Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.
Superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn unless it achieves results.
Sir Ernest Shackleton
Just ahead of our recent exams and final assignments, we set out for a day’s leisure in the peaceful and historic surrounds of Luttrellstown Castle. While the golf was at best mediocre, we were fortunate to get some fine weather for the day and had the opportunity to catch up with classmates at the “19th hole” to reflect on our endeavours over the course of the MBA programme.
Many esteemed graduates note that doing an MBA is like “going on a journey” and the mediocre standard of golf on the day ensured that we got to see more of the tracks and trails that Luttrellstown has to offer than most regular golfers. In conjunction with the challenges posed by the variety of elements of our MBA programme, the championship course we played also provided many obstacles with a lot of water features to be overcome among other challenging features.
The MBA Golf Society will hold its main event of the year in the splendorous surrounds of the K Club on Saturday, July 1st. The day will be held in aid of the UCD Ad Astra Scholarships/UCD Foundation and Cardiac Risk in the Young. Details of how to enter are on Eventbrite at:
As we move through the last set of our exams for Semester 2, I sit back and wonder. These will complete the exams we have to take for our MBA, so … is this the end of my exam life forever?
Having left college in 2003 I always figured that I would end up doing further education at some point. So I never thought of those as my last exams. However, having gotten up from my child-like seat in the cavernous exam hall on Saturday, after squeezing all my knowledge on financing new ventures in to a booklet for the previous 2 hours, I think I might have actually sat the last exam of my life.
Now this isn’t a lament on the differences between rote learning and whatever the other type is. I have been pretty successful in the Irish exam system which I feel sets a high benchmark for success and gave me great technical knowledge that I leveraged in my professional career internationally. This is more the realisation that after an MBA I don’t think there is much more additional education one can pursue to advance your career. True, there are other exams such as the CFA or Series 7 if you want to be an analyst (and there are probably more that I haven’t even thought of). But they are all career specific and not of the lecture/exam format that we love so much.
This is just one more thing to realise whilst doing an MBA; that it is the culmination of a lifelong learning journey. The first exam I can remember sitting was over 30 years ago, as a 6 year old, and I sat exams every year for the next 20 years. I liked exams so much I decided to take the scenic route through my undergrad and stay for an additional year so that I could enjoy the exam experience a few more times!
When I look at the paragraph above I only now realise the sheer volume of exams I must have sat so far in my life. So it is probably high time I do say goodbye to exam life. The path that we take through life and on the road to an MBA takes many forms, but we all have endured the unenjoyable (or enjoyable, if you’re masochistic) experience of exams. This is a global common bond for all students and I guess, like everything, it has to come to an end at some point.
So it is there in an exam hall in the RDS Simmonscourt, on Saturday 13th May 2017, that I close a large chapter in my personal journey – and that of EXAM LIFE.
Yesterday was a special day which marked the end of Semester 1. I went to the graduation ceremony of my friend. Congrats to her for achieving the degree of MBA at Smurfit Business School. The ceremony took place in O’Reilly hall at the Belfield campus. When I arrived there, a group of graduates were taking pictures on the grass. Happy laughter and cheerful voices were among them.
The ceremony was formal and solemn. I was so touched by the speeches of the President and the Dean. I felt honoured to be a student at Smurfit. I pictured myself wearing the robe and standing on the stage next year. I will be really excited and delighted.
After that, I ran back to Blackrock to meet my fellow MBA colleagues for our yummy ‘Lucky Pot’. We brought the popular foods from our home country: Irish stew, Irish coffee, American fudge, African curry and melktert, German Pizza, Mexican salsa and tortilla chips, Chinese steamed bun and haw flakes and so on.
We shared the recipes and made jokes about the unique cuisines. It helps us to chillax from the intense study for a moment. Time flies, 12-weeks of classes went so fast.
Good luck everyone and I hope we can achieve the grades we are aiming for in our upcoming exams.
The MBA was something that I was considering for a while. I can imagine there are many people like me out there – 10+ years in the work force and not sure what you want to do in 10 years time. Feeling like you have no options other than stay doing what you are doing so you apply for a couple of jobs, ‘just to see like’ you tell yourself. I my case I did not even get an interview!
Realising that I am not attractive to other employers I thought to myself ‘what will I do if something goes wrong with what I am doing now’. I had better do something. Exploring my options Smurfit was the obvious choice and the MBA part-time was the way to go. Smurfit put on a couple of typical MBA lectures for potential students. Before rushing into anything I attended two of these and I was hooked immediately. If anyone is serious about doing an MBA I’d advise attending these. You quickly realise it is not the boring old classroom lectures and I left the Michael Smurfit Business School after attending the lectures with the buzz of learning – it had been a long time since I had that feeling.
