Fifteen months ago I contemplated embarking on the executive MBA. It was something I thought would benefit my career. Then, I had just completed my professional accountancy examinations and couldn’t imagine a greater workload from doing the course. Fast forward fifteen months, the EMBA has been a rollercoaster. It is a four-semester course with continuous assessment exercises contributing to final grades. For me, in terms of workload this represents the key difference between professional accountancy exams and the EMBA. Individuals learn the skill of combining the pressures of assignments with readings without forgetting the demands of their full time jobs and family lives. In truth, the intensity of this semester hasn’t yet scaled the heights of the last semester perhaps due to knowledge of a two-week mid-term break with an added week for Easter. However, with several projects due after the mid-term break, there is a general feeling that we are about to quickly shift through the gears.
Before I enrolled, I questioned myself whether I had made the right decision to do the EMBA, whether the benefits of the EMBA outweigh the financial and non-financial cost. In the last week, I have seen an NPV calculation in one of my finance lectures that shows how financially valuable the course is. While that is nice to know, it is not as important as the self-development programmes which I have found equally as valuable as the academic learning. Regardless of time constraints, I would encourage anyone considering the Smurfit Executive MBA to take advantage of the invaluable non-academic sessions included in the programme. To date, my eight academic modules and the non-academic ones of presentation seminars, career development sessions are interactive making the EMBA programme a truly unique experience. This is not surprising considering the rich blend of experience in the classrooms. As Benjamin Franklin once said “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. For me, this encapsulates the essence of true learning.
On Saturday, March 7th, we saw 90 of our MBA students jet off on the Annual MBA International Study Tour. This is an intensive 8 day tour which is spent visiting cultural, political and educational institutions and undertaking a number of company visits as part of the MBA Module; Doing Business In Emerging Markets.
As we are an International Business School based in Dublin, it is no surprise that the MBA module ‘Doing Business in Emerging Markets’ forms an integral component of our MBA Programme. During this Study Tour, our MBA students will have the opportunity to engage with leading academics and world class organisations across a number of sectors, not to mention the experience of a lifetime with their classmates.
Each year we review our destinations and this year, due to popular demand, we are returning to China for our tenth year and visiting South Africa for the first time.
This is no surprise as China’s story is still fascinating, having transformed from a traditional centrally planned economy into a market economy with all of the associated challenges. South Africa has managed to stay on its feet during the wake of the global financial meltdown, largely due to its prudent fiscal and monetary policies. South Africa is one of the largest economies in Africa – and it remains rich with promise. It was admitted to the BRIC group of countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China (known as BRICS) in 2011. Therefore, this is a very interesting time to experience these economies first hand. We are hopeful that it will be an unforgettable experience for our students and that they will gain a new perspective on international business.
There are over 60 participants on this year’s trip to China, including students from both the Full-time MBA and Executive MBA classes. They will visit both Shanghai and Beijing during their trip. This tour is being led by Professor Pat Gibbons.
There are just under 30 participants travelling to South Africa and their tour will include a visit to both Cape Town and Johannesburg. Dr. Paul McGrath is leading this tour.
CELAP, Baosteel, Cisco, Vodacom, QK Meats Group, Enterprise Ireland and Business Ireland are just some of the companies and organisations that will be hosting the company visits and networking events over the course of the week.
I am looking forward to hearing all about both study tours when the students arrive back in Dublin next week and I’m sure they will have lots to share with us on the blog upon their return.
One of the main reasons I decided to do an MBA at Smurfit was career progression. After nine years of working in the turbulent banking industry, I was lucky enough to secure voluntary severance and a scholarship which enabled me to start the Executive MBA last September. Finding the right job – and ensuring that I was selected for that job – were top priorities for me once I had settled into the MBA Programme.
It soon dawned on me that the labour market was awash with job-seeking bankers as a result of downsizing across the sector and that a brutal ‘survival of the fittest’ regime was in play. Advice from many quarters suggested that I may have to take several steps backwards in my career as well as a huge pay-cut, such was the ferocity of competition for financial services roles. If I had a euro for every time I heard ‘it’s an employer’s market’….
The first benefit the MBA offered me during this waiting game was brain training. Many of my former colleagues were happy to take an extended break from working life to spend time with family or to work on their golf handicap. For me, the MBA provided a focus to divert my attention from a potentially disheartening job search. In fact, I became so distracted by Semester 1 that only in January did it occur to me that four months had passed and I had only applied for one job.
Which brings me neatly to the second benefit of the MBA: networking. The single job I had applied for was advertised by the very lady who had interviewed me for the MBA Programme during applications season. So far, so good. We had a successful phone interview and I was progressed to the next round immediately.
