Words of wisdom from US Economist Larry Summers

Its not every day that you get to listen to the former White House economic advisor to President Obama and when you get the chance to listen up, my personal view is that you should take it.

Larry Summers is currently in Ireland for the F.ounders event and meeting various Government Officials and gave a talk in the Citi Building, which is where the City Centre EMBA lectures take place. One of my MBA classmates tipped me off and I decided to drop by before going into our Investment Management lecture on derivatives.

It was interesting to hear Mr. Summers talk about economic policy and afterwards give advice to the audience on career paths and success. He said that you need 3 things to succeed in your career (and maybe life) – ability, work ethic and ….luck – and an equal measure of all three.

Mr. Summers advised the audience to figure out what they like doing – what they are good at and to find out where that overlaps with what the market wants. Once they find that, he advised people to work hard and that having a ‘healthy attitude’ to working was vital. While the third aspect, luck, is a little more intangible and is somewhat out of one’s control, he quoted golfing legend Gary Player who said ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get.’

After the talk ended, I spoke with Mr. Summers and asked him if he had any advice for MBA students given his experience as President of Harvard. He explained the importance of an economic term I had not heard before called ‘fungability’ which relates to interchangeability. He also spoke about the importance of finding a niche area.

Cheryl Sandberg previously worked for Mr. Summers and after consulting with him, decided to leave her secure Government job and join a then unknown start-up called Google. She is now on the Board of Directors of Facebook, Starbucks and Disney – so I’d be inclined to heed his advice!

– Conor O’Donovan, EMBA 2011-13

Interview with Marius Smyth, Smurfit MBA alumni

Marius Smyth, a Smurfit MBA graduate and Head of SMB Sales with Google explains his role within Google, his views on mobile advertising and how the MBA helped him to achieve success in his career.

1.  Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

I have been in the Media industry for the past 11 years. I started selling print advertising straight out of college and progressed into Online advertising sales with Google back in 2005. I have had a varied career in Google, working within acquisition sales, Agency, Mobile and most recently within our SMB Sales organisation.

2.       You recently were promoted to UK and Ireland Country head of SMB Sales for Google – what does your role involve on a day to day basis?

I manage a direct team of 5 managers who manage a team of 50 SMB Sales Strategists working with our SMB customer segment. We service the UK and Irish markets. I develop the strategy for our sales teams and work closely with the teams to drive sales.

3.              How do you see technology continuing to change the advertising industry?

In my time with Google I have seen lots of interesting innovations in the advertising industry but without a doubt the change in consumer behaviour to online has been the big driving force behind the success within the online advertising industry. Historically, advertisers have followed the user and consumer and technology has managed to help create an accountable form on advertising online.

4.        You have a background in Mobile advertising – do you see this as the next big thing and how much of a challenge is it to convert advertisers to the mobile platform?

We have a saying in Google that it’s never too late to be early in Mobile advertising. I think mobile is not the next big thing; it is the biggest thing right now. I think that advertisers are very much behind the consumer in this regard. I would say that if advertisers are not already invested in or thinking about mobile in the marketing mix, then they are in trouble and will be playing catch up.

Marius Smyth, Google and EMBA Alumni

5.       What motivated you to do the MBA at Smurfit Business School ?

I had been interested in doing my MBA for some time. Had put it of for one thing or another and eventually decided to commit to what was to be a gruelling two years of my life. Of course it was one of the best decisions I eve made and I thoroughly enjoyed the MBA experience.

6.              How has the MBA helped you in your career?

It’s really given me the commercial edge I would say. Although I studied under graduate business studies the MBA gave me a deeper understanding of business and helped me to develop my strategy, leadership and finance skills.

Interviewed by Conor O’Donovan, EMBA Yr 2

Property Tax and the MBA

Heated discussions around the proposed ‘full’ Property Tax are taking place around the country at the moment and as I prepare to return to Smurfit Business School for the second year of the Executive Masters of Business Administration (MBA), I find myself thinking back to the lessons learned from the Financial Valuations module last semester.

Any form of taxation is going to be unpopular with the public and the property tax is no different. However, it is clear that we need a more stable and recurring source of finance for local authorities as stamp duty receipts to the exchequer have plummeted from €1.3bn in 2006 to somewhere around €40m in the last year.  While property tax is likely to feature in the upcoming budget, implementing a methodology that is fair and equitable for everyone is going to be a challenge for Government.

So far, the commentary has focussed around four main methodologies. The first is Site Value Tax (SVT), which was recommended in the Commission on Taxation Report 2009 and values the site (and not the property). While this is a relatively equitable way of levying a tax, it is difficult to assess. For example how do you value the site of one unit in a large apartment block? The second is an area- based tax, which levies the tax based on the size of the property.

This is a relatively transparent method and is easy to assess but doesn’t take into account benefits of access to local government services. A tax based on the market value of the property is being reported as the methodology that will be used but it remains to be seen what method the Minister decides upon. In the current market basing the tax on the market value of the property will be challenging for non-standard properties due to the lack of available transactional data. However the Property Price Register, due later this year which will make actual property selling prices publicly available, should assist with this process.

