MBA EDI Club welcomes Melíosa O’Caoimh of Northern Trust

At the invitation of the UCD Smurfit MBA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Club, Dr Darren Thomas Baker and Executive MBA student Deirdre O’Grady Interviewed  Melíosa O’Caoimh, Country head of Northern Trust and Chair of the 30% Club for an audience of MBA students. The three discussed Melíosa’s career journey to date as well as  her views on gender balance within the workforce.

Assistant Professor Darren Thomas Baker interviews Melíosa O’Caoimh, chair of the 30% Club Chair and Ireland Country Head of Northern Trust

Having completed her undergraduate degree at UCD in Economics and Politics, Melíosa, like so many new graduates, was uncertain regarding what the next stage in her career should be. Little did she know at the time, a successful career in financial services awaited her. There was no better fit for someone who wanted to work in a business that brought about real change for people and impacted so many lives on a global scale.

Melíosa joined Northern Trust as her second role in Financial Services. At the time, the company was just starting out in Ireland, and employed approximately 80 people. Fast forward to now: Melíosa is Country Head with an employee network of 1800 staff managing over $600 billion in assets, and Ireland acts as a central hub attracting investment managers from all around the globe. Melíosa spoke passionately about her commitment to her career and how it affects so many people both nationally and globally. She feels privileged in her role to be part of something that is truly transformative.

Melíosa firmly believes that a strong work ethic coupled with ambition, resilience and an active curiosity are the key ingredients to successful career progression. She spoke about avoiding linear progression within your career, particularly in the early stages. She introduced the interesting concept of ‘meandering’ as you progress in order to gain exposure to many sectors within your organisation: this will equip you with a knowledge base that will add substance to your profile and offer greater opportunity to maximise your career potential.

Executive MBA Student Deirdre O’Grady smiles in response to a statement from UCD alumna Melíosa O’Caoimh

No successful career proceeds without difficulties along the way. Melíosa spoke about her biggest obstacle: challenging people’s perception of her. She remarked on the amount of energy it took to prove to her colleagues that at work she was present and ready to give 100% despite being a mum of four children. She also experienced a small setback early in her career when she wasn’t offered a particular role. However, she turned this into an opportunity to prove to others that she had the capabilities and was worthy of the position when she was offered it two years later. 

Melíosa strongly believes in the value of mentorship and sponsorship: ‘A lot of learning is self-navigation, you need to be the CEO of yourself’. In our careers, we often expect the right mentor to present themselves to us but the fact is that we need to seek them out based on our weaknesses. She also warns against underestimating the value of sponsorship. Everyone needs someone senior to vouch for them in order to get ahead in an organisation: ‘Having someone speak to you in the room is good, but what you need is someone who will speak about you when you leave the room’.  

Melíosa strongly advocates achieving gender balance within the financial sector. She welcomed the new mandatory gender pay gap reporting agreement, focusing on the importance of the actions that will arise from it.  She believes the main issue within top organisations is representation–however it is equally important that women are not used as a distraction for organisational issues within a company. Company leadership should focus on effective strategies for getting more women into senior roles, and should promote both gender equality and diversity. It is well established that businesses who achieve this make better decisions and perform better. 

A conversation with Melíosa O’Caoimh offered novel insights, providing the UCD Smurfit students excellent advice on career progression. She is a visionary leader, a gifted spokesperson and above all else humble in the midst of her outstanding success–in all, a true inspiration. 

From Left to Right: Assistant Professor Dylan Thomas Baker; Assistant Dean of the UCD College of Business and Director of UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School Professor Gerardine Doyle; 30% Club Chair Melíosa O’Caoimh, and UCD Smurfit Executive MBA student Deirdre O’Grady smile for the camera following an event put on by the UCD Smurfit MBA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Club

Eimear O’Reilly, UCD Smurfit Executive MBA Class of 2024

Meet an EMBA Class Rep: Fardod O’Kelly

EMBA Class of 2022 Representative Fardod O’Kelly has contributed posts in the past on applying the triage technique to work/life balance, and on the importance of resilience on the MBA. Today he gets a little more personal via our Student Profile Questionnaire:

An image of a US$50 bill, with Fardod O'Kelly's headshot in place of Ulysses S. Grant
Sometimes in-class simulations require props

What ways do you hope your career will change when you’ve earned your MBA?

