Image MBA scholarship and the Women of the UCD Smurfit MBA

Image evening 25th March, Brian and the panel doing their thing

On Wednesday 25th the UCD Smurfit School hosted the official launch of our annual Image Scholarship with an open evening in our ‘Women on the MBA’ series. We and Image are very keen to increase the numbers of women undertaking our programme because while there are increasing numbers we still don’t think there are nearly enough. Brian Marrinan, MBA Careers (who confessed to feeling outnumbered) did a short presentation on what the MBA careers services does to help students move to the next level and he then moderated a panel of current students and alumni who gave the benefit of their experience as women of the Smurfit MBA. It was a really interesting discussion with good insights and could have gone of far longer if time had allowed.

Many thanks to all who attended and to our panelists Catherine Butler (current EMBA class), Aoife Lucey (current full-time class), Paula Thomas (class of 2010) and Fionnula Croke (class of 2002).

The Image Scholarship is a scholarship to encourage women to undertake the MBA and is open until April 30th details are at

Breaking Through the Career Ceiling

Why I did an MBA:

Before the MBA I was working as IT consultant on multi-million European-wide deals. When we were finalising these deals, I found myself in a room with the EMEA heads of HR, finance, marketing etc. I was representing the EMEA lead for consulting. I was keeping up with these high-power conversations, but only just. I had hit a career ceiling and to progress my career further, I needed to break out of my consulting zone and get on the same level as these domain specialists.

The Smurfit MBA was how I did this.

What my head knew but my heart denied:

The content of an MBA isn’t difficult; it’s the breadth and depth of knowledge that you have to consume in a compressed time that’s the challenge.

What everyone says, but I didn’t believe until I got there:

You learn quite a lot from your classmates, and yes – you get out what you put in. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you will be rewarded.

What I learned most:

Over the years, I had already worked out many of the concepts from the MBA in my own head, from first principles. The MBA put structure and a formal nomenclature on the fuzziness, allowing me again to work with other domain leaders.

What shocked me about the MBA:

In the last 5-10 years before the MBA I had gotten used to being the “smartest guy in the room”. In the first couple of weeks in Smurfit, I realised I was in the lower 50-percentile of the class. This was quite a shock to the ego.

My favourite moment on the MBA:

We had a presentation from the conductor of a concert orchestra. I didn’t engage initially – I wasn’t going to apply for the job. But he slowly explained his role: to coordinate 80 primadonnas, all who believe they are better at their job than he is at his.  All who think they could work better without him, all who wanted to give their own 90 second opinion, some of whom were just passengers, and somehow his role was to add value so the whole was significantly better than the sum of the parts.

EUREKA! I realised these were the same challenges that I faced in my role as a programme manager, and therefore certain knowledge and skills are fungible.

It was these insights that were the highlights of the MBA.

What I did with my MBA

I was hired by a major IT organisation to improve their “Value Engineering:” to create business propositions for large deals, especially where the CIO was convinced.  The CFO & CEO needed to see some financials, albeit based on the technology, and with real numbers before getting on board.

The job offer was routed through the Smurfit MBA Careers Office and the mandatory requirements for the position included an “MBA from a top European business school.”

Luke Beare

Full-time MBA 2009

Senior Director | Industry Strategy & Insight, Oracle

How did he find the time? Alum Dave Graham on his award winning first novel.

I took the UCD Smurfit EMBA from 2010 to 2012 and this is a short piece about how the time-juggling demands that the course places on people were a great help in getting my published book over the line this year.

Just as a brief background to how I came to be published. I had started writing ‘Incitement’ ( see ) around the time our second child arrived. I’d finished the book, submitted it to what I thought were likely agents, got serially rejected and then pretty much tore the book apart and rewrote 75% of it. The problem was I never got around to resubmitting it between work, family and starting the MBA. Then one day driving to work, I was listening to The John Murray Show on RTE 1, Ireland’s national radio station. A piece came on asking whether you’d ever written a book that hadn’t been published. The competition was being run in conjunction with The RTE Guide and the prize was a publishing package. When I got to the office, I thought about it for a while, decided ‘why not’ and submitted the book with no expectation whatsoever.

