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

And so it begins…

27 Aug 12 – Week Nil

And so it begins… day one of the MBA.  Like everyone else arriving in for 0830 registration, I was filled with the usual sense of trepidation that accompanies any life-changing event.  We all piled into LT1 after coffee and croissants, and the tentative exchanging of pleasantries.  I looked around to see full-timers, execs, weekenders, mid-weekers and every other category of MBA student that could be mustered on a damp and dreary Irish summer’s morning.

The morning passed in a blur of advice, introductions and name tags.  Lunch came and went as we got to know one another over a bowl of soup.  And then the class we had all been dreading- the one with the homework.  Professor Niamh Brennan’s class on Report Writing was being spoken about since early that morning.  Nobody seemed sure if they had done the assignments properly.  Some hadn’t printed them out as per instructions.  Some had lost their formatting in printing.  Many sensed they were going to get critiqued to within an inch of their lives.  In the end Niamh (as we were to call her) was entertaining and engaging in her delivery.  I successfully managed to come away with all three learning outcomes from the class, which were:

  • Fight the bull,
  • Do not write a letter to one’s mother in the passive voice, and
  • Email Niamh, don’t tweet her.

At least I think that’s what they were.

03 Sep 12- Week One

In a week in which we earnestly discussed Robin Hood’s strategy options in his quest against the Sherriff of Notingham, Foundation Week ended on a high note with a very enjoyable day’s team building conducted mainly on the lawns of the Smurfit Business School.  Some of the panthers in the group got to cool their jets as buckets full of water spilled on their heads; the owls on the other hand suggested we do one more rehearsal of the plan before committing to the precarious 4×2 board.  All told, I think everyone enjoyed the team building and especially enjoyed the excellent organiser, Fintan who made it fun, but also reflective and meaningful to the year ahead.

So with Foundation Week over, it was straight into the thick of things on Monday morning where we continued to apply ourselves to Financial Reporting and were offered a first glimpse into the world of Competitive Strategy with Prof. Pat Gibbons.  They say an MBA class become close friends over the course of their studies, and Group Six certainly showed refreshing candour in outlining to Pat, and the rest of the course, what they hoped to achieve from his strategy class.  Suffice it to say, I’m sure Pat never expected his insights into strategy could have such wide-ranging application!

So the assignments and presentations are coming in thick and fast.  Groups can be seen forming (and possibly storming) in all corners of the building, coming to terms with the vista that presents itself to us.  But hey, we volunteered for this, so let’s make the best of it.

– Morgan Mangan, FT MBA 2012/13

September 4th 2012

I previously never thought much of the term time management, regarding it as a cliché and innate but with the list of group presentations and reports  beginning to gain momentum this week, I now realise it will be a valuable skill to develop and employ.

Foundation week was very well organised with a good mix of practical information on the course requirements,  how to utilise the IT services fully and the prohibition on booze and barbecues on campus as well as the team building exercises which were good fun with the ‘occasional’ difference of opinion and squaring up amongst some of the participants.

This week has plunged us into the full rigours of the programme and totting up in my head the hours that will have to be committed to assignments or study as well as the non-academic stuff, I feel  my waking hours will have to be extended. Looking forward to our first meeting with Brian Marrinan about careers tomorrow.

No regrets!

– Cathal O’Ceallaigh, FT MBA 2012/13

The Trials and Tribulations of Foundation Week

Exhilarated. Ecstatic.  Relieved.  All of these emotions struck me when I received the email stating that I had been accepted for the Executive MBA.  Completing the admission process had involved an amount of effort, studying and self reflection but it was not without its joyful moments (such as achieving the required GMAT score).  Shortly afterwards, I received details of the login for the incoming student website – a myriad of information.  This outlined what to expect when we arrived in UCD and is intended to set you up for the coming years.  Admittedly the site confused at times!  Surely it gets easier from here?!?

Anticipation. Excitement. Terror.  Day 1 of Foundation Week and I didn’t know what to expect as I drove from Cork.  Having joined the LinkedIn group for the Executive Class, I had an idea of the calibre of people I would be rubbing shoulders with.  An exciting mix of people from all walks of life, all at the top of their game.  What was a lowly engineer doing in this illustrious company?!  Thankfully, within minutes of arriving in UCD, my apprehension transformed to enthusiasm due to the friendliness of the faculty and fellow classmates alike.