I guess I may be a little atypical when it comes to career progression post-MBA in that I’m already a consultant surgeon and assistant professor, and therefore am not using this for career advancement. One of my main motivations was to gain significant business, and leadership skills in order to effectively communicate with senior management, and understand issues like strategy, investment management, supply chain, digital transformation and finance. I also wanted to use the MBA to improve my own clinical service delivery and personal development, and as an adjunctive tool for research. I would therefore hope to take a larger role in clinical leadership in the hospital setting and use it to improve healthcare delivery and to advocate on behalf of my department.

How would you spend your ideal day off?

With 3 kids and a busy household and career, there is no such thing as a day off as I’m taxiing kids to training, working or doing research, but if such a thing existed it would involve the following:

  • Send the kids and pets down to their grandparents the night before
  • Wake up really late at 8:30am. Brew some fresh coffee and go down to the store to get some fresh bread for breakfast with my better half
  • Lounge around the sitting room reading a newspaper and/or tinkering around on the piano for the morning
  • Go out for lunch with my wife and then browse a few shops and have a couple of coffees with her
  • Watch some tv for the afternoon, and then go for a walk and just chat and catch up
  • Go out for a nice meal and a glass of wine (and get a taxi home)
  • Aim to be in bed super early for about 11pm

What’s the best piece of advice you ever got from a boss or co-worker?

A former division chief (and friend) of mine once told me that no matter how good, popular or productive you are, there will always be someone you can’t please, and will never like you. Don’t be so naïve to think that everyone you meet or work with will want to be your friend. The important thing is to be true to yourself, make your own luck, and build strong friendships based on loyalty and mutual respect. 

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started your MBA?

I would definitely have loved to have known that I was not simply an imposter starting the MBA. I felt a huge level of uncertainty and anxiety as I had no business acumen. Smurfit is a great leveller of backgrounds. No matter where you have come from, your knowledge will be built from the ground up.

What’s one thing none of your MBA classmates know about you?

We’ve all gotten to know each other reasonably well online and in-person. Many of my interests you could probably guess from my profile, or social media. However what you won’t find is that I really love 80’s/90’s karaoke with a couple of drinks! I’ve got some firm crowd pleasers.

What inspired you to volunteer to serve as class rep?

I’ve really been continuously involved with university education since 1998 when I left school. I’ve been lucky enough on many occasions to serve as class rep, faculty convener, students union, sports union, chief surgical resident, hospital committees  etc. I have a reasonable understanding of the role, am used to advocating, and tend to be fairly direct. It wasn’t a huge jump to be a class rep in Smurfit. Furthermore, my class colleagues are a great bunch, so it’s a privilege to be able to help them in any way I can.

Fardod O’Kelly, Executive MBA Class of 2022

Meet a Class Rep: Abhimanyu Kacker

Originally from India, Abhimanyu moved to Ireland from the United Arab Emirates in summer 2021 to begin his studies with the UCD Smurfit MBA. He serves as one of two class representatives for autumn term. Please enjoy this brief introduction:

A man with short dark hair, wearing glasses, a windbreaker, jeans, and hiking boots, smiles next to a whitewater river at the base of a mountain.

What skill have you learned in the programme so far that you’re most excited to take to work?

Perspective. During my pre-MBA experience, more often than not, I used to focus on activities at very micro levels. The most important skill I’ve learned from the MBA so far is the ability to zoom out and have a look at the bigger picture. By virtue of being part of a cohort which has tremendous diversity in terms of culture, background, and experience, one also learns to look at one common problem from different viewpoints and acquires the ability to solve it through several approaches.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever got from a boss or coworker?