Continue reading Property Tax and the MBA

Round 2 of the MBA

After wonderful success of Katie Taylor and the Irish boxing team at the Olympics and the excitement that has swept through the country in recent weeks, I can’t help but make the analogy that going into second year of the MBA feels somewhat like getting back into a boxing ring.

Like boxing, the MBA requires a lot of self-discipline and a lot of sweat away from the bright lights of the ring/boardroom. Last semester, I lost count of the many late nights myself and my team mates spent pouring over company annual reports (corporate finance module), critiquing the management controls and budgets of large organisations (management accounting) and preparing SWOT analysis and brainstorming new market ideas for a company’s future (corporate strategy).

A successful boxer also has a great team of people that work with him/her every step of the way. One of the real benefits of the MBA is that you work in small groups on a number of assignments. For me, being part of the group gave me exposure to the views, experiences and perspectives of professionals from a wide range of background that I would not usually encounter in my day-to day-work. This has helped me to look at challenges in my own sector through fresh eyes, which has been invaluable.

A key element of achieving success in boxing is being able to perform at your best under pressure. As aspiring MBA’s, we need to be able to perform under pressure too. We need to be able to present our ideas and business cases to senior business people in a professional and convincing manner. The Smurfit MBA places a high level of significance on developing these skills and throughout the past year we have all had to deliver multiple presentations in front of our classmates, lecturers and senior business people and deal with their questions competently.

Of course, competition is inherent in boxing and it is no different on the MBA. The fact that you are on an executive programme which requires about 15- 18 hours of your time each week, on top of your ‘day-job’, means that the majority of people who make this kind of commitment are motivated to do well. Sometimes the competitiveness comes out with different groups ‘battling’ against each other on their group projects and presentations– but it is more out of a sense of friendly rivalry than anything else and usually ends up in a good laugh over a pint after class.

That said, a new fantasy football league has started in our class and the competition is heating up so let the games begin!

Conor O’Donovan -EMBA Yr 2

Interview with Emmet O’Neill

What is the most important thing you have learnt in business?

The importance of surrounding yourself with good people.  At Smiles, we have built up a fantastic team who are qualified experts in their field, who work hard but who also are ambitious and enthusiastic about opportunities for the future. We have also built up a very experienced Board of Directors with a broad range of expertise from banking to software who bring a high level of strategic experience to the company.

What advice would you give to young students/graduates who want to start-up their own businesses?

I think one of the real benefits of setting up a business at a young age is that you have nothing to lose and can afford to take risks. I remember when I was in college, I was setting up a few businesses including a recycling company and coffee shops. Some things worked out and others didn’t but it was a great age to learn and start something up because you have the time to learn from your mistakes.

Do you think now is a good time to set up a business?

The good thing about the current environment is that the market reacts faster than before. You will probably find out very quickly if your business is a good idea and whether you can develop a customer base and a sustainable business. And that’s a good thing because you don’t waste time on businesses that don’t have a chance of succeeding.

In your opinion, what are the key skills that budding Entrepreneurs need?

I think someone starting up their own business needs to feel comfortable wearing a number of hats. You need to be a good sales person and be able to deal with the day to day pressures that come with running a business and employing others. You also need to be able to rally the troops from the outset. Have a strong drive and work ethic is crucial.

You are a UCD graduate – what role did college have on your career path to becoming an entrepreneur?

I enjoyed college and it gave me a good grounding in the different areas of business – from finance to HR to marketing. I also met new people from a range of different backgrounds and schools who became good friends. In fact, one of my best friends from college works with me at Smiles.

How can the Irish Government support more entrepreneurship in Ireland?

I think that the Government agencies are doing a good job on the big projects – the large multinationals – in terms of bringing them to Ireland. And that makes sense as larger companies will potentially create more jobs. However, I think Government also has to keep its focus on facilitating and supporting indigenous entrepreneurs and SME’s who also employ a lot of people.

What’s next for you?

The plan is to continue to develop the business in Ireland and to expand overseas. We are currently opening new Smiles Dental clinics in Scotland at present. I am also involved in a couple of other interesting projects so we’ll see where they take me.

– Conor O’Donovan, EMBA 2011/13

Diary of an MBA – March 2012

I am writing this blog during our mid-term break and can hardly believe that there are only 5 weeks of term to go and I will have finished the 1st year of the Executive MBA (fingers crossed for the exams of course!). It only seems like yesterday when I was applying for the Irish Times/ Smurfit Business School Scholarship and dreaming of having the opportunity to do the MBA at Smurfit Business School.

The past term and a half have flown by, although they seem to have gone faster for my family and friends than me for some reason. I am amazed at when they all say “sure that flew by….. where did the time go?’ 24 weeks of lectures, eight hours a week, countless team meetings, presentations, assignments and so on….but you know what? I have absolutely loved it all. It has been tough and in some ways, inspiring too.  Balancing work, study and your personal life is not an easy juggling act but you do find you get into a bit of a rhythm.

