it has come inextricably entwined with mixed emotions. I primarily feel an enormous sense of achievement and satisfaction that I have realised a long held personal ambition. There is also a certain relief in knowing that I am finally free of the constant attrition of assignments, reading, lectures, exams and the Saturday morning dash out the N11 to Blackrock. Unexpectedly, there is also a strange accompanying sense of disappointment that a journey which I have enjoyed beyond expectation, has come to an end.

A journey shared is all the sweeter, and the most enjoyable element of the last two years has been working with, and getting to know, such an exceptional bunch of people. The intensity of the MBA bonds the class in an indescribable way. From team building in a rainy field in Blackrock to Honda, Coca Cola, Southwest Airlines, and GE, to karaoke in Tokyo, we have been on a roller coaster journey together. There have been ups and downs for everyone as we have struggled to balance work and personal lives with the demands of the course.  The unfettered commitment of the group to supporting each other, and ensuring that everyone made it to the finish line together, has been remarkable. Your classmates challenge you, they set the bar high, they expect more, they drive you, but more importantly they teach you and support you.

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Catherine O’Brien, 2nd from left, with MBA classmates

The MBA teaches you all the fundamentals of business management from corporate finance to management accounting, organisational behaviour, strategy and negotiations. But this is not where the growth lies. I attended an event last year where I was struck by a comment made by one of the speakers, who highlighted how comfort zones are nice but nothing ever grows there. Simple but powerful, it stuck with me. The MBA has offered the opportunity to step up and out of your comfort zone in so many different ways, and I am delighted that I have pursued every single opportunity. From representing UCD Smurfit at the John Molson international business case competition in Montreal, to presenting to global MBA colleagues in Yale, I have enjoyed every opportunity to grow and learn.

The self-learning which comes through the leadership dimension of the MBA is one of the most valuable aspects of the course. Through group work and end of semester peer feedback and reflection, you learn about your style of interacting in teams, your style of leadership, your strengths, and preferences. You learn about the preferences of others, that there is no one right way, and that ultimately our differences drive us to achieve so much more.

As I reflect on the MBA journey, I won’t miss the unrelenting workload, but I will unquestionably miss the challenge and the self-development. Above all else, I will miss the class debates, the sharp wit of my classmates, and the laughter imbued post mortems over a few drinks down in the Dark Horse.

To the faculty and programme office at UCD Smurfit, on behalf of myself and my colleagues, thank you for doing your very best to look after us, to inspire us, and to challenge us.

To my MBA colleagues, I am privileged to have undertaken this journey with you, to have learned from you, and to now count you as friends who I know I can call on as we all move forward in our respective careers and lives. May I wish you all the very best with the next chapter.

Catherine O’Brien, EMBA 2015-2017

Icelandic Perspectives

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.

For the first time this year, the International Consulting Project was part of the MBA curriculum.  For the for the full-time class, it was automatically included in the curriculum and an optional module for the first-year executive classes. This exciting addition to our busy year entailed a trip to Reykjavik to undertake a four-day consulting project for an Icelandic company.

Upon arrival, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon for a warm Icelandic welcome in the form of a swim in the scenic 37º Celsius lagoon. It was a great icebreaker and the ideal situation to have social interaction between the different cohorts on the trip.

We were divided into groups of four, each group assigned to a different company. Our group consulted for a high-tech fishing gear sales and manufacturing start-up, whose objective is to instigate and benefit from a paradigm shift in bottom trawl fishing. Our team was tasked to undertake analysis on the existing shrimp industry and provide them with a route to market strategy. The four days of consulting were intense and we were under immense pressure, but it turned out to be a very valuable learning experience.

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Having the opportunity to work for four days in an Icelandic company and getting to know some of the local people gave us a unique perspective of the country, its people and how business is done there. This was further supplemented by an event hosted by the Reykjavik University’s MBA, whose programme manager gave us an introduction followed by two presentations by their alumni who are both entrepreneurs.

Our group was fortunate enough to finish early on the Thursday after our presentation, giving us enough time to rent a car and do the Golden Loop (a popular tourist route covering some of Iceland’s most iconic landmarks). This was truly a great experience, seeing the natural beauty of Iceland. We managed to stop at the Thingvellir National Park rift valley, Strokkur Geyser, Gullfoss waterfall and Kerið volcanic crater – and still make it back to Reykjavik in time for the group farewell dinner at the iconic Harpa building.

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This quick afternoon trip only gave us a taste of the spectacular scenery Iceland has to offer, and I can completely understand why its tourism industry is booming. I will certainly go back to see more of this spectacular country, with the Northern Lights hopefully included in my next trip.

The International Consulting Project was a memorable, insightful and challenging experience.  Looking back on the MBA programme, this was definitely one of the events that I will never forget. I also believe that it added tremendously to my MBA learning experience as I could apply various academic aspects learned during the year. It also provided me with a good idea of what it’s like to work as a consultant and was great preparation for our Capstone team.

Barnus Beyers – Full Time MBA 2017

Bringing It All Together

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.

There is far more to an MBA experience than what you absorb in a classroom and it is learning from the experiences and skills of your peers where the MBA is most valuable. The consulting project in Iceland typified this. For our team Taramar, we worked closely with a small organic novel skincare company in Iceland looking to expand into new regions.

From start to finish the project lasted just three weeks which concluded with four days working on site with the client. Timelines were extremely tight and we knew we would have to hit the ground running if this project was to be a success. We spent two weeks prior to our trip researching market conditions, compiling data, liaising with the client on project scope and defining success criteria. Just like in the real world, no consulting project runs exactly smoothly and Team Taramar had to work through a number of trials and tribulations throughout our project. We quickly realised that defining scope and understanding exactly what a client desires is crucially important. We faced each challenge head on and a highlight for all of us was presenting our work at the end of the week to a delighted client.