Your network is your net worth.

What’s one thing none of your MBA classmates know about you?

I almost became a hearty snack for a whale shark in the Philippines!

A man in shorts, t-shirt, life vest, and scuba mask floats in a blue sea next to a spotted whale shark.

Abhimanyu Kacker, FTMBA Class of 2022

Meet a Class Rep: Anish Arora

Anish Arora moved to Dublin from Mumbai in Summer 2021 to take on the Full Time MBA at UCD Smurfit, and serves as one of two Class Representatives for the autumn term. Please enjoy this brief introduction:

A young man in hiking gear on a concrete path. The left side of the path is shrouded in fog; the right side is brightly sunny.

How would you spend your ideal day off?

I would spend my ideal day off outdoors, probably hiking. Would like to end the day with a chilled beer.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever got from a boss or coworker?

Don’t get disheartened if you fail at something the first time. Try and try again till you get it right.

What’s one thing none of your MBA classmates know about you?

I am presently ranked 4th in the world in the online version of Jaipur.

A young man in black, including dark glasses, perched on top of a rock overlooking a misty valley. To his right a triangular orange flag tied to a branch waves in the wind.

Anish Arora, Full Time MBA Class of 2022

A Path that Leads to Enlightenment

A wooden bridge over a shallow stream, leading to a gravel path through a grassy clearing with a backdrop of deciduous trees

Ever stop to think what a “business” really is? With a quindecennial work anniversary coming soon, and having gained a wealth of experience in the design and development of technical solutions from concept to finished product as a Chartered Engineer, the idea that a company and its business is more than my regular profession or occupation began to crystallise in me.

David Packard, an electrical engineer by profession and one of the founders of Hewlitt-Packard, once famously said, “I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. While this is an important result of a company’s existence, we have to go deeper and find the real reasons for our being. As we investigate this, we inevitably come to the conclusion that a group of people get together and exist as an institution that we call a company so that they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately—they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental.”

This idea that every business contributes to society has always stood with me, and I have been intrigued by how different businesses achieve success on their respective missions to improve society. However, it was not until a coffee table conversation with my better half sometime in May 2020 that I finally decided that I needed to do an MBA to understand this. With bills to pay, I did not have the luxury of taking a year off for my pursuit.  I researched the best universities and courses in Ireland, and was glad to find the Executive MBA programme by UCD’s Smurfit School of Business, one of the top business schools in the world.

One year into the Executive MBA program, time seems to have flown by. Some of the things that I’ve learned include: how an effective Competitive Strategy is drawn up based on the business environment; the role of effective financial control in Corporate Finance; how Managerial Accounting influences behaviours; how Operations & Supply Chain Management transform a business; the importance of Leadership & Organizational Behaviour, together with Human Resources & Management in transforming the culture of a company; and much more!  

The subjects I have learned have most definitely opened my eyes to a new understanding of the business world, through the lenses of some brilliant lecturers and a class of highly experienced and talented individuals. 

The learning curve has been steep and intense, with a plethora of readings, case studies and project work that are bound to challenge even the more seasoned academic enthusiasts. Add a full-time job and a family into the mix, and you are surely in for an awakening into the world of business and the importance of time management!  However, you begin to realize that every aspect of the course is like a melting pot of ideas and experiences. The MBA makes possible a unique environment: a diverse pool of professionals from different sectors of our society: ranging from medicine to manufacturing, human resource to finance, all sharing a common passion for business.

For the two years of the MBA, you get to experience many lives in this microcosm of society, this sandbox of business scenarios and solutions, this fellowship of friends…..

I will cherish this enlightenment for years to come. I think Bill Lazier, co-author of the book Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, explained this perfectly when he said, “You can go at life as a series of transactions, or you can go at life building relationships. Transactions can give you success, but only relationships make for a great life.” 

Tony Korah, CEng MIEI — Executive MBA Class of 2022

Fresh Off the Plane

I arrived in Ireland last year for the full time MBA program at UCD Smurfit. I chose Ireland because I wanted an international life, I wanted to see Europe but most importantly, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. 