One of the reasons I decided to the MBA was to broaden my thinking and to build a skill set that would enable me to progress to the next level. And I am finding that the academic course work really does broaden your thinking and give you more confidence in dealing with people in functional areas that you may not deal with on a day to day basis. However, I have also found that I have learnt the most from the group dynamics. Another reason that I did the MBA was to learn from others and I had heard that the MBA Alumni of UCD Smurfit Business School is second to none. I have always had an interest in reading about entrepreneurs and business people to see what makes them tick and to pick up some wisdom along the way.

I recently met up with Emmet O’Neill, who is a UCD graduate and co-founded Smiles Dental in 2005 after spotting a gap for tooth whitening in the Irish market. Since then, the company has expanded into offering full dental services and has 16 Smiles dental clinics nationwide. I asked him a few questions about his journey to business success, any advice he could share with aspiring entrepreneurs and his outlook for the future. (TBC)

– Conor O’Donovan,  EMBA 2011/13

A perspective on part-time MBA

It’s hard to believe that we are entering into week 5 of semester two already. After the initial burst of excitement and adrenalin last term, I think we are all beginning to find a rhythm. As a part-time MBA student, lectures two evenings a week seems like the norm and I can hardly remember what I did on those days before starting the programme.

The semester has brought us new teams, new subjects, new challenges and new opportunities. One of the most interesting things I have got from the MBA so far, is learning from the group work and team dynamics.  I think most of the groups felt at the end of Semester 1 that they had become a strong team and had gelled well together. So it was with a little trepidation that we all found our new teammates at the start of Semester 2 but I’m glad to say that it’s working out really well. It’s amazing how the prospect of assignments and work focuses the mind and facilitates real teamwork!

This semester we are studying Management Accounting, Information Systems, Competitive Strategy and Financial Management and it’s fascinating to see how they all interlink. I think that’s one of the great benefits of the MBA – getting a holistic view of business issues and being able to examine them from a variety of different functional perspectives.

The first class of Financial Management involved heated discussions about the property market. It was interesting to discuss the factors that led to the boom and bust in recent years. I think the property market is something we can all identify with and I hope to come away from the module with some useful lessons should there be another boom in the future!

For those considering an MBA, it is a wonderful opportunity to broaden your skill set, knowledge base and contacts and there is no better place in Ireland to do it than Smurfit Business School  which is triple accredited and internationally recognised. If you are considering an MBA, don’t forget to take a look at the Irish Times/Smurfit Business School MBA scholarship which is open for another couple of days – see www.smurfitschool.ie/irishtimes – you never know, you might just win it!

– Conor O’Donovan, EMBA

And so it begins….

Day one of the MBA in Smurfit Business School is done and dusted and what a whirlind of a day it has been!

This morning, as I stepped into the entrance hall which was brimming with almost one hundred new MBA candidates, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the possibilities that lay ahead.

It began with a brief introduction from the MBA faculty who gave us a comprehensive overview of the School, the support available to us and the workload that lay ahead.

While I expected a heavy volume of academic work, I was impressed by the commitment of the MBA team to develop the potential of each MBA candidate. We were told about the extensive Personal Development Programme (PDP) available to us throughout the year which includes personal coaching, leadership and other personal development tools.  It seems to me that the Smurfit Business School has struck a good balance between academic riguour and the leadership/personal development requirements of the next generation of MBA’s.

Networking is a crucial part of the MBA, and business in general, and so the first coffee break provided us with an ideal opportunity to hone our skills. In the end, it wasn’t very difficult. Everyone was very friendly and within a nano-second, people from all backgrounds – engineering, non-profits, business, technology and finance, were engaged in deep discussion. One of the benefits of the MBA is the diversity of the group which helps you see business challenges  through the eyes of someone with a different perspective than you, which can be invaluable.

One of the sessions today was entitled ‘Getting Things Done’ and we were given an insight into best practice in terms of becoming more effective managers of our time and of ourselves. While I had always sworn by a daily ‘to do’ list, what I took away from the session was the importance of deciding on what was really important and what was less so, and of taking immediate action on the important tasks. It seems simple but how often do we get caught up in the small stuff?

After lunch, Prof. Niamh Brennan brought her no-nonsense approach to the class in her report writing session. We had been asked to prepare a five page report in advance of the first day and to critique each other’s work. Critiquing the report of someone you had just met was a little daunting. However, it soon became clear that there was much to learn. While I waxed a little lyrical in my report, my colleague provided an engineer’s perspective and proposed key structural alterations that vastly improved my work. I was able to make some good suggestions for his report too.The key take-away’s for me were the importance of preparation, of clear and concise communication and of continually critiquing your work and seeking to  improve it on a continuous basis. I think the Japanese call it Kaizen.

In the afternoon, Emma Ledden of MTV fame and now a highly regarded communications consultant, along with her business partner gave us an overview of the Communications Bootcamp. For some of us, it meant the unexpected news that we would have to deliver a presentation at 7.45am the following morning with our new groups. We were told about this at 3.30pm and also that the full presentations had to be submitted by 5.30pm that evening…. They don’t call it bootcamp for nothing!

– Conor O’Donovan, EMBA City Centre Yr 1