Day 1 began well with general introductions to some of the faculty, their areas of expertise and their aims for the year ahead.  However, we were brought back to earth with a bang during Dr Brian McGrath’s lecture when the full weight of the academic expectations for the students was set out… 32 hours study per week in addition to lectures and the demands of employment, surely that couldn’t be right?!?  When would we sleep?  The sense of panic in the hall escalated when the requirements for a top grade were outlined… Devouring the contents of the library during our ‘spare’ time!  Uh oh…

The fear returned in the afternoon!!  Any lecturer who sets an assignment for students before the course begins is obviously not to be trifled with.  And 2 minutes into Prof Brennan’s Report Writing lecture proved exactly as expected.  Following a vigorous beginning to the lecture, a poor unsuspecting student in the front row was labelled “Fool!”  The student was unfortunate to be feeling the brunt of Prof’s forceful point regarding the use of acronyms!!  This, of course, was sarcasm, and was delivered humorously, however it did focus the collective mind of the class!

Trepidation. Fun. Camaraderie.  Team building with Fintan occupied half of Tuesday and all day Wednesday.  Tuesday’s highlights included a blindfold and plenty of physical contact.  No it wasn’t based on a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey… as a team, we were constructing three concentric heptagons with rope while blindfolded!?!  Tuesday also entailed deciding which animal represented our Communication/Leadership style – with the Peacock’s among us loving the attention!! Wednesday began with a team challenge involving water, with our poor volunteer, Tom, getting soaked but we successfully navigated the task.  The rest of Wednesday involved a large team task.  After a slow start, where it appeared that someone would be sacrificed (literally), a Chairman was appointed, a plan was put in place and we successfully worked together as a team to complete the task.  By the end of this, we had been divided into our Study Groups for Semester 1.  I was on a team that I could definitely relate with – 3 fellow engineering graduates.  Happy days!

As an aside, I recently read Peter Robinson’s “Snapshots from Hell: The Making of an MBA”.  Not a book for the faint-hearted MBA student.  However, it does provide an interesting perspective on what can be involved in completing an MBA.  The abiding phrase which I will take through my studies from the text is the motto “illegitimi non carbarondum est. Don’t let the bastards grind you down”!!

Thursday began with an entertaining class where we analysed the economic woes of Robin Hood and his Merry Men!  This gave most people their first taste of Case Study learning – a very new concept to most!  Thursday afternoon also introduced the class to a new concept – exercising our voice (and gestures)!  Paul, the communications guru, began the class with a bag on his head (literally) and concluded by transforming the class into a literal mix of friends and enemies.  The class was hugely entertaining and the intended message from the class was heeded by all – to be a good presenter, you must constantly reassess and work on your presentation skills.  The alumni tips which were delivered at the end of Thursday did little to allay people’s fears about time commitment, they did however provide people with an insight into what to expect.  Most importantly, the presenters provided students with the belief that the MBA qualification is achievable!

Relief. Anticipation. Enthusiasm.  The week finished with a taste of real subject work with an Introduction to Finance.  As an engineer surrounded by numerous people with finance experience, I must admit that I definitely wasn’t looking forward to being found out here!  The lecture began, I listened and astonishingly I understood (most of it anyway)!!  This was a welcome surprise, maybe I wouldn’t be left too far behind!

Following the interesting and diverse events of Foundation Week, I left UCD on Friday evening believing “I can deal with this”!  Onwards and upwards…

-Shaun O’ Keeffe
Executive MBA Student 2012-14

Surviving Foundation Week

Yes, we’ve survived the second day of foundation week. The second day has been ‘friendlier’ then the first. The first day seemed like the most daunting.  A few days before the class, we received information that we had to complete a five-page report, digest three voluminous reports and edit a 303-word piece.

My first though was, “O my God! It’s just the first day of foundation week and we already have a homework!”. Well all the best to all of us. We chose to board the MBA ship here, so we’ll just have to swallow the seawater of homework, readings and assignments.

For most international students, like me, the information was only digested the night before the assignments were due. Some stayed up until 4 am to finish them up.

Apparently, Prof Niamh didn’t individually check any of them. We were just asked us to discuss the assignments. But not doing them would have been a waste of time because of the investment we are paying to join the programme. The important part of was learning how to critique and edit our own work so the lecturers wouldn’t have such a hard time grading our reports. Or we wouldn’t be so surprised to see so many red marks in our papers. Haha.

There’s a great mix of classmates. More than sixty percent of the full time class is international. As an international student, it makes me feel more at home, though none of the students are from my home country. But the plus point is that the Irish are very friendly. So even if we didn’t have the large number of internationals, it would be easy to feel at home with the warm reception from the school and most of the locals. As the international student advisor mentioned, “The Irish are said to be friendly to make up for the rainy weather. “

– Nur Zahira M Sukran, FT MBA 2012/13