I figured: Hey, they speak English. I have a red beard. It’ll be a nice way to break into the European lifestyle. What could possibly go wrong?

A young man in a blue button-down shirt sips a full pint of Guinness
Nathan Jones

If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, these are some of the things I wish I knew: 

  1. The Irish are self-deprecating in the best way possible. In the US, if you drive a nice car, have a nice house, or live in a nice area it’s lauded– you’ve worked hard, go-ahead and talk about it. In Ireland, self-glorification is almost always viewed negatively. It’s okay to talk about yourself and your background just don’t go overboard, it may make the Irish uncomfortable.

    This has been the biggest culture shock for me. An entire country of people that don’t solely care about their self-interests? What is this?
  1. What’s the craic? Small talk is an artform in Ireland. Be prepared to talk about the weather, what you did yesterday, what you’re doing today, what you’re doing tomorrow, etc… Deep conversations are typically reserved for people you’re close to and only after multiple pints. Don’t expect any heart-to-hearts out of the gate.

  2. Nobody here really cares that your great-grandfather is from Ireland. I recall one of my first nights out with the lads:

    Me: “Did you guys do ancestory.com?
    Them: Crickets… 
    Me: “Oh, yeah, I guess you all know you’re Irish… ha.” 
    Them: Crickets… 
    Me: “Well, I’ve got Irish blood in me!”
    Them: Crickets… 

    Just avoid the conversation, you aren’t Irish… save it for the heraldry shop. 
  1. Southern hospitality on craic. You need to be aggressive and preemptive if you’re going to pay for your own drinks anywhere. I’ve stayed at people’s houses after meeting them twice. The Irish have driven me hours out of their way out of pure generosity and hospitality. There’s a sense of trust and community in Ireland that just doesn’t translate to anyplace else I’ve been.

  2. I’m staying in Ireland. In spite of COVID, this has been the most transformative year of my life. I came here to get out of my comfort zone, that has happened in more ways than one. This has been a year of self-reflection and self-refinement. I’m grateful to have had this experience and would highly recommend the UCD Smurfit MBA to any American looking to explore the European lifestyle.
Beer taps and a Guinness Harp next to two pints
Photo by Ana Ribeiro on Unsplash

Bonus: It’s not a joke, the Guinness actually tastes better in Ireland. Some say “it’s a different formula in the States”, it’s not. All Guinness distributed throughout North America, The UK and Ireland is sourced from St. James’ Gate Brewery. The difference is… The Irish pubs regularly clean the tubes that connect the keg to the tap. Also, the freshness is unparalleled. At most you’re drinking Guinness produced three miles (4.8 kilometers) away.

Nathan Jones, FTMBA Class of 2021

The MBA can be All About Competition–but I remember only Cooperation

The one-year, full-time MBA at UCD is widely recognized as a grueling pursuit – one that requires its students to excel and accelerate their learning in a wide range of business subjects. The course adheres to the original mission statement of an MBA as defined by the Association of MBAs: “to enhance and develop previous relevant experience”. It is extremely time-intensive and is best suited for students who already have a strong background in business fundamentals. In such an absorbing environment, you expect not to lose a single minute without being productive or outshining at academics, networking or extra-curricular activities.

Sumit Madan

However, my MBA experience has been quite different. After getting a strong emotional hit, I have happened to survive this intense MBA journey based on Extensive Cooperation from my school and cohort. Right in the middle of the spring trimester, Covid hit me and my family very hard. Between April and May 2021, the apocalyptic second wave of Coronavirus in India took away from me my father, my elder brother and my childhood friend, who contracted Covid while arranging medical facilities such as Oxygen cylinder, Remdesivir, etc. for my family. Further, the health infrastructure collapse in my home city, Delhi took my mother to the verge of death.    

