Teamwork on the MBA

From left: Fergus O’Dea, Nihar Panda, Nicole Blair, Prof. Pat Gibbons, Dr. Brian McGrath, Phillip O’Sullivan and Donnchadh Casey

One of the most challenging and fulfilling parts of the MBA is the significant element of group work required by the majority of our subjects. Learning to manage the different styles, cultures and timekeeping habits of our colleagues has been the source of more than one disagreement this year! But I have seen how team diversity, if properly managed, can drive a team to be greater than the sum of its parts.

I have been extremely fortunate to be part of two great work teams this year and that trend continued as I joined my friends Donnchadh, Nicole, Nihar and Philip on a team for the MBA case study competition. The process began with stiff competition from my fellow full time colleagues, and then the winner would take on a team of UCD Executive MBA students. The eventual winner would then represent UCD at the annual MBA case competition this summer in Dublin.

It is a testament to the ambition and dedication of our class that 15 students, comprising three teams (somehow) found time to dedicate themselves to this competition. We met early in the morning to be presented with a case study, and were then given 4 hours to analyse the case and prepare a presentation of our findings for a discerning panel of judges; Michael McDonnell, Prof. Pat Gibbons, and Dr. Brian McGrath.

We retired to a syndicate room when a brief period of calm while we read the case was quickly followed by a flurry of debate as we tried to corral the stampede of ideas into a coherent presentation. After the quickest four hours I can remember, we were slightly dazed, but ready to present. The MBA class of 2012 have become adept at preparing slick presentations, and the level of preparation has included an incredible adaptation of Toy Story 3, and some trademark guerrilla film making from Stephen Smith. The case study competition was excellent in forcing us to get back to basics and to present without the same level of preparation that we would usually put in. I was very impressed by all three presentations each of which dissected the case from a different perspective and offered various solutions for the company in question to move forward.

The Competition!

All of the teams would have done the full-time class proud, but I’m delighted to report the judges favoured our presentation, and we were awarded first prize and the right, along with the second placed team, to face the Executive MBA team in the next round.

From my experience of the Exec’s they will no doubt raise the bar further and it is up to us to match them if we are to go on to face the other MBA’s from across the country and live up to the achievements of last year’s team.

– Fergus O’Dea, Full-time MBA 2011/12

Sunday Night TV Options

On Sunday evening after a long day studying, punctuated only by a break to watch the excellent Wales v Scotland match in the RBS 6 Nations, I flopped onto the couch to switch on the TV and switch off the brain for a while. The Biography Channel’s Storage Wars seemed the perfect opportunity for the latter. The premise is simple; it is a reality TV show that follows people that make their living bidding for the unclaimed contents of storage lockers. The only catch is that they can only peer into the locker from the outside before bidding.

“Interesting; they are bidding on the couch, the TV and the set of golf clubs they can see from the door, and the options on the contents of that trunk, those boxes and whatever is behind that old mattress. Of course with their limited funds the opportunity cost is quite high, the next (unopened) locker could be even better. That’s not even considering the working capital implications of whatever they find: how long is it going to take that guy to find a buyer for those antique chicken glasses? (I kid you not). And they have not thought about their reservation point for these nego………”

At this point my wife justifiably told me to shut up. Sometimes it is harder than you think to switch off from this course.

– Fergus O’Dea, FT MBA 2012

The Plain People of Ireland*

* Irish Times columnist Myles Na gCopaleen wrote an erratic but often genius column in which he would sometimes engage in a tongue-in-cheek discussion with the “plain people of Ireland”.  I’d highly recommend his work (including under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien) to overseas colleagues that are interested in the Irish sense of humour.

The Plain People of Ireland: What are ya up to these days at all?

Myself: I’m back in College

The Plain People of Ireland: Sure didn’t ya have a big job there in Pfizer?

Myself: Aye, Pfizer was good, but I decided to do an MBA.

The Plain People of Ireland: What’s your MBA in?

Myself: Basketball.

It’s fair to say that MBA programmes have failed to enter the consciousness of a good proportion of the Irish public, and I’ve heard Alumni claim that it’s only abroad that their MBA is properly valued. Perhaps this is the case, but to measure the success of my time in Smurfit, I’ll look beyond the narrow scope of how well it’s viewed by potential employers or my peers. For me, my time in Smurfit is not just a means to an end, the process of handling the workload, working with classmates and taking on new and diverse subjects is in itself subtly transformative. I may not be head-hunted by Google after graduation, but I will have benefited from this year nonetheless. As we’ve learned in financial reporting, it’s often the intangible assets that are the most important.

Three weeks in

Three weeks in and it already feels like we’ve been here for months. With my Science/engineering background, and having been cosseted away in a Biotech company for nearly 10 years, I’ll admit to being a (little) clueless as to what lay ahead of me academically. In fact if encouraged with the black stuff I may even admit to not having a clue as to what some of the subjects were about. So I am happy to report that the first few weeks have been a very pleasant surprise; Financial reporting– it sounds so sterile and austere, but nothing could be further from the truth.  After just a few lectures we can all spot “jiggery-pokery” (copyright: Niamh Brennan) in a financial report from a considerable distance and have intermittently felt the simple satisfaction when your balance sheet lives up to its moniker. There are even some parallels with the science world; I’m amused to see an intelligent design vs emergence argument raging amongst competitive strategy boffins and I have a niggling regret that I wasn’t around in the mid-seventies to single-handedly rescue the British motorcycle industry.

But that’s just the academic stuff, far more interesting has been getting to know my classmates. It has become obvious to us all by now how much we are going to rely on each other this year. Thankfully the good folk at Smurfit were aware of this from the start and tailored the first weeks to help us bond with one another. We spent a revealing session learning about different personality types which will hopefully stop our group work degenerating into an episode of the apprentice. Luckily our class has an unbelievably diverse range of skills and backgrounds to call on; we have a former tank commander in our ranks, although hopefully those skills will not be required. I’ve been introduced to TED talks (how did I miss these?), the vagaries of the on-line poker industry and heard the first-hand accounts of an unlucky classmate’s two instances of being robbed at gunpoint. Oh and we beat Australia in the rugby, so yeah, a good few weeks!

– Fergus O’Dea