We have had a bit of a rough go as of late and, quite frankly, things are not looking up as we round out 2020. A global pandemic is once again forcing us into our homes, cutting us off from the people and things that we hold dear. Brexit threatens to destabilize the Eurozone, both economically and otherwise. The outcome of the United States’ presidential election could change so many things in regards to how the free Western world lives its life. Yet in all of this, there are still amazing things about the time that we are living through.
After yet another day on Zoom, this time for GNAM week, I decided to take a bicycle ride down to the strand in Sandymount. I have found that, whenever possible, sitting for a while by the ocean acts as a sort of reset button. I am able to check out from being constantly connected and process all of the input that is relentlessly being thrown my way. As I set my bicycle down and found a bench to call home for a few moments, a rainbow appeared over Dublin Bay. I took a picture, reflected on what was in front of me and realized this: There are opportunities wherever you look; it is up to you to see them.
Through all of the chatter and noise in this unprecedented time, there are a plethora of opportunities to seek beauty, spark curiosity, and connect with the people around us. We are in a beautiful, historic city with so much to offer, even if we are not able to take advantage of everything at the present time. The Smurfit campus is a stone’s throw away from both a global city centre and the Dublin mountains. We are a short, relatively inexpensive airplane ride away from the entirety of Western Europe. Most importantly, we are now connected with 36 other people who are from a diverse set of backgrounds, from around the globe. It is easy to look at the negative regarding our current situation, but the reality is that there will be a post-COVID era. We will all go back to work, the pub, and whatever else we feel like getting ourselves into.
And that is exactly where we all need to focus as the days get shorter and the temperature falls. When things open up for good, what restaurants do you want to try? What things around town are you going to do? Who do you want to go out for drinks with? Where are you going to book your summer holiday? A time when we can laugh together seems so far off into the future, but it actually isn’t. By the end of this lockdown, we will be at Christmas. After that, straight into the spring semester, and before you realize, it will be Easter.
We have the opportunity to leverage this experience to our benefit, no matter what the external circumstances are surrounding the experience. It is going to be up to us to find the ways in which we can best do that; we just might have to look a bit harder.
As a member of the UCD Smurfit FTMBA class, I am part of a cohort of 37 brilliant individuals who have all come here with the same ambition: to build a wonderful network of smart, talented, and inquisitive leaders for the future, who will challenge each other intellectually at every step of this MBA journey. Many of us left our home countries for the opportunity to network in-person with others from all over the world. Unfortunately, we could not foresee the momentum in which things went from classroom to Zoom calls. In the midst of the pandemic environment, the Irish government has put new restrictions in place and classes went completely online, taking away the opportunity to connect with my colleagues in person, which is one of the major learning curves I wanted to experience while at Smurfit.
However, we believe that this time of isolation brings a unique opportunity to grow together as a community, to find meaningful activities to partake in, and to ultimately come out stronger. Some of us decided to make the best of what we have. Thanks to a few, we were able to coordinate a mini bowling session and also go on a day-hike around the Howth cliff. These get togethers were the most blissful moments in the initial course of my life in Dublin.
Now here I am, halfway through my GNAM week with IE business school, Spain. In typical years, The Global Network for Advanced Management provides each MBA candidate from 32 Business Schools to come under one roof and experience world-class facilities and engage in riveting discussions. While most schools offered conventional subjects, I found IE’s approach to discuss COVID’s impact on Europe and its re-emergence more captivating, especially it is by no exaggeration the hottest topic in the planet right now.
On my first day at GNAM, I got introduced to the members of my team, who were connecting from Germany, China, Chile, Canada, and Turkey–that’s pretty much stretched across the map from east to west–and made it even more difficult for us to settle for a convenient time-slot to discuss after class. But that’s the challenge GNAM had to offer: to connect and develop a rapport with those brilliant individuals in the short stretch of time.
GNAM is not all about the classroom interactions; it offers an unique opportunity to understand and experience a new culture and connect on an emotional front. In one of the afternoon sessions, the current MBA students of IE went one step ahead to provide the international students with an opportunity to experience Spanish cuisine. We were invited to a Spanish cooking class on “how to make a Tortilla”, via Zoom. The whole event was carried out so gracefully by Calottina and Mikaela, that I was lip-smacking just looking at the finished dish over the video call. It gave me a platform to connect with the students in a more relaxed domain. We even had a virtual DJing and entrepreneurial talk event, from one of the IE Alumni.
Although I am thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to connect with peers from different parts of the world, the mere thought of how the whole week would have turned out in person brings an ambivalent state of emotions. I could only wish if COVID had been just a conspiracy diegesis from a Tarantino movie, and I wish I was in Madrid now, sharing the class with them, enjoying the flamenco nights and munching through croquettes, while gazing over “Mercado de la cebada”.
During this highly unprecedented moment in time, there is still so much to get excited about. These are difficult times we are facing, but I believe the power of our coterie can keep us in a positive frame of mind. Let’s all try to find more of our inner self and find happiness in these moments we are together. Let’s all travel, learn and evolve together, and be hopeful about the brighter times ahead.
As the saying goes,
“The greater your storm, the brighter your rainbow.”