From those tough days, I only remember controlling my emotions while talking to my sister and uncle. I would frantically call them to question what was going to happen next. Whenever I received a call of another demise, I used to instantly feel defeated. I was still grieving the loss of one member, and the cycle of grief would begin again. Travel restrictions didn’t allow me to visit my home for even a few days or perform my duties for their last rites. I was just filled with sadness and regret over the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye to any of my beloved ones or take care of my mother in her critical condition.

While I was fighting this Covid-war at home, my MBA spring trimester was in full swing. The week my elder brother expired first, I had one mid-semester and one end-semester exam. To the credit of Smurfit school, when I reached out to the MBA program office in my distraught state of mind, I was offered full support and empathy. I could reach out to all my professors to explain my situation. Not only the school (management and professors) promised that they were always available for help but when I needed them the most, they opened all their doors. I received the best of advice both on the personal front (on how to hold myself together) and on the study front (when and how to cover for the lost time).

Most of the content on the internet describes MBA students as sharp-elbowed, one-dimensional, destructively competitive beings. Hence, when I started my MBA journey, I expected highly ambitious, keenly clever and fairly competitive souls around me. However, I experienced totally different dimensions of my cohort: collaboration, care and concern about the world around them. I can’t remember a single member of my class who did not pray incessantly or extend extra-ordinary support to me and my family. My classmates in Delhi would drive hundreds of kilometres and those in Dublin would relentlessly make thousands of calls to find hospital beds or oxygen cylinders for my family members. They ensured that during those tense days, I did not miss my meals or lose my sleep. And this is when they themselves had to deal with the immense pressure of end of semester examinations and assignment submissions.

At present, it helps that things are getting better – with vaccines rolling out and the weather warming for outdoor business. It has been about three months since I lost my family members to the virus, and the grief will stick with me for far longer. But despite the grief, I have moved on with my life for which I express my heartfelt gratitude to my classmates and school management.

However, when I sometimes question myself “If, God-forbids, such a situation arises with any of my classmates, could I support so much?” – The candid answer is that I can’t confidently say a “Yes”. This is something for me to self-reflect and develop my ability to empathize. My class is full of people who have seen corporate life inside out and with more than 325 years of collective corporate wisdom available in my class, the peer learning that this year has offered me is incredible. But most importantly, the course has given me the time to discover myself and bridge my deficits before I start managing others.

In conclusion, I would like to mention that cultures of many B-schools around the world may seek to repress the worst tendencies engendering from the competitive spirit and lack of time, but some schools are more successful at this than others. UCD Smurfit is definitely amongst the top.

Sumit Madan, FTMBA Class of 2021

The Real MBA was the Friends We Made Along the Way

Coming into the final lecture week of the MBA my mind was focused on how close to the end of the journey we all were, with only 6 weeks of the Capstone ahead until we were once again thrown back into the big bad world and all the opportunities it has to offer. I thought back to the different modules, the late nights working on assignments, the many, many zoom meetings and the chilly weekends in the Smurfit room trying to get study done somewhere other than my flat, and I realised something. Even with all of that, what I got looking back from the other end was far far more than I put in. The knowledge that will stand to me for years to come: the experience of studying during Covid and the amazing people who had my back, gave me advice and even just listened when I needed an open ear were more than adequate compensation for all the Zoom sessions in the world.

A trip to Brazil’s Carnaval, via Zoom

Coming into our final lecture week of the year and with that on my mind, I chose to enjoy the Doing Business in International Markets module to its utmost. And what a week it was, kicking off with an incredibly enlightening piece on the impact of Covid on the Americas and a spectacular Samba session filled to the brim with homemade percussion music. The rest of the week was a whistle stop tour, from a baking giant in Mexico teaching about the ins and outs of business in Latam, to the heights of the Andes in Chile and on to Silicon Valley where we learned that hobos and billionaires can be pretty indistinguishable. Wednesday we ended the day with a nice cup of Columbian coffee, and a walk-through of how it was made by Cafe San Alberto.