Now that I knew I wanted do the Executive MBA I started reading everything I could about the course. Did you know that there are several scholarships and bursaries offered by the Business School and their partners? Before reading I didn’t. Having my heart set on doing the EMBA I set out to get awarded one of these. The obvious one is the GMAT merit based scholarship. If you can break 700 points (out of a possible 800) the you are in with a chance to win a scholarship. It is not easy, but constant persistence and you will get there.
As I write this I am 4 weeks into the EMBA at Smurfit. It is certainly not disappointing. When you are doing something you enjoy it does not feel like work. I’m chatting with the careers team and realise I made the correct decision to attend Smurfit. The careers team here are the real deal and I know my future is in safe hands!
It was a couple of weeks back when we had commenced our journey to South Africa for our 8-day intensive Study tour, as part of the ‘Doing Business in Emerging Markets’ MBA module. Though, we were looking forward to whole new world of learning and experiences, we never thought that it would be such an amazing experience. The companies we visited ranged from well-established MNCs viz. Vodacom, Old Mutual plc, SABMiller plc to highly successful innovative and entrepreneurial organizations viz. Raizcorp, Synexa Life Sciences, Pick n Pay etc. The interactions with entrepreneurs and top managerial personnel helped us in understanding the nuances, challenges and opportunities of doing business in South Africa in general, and in emerging economies in particular. We also had the opportunity to interact with students of GIBS, a leading business school of South Africa and share mutual perspectives. We had Networking events with ‘Enterprise Ireland’ and ‘Business Ireland’ in Johannesburg and Cape town, which gave us an opportunity to interact with numerous successful and dynamic entrepreneurs, who have established their businesses from scratch in South Africa and today they had become a living inspiration for the aspiring entrepreneur.
South Africa was seen by our group as one of the most enterprising nations and it has therefore earned its place in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) association of emerging economies. During the tour, we also visited a few South African communities to understand cultural perspectives of the country.
It’s really amazing how much an international study tour can transform you and can foster a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. The diversity of the South African population and their determination to collectively work together for their nation’s progress, despite differences in languages and cultures (South Africa has 11 official languages) can be observed in its workplaces. It helped us to gain extremely useful insights about leading effectively in cross-cultural teams, inculcating teamwork and collaboration.
The Study Tour definitely gave us valuable understanding about the business opportunities in emerging markets and challenges being faced by them. This also gave us a toolkit to overcome those challenges which can be applied not only in emerging economies but also universally to foster the spirit of innovation, teamwork and entrepreneurship in the organisations we would be working in throughout our future careers.
It is governed by a Communist party but is fundamentally capitalist. It wants to open up more to the world, but censorship is everywhere. The government has vowed to crack down on internal corruption and yet, instead of focusing their attention within their own borders, they have reportedly asked the British government for help in extraditing around 50 ‘foxes’ who have fled to the UK.
These discrepancies were to the forefront of my mind as myself and around 60 class colleagues departed for Shanghai and Beijing on an eight day intensive study tour as part of the MBA programme at UCD’s Smurfit School. While we could only hope to see a snapshot of the country in such a short period of time, we were keen to absorb as much information as possible about the local culture and how to operate within their business environment. It is likely that many of the class will be working within the Chinese market after graduation, or dealing with Chinese counterparts. So any experience or insight gained as part of the Doing Business in Emerging Markets module, could prove invaluable.
During the trip we visited a number of companies including CICSO, youku, ChinaHR and BaoSteel. The difference between the indigenous Chinese companies and those which were owned and/or operated by Westerners, was marked. In the West we are accustomed to a certain level of candor – and irreverence – but that is not part of the Chinese culture. While this is something Western business people struggle with, it is also something which we must accept. The way they do business is very different and as ingrained within their culture as our methods are within ours.
Take for example, the different ways in which business deals are struck. While in the West we prefer to get down to business and agree a legal contract as quickly and efficiently as possible, business is done differently in the East. They prefer to build a relationship first, with negotiations taking a long time – and even when a contract is signed, it could be changed. While the these methods seem diametrically opposed, it is testament to the desire of companies and individuals on both sides to do business – and make money – that they somehow surmount their differences and go into business together.
But of course, the entire module wasn’t only about business – it was also about finding out more about the culture (via shopping and visiting restaurants), climbing the Great Wall of China, and finally, finishing the week on a high at the Beijing St Patrick’s Day Ball. There were some sore heads on the flight home the next morning, but we also brought back with us some new insights into China, and a desire to learn more about emerging markets and the possibilities which exist within them.