My friends all tell me that I have the best answer to ‘what’s the last thing you did before everything shut down?’, and I have to agree: the last thing I did before shutdown was accompany 36 MBA students and Professor Karan Sonpar on their Doing Business in International Markets study tour to Buenos Aires. I asked the students to share some of their memories–and favourite photos–from that experience:
I always had this dream of going to Argentina someday because of its history, politics and of course football. My best memory of visiting Argentina would be visiting the tomb of Eva Peron and visiting La Boca. Of course one of my top experiences of all time would include the Friday night Tango. It was unreal. With a little too much alcohol in the belly, I was finding it difficult to comprehend if the entire performance was real. I would definitely go back to Buenos Aires to re-live the memories.
Apart from the amazing food, wine, and tango show, my favorite part was talking with the locals on the street. They were very willing to express their insight of the local economy and were extremely interested in our outsiders’ opinion of their country. This reinforced the importance of understanding the human element behind business theory.
It was an amazing and culturally rich experience from the moment we landed on the Sunday morning. The Argentine people were warm and very welcoming despite all the country has been through politically and economically over the last few decades.
Buenos Aires in particular was very European but with a Latin tango twist!!
One night six of us had dinner costing over 10,000 pesos – it was crazy as we were counting the notes in 500 denominations – first real experience of such wild inflation.
–Peter McGarvey, EMBA student
Unexpectedly, one of the visits which I most enjoyed was the visit to the waste management plant. It was interesting to see how the different types of waste are handled and how the landfills can be covered in grass and made to look like nature reserves when full. I think having tours to sites such as this really emphasises the need to reduce waste production and recycle. It is something I think everyone should see.
The first thing which I learnt about Argentina after reaching there was that it is pronounced as Arr-khen-tina (stressing ‘r’ more). The natives of the place pronounce it that way. In fact, while pronouncing any word which contains the syllable “r”, ‘r’ is stressed upon heavily.
Agriculture forms 60% of the economy of Argentina. Also, in Argentina, maximum taxes are paid by the people who are involved in the farming sector. Hence, Agriculture is a very important part of the economy of Argentina. It was very interesting to know that the popularity of a meat depends upon how cheap it is and how many resources are used to produce it.
From Empanadas to Beef steak, from Boca to River Plate, from the stay in Alvear Art Hotel to the Tango dance, everything has been perfect. Amazing food, lovely people, and a rich culture. Another thing was “Empanadas”. Empanadas are common in the culture of Latin America. They are filled up with cheese, or beef, or some other kind of meat. They have the shape which are similar to that of “Ghujiyas” in India.
We had our last day in Argentina at Sumando Energías – Service Learning Project. Our one-day workshop was to learn how to take advantage of solar energy by building a solar heater and a shower for a family of five. One of the best parts was that all the raw materials used came from industrial and/or domestic waste. So we were converting or reusing what would have otherwise gone into landfills. We were divided into tables each having a simple task like cutting and shaping bottles or assembling the painted bottles. It was interesting to see how the process unfurled. When it started, everyone just picked a table and did whatever was closest to them. There was not a lot of coordination amongst the different tables.
However, as we started working, we fell into some sort of pattern. For example, in the table I was at, we rearranged ourselves so that we were working in a sequence. One would cut the bottle, then pass it to the next person to shape it, then it would be passed for sanding and finally to the person stapling it. And after that, we were so much faster. It was like seeing a real-life operations change take place.
I think I speak for all of us when I say that we all learned a lot about flexibility and professionalism from watching our travel partners, the educational travel company The Austral Group, adapt to circumstances that changed by the day as the world came to grips with the spread of Covid-19.
From the first day, companies faced increased restrictions on large meetings, and Austral quickly and efficiently replaced what had been cancelled with new tours and company visits. Where possible, the team replaced physical meetings with virtual visits to our hotel conference room. Juan, Sofia, and the team also dealt with a variety of flight booking changes, as Argentina moved to restrict travel and some Smurfit travelers (myself included) found that the school closings in Ireland made it imperative that we get home as soon as possible.
Experiencing such an historic moment definitely added an educational layer to our visit to this historic city.
–Kathryne Del Sesto, Project Manager, UCD Smurfit MBA Programme Office
Eighteen of us boarded a plane to explore the cultural, economic, and structural differences of Stockholm and Helsinki. Well that was was part of it. A good week away getting to know your peers was also high on the agenda.
By the time we returned from our study tour the world had changed. Governments were closing US and European airspace, cities across Europe were beginning to go into lockdown, and the global economy was about to experience the biggest shock since the Great Depression. Preserving life was all that was important. The financial cost would be counted later.
Your first thought, of course, is to ensure your family and friends are safe, and that all preventative efforts are being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. But part of your mind can’t help but think: how will this impact my industry, my company, and my job?
Anticipating a crisis such as this swayed me to take on the EMBA 18 months previously. The world will throw many challenges at us, both personally and professionally. All we can do is ensure we have a breadth of experiences and skills to take them on.
So, unknown to us at the time, we were in Stockholm and Helsinki building the relationships, gaining the experiences, and developing the skills we would need to pull ourselves and our companies out of this crisis.
Now I’m not sure if you can call swimming in the 2℃ Baltic Sea as crisis preparation but it surely did build character. In particular, it told a lot about people’s characters as they scrambled over each other competing to get out of the water! Thankfully we had access to one of Finland’s 2 million saunas to recover. Burgers and beers