1 Month Down, 11 More To Go…

I didn’t realize until I started writing this blog that I have already completed a whole month of my MBA.  A very busy month that went so fast I barely noticed it going. Before completing my Foundation Week, which was my first week in the Smurfit School of Business, I was a nervous wreck. The idea of meeting people from other nations was nerve racking especially as I had forgotten how to “speak” after working as a software developer for over 7 years. The idea that I had to talk, network and make sense was just too stressful.

Well then why did I choose to do an MBA? To get speaking, and boy have I spoken a lot since then. I will admit that the struggle was real! Irish accents are a lot harder to comprehend than I had initially thought. The Irish pace of speaking is a total contrast to mine. What caught my attention was the way they spoke words like ‘a-bu-t’(about) and ‘ha-au’(how). I found it extremely funny for the first couple of days and I just couldn’t get over it, haha!

Hmmm… so far we have learned a lot and much to my surprise I have already given 4 presentations in the first month alone. Am I now a confident public speaker who can speak on any topic; Nope! It takes time, but trust me I have come quite a long way from where I began, and to know that I still have 11 more months to complete, I am sure that I will have my own talk show by the end of it.

The study group is another experiment, where I, a north Indian, need to complete assignments with American, Irish and south Indian (it is not the same!) team members. This was not a comfortable thought for me at first, however, as we started to work together, I learnt that despite obvious differences between us there were also a lot of similarities. Especially in terms of how each one of us struggled to cope with the pressure of just too much to do in too little time. This made us understand each other and bond more.

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What has truly started to make sense to me is that with good team work and good time management you can achieve a humongous amount! Interestingly, this lesson has also come from my personal experience of travelling daily for at least three hours. I am only able to keep up with my assignments due to good time management and the team work at home between my husband and I. You might be surprised to know that even though my first month in UCD was anything but relaxing, I am very excited to experience what is coming next.

Nadisha Garg, Full Time MBA, 2017-2018

Foundation Week 2017

In some respects, it is hard to believe that we are already a week into our MBA programme. Thinking back over the past year there have been so many experiences that felt like finish lines by themselves. Passing the GMAT, getting accepted into Smurfit Business School, wrapping up your life and work to prepare for the task ahead; every point felt like a victory.  It is only now, standing at the end of Foundation Week, that we can look back and clearly see these accomplishments weren’t finish lines but qualifications to enter the race. On your marks, get set, go!

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The real starting line came at the threshold of the grand entrance to the main hall at Smurfit. On Monday morning, one by one, eager faces presented themselves at the door and joined the growing crowd around the banks of gently flowing coffee. Everyone was happy. Everyone was aware that the people in this room would become significant in each other’s lives. When our crowd was complete, we made our way to the lecture hall to get started. We were introduced to the faces of the many helpful names we’ve been interacting with via e-mail for the past several weeks. After warm greetings from the cadre of administrators, Damien McLoughlin took over.

Damien’s presence in the room is felt by everyone. By impressions, it seems that he might have had a bit more coffee than the rest of us.  He can smell the fear in the room. All of us are a bit anxious about our very first case study class. He peppers questions around the classroom while making soft jabs. He likes some manner of sports that I, as an American, didn’t recognise; it could’ve been soccer or hurling or… who could say.  He kept turning the screw by highlighting that “his team” had beat someone else’s team in an epic victory the night before. In between the jokes and jabs are very real questions about the task at hand. I can tell you, I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one who didn’t read the case study.

After an hour and a half with Damien, we could breathe again.  We had made it through the case study and no one had died. The afternoon of the first day was much like the morning.  We spread our attention across a range of topics from Finance to the Library. We were introduced to Professor Niamh Brennan for a primer course on report writing.  I’ll talk more about her later.  I slept very well on Monday night.

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For the second day of the MBA the Executive MBAs and Full Time MBAs split up.  Foundation Week is not only about getting a peek into the programme but also it is a very small window of opportunity to quickly galvanize our team.  It turns out that if you want to accelerate team development for a group of people who are all, individually, capable of being leaders, you have to blindfold them and then tell them to hurry up. In fact, blindfolds, giant spider webs, oversized jigsaw puzzles, inner tubes, and giant Rube Goldberg contraptions were all part of the craziness of day two. Without giving too much away I will tell you that the leadership development team did a masterful job at making 30 strangers quickly feel like good friends.

The third day of the MBA was a wake-up call for me.  The voice on the other end of the phone said “Good morning, remember how you said you wanted a world-class education?  Go get it!”  After some housekeeping presentations first thing in the morning we were back in the ring with Professor Niamh. Being in Niamh’s classroom (she does prefer to operate on a first-name basis) is a bit hard to describe. If you’ve ever thought that your educational aspirations are akin to growing a garden or perhaps a sprouting tree, you might be too delicate for her class. She is an intellectual fire-hose and you had better damn well be on fire if you are going to excel in her class. Day three is a veritable blitzkrieg of Financial Reporting. The MBA cohort consists of people from every professional background, financial and otherwise. As we rounded the fourth or fifth straight hour of Financial Reporting, you could pretty clearly guess who had the chops and who didn’t based upon the looks on their faces. Personally, I looked like an Edvard Munch painting.

Let it not be said that “Graduate school isn’t all fun and games” because that is precisely what the fourth day of Foundation Week was.  Games are a great way to learn, especially for the losers. I will go ahead and tell you that I learned a lot on day four. What was the game? It was a simulation game that brought the use of financial papers into focus. A team of game-makers (a-la Hunger Games) from Germany brought their talent to the Talbot hotel, the off-site location for the day.  In a re-mixed group of Executive MBA and Full Time MBA students, we were asked to build a company.  Each member on the team became a department head of a widget factory. Sales, Process, Procurement, and Finance, the teams competed against one another to try and flip a profit. Before lunch each team felt the stinging slap of the invisible hand as too much competition drove prices to the ground. After lunch, and after a great lesson on pricing strategy and competition, each team re-entered the market and tried to claw their way back from red to green. Most teams made it. Mine did not.

As I bring this post to a close I confess to you, dear reader, that there aren’t 1000 words in any language that could’ve done justice to describing the experience of Foundation Week at Smurfit Business School. But, I would like to offer a two-word description of the final day of Foundation Week as a gold-letter promise that the MBA programme is going to be everything we have hoped for: professional development. On Friday we discussed how to be better listeners, how to understand people better and, most importantly, how to be better communicators. We began the process of being better public speakers. The lessons on Friday made me realise that when this race is over, and I cross the finish line on graduation day, I won’t have merely learned – I will have evolved.

Thomas Strimbu, MBA 2017-2018

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