The next part of the process is where the MBA learnings really kicked in. The second phase involved a comprehensive interview, psychometric testing and Powerpoint presentation, the likes of which would have made me quake in my boots pre-MBA. But the programme had by this point taught me some valuable skills:
1) Presentation Skills: we had completed a two day extra-curricular workshop during which we were filmed until we had shaken off any poor habits
2) Research Methodology: I approached the interview like a project assignment, using all the knowledge and databases at my disposal, including lecturers’ views on sectoral developments and ‘best practice’ organisational behaviour
3) Career Development: Smurfit’s Head of Careers Brian Marrinan provided me with valuable tools for preparation including sample psychometric tests, interview tips and encouragement
4) Powerpoint: my MBA team-mate introduced me to powerful animation tricks, making for a much more impressive presentation than I had produced in the past
Above all, the MBA has boosted my confidence, which it seems is the key reward offered by the programme. I entered the interview process much clearer on my own strengths and competencies as well as my areas for development, which made for a more relaxed and honest exchange throughout the second and third interviews. Previously, I had been struck by a dose of Ms. Sandberg’s Imposter Syndrome. Not so this time.
Finally, I should point out that two of the six interviewers that I met indicated that they were specifically looking for MBA students and graduates. I mention this because it is good to know that all of the hard work and expense of an MBA is worthwhile.
I start in the new role next week, with a bank that is growing rapidly and steadily enhancing its brand. Just like me.
Business is business. I really hate this phrase – along with all related variations – and always have. What does it even mean? As far as I can tell, it was created for the sole purpose of providing us with justification for what would otherwise be dubious, questionable or unethical behaviour. In the simple context of ‘it’s just business’ we are all excused for actions we would otherwise feel personally uncomfortable with. If this were not the case – why need such a ridiculous phrase at all? The fact that we continue to champion an ethos made famous by Otto Biederman – and later Michael Corleone – is maddening to me.
We take a module called ‘Business & Society’ on my MBA programme and I am finding the class discussions fascinating. There is a broad spectrum of opinions and mind-sets on the topic of business ethics amongst my classmates – which makes for really absorbing, and revealing, debate. The phrase ‘business is business’ appeared in a discussion on corporate social responsibility last week. It arose as a supporting argument for the position that business should not be expected to have an elevated responsibility in improving our societies; that this would be confusing business and government. Government has a duty to the people, not business – commerce should be restricted to the rules of just that, commerce. We cannot continue to shift responsibility for our circumstances onto other agents.
For those of us on the other side of the discussion, this came as a deeply disappointing response. From a classroom of people with significant educational privilege and opportunity – in a country with a global reputation as a business epicentre – this became the definition of frustration for me. I believe, as many others in my class also do, that there is a uniquely collective power within the parameters of business that could be harnessed to do substantial good in the world. For me, this is at a level beyond the current limitations of our imaginations. We should be encouraged to find ways to revolutionise our thinking around business, beyond the constraints of capitalism, so that we may direct its potent influence to where it is needed most.
Do not misunderstand my meaning. I have enormous respect for the creeds of capitalism and have grown up in a commercially competitive environment – and I too have ambitions that are material. But I also think our world has degenerated to a point of crisis that can no longer be resolved with solely pure motivations. This is a prevailing fantasy of ours that needs to be abandoned. If that were a reasonable possibility, religion could have cured our ailments a long time ago; or government would have created systems that prevent inequality and promote fairness. But both of these ‘pure’ constructs have, over time, become polluted and corrupt. They no longer function to the romantic ideals we have in our minds. For many, their relevancy is declining; just look at the depleting congregations at Church or the abysmal voting statistics. And all the while, an even greater ‘collective’ construct has evolved – wholly impure – that captures the intrigue and interests of people across every possible social and geographic boundary. It has more unitive power than both religion and government put together and yet we continue to separate it from the need in the world. Because business is business.
One of the great benefits of the UCD Smurfit Executive MBA is the ability to select from a wide range of optional subjects that make up your final semester. Friends who have previously completed the Smurfit MBA all remark on how the final semester was the most enjoyable as you get to pick subjects which appeal to you the most. There are various motivations at play when picking your subjects. It could be that they are topics you already have a passion for, feel they are areas you need to improve on, or may even form the basis for a career transition. Like Renata Salecli’s book “The Tyranny of Choice”, where she provides an example of the anxiety she experiences when trying to choose from an overwhelming selection in a cheesemonger (each to their own!), when you are faced with so many different options, choosing can become something of a dilemma.
With one weekend gone I couldn’t be happier with my choices. Here are my subjects and why they are important to me. Negotiations will me help bolster an area I know I am weak in and the negotiation duels should be great fun, Financial Statement Analysis provides knowledge on how to value companies which is vital if you are looking to work on the investment side or hoping to grow your own company’s value, Managing Sales Relationship is an area which will help broaden my commercial focus and I expect the international trip to China will be the semester highlight allowing students to experience how business and trade is conducted within the Chinese economy.
