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

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!

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Teamwork

Conor Hurley ~ Full-Time MBA

An MBA… So What’s It Really Like?

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As I near the end of Semester Two of my first year I have reflected on my experience so far. I thought I’d write a post which, had I read one year ago, would have given me a real insight into what was in store for me when I was considering the MBA Programme at Smurfit Business School. So here it goes………

Semester and Grading Structure – so what do you actually do?

Each semester has 4 modules (subjects). You’ll be assigned, by the school, to your study-team with 4 other classmates which will last for each semester. Some modules will be fully graded on the basis of a combination of individual or study-team assignments. Others will be graded by means of assignment (team or individual) coupled with an end of semester exam. If you have never experienced the delight of the Exam Hall in the RDS –this pleasure awaits! Some of the team assignments involve studying a particular case study or topic and formally presenting this to the full class. Your team’s class presentations will include low cost US airline Southwest Airlines (HR Strategy aspect) and Online UK supermarket Ocado (Supply Chain aspect). Every two weeks the Competitive Strategy module will require your team to prepare a one page assessment report in response to a problem outlined in the assigned case study on topics ranging from the Asian airline industry to an online dating company. You will learn.

Skills development

The program will take you out of your comfort zone straight away. If you are a reluctant orator / presenter, the program will assist in the development of your skills. In the opening orientation week Paul Slattery will give you a small taster of his Presentation Skills Workshop. You will have an opportunity to sign up for a 1 day workshop with Paul later in Semester 1 – make sure you sign up! You will have plenty of opportunity to practice and refine your presentation skills (and gain confidence) in front of your class as part of your presentation assignments. You will develop.

Developing Skills
Developing Skills

Resilience

You’ll figure out that your resilience is put to the test. Semester 1 is “full-on” – by week 5 you will wonder if you (or anyone!) can manage the combined workload of (1) your commitments to team assignments (2) your own assignments (3) your preparation for next week’s lectures and (4) all the while doing the regular 9 to 5 day job. By week 12, you will know that somehow you made it and that you won’t have left anyone behind. You’ll figure out how to make it work, how to find time and how not to waste time.  You’ll get your reading and preparation for the next classes done before work a few mornings a week and you’ll spend one day out of the weekend between study-team meetings and assignments. Occasionally on weekends you’ll need to do more but life will go on. By Semester 2 – you’ll feel much more in control, less daunted and more organised.  You will balance.

Not just Teamwork but Friendships

You’ve heard lots about the emphasis on teamwork. Trust me, you’ll form close friendship bonds that will last beyond the 2 years of the program. You will quickly learn to trust your assigned teammates not just in the narrow sense of the course work but in a broader sense. You’ll get to know them on a personal level and them you – you’ll closely share the ups and downs of the MBA life experience with them. Just before the end of semester 1, when final exams are closely coming into focus, you’ll find that you’ve given up a whole Saturday to coach your fellow teammates and some other classmates on an exam subject that you studied before. You’re motivated to ensure that no one is left behind. You will impact.

You will belong.

 Derek Anderson ~ Executive MBA