This sojourn to China proved to be an eye-opening experience for me as I found the tour beneficial for my career, and educational on a personal level. This international study trip is a brilliant idea to ensure that MBA students are well rounded both academically and practically. Visiting emerging markets such as China and South Africa (members of the BRICS countries) is very relevant at this time as it will assist Smurfit MBA students to appreciate different business environments, and allow them to apply what they have learnt during the tour.
The trip was an incredibly valuable experience and pivotal in my MBA journey. It served to de-mystify China while bringing forth the true challenges of the very real global business environment that China often represents. With visits to excellent companies such as CISCO, IBM, HUAWEI, YOUKU, CELAP, and BAOSTEEL, we had the opportunity to discover what operating in China and navigating the international marketplace is truly like.
Furthermore, the trip provided a tremendous opportunity to network with and to develop closer relationships with my classmates. Smurfit School’s ability to lay out such a well-organized and well-thought-out experience reflected the professionalism and quality of the School. I was absolutely thrilled with the study trip.
This International Study Trip to China was truly the pinnacle of my MBA experience. While I’ve had prior international experience working with Western European countries, I had very little previous exposure to business in China. Having the opportunity to visit on site with several different Chinese businesses, in different cities, in different industries and attend lectures given by experts in Chinese culture, technology, HR and manufacturing has dramatically broadened my understanding of both the opportunities and challenges of doing business in China. The trip provided an exceptional view of the Chinese business environment and how it intersects with culture and government. The insights I gained on this trip will certainly serve me well as a future manager in a global context.
Apart from business studies, we also enjoyed the breath-taking sightseeing, Chinese folk culture, and exquisite Chinese cuisine, all of which enriched our China tour and made it a lifetime experience.
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.
It’s fair to say, that despite lots of warnings, most of us were at various stages during the first semester almost overwhelmed by the time constraints involved in holding down a fulltime job, completing an MBA and having some semblance of a personal life. We knew it was going to be a substantial commitment but nothing really prepares you adequately for it until you actually go through it. As a result, many of us have been forced to significantly ramp up our productivity levels in order to meet our various deadlines. Fortunately we learned something about this in our first case study in Competitive Strategy. Well, sort of.
The experience curve is an idea developed by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in the mid-1960s. The more experience a firm has in producing a particular product, the lower are its costs. Bruce Henderson, the founder of BCG, put it as follows: “Costs characteristically decline by 20-30% in real terms each time accumulated experience doubles. This means that when inflation is factored out, costs should always decline. The decline is fast if growth is fast and slow if growth is slow”.
The ‘cost’ to an MBA student is undoubtedly time, which pretty much evaporates. However, all is not lost. The Christmas break, after the shock treatment of semester one, has allowed many of us to apply the various productivity lessons that we have learned. At our Christmas drinks party one classmate revealed that he recorded himself reading his notes so that he could listen to them while in the car commuting to work each morning and then to class that evening. Another classmate then revealed that she had discovered an app that reads PDF files to you, which she also listens to in the car, however saving her the time necessary to record herself reading those same notes. The MBA experience curve in action.
We’re well and truly under way with Semester 4. As noted already by Niall Twomey in his recent post, this is the semester that reflects your personal choices. I have heard varying comments in relation to ‘having more time’ on our hands, which is clearly a relative comment. With my choices of Negotiations Skills, Corporate Governance, Management Consulting (by audit) and Managing Sales Relationship I cannot associate with this view, but that’s my choice I guess!
Notwithstanding the workload ahead of us in Semester 4, teams are also beginning to consider the Capstone project that will ultimately bring a close to this 2 year adventure. It’s quite amazing to hear the variety of projects being considered. I certainly never anticipated working on a project relating to sustainable food systems, and how Ireland (through a partnership of Irish Government agencies including Enterprise Ireland) can export expertise in this crucially important area which is expected to grow significantly in the years ahead. I know very little about sustainable food systems right now, but along with my Capstone colleagues and armed with some key MBA learnings, that is sure to change in the coming months. It is with a little trepidation and excitement that teams are proceeding in trying to define exactly what they hope to achieve with the Capstone project. It strikes me that first and foremost, before any considerations around the actual topic, getting the right team dynamic is the most important ingredient in order to ensure a smooth journey from now until July!
It’s hard to think about the end given that we’ve only started Semester 4, but as my wife keeps telling me, the evenings are getting longer, you’re just not seeing them as you’re in Smurfit most of the week! While not entirely true, I choose my battles wisely.