“Cracking Coke” in Galway

Last Saturday morning (29 June), while many of you were catching up on the conversations between the buccaneers at Anglo exposed in the “Anglo Tapes”, I was advising the board of Directors at Coca-Cola on what they should do with their recent acquisition of Coca-Cola Enterprises!

NUI Galway was the generous host of this year’s annual MBA Association of Ireland (MBAAI) Inter-Business School MBA Strategy challenge. The challenge is open to all MBA students from business schools across Ireland.

Four teams competed, with representation from MBA programmes at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Griffith College Dublin (GCD), Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School (UCD).

At 10:15am, all teams were presented with a contemporary Harvard Business School case study on Coca-Cola.

At 10:30am, just as the Lions rugby team were getting ready  to roar, each team was directed to a separate meeting room where we were caged for four hours to ‘crack the case’ and prepare a presentation before returning to present to the judging panel.

During these four hours my team -Richie Somerville, Benjamin Bechtolsteim, Neil Krige, Robert Farrell and I- used the analytical tools discussed during the MBA modules at UCD to analyse the information we were given, identify the problem to be solved and propose a recommendation for implementation within Coca-Cola’s business.

Those four hours felt like minutes. The environment emulated that of everyday businesses, where leaders are challenged to identify, comprehend and solve complex business issues under intense pressure.

The presentations were very diverse, with each time taking a very different perspective on the case. I’m sure the variety was appreciated by the judges!

In the evening, we all convened at the Westwood Hotel in Galway where the MBAAI had arranged a drinks reception followed by a beautiful dinner. It provided an excellent opportunity to enjoy a well-deserved drink whilst getting to know the teams from DIT, WIT and GCD. The sunshine was an added bonus!

Just before dinner, my team were announced All-Ireland Strategy Champions 2013, reclaiming the title for UCD! The road to Galway involved two-rounds of internal competition, testament to the high calibre of students in both the full-time and executive MBA programmes at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business. After months of preparation with Richie, Robert, Neil and Benjamin, it was a real honour to win. We were presented with a glistening Waterford crystal trophy – a new companion for the MBA World Cup trophy in the MBA Trophy Cabinet!

The event showcased the ingenuity, strategic thinking and diverse perspectives of the participants and provided an endorsement of the quality of MBA programmes in Ireland’s business schools. Amidst the widespread media coverage of bad leadership in Ireland, it is encouraging to see a fresh wave of leaders equipped to make a difference and contribute to rebuilding Ireland’s reputation.

Thank you to Professor Pat Gibbons and Michael McDonnell at UCD for helping my team along the way. Thank you to MBAAI and NUI Galway, particularly James and Christine, for arranging a super event and for making us feel so welcome.  We look forward to returning the favour by welcoming teams to Carysfort Avenue, Blackrock for next year’s competition!

– Therese O’Rourke, FT MBA 2012-13

Therese and her new "hat"

Testing Our Mettle in Galway

Have you ever pondered the value chain of Coca-Cola – the world’s most recognised brand?

For six hours last Saturday, this question captured our full attention. Team Smurfit analysed the case, presented our proposal to a panel of judges, and then awaited the result of their deliberations. We were in good company. The MBA programs from Waterford Institute of Technology, Dublin Institute of Technology, and Griffith Collage fielded teams that presented their own version of what Coca-Cola should do, given a critical decision facing the CEO. Our strategy toolkit was put to the test.

The occasion was the annual MBA Association of Ireland Strategy Case Competition. Like the Eurovision, last year’s winner becomes next year’s host. Following their success in 2012, NUI Galway provided all of the competitors with warm hospitality.

A cardiac stress test is used in hospitals to measure the heart’s ability to respond to external stress in a controlled environment. The MBA stress test must be the case competition. With just four hours to read a case, analyse the data, and prepare a series of recommendations, you feel the pressure. Cooked up in a classroom for four hours provides the ideal controlled environment for the Storming Stage of team development.

When it counted this past weekend, our team passed the stress test. We are delighted to bring the winner’s trophy back to Smurfit.

Special thanks to Pat Gibbons, our strategy guru, Michael McDonnell, our coordinator (& travel budget finder), and the extended MBAAI organising team, who organized a fantastic occasion.

On a personal note, my best fortune of the MBA experience was getting to befriend and team up with Benjamin Bechtolsheim, Therese O’Rourke, Robert Farrell and Neil Krige. We had a great time working together, and we share the victory with each other and our school.