Coffee tasting kit–our virtual trip to Colombia

The highlight for me was the deep dive into the China/USA relation in LATAM, led by the inestimable Ambassador Jorge Heine. His session was an equal mix of thought provoking, insightful, engaging and pushed one to reexamine preconceived notions, and I for one walked away with much to ponder and happier for it.

Finally come Thursday we came to the main event, the DBIM closing BBQ, long awaited and much enjoyed. For some the first time to put a body to a screen and for all a great time to reconnect offline, enjoy some good food and well-earned rest while reminiscing about MBA shenanigans, lecturer quirks and that one exam you knew you could do better if given another chance.

Sláinte to the end of MBA coursework!

Walking home at the end of the night I realized this wasn’t the beginning of the end. Sure the MBA might be coming to a close, but the relationships we made along the way, the experience we gained and the trials we overcame will stand to us for the rest of our lives. With that I jumped on the bus with a smile on my face, looking forward to tomorrow–but probably not the accompanying hangover.

The end of the evening, and the end of an era

Paul Kilroy-Glynn, FTMBA Class of 2021

Journey from Exploration to Chaos to Exploration

I would like to dedicate this blog to our late Prof. Eamonn Walsh. His energy was infectious! May his soul rest in peace.

“Life is short and the world is wide!”
I often ask myself:
‘What do you want to do in life?’,
‘What is one thing you are passionate about?’
Every time I ask these questions, I don’t get a reply.
I see an artist, a sportsman, a businessman live for their passion,
But who would tell me what I like?
One thing that needs to be kept in mind:
When life gives you an empty canvas,
Draw your own design!

A group of smiling young people in the UCD Smurfit School main hall
MBA Orientation: Day 1 of the new adventure!

‘Keep exploring new constructs’ has been the mantra of my life. After my under-graduation, I got a job as a Software Engineer. After a certain period when everything was settled, I felt stagnated and so I transitioned my career from a technical role to a business role in a start-up. This transition was huge as two changes happened simultaneously: role change and cultural change from an MNC to a start-up. Bitten by the proverbial ‘entrepreneurial bug’, I decided to start a business: Sababa Miteri, an e-commerce for maternity wear. As I lacked any experience in the apparel industry, the journey of starting a business was full of challenges and satisfaction. Trips to several cloth markets in India, negotiations lessons, team building, sleepless nights, happiness at every milestone achieved, and a lot more has been received during my entrepreneurial journey. I could not have traversed these if I had not decided to leave my stable job.

One thing I realized while running my business that I did not have enough tools in hand to grow my business. I required validation to the techniques I was using and needed a structured approach to strategize business growth. I took the GMAT and applied to a few top business schools that met my criteria. The whole process was frenetic along with the daily challenges in my business. And one fine day, I received an offer from UCD Smurfit for a full time MBA. 

No one knew that Covid-19 would bring chaos to everyone’s life, and I wasn’t spared. All the plans started falling apart. My business went down with a country-wide lockdown. I was not sure of how to get a visa for travelling to Ireland to pursue MBA as the offices were closed. It was a hustle to arrange all the documents required for visa formalities. Moreover, no one knew if international travel would be allowed. Apart from all this, I started to wonder if this is the right time to do my MBA. I got through this phase by keeping calm and making careful decisions.

Amidst all the chaos, there were two biggest learnings:

  1. Be agile! It is important to adapt according to changing situations. I appreciated seeing how the whole world adapted to the new ways of working.
  2. You can have multiple/alternative plans for the future, but none may work. And so you have to be prepared to think on your feet.
A man in a yellow shirt wearing two masks, glasses, and a face shield in his airplane seat.
The New Normal of traveling

The chaotic time ended, and I reached Dublin where I had to quarantine myself for 14 days. New country, new life, new people, but I had to wait for a few more days before I could experience that. There has been great support from the university throughout, especially in this challenging pandemic situation. 

