A Different View

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.


Picture this: a vast number of Harvard Business articles and text books read and re-read, early mornings before work and late evenings after work completing projects, studying for and sitting the dreaded exams. Congratulations – year one of the Executive MBA completed!

This may sound like a challenge but nothing could have prepared us for the challenge ahead…

We would travel to Iceland and work together on a project for just three days and follow it up with a presentation on our findings. It was a very different experience from the cocoon of the classroom we had become accustomed to, and yet incredibly rewarding.

Our task was to work with a large tour company who requested an analysis of one of their business ventures, which sat within the parent company. The brief was relatively loose, but essentially focused on whether this offering should continue, and if so, in what direction it should be taken. We were a little anxious that none of our team had any experience in the field in question but were assured that implementation of our recent learnings and work experience would be of value.

We made initial contact with the company to introduce ourselves and establish exactly what they hoped to get from the engagement and to discover more about them. In parallel we did as much research as possible on the company, their competitors and the Icelandic economy. Our team of four included one midweek and three weekend EMBA class members, which offered another opportunity to get to know each other better.

We met with senior representatives from the company on the evening we arrived and discussed our plan for the week. The following day we had the opportunity to experience the best that Iceland has to offer as we were sent on a sightseeing trip which is the primary offering of the company.

At first we were anxious that this would be an inefficient use of our time. In hindsight, we would not have been able to truly understand the complexity of the operation had it not been for this trip. We also used it as an opportunity to meet the customers. We tried to establish the customer profile but this proved quite difficult, and reflected some of the challenges the company had been encountering.

For the remaining period of the week we met with as many people from the company as possible. Our tactic was simple; ask some open questions, and allow them to offer their opinion. This was very fruitful; as with any large company the vision was not entirely consistent and it allowed us to identify gaps where improvements could be made.

We soon realised that our lack of exposure to the industry was actually an advantage as it allowed us to view these issues with fresh eyes, and the diversity within our team meant that our approach was comprehensive. Some members of our team acted instinctively on gut feeling, while others were engineers who prefer a methodical and thorough approach. Although this could have caused minor tensions it actually resulted in more considered findings.

The project culminated with a presentation to the CEO and select executive staff. It was very clear that we had uncovered information of which they had not been thoroughly aware. Most rewarding, however, was how keen they were to implement our findings.

On reflection, the experience gave us great confidence in our abilities to transfer our knowledge and experience across industries. This adventure provided us with the opportunity to consolidate and implement our new skills. The first year MBA that keeps on giving…..looking forward to Round 2!

Pic 2a

Gearoid O’Briain, EMBA 2016-2018

Gearoid’s team used a drone to take aerial footage of their sightseeing trip, and the stunning Icelandic landscape. Click HERE for the video.