To the 2014 Smurfit MBA cohort we pass on the baton!

– Richie Somerville, FT MBA 2012/13

The winning team (L-R): Robert, Therese, Richie, Maeve O Connell (incoming President Elect MBAAI), Neil and Benjamin

Let’s Get Real!

I write this blog with 2/3’s of the MBA program behind me and the academic portion effectively complete. The first 2 semesters have been a flood of information and knowledge that has been enriching and stimulating, albeit saturating at times. In this 8-9 month period we have completed 16 separate academic modules, written countless assignments, given innumerable presentations and generally been immersed in the spectrum of business related subjects, day and night.

For the final 2-3 months of the program, this outline changes tack completely. The academic learning is done and we are now expected to put it all into practise. The program’s vehicle for this exercise is the market place. As MBA participants we now move from being students, to in essence cheap labour, as we are offered out to companies to perform consulting projects. The value gained from businesses in the past means that the program is oversubscribed from companies looking to make use of this opportunity, which provides us with a broad choice of projects to work on.

I have made the selection to work on a project for a multinational looking for a feasibility analysis of a new line of business and a related roll out plan. This project struck a cord with me as it aligned my entrepreneurial tendencies with an opportunity to implement much of my learning’s from the program. Specifically, I look forward to implementing the theoretical strategy elements of analyzing the opportunity and industry attractiveness, the firm’s value chain and relative competitive advantage, and the best avenues for entry.

The project also facilitates implementation of our marketing theory in performing a market segmentation and analysis, identifying the target market, and determining the product positioning and best marketing mix. Our financial learnings should also add value in the financial modelling and analysis that will be required. I am thus looking forward to the challenge of performing a value adding assignment in tight timelines and hopefully gaining much practical learnings in feasibility analysis and the roll out of a new business venture.

Neil Krige

All in all, this practical element of the program has come at the right time as most program participants are itching to put all our learnings into practice and get out of the class room and back into the real world of business.

– Neil Krige, FT MBA 2012/13

Examination time, ‘Yawn’

I write this blog staring down the barrel of 6 exams in 10 days and a welcome week break at the end of it. It occurs to me that this is probably the most relaxed I have ever been (hence the possibility of writing this blog) with a test series starting in a day or so. This is unfortunately not in any way related to my academic preparation for these exams. I attribute this feeling to the nature of the MBA program.

The Smurfit MBA program is not an academic exercise. Exams are approached as a formality and opportunity to express knowledge and learning as opposed to any test that needs to be passed. The courses themselves are structured with exams usually contributing a fraction of overall assessment, and most weight being given to practical projects and reflections, assisting and illustrating course learning.

I think this practicality of the course is what contributes to my confidence. I feel under no compulsion to recite any doctrines or theories but am encouraged to express my opinions on the material we have covered through the modules. Rote learning is seen to be of little benefit and the practical nature of the program has emphasized the development of insights and views which are given a chance to be scribed in an exam setting.

The material presented in class is rarely portrayed as being the final answer on any matter, and the case studies and class discussions have forced us all to form opinions on the module content. Module coordinators have further instilled a confidence that there are few right or wrong answers, with the construction, substantiation and articulation of points of view being of most importance.

To this end, I feel my exam preparation has already been done through the term, with this pre-exam window providing a time to review the massive amounts of material covered and collect my thoughts on pertinent issues. That having been mentioned, I realize I still have a fair bit of ‘collecting my thoughts’ to do, and so I will end the blog here for fear of writing this again next year.

Neil Krige

– Neil Krige, FT MBA 2012/13 (hopefully!)

A fake break to Brazil

I write this blog contemplating the previous 6 weeks of the MBA program which have flown by at break neck speed. I did not think my schedule could get much fuller but the MBA is starting to prove that there is always room for more.

The undoubted highlight of the recent past has been our international study trip. I chose the Brazil option and was not disappointed. Leaving Dublin in sub-zero temperatures and arriving in Sao Paulo at plus 25 degrees was certainly a contributing factor. The Sao Paulo leg of our trip consisted of an introductory lecture at the FIA Business School and 4 company visits. The FIA lecture presented us with an insightful overview of how the Brazilian economy has got to where it is today (6th largest globally) and specifically the challenges it is facing in continuing its growth.

