As the end of the MBA draws near, my classmates and I had to ask ourselves a final academic question – which two electives would we choose to complete the program? While I was tempted by Strategic Brand Marketing and Design and Artist-like Thinking in Business, I ended up selecting Entrepreneurship in Practice and Mergers and Acquisitions – two topics I’ve been intrigued with from a distance but haven’t had much direct experience with. In both cases, I’ve been truly pleased with my decision.
Entrepreneurship in Practice was taught by John “the serial entrepreneur” Cashell, a man with more stories about starting businesses than anyone I’ve ever encountered. Throughout the week, our class was given a crash course on the “dos and don’ts” of entrepreneurship, as we listened to John talk about his experiences developing new ideas, creating teams, designing business plans, and acquiring finance to make it all come together. Furthermore, we visited numerous companies throughout the week – small start-ups such as HeyStaks Technologies and Equinome, and large multinationals such as Intel and Microsoft – learning about the entrepreneurial process in both environments.
In the Mergers and Acquisitions course my classmates and I have enjoyed the great opportunity of learning from a visiting professor from the University of Denver, Dr. Donald Bergh. Dr. Bergh comes to Smurfit with 27 years of experience in M&A’s, both as a practitioner and as an academic. This experience has been obvious to us all, as the week has been full of valuable discussions, presentations and lectures on a topic that has arguable influenced more people than any other organizational action.
As a result of both classes, my classmates and I have been given yet another couple of tools that will enable us to achieve success in our future business pursuits.
One of the hallmarks of the Smurfit MBA is the international study trip that every fulltime student takes part in each March. In the programme brochure, the trip is described as an opportunity to “visit a dynamic market and enhance your global perspective.” While these would both be true statements, after my recent experience in China, it’s my suggestion that Smurfit add a few more adjectives to the description such as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘monumental’ to illustrate the overall opportunity the trip provides. Indeed, after a quick informal poll from my classmates, I’d say the most common word they used to describe the experience was: ‘epic’.
The trip was filled with highlights on both a professional and personal level. From the space age city of Shanghai (felt like visiting the future) to the booming cultural and political capital of Beijing, we were treated with a line-up of interesting meetings, presentations, tours and networking events with local and international businesspeople.
Although I could go on and on about some of these experiences, there was one event in particular that I’d like to share about: The Irish Ball. In honor of St. Paddy himself, every year the Irish expat community in China throws a huge black tie event in Beijing. This year, the event was attended by 750 people and it was easily one of the coolest parties I’ve ever been to. Champagne reception, 5 course meal highlighting Irish cuisine, Guinness/open bar, with musicians and dancers flown in from Ireland – the place was electric. At one point it occurred to me while I was standing in a crowd of people (fresh off a really embarrassing attempt at Irish dancing!) watching the Irish rugby team dismantle the English in the cup of nations tournament – I’m from the US, studying in Ireland for the year, and right now I’m having the best Paddy’s day of my life in Beijing surrounded by loads of new friends from all over the world.
Ireland is described by Lonely Planet as, “one of Europe’s gems, a scenic extravaganza of lake, mountain, sea and sky that’s gorgeous enough to make your jaw drop.” This jaw dropping natural beauty leaves many with their chins on the floor when you add a fascinating history, literary giants such as Yeats and Joyce, music icons such as U2 and an island full of people that are world renowned for their ability to have a good time.
What does this mean for me, you ask? Well, 2 things to be sure:
1) it means that my year long education on the Smurfit MBA is coupled with the one of a kind experience of living on the “Emerald Isle” – a remarkable opportunity to say the least. In six short months, I’ve been fortunate to travel north, south, and west, taking in the beautiful sites and meeting extraordinary people;
2) it means that nearly everyone I know from back home who wants to visit Ireland is doing their utmost to plan a trip to visit my wife and I. Thus far, we’ve welcomed five visitors and have 10 with trips planned for the spring! We’ve been joking recently that it feels like we’re running a B&B, and I need to use some of my newly acquired management skills to turn a profit on all this tourist traffic. Still haven’t figured out how to broach the subject with family members… “You see, Mom, the thing is… uh… nothing’s free in this world and I need to think about the return on investment for this apartment”… ;-).
Irish hospitality is the stuff legends are made of! Indeed, one of the highlights for an international student on the Smurfit MBA is the opportunity to experience Ireland alongside a group of remarkably welcoming Irish nationals, coming from what seems to be every square inch of the island. This aspect of the program would naturally be missing from the Smurfit brochures, but I can assure you that myself and the other international students – comprising 50% of our overall group and coming from the US, Canada, India, The Netherlands, Germany, Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan – have been so grateful for the way our Irish counterparts have received us.
An example of this legendary hospitality came over the winter holiday when my wife and I were invited to spend Christmas in the west of Ireland with my classmate and fellow blogger, Christopher Kitchin, on his family’s sheep farm!
In order to appreciate the uniqueness of this experience, it’s imperative that I mention how I’ve often been described as ‘the epitome of an urbanite.’ Christmas on the farm provided me with the opportunity to break away from this description as I set aside my affinity for cement and tall buildings to feed sheep, ride a Quad bike, collect firewood, picnic on the beach, and sleep in a house that was built over 100 years before my state was founded (how’s that for history?!)! More important to the experience than any of those details was the opportunity to spend Christmas with a group of remarkable people, and the graciousness with which our hosts welcomed us into their home and traditions. Needless to say, Christmas with the Kitchin family was a one of a kind experience for a city boy from the States!
My name is Patrick Hillis but all of my new classmates here at the Smurfit MBA have taken to calling me, “Paddy” (affectionately, I think). I come from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States — home of the space needle, Starbucks and fine folks like my good friend Billy Gates (not exactly, but I did come within a mile of his house on a boat once).