A couple of months later, I received a phone call saying I’d made a shortlist of five from over 500 entries. I still didn’t feel I’d go further in the competition but was pleased with that. Then in August, the five finalists were invited to go on air while two of the three judges discussed the books and announced the winner. To my surprise I won and, just like that, my book was going to be published. Well, not quite, there was quite a bit of work to be done between edits, cover design and preparing to promote the book.

I’m married with two young boys and run a small business, so finding the time to get the multiple edits and other pieces done was going to be a challenge. Luckily, though, the MBA had been great preparation for this. When originally considering taking the course, my wife and myself had both looked at our routines because we knew it would mean a commitment from both of us. An added complication was moving house and having the new house extended and renovated during the same time period. We cut away a lot of the extraneous stuff and really prioritized things like time with the kids, there were easy sacrifices like TV and some others that weren’t so easy and, at times, eight hours of sleep was a luxury foregone. Thing is, though, it was manageable; at times it got a little stressful but all of the work got done. So, when it came time to do the book work, what might have seemed otherwise difficult with a temptation to compromise on quality, ended up being quite doable. We just looked at it like a two month resumption of the MBA.

Funnily, the MBA helped in one other way. The book deals with a conflict between two global drug cartels which unbeknownst to the protagonists has been incited by third-parties. Part of the story deals with the issues of drug shortages, what impact they would have on demand and pricing and the possible societal impact. During the rewrites, I was able to subtly change some of these passages to have a firmer economic footing. Saying this, I should provide a disclaimer to my economics and finance lecturers, none of them ever lectured on the supply-and-demand dynamics of the international drug trade and any flaws that remain are solely mine.

The hope with the book now is that people will check it out and spread the word amongst their family and friends. To read a little about some of the books I would recommend and that have influenced my writing you can see some blog pieces at

Dave Graham,

EMBA 2012.

Taking action is really the key in getting that job.

After the rush of adrenaline while on the UCD Smurfit MBA, Playing Grownup (my post MBA start-up), and the UCD Smurfit Student of the Year award, it was difficult to switch into job hunting mode.   I made all the rookie mistakes starting out- applying for random jobs online, sitting in front of a computer rather than actively networking. Fortunately the wisdom of the UCD MBA and Brian’s preaching on networking allowed the light bulb to go off thinking back to his tennis swing analogy and doing something you love hitting that sweet spot on the racket and swinging without thinking all led me in a better direction.

First, I reached out to a local non-profit called DurhamCares to help them with a project interviewing businesses and using readings from the MBA to help them create a framework. This started to get me in front of local business leaders and build up a local reference from the non-profit who actually got me an interview with a local company that I declined because I had another offer from CrossComm. I went from getting no responses to multiple offers all starting from this decision to get involved in a cause that I loved and could add value so that started the momentum.

I learned about CrossComm through Amy, my better half, who did some part time book-keeping for them and before I knew it I received a job description for a Chief Business Development Officer position for this small  mobile app development company. The reason I think this will be of interest to the current class is that instead of creating a standard cover letter I submitted a 100 Day Plan. It impressed the CEO enough to hire me and made me more confident it would be the right fit having taken the extra time to present my ideas for the role and what I would try to accomplish in my first three months. And to wrap the story up with a bow – my first marketing sponsorship was with DurhamCares non-profit in a campaign they are doing locally so getting involved and taking action is really the key!

Justin Thomas, FT MBA 2012.

Leveraging the UCD Smurfit MBA: “I call it networking”

In his career development workshop Brian Marrinan explained it’s more effective to talk to someone you know than to send your CV to someone you don’t know. This made me reconnect with a Dutch company I’d done an internship with as an undergrad. I didn’t want to move back to the Netherlands and was keen to leverage the MBA. I mentioned this upfront and added ‘but I’m interested in something suitable in Dubai’. I have no idea why I said ‘Dubai’, but it turned out they were looking for someone with my profile in the UAE. Brian helped me prepare for the interview; Stephen Boyle gave me valuable negotiation tips and with Prof Damien McLoughlin’s advice in mind (change jobs during the MBA) I accepted the offer.