Of specific interest to me, was how a government policy of poverty eradication through social grants, had inadvertently lead to the stimulation of the local economy through increased public consumption. This is a significant departure from the current populist theory of poverty eradication through industry initiatives and private sector development. I intend performing greater research in this regard and specifically understanding such a policy’s applicability in the South African context.

The business visits and presentations that followed were varied and informative. From a business perspective, I went to Brazil to gain insights into what it is like to do business there and what the key challenges are for international businesses to overcome. The business presentations provided clear and repetitive guidance on the key requirements and challenges for international business in Brazil. I was interested to note that speaking the local language was a prerequisite to building strong relationships, which in turn was a prerequisite for doing successful business. I noted at JWT and Pernod Riccard that this language bridge could be overcome by employing educated locals, but that this would come at a price itself due to the high salaries demanded by skilled local labour.

I came to learn that some things will not change in the near future in Brazil and that making adjustments for the poor transport infrastructure and complex tax regime would be a requirement for undertaking business in Brazil. Much like South Africa, I noted that an approach of seeing opportunities as opposed to obstacles could prove successful in Brazil. This was borne out by companies such as Cosan that had seen an opportunity to enter the logistics and infrastructure fields, or Deloitte who provide consulting services on the complex tax system.

Our 3 days in Sao Paulo flew by and before long we were in the air again heading for Rio de Janiero. The flight and landing in Rio is something I will never forget, for all the right reasons! Flying in over Guanabara Bay, with the smattering of islands below, the Corcavado (Christ Redeemer Statue) and Sugar Loaf Mountains in the distance, and the Rio beaches ahead, is an amazing entrance. Rio’s status as the prettiest city I’ve ever been to was affirmed when we took the tram to the top of the Corcovado and spent the afternoon enjoying the views of the city.

The business part of the trip started up again in the morning with visits to the Brazilian multinationals of Petrobras and BNDES. These visits provided examples of the potential for Brazilian businesses to become world leaders in their fields, and exhibited the rich talent and skills that Brazil possesses. I was impressed with the ambitious nature of these companies, their striving for excellence and their national pride.

Having seen some of the best Brazil has to offer, I was eager to get a fuller picture of Brazilian life which our next scheduled visit to the infamous ‘favela’ slums of Rio, would hopefully provide. Entering the drug-lord controlled ‘favela’ under surveillance from a teenager with a radio and hand gun was always going to leave a lasting impression. I was surprised however with the relatively good condition of the houses and living areas, and saw no trace of the abject poverty that I was expecting. This dangerous illusion that crime does pay is possibly a detractor from the superb social work being done at the development centre we visited.

Ending our week with a view of the darker side of Brazil helped provide a broader picture of life and business here and its related complexities. Our 12 hour flight back to Dublin gave me time to reflect how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to experience at least a taste of the diverse country that is Brazil. I was leaving with fascinating insights that would assist me in my life and business decisions into the future, and a much deeper understanding than any readings could ever supply. I found myself pleasantly surprised again by my MBA experience far outweighing my initial expectations, no matter how swamped I feel at times.

Neil Krige

– Neil Krige, FT MBA 2013

The more things change, the more they stay the same

I am writing this blog post one month into the second semester of our MBA programme. This timing lead me to recall a previous post made one month into the start of our 1st semester and I was astounded as to how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same.

The first notable change is that the subjects from the 1st semester are a thing of the past and we have 7 new courses to take their place. I have specifically enjoyed the greater second semester focus on the people issues of business, and I am thoroughly enjoying the new organisational behaviour, strategies for human resources and negotiations modules. The negotiations module in particular has brought home to me the necessities of the softer skills in business and the small group role-plays, of settling supplier disputes or haggling over the price of a production facility, have been valuable in improving my negotiation skills.

A second noted changed in this semester is my increased involvement in university extra-curricular activities. Following the first semester relocation rush of having to organise bank accounts, cell phones, accommodation, transport, timetables, and the like, I have signed myself up for the MBA rugby and football clubs this semester, as well as the regional case competition. The Monday night football and Friday night rugby are already highlights of the week as it is wonderful to interact with class mates in a social sporting setting. Forming part of a multi-national team, most of whom are playing the sport for the very first time, has been a recipe for some of the most entertaining experiences of the MBA thus far.

Further noted changes are that in my opinion the weather has turned the corner and I am feeling confident that it is warming, although my Irish class mates warn me not to get too presumptuous. This semester’s changes also include the much anticipated international study trip where I have selected the Brazil option and we will be splitting our 10 day trip between businesses in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Cant wait!