A screenshot with four vertical Zoom squares.
The New Normal of MBA teamwork

The exploration phase began again. I roamed around the city, met new people, explored the UCD campus and the course commenced, with introductions, coffee sessions and realizing that this one year will be teaching me a lot of new things. It has been a wonderful journey so far and I am excited to discover what stores next. I would like to end it by a quote that really touched me:

“You can’t fall if you don’t climb. But there is no joy in living your whole life on the ground.”

Anonymous

Shashwat Acharya, FTMBA Class of 2021

The MBA ‘X-Factor’

With the first half of my Smurfit Executive MBA now complete (where did that year go?), I’ve had a chance these past few weeks to pause, catch my breath and reflect on what I have learnt to date. The breadth, depth and pace of learning on the EMBA has been challenging, but immensely enjoyable. If someone had told me 12 months ago that I’d be spending most of my non-working and non-sleeping hours analysing fleet management models for power tools, brand relaunches for peanut companies, continuous improvement programs at Children’s hospitals or workplace psychology at sewage treatment facilities, I would have suggested they have their head examined. Today, I could give you chapter and verse on these and many other real-world case studies, as well as the theory that underlines it all – from Financial Management to Competitive Strategy – and I have enjoyed it all immensely.  

Barry Dunning

An MBA is about far more than academic learning, however, and I have found clear, practical ways to integrate these diverse learnings into my work. Having spent the majority of my career in public policy, communications and nonprofit operations roles, applying a Managerial Accountant’s perspective (‘You get what you measure’) or the knowledge of  Supply Chain Operations and offers a different perspective from which to analyse a situation and implement a solution. 

Reflecting on this first year, I’ve come to the conclusion that an MBA is a bit like surfing, with continuous waves of knowledge replacing the waves of water. Each semester Executive MBA students take on four diverse subjects, with a deluge of readings, case studies and project work that grows week by week. This is combined with a full-time day job, making it even more challenging to maintain your balance atop the ‘board’ – and all too easy to ‘wipeout’, or in this case burnout. (As an aside, I am in awe of my course mates who combine an EMBA and full-time work with raising young children – I simply don’t know how they do it).  As the weeks progress, however, and the linkages between the subjects and what’s come before begin to click into place, it becomes that bit easier to maintain your balance and to surf the wave to the shore.

Visual representation of the first EMBA year
Photo by Anton Repponen on Unsplash

It is the different perspectives that I have been exposed to that I have found most rewarding from the MBA. The Executive MBA draws a diverse bunch of people, from a wide variety of sectors – from medicine to manufacturing, technology to finance – and it is from them that I have learned some of the most valuable insights this past year. Specifically, the different approaches which my classmates take to analysing and solving the same problem, as they bring their expertise, experience and insights from different fields to bear on an issue, have taught me as much, if not more, as I have learned from lecturers and module materials.

The approach that a Surgeon and an FMCG Category Sales manager take to solving a problem is often radically different to the way that I would have approached it (and to each other). No method is necessarily better than another: on the MBA as in real life, while in some cases there is a single right answer (e.g. Financial Reporting) more often than not, there are multiple potential responses depending on a weighting of different variables.

This has been particularly rewarding within the small project teams that we have been split into for each semester. These have enabled me to join unique cross-functional teams with expertise stretching from Actuary to Decision Science, Farm Machinery Sales to Telecoms Product Management. Sometimes my analysis to solve a project question was spot on from the get-go; many other times, however, a teammate suggested an approach that I had not even thought to consider, which unlocked a solution perfectly. By combining our diverse backgrounds and experiences on these project teams we have identified the strongest solutions. It is this blended approach where we learn from our peers,, as well as from the course, that I have found the most rewarding. This highlights the value of diverse cross-functional teams, where people with different backgrounds and experience can add real value to resolve an issue.  

So as I have time over the summer to synthesise my learnings, it is the perspectives from my EMBA teammates, as well as from the course materials, that I will be drawing on to solve problems in my work. And come September I look forward to joining a new team of classmates as we continue to surf the wave of knowledge into year 2.

Barry Dunning, Executive MBA Class of 2022