As a team, we used the skills and knowledge we had acquired over the year to carry out a feasibility study. When we look back now, it is amazing the body of work that was accomplished in just four short days. But that is another characteristic of the MBA; each team gets more and more efficient as the year progresses. We assessed the market conditions, carried out a pricing study, drafted a marketing strategy, proposed a logistics solution to distribute in the new territory and used aspects of each MBA module we had completed.

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Although putting all the arduous hours of study into practice at the end of the year was rewarding, looking back it is what we learned from each other that was a real highlight. Our team was comprised of a variety of backgrounds and experiences from e-commerce, sales and commercial strategy, accounting, pharmacy and chemistry. The combined experience of the group was invaluable when developing a solution for our client. For each member in our team it was a first foray into the consulting world, and it’s safe to say we loved it!

The trip to Iceland was definitely one of the highlights of the year for all who attended. There was a sense of camaraderie from start to finish which helped to enhance the overall experience for all involved.

The opportunity to engage with faculty and members of the Full Time and both classes of the Executive MBA was thoroughly rewarding. We have all made new connections which will no doubt be invaluable in our future careers.

Suffice to say our Icelandic experience will live long in our memories!

https://www.taramarbeauty.com/

John Cassidy, EMBA 2016-2018

… the sweetest thing?

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.

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“…And these are the team’s recommendations for market entry with your new product”. This was the end of what can only be described as a fantastic, informative whistle-stop journey into the world of management consulting working with ORF Genetics in Iceland. It was hard to believe just three days earlier the team sat down with the company’s Head of Market Development for our project briefing in ORF’s new state of the art offices that overlook the Reykjavík skyline and the blue Atlantic ocean beyond.

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We were tasked with determining if a market exists for ORF’s new sweetener grown in a barley plant. It was a excellent opportunity to apply not only our first year of the Executive MBA’s classroom learning but also our own team’s diverse background experience to a real life scenario and business problem. We left with a sense of fulfillment and pride, confident our findings have the potential to add real value to the company.

Little did we know when we set out from Dublin airport what a wonderful experience we would have as a team but also as a wider group spending a week in Iceland working with businesses on real life commercial challenges. Not that it was all work and no play; we also managed to pack in visits to the tourist destinations of the Blue Lagoon and the famous Golden Circle which encompasses the gushing Strokkur geyser, the iconic Gullfoss waterfall and the wide open landscape of Thingvellir National Park. The visit was helped all the more by the nearly 24 hours of sunlight at this time of year at 66 degrees latitude.

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The week also included an insightful visit to Reykjavík University to hear about how to do business in Iceland from two of their business school’s alumni, Thordis Loa Thorhallsdottir, CEO of Gray Lines Tour Iceland and Viggo Asgeirsson, Chief HR Office and Co-Founder of Meniga, one of Iceland’s top Fintech companies.

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Our Iceland experience was topped off with a farewell dinner in the architecturally stunning Harpa Opera house looking out over the old harbour where all students and staff got to celebrate a successful week. We just missed out on the mountain top concert but maybe next time….

A big thank you to Professor Karan Sonpar, the faculty and MBA office for organising a wonderful trip.

Paul Donnelly, Séamus Harrington, Ciara Keane, Brendan Staunton, Paul Walsh – EMBA 2016-2018

Reykjavik “High Fliers”

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.

Stu Garrett, Yasser Matloob, Gauav Bansal and I worked on consultancy project for Reyjkavik-based start-up, Karolina Fund. Having developed their own successful crowd-funding platform with an enviable funding success rate of 74%, Karolina identified the opportunity to turn its platform into a white label engine which could be licensed to other crowdfunding platforms, creating an additional revenue stream.

Coming from the traditional environments of hospitals, utilities, banking and finance the Karolina Fund project gave our team exposure to an industry in its infancy and an exciting start-up environment.

The original scope of the assignment was to undertake a review of the company’s product and target market. However, as our scoping progressed and our interactions with our client became more frequent, we began to understand that the real scope of our assignment was to give an external opinion on whether Karolina should seek additional investment to add AI capabilities to their engine. Our client believes this would unlock a significant number of potential new uses for the company’s crowd-funding engine and become its unique selling point.

We found ourselves drawing heavily on our competitive strategy module from Semester 1. It was not long before the familiar expressions of Porter’s Five Forces, multi-sided platforms and core competences were floating around the Reykjavik innovation hub. We drew from our human resource strategy module by identifying the core competences that existed in the business and how these skills and expertise could be leveraged to achieve the company’s vision and strategy.phoyo1

We thoroughly enjoyed the discussions we had with our client where we could openly explore new ideas for his business in an open and direct manner. We were motivated by his passion and inspired by the company’s success to date. We debriefed each evening with faculty members who sometimes brought us back down to earth from our “blue sky thinking” perch by constructively challenging our ideas. This was an invaluable experience.

It would not have been an MBA study trip without networking opportunities. We got to share our experiences and challenges with over 50 members of the current MBA class, all happy to provide insights and ideas. More importantly, we got to experience networking in typical Icelandic fashion – in a circus tent with the Icelandic version of Eminem, trapeze artists descending from the apex and a special appearance by Pepper the Robot! Amidst the entertainment we met our company chairman and other members of the start-up community in Reykjavik.

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Oonagh O’Grady, Executive MBA 2016-2018

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

 

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