As much as this semester is a change from the first, some things are as regular as clockwork. The course assignments continue to flow as a never ending waterfall of deliverables, and the presentations continue to be due weekly. We are again this semester allocated into small group teams with my primary team this time consisting of an Irish lad and lass, as well as a lady from Vietnam and an Indian gentleman. We have a further 2 additional teams for our 2 optional subjects and I again have a diverse national mix of American, Canadian, Irish, Vietnamese and Indian team mates. Based on the deep friendships cultivated within my small group team of last semester, I am excited by the number of new teammates and the prospects of deepening friendships with more people in our class.

Finally for good measure the MBA staff are still the same and it is great to have built up real friendships with the coordinators of the programme. I am again feeling very privileged to be spending this time in such a quality institution and can feel myself making life memories almost every step of the way. Here’s to another great MBA semester.

Neil Krige

– Neil Krige,  FT MBA12/13

Africa-Ireland Economic Forum at UCD Smurfit

One of the unexpected benefits of the Smurfit MBA programme is the vast amount of extramural activities that are constantly happening at the business school, and that MBA students receive invitations to. One such invitation arrived in my inbox last week and pricked my interest – The Africa-Ireland Economic Forum. Coming from South Africa and being involved in business through out Africa, I was interested to see what the conference would address and so signed myself up.

Arriving in my short sleeve shirt and light trousers, and seeing the other 200 delegates in their suits, ties and suave African dress, I immediately realized that I had misread the size and calibre of this forum. Following a few deep breaths, and some semi-successful mingling, I identified most delegates as either being involved in Irish business or representing an African embassy. The stature of the conference was further enforced by the first address being that of the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, followed closely by the Irish vice-president himself.

The introductory speeches were followed by highly informative talks and panel discussions with companies involved in business in Africa. I could resonate with the opportunities and challenges experienced by the panel delegates and found some of their comments truly insightful. Reading the programme material and listening to the panel discussions, I felt somewhat embarrassed as to the education I was receiving as to the significant developments in counties back on my continent. Following the information overload received in the morning session, I was relieved to reach the lunch break and get the opportunity of speaking with some of the other delegates.

Continue reading Africa-Ireland Economic Forum at UCD Smurfit

One month in

It is now 1 month since we arrived in Ireland. What a month! Looking back it is quite amazing how much can happen in just 30 days!

On arrival, Dublin was a foreign place with foreign people for my wife and I coming from South Africa. Today, we already have a local pub and diner, and I can quite confidently tell you the names and nationalities of all 40 of my full time MBA classmates, who I now call friends.

How did we move so quickly from feeling like foreigners to feeling at home? I can only attribute it to something quite special about the Irish culture and the Smurfit School in particular.

Our prior knowledge of Irish culture extended as far as the Irish pubs back in Johannesburg, renowned for their jovial character. I previously attributed this to the ale consumed in the pubs, but I now see it more as an outworking of the lively and social way of life lead by most Irish people. We could not have guessed the state of the economy through our interaction with the Irish people. Be it from an offer of the estate agent to store our bags for us, the solicitor who asked us to just drop the 10euro we were short in the post box sometime, or the ‘out of country’ lady writing down her full lineages contact details if we were ever to be in the area. The Irish are a welcoming people.

This ‘not wanting to disappoint’ attitude of the Irish does come with some risk however, as we were warned in the MBA foundation week. If an Irish person advises that it is a 5 minute walk somewhere, it is probably closer to 15 minutes, and if it is mentioned to be a ‘long’ 5 minute walk, it is closer to 30 minutes.

The Smurfit School for its part is particularly good at assisting foreign students to relocate and integrate. They do need to be, as 65% of our MBA class are international students, coming from all continents excluding Antarctica and Australasia. A specific highlight of my short time here has definitely been the foundation week that the business school holds for full time MBA students before the start of lectures. This provided valuable time for our diverse 40 person MBA class to get to know one another in a social setting and quickly turn acquaintances into friendships.

The course work so far has lived up to its reputation of being challenging and stimulating, and the external talks and events have been high class. Of particular interest to me has been the personal development focus of the Smurfit course and I look forward to much self discovery ahead.

Although it is still early days and the assignments are only starting to pile up, I can quite confidently say that I am looking forward to the coming 11 months, if the 1st is anything to go by.

-Neil Krige, FTMBA 2012/13