Robert Burgers (EMBA, City Centre, 2010)

My biggest fear while doing my MBA was not getting a job after the completion of the course. I heard the word “networking” several times, but didn’t believe in its power until I benefited from it. When my fiancé had a job interview in Dubai I decided to go with him to make some contacts myself. Simon Teevan, an MBA colleague and friend also searching for a job in the UAE, mentioned Robert Burgers, a principal consultant with DNV GL, who also did an MBA. I contacted Robert and we went for lunch to discuss career possibilities in the energy sector in Dubai. During the conversation we both talked about how interesting the MBA programme was and how it changed our thinking and ways of working. A few weeks later I was called for an interview and offered a job. I met only one person in Dubai and this person helped me to get a job. Some people call this destiny; I call it “networking”!

Elisa Cataldo (FTMBA, 2012-2013)

Afraid of Networking?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages.

When I was in the middle of my MBA last year in Smurfit, there were some fellow students who viewed networking as a dirty word, something that makes you uncomfortable, an activity that is all about using other people to get what you want or to get ahead in some way. This is not networking. Yes, networking is about self-promotion and trying to get ahead but it is about so much more. Networking is meeting new people, hearing their stories, exchanging information and ideas. When you are a student this exchange is somewhat unbalanced because as a student you do not have as much to exchange. But guess what, the people you are talking to were also in your shoes at the start of their careers. And another truth is most that people want to help, to pay forward the help and advice they received at the start of their journeys.

Personally I love networking. The reason is simple, I love talking, telling stories and I love meeting new people. I also happen to be trying to sell the MBA World Trophy to everyone who will listen. There’s nothing wrong with finding out who is going to be attending a function and thinking about what you would like to talk to them about. Doing this is showing that you respect other people’s time and understand that their time is valuable and they probably don’t want to be stuck talking to me for any length of time. Fundamentally networking is just an extension of selling. One of our speakers at the MBA World Trophy, Vivek Wadhwa wrote a fantastic article about the importance of networking that is well worth reading. If you are a student you should remember that no matter what job or situation you find yourself in you need to put forward the best version of you at all times.

In another life I was a TV producer and my first boss in TV gave me great advice, when you arrive in someone’s house with a film crew you have a responsibility to ensure that you are remembered for the right reasons. Having a TV crew in your house is a highlight for the vast majority of ordinary people. So no matter what is going on in your own life, no matter how terrible you feel, you have to make sure you leave a positive impression. This has stuck with me and is something I try to achieve no matter where I go. I’m not always successful at it. The same thing applies to networking. Another important thing to mention is the power of LinkedIn. This is an awesome networking tool. Personally I believe you should always include a personal message when sending someone an invitation to join your network.

Finally, and I’m not biased when I tell you that this year’s MBA World Trophy and StartUp Dublin will be like networking heaven. So if you are interested in the lineup please join us. We would love to meet you.

Here’s a list of my networking do’s and don’ts

  • Be approachable.
  • Be polite.
  • Be yourself.
  • Don’t immediately head for the corner after scoffing some free food/drink. It’s ok to be nervous/uncomfortable, 90% of the people in the room are feeling the same way.
  • Try to find out who is attending in advance and find two people you would like to talk to about you.
  • Don’t overcook talking to your targets. Get in and out quickly. You can always talk to them later that evening. Remember they more than likely have other people that they want to talk to.
  • Always follow up with everyone you meet.
  • Don’t take no for an answer, I’m not saying to be pushy, just get creative. And finally, my favourite.
  • Every single person in the world will meet you for a coffee (except TV celebrities).

– Stephen Smith, MBA World Trophy team and FT MBA 2012

Red: the MBA World Trophy Competition and the StartUp Dublin Innovation Conference takes place in Dublin 16-18 May 2013.

John O'Loughlin, MBA World Trophy team member and FT MBA 2012 alumn, Enda Kenny and Stephen Smith

Kanban Blog

I have recently started a job with a small company called one2edit . We are using the methods described by Personal Kanban, and the tools at in order to organise our tasks and time. It is part of the “agile” workflow used by so many software organisations.I am finding it to be incredibly useful on many levels.

For starters, a core concept of Kanban is that there should be “information radiators”, meaning that there should be an easy way to see what is going on at any moment, without the need to go digging for any information. A Kanban board will do this by default. At a glance, it is possible to see what a person is doing at any time, what is on hold, why it is on hold, what still needs to be done, and what is important. Yes, a Kanban board can look quite full of sticky notes, but the organisation of those notes has meaning, which users can interpret quickly and easily. As a user, I can use this radiation of information to show both my co-workers and my bosses exactly what it is that I’m doing at any given point. It also allows them to check if the next item they wish to add to my “to-do list” is more or less important than what I am working on right now. If it is less important, then they will not mind if I don’t get working on it right away. In other words, it makes it far easier for me to say, “I have to put that on hold right now, but I will get to it” because they see that I have a system in place – a system that will allow me to tackle every task without forgetting any.

This concept is, to quote Jim and Tonianne’s (very informative and well-written) book, “limiting your work in progress” (WIP). This limitation of the number of tasks that one is working on at any given moment is critical to working effectively. John Medina’s book, “Brain Rules”, also mentions how the human brain physically cannot multitask effectively. Multitasking is an inherently inefficient way of working. Kanban seeks to rectify this by allowing a person to concentrate on fewer tasks at a time, unlike the “to-do list”, which just throws every task into the “doing” pile at once. The Kanban board then allows all others to see what is one one’s plate at any time, demonstrating that one is not slacking off.

Beyond this information radiation, it is both mentally and physically satisfying to see one’s tasks go from the backlog, to “ready”, to “in process” and then to “done”. Each time a task is moved to “done”, the brain releases a bit of reward, which is motivation for doing more. Furthermore, even the number of tasks doesn’t seem so overwhelming when there’s a system in place and one can see the tasks getting done.

Finally, as a recent MBA graduate who was job-hunting for a few months, every interview I did asked about previous achievements. A CV should also have these achievements listed in order to attract employers. In other words, I should have been taking note of all my measurable achievements over my working life in order to use them in the future. Moreover, it is vital when filling out an annual review form to have a list one’s achievements for the year.

Kanban can help with this.

Everything in the “done” column of a Kanban board is something that can be pointed to along with the phrase, “I did this”. It is not necessary for one to create a special document and remember to update it regularly, if the collation of completed tasks is already part of one’s daily process. Of course, some of the tasks will be small and not relevant or worth mentioning on a CV. But even these small tasks usually serve as reminders of the larger project upon which we worked.

This is also a reason why I am using an online tool for my Kanban board alongside my office whiteboard – I won’t have to trawl through physical post-it notes in order to see my achievements.

–          Jamie O’Connell, FT MBA 2010-11

What’s an MBA to Do!

So, I am now an MBA. My desire to consolidate 25 years of work experience has been achieved. The CV is now ‘interesting’ and business relevant. So:  Job Hunting. To be honest, when I finished the course I wasn’t sure I want to work for anybody. I spent the past 10 years in self-employment. Nor did I know what I wanted to do with the rest of my work life. I looked at Not for Profit and Facilities Management, but in addition to there being a lot of qualified people in the job market, neither felt right.

Two months after finishing the course 38 of my 45 strong class are in jobs. It’s not that the remaining 7 are less capable; in fact I regard some of them as the most capable and talented of my class. No, I think they find themselves in a somewhat similar position to me. They may not have been Laser focused on specific areas of work like the other 38. Like me, they know what they want to do, but in a slightly more vague way. So what’s an MBA to do?

In my case it seems that not worrying too much helps. Not beating myself up about how few responses I have received. About the Not for Profit job that I wanted, but was probably not what I needed. Realising that Facilities Management was not going to be any more interesting to me now than it was when I left the sector. It seems that patience is more a necessity than a virtue for the MBA graduate who wants to change career direction.

In the end my decision on career path came from a series of random events.  My wife was offered a job in Singapore ‘out of the blue’, so we are moving the family there for three years. In looking at the job market there I saw some jobs in Recruitment and realised that with my experience, personality, and MBA, I might be suited to Executive Search. My wife, who works in HR agreed. So I am now focused on this area.  I doubt I could easily find a suitable Search role in Dublin, while Singapore is a far larger market and the Irish community is quite strong there.

So, the post MBA scramble to get a job may soon be over for me. What have I learned? Well, use the time on the course to consider your options, listen to Brian Marrinan and start job searching early to get a sense of what you want/don’t want; don’t panic when the course finishes as may take time to find the right job (for some it may be back to the area they were keen to exit; as funds are short; for other it may be a case of getting in at a lower level/salary than envisaged to get a start in a new industry) but most of all life is quirky and we must keep our eyes and ears open, we must network and we must ‘chance our arm’ a bit.  And I know all of this because the Smurfit MBA graduate is a formidable package. A package which may not fully reveal itself for months or even years, but which is all about innovation and measured risk taking.

Good luck to all; whether in/out of/or considering entering, the world of the MBA student. It is certain to me that we change during the one/two years, and become better able to read life, not just business. As one lecturer sad to me ‘Everyone on an MBA is in crisis of some sort. The course helps in facilitating life change of one sort or another.’ Let the change begin!

– David Gosling, FT MBA Class of 2011

Give Man Fish…

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day.

Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for his whole life.

If that man innovates fishing methods, he’ll catch more fish than he needs, thus being able to sell the surplus fish, the technology, or both.

In other words, innovation will give the man disposable income.

I attended the Dublin Investment Summit on Friday 30th September 2011. CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors and investors were present to discuss business topics relevant to today’s economy. There were also pitches from companies that were looking for investment (including some very exciting nanotechnology from Vasorum and Alta Science. Continue reading Give Man Fish…

I visited Blackrock this week

I visited Blackrock this week. My first view in a while of the long dipping main street strewn with highbrow establishments such as The Wicked Wolf and the wafting of shampoo fumes from one of the twenty one hairdressers burning my eye balls – I must say it was a delight to be back. As a 2010 / 2011 MBA graduate of Smurfit, the waft of cash burning a hole through the pockets of my D&G carrot chinos while I waded over the slew of board chairmen shouting job offers at me outside Supermacs on Blackrock main street did give me a little reminder that I am pretty much as good as it gets when it comes to business in Ireland. And then I walked into a pole and woke up.

The last few months have been interesting. I have met some amazing people, in marketing, retail, sales, manufacturing, product design and event management. These people are getting on with it. They are making the best of a crippled market and using innovative thinking and creativity to get ahead.

The most impressive individual I have met is a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in probably five years, Gavin Downes. Gav, a marketing graduate of Smurfit from back in the day is a director at Modern Green, one of the most advanced Experiential Marketing agencies in Europe. Their award winning campaigns for O2 and Heineken have ensured that they attract serious talent and have an absolute blast while doing it. Their pool table, turntable, vinyl records, dog friendliness, barber on a Tuesday, fun office is a joy to visit and the welcome everyone gets is part of who they are. Modern Green are open to ideas and dedicated to turning these good ideas into measureable brand experiences for clients.

As a converted experiential marketer I have had the fortune to engage MG recently to partner with me on approaching a major international brand about what I saw as their ineffective brand strategies in Ireland and to impress on them the need to change them. You see, Experiential Marketing (XM) allows customers to engage and interact with brands in sensory ways that provide the icing on the cake of providing information. Personal experiences help people connect to a brand and make intelligent and informed purchasing decisions. People remember experiences, and this drives sales. Gavin has a great saying, “it’s like telling someone who has never tasted chocolate what chocolate tastes like and expecting them to appreciate the experience.”

The growth of XM is very important. Last week I attended Experiential Marketing Ireland’s (XMI) first session. It was a mix of Ted Talks, a gig and a Damien McLoughlin lecture -very interesting and entertaining. About 100 agency and media people attended. It was hosted by GD, and there was some cool stuff discussed around billboards that communicate individually with consumers, Jay Z’s staggering multimillion dollar book launch, Bud’s weather thing that polarised the panel and innovative thinking by The main point from this symposium was, value your own work. Ireland is one of the top media and marketing nations in the world. We have the most creative and innovative people working in marketing in Ireland, all of whom are only a phone call away and we should be proud of them and proud of ourselves.

So there is hope, keep positive, keep bashing out ideas, all you need is one.


–  Colin Barry, FT MBA 2010/2011

(PS I’m promoting this Macklemore and Ryan Lewis gig on the 21st of October -buy tickets and come, there is a Smurfit MBA connection with one of the performing artists!!).

Follow Colin on Twitter