So with the choices made, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get down to business. The final semester should be interesting!
So we’re on starter’s orders for semester 2 and, as semester 1 becomes a distant memory, the Christmas break has given us time to consider the MBA to date. When I look back to the familiarisation week in September, I recall the anticipation and trepidation elicited by the presentations given by last year’s class reps and our anxious questions; “how do you manage to balance the MBA with your career and personal life”, “how many hours a week do you spend on MBA work”, et al.
While there were undoubtedly times of intense activity and commitment, there was no justification for our anxiousness because everything is quite manageable but still hard work. With the commitment comes a great sense of fulfilment, just as Amos Alcott Branson, the American Philosopher, said, “success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats.” The Christmas break undoubtedly became even more enjoyable in the context of the commitment and accomplishment of semester 1.
My advice is to divide modules into manageable bite size pieces, sequence submissions and engage in the lectures in order to gain as much as you can from the course. So for anyone considering the MBA or indeed for anyone starting the MBA in 2015/16, my advice is to embrace and enjoy the experience.
January 2015 is the one year anniversary of when I first seriously started considering taking the MBA program. I had toyed with the idea for several months before but with a new year came a new impetus to push myself and develop new skills that would help me develop professionally and personally. The initial stages of my MBA curiosity was to visit the Smurfit school website and look up the academic programme, entry process and pre-requisites. All very daunting stuff! Then I stumbled across the MBA blog. This was different to any of the other sources of information online as it was impressions of the MBA student written for their peers. The blog gave a great insight into the rollercoaster that is the MBA and it gave a window into the experience of the MBA.
Reading these blogs were the catalyst for me to move from the curiosity phase to the activism phase. Over the coming months I attended the open days, spoke to alumni and started to look at the practicalities of taking on the MBA.
Fast forward 12 months and I am one semester in and looking forward to part two with optimism. I wouldn’t have imagined a year previously that I would be sitting here writing an entry for the very blog I had been reading when first considering taking this path. There’s no doubt that the past 12 months have gone by in a flash and that the last four months in particular were a whirlwind but I do look back on 2014 as a successful year. It was the year that I stepped up the challenge and taken the bull by the horns.
As I conclude this entry I am aware that there may be some who are right now thinking tentatively about taking the first steps of the MBA journey. There’s no doubt that the experience and the sacrifices that come with the MBA is not for everyone but until you move from the curiosity phase into the activism phase you won’t know. To those people who are in the curiosity phase I would advise reading the blog entries to get a window into the MBA experience. This might be enough to nudge you into the activism phase.
I’m writing this after attending my first two classes of semester 2, year 2 of the EMBA. There is no doubt but my enthusiasm for attending class has reduced significantly when compared to 15 months ago! However, on the up-side I am six months away from completing the programme and that is a huge motivation to continue!
There was a very different feel to this afternoon’s classes. Firstly, we were all there by choice (we can choose from a range of modules in the final year) and secondly there was a mixture of three class groups in the room (EMBA mid-week, EMBA weekend and MBA full-time students). These two factors led to a much larger class and a different lecture dynamic.
This semester will largely be evaluated based on individual assignments. This is in contrast to much of our course work in previous semesters which was primarily group based. While I thoroughly enjoyed working on teams in the past, I am also looking forward to gaining back my Saturday mornings which had previously been ear-marked for group work!
Personally, I am only attending three classes this semester. For my fourth module I will be participating in the Emerging Markets International Study Trip to China. Already, I feel that it will be a highlight of the programme. There is a buzz amongst classmates when we discuss the trip and we are very much looking forward to receiving the itinerary that the MBA Programme Office staff have arranged for us. Roll on China on March 7th. . .
Many of the posts on this blog touch on the aspect of time, and how little of it we have when immersed in the MBA. It is true that the workload is intense and takes up much of your time. Each semester consists of 12 busy weeks of lectures, assignments, group work etc. This is then followed by a week of exam prep and then the exams themselves.
However, the good news is that there is a break! This year, the Year 1 Executive MBAs finished their last Semester 1 exam on December 12th and we return for Semester 2 on January 16th, meaning there was a solid month’s break for us to enjoy and regain our strength! At the end of Semester 2 we will commence a nice long summer break. Year 2 will then follow a similar structure, except that it will be followed by the Capstone project.
Anyone considering the Exec MBA may be a bit daunted by the notion of undertaking the MBA for “2 years”. Hopefully, you may take some solace in the above information! The best way to view the MBA is to break it into its semester-long sprints. After each sprint you can enjoy a bit of downtime and relaxation. Of course, for those of you who just can’t get enough, there is plenty of additional reading and online courses for you to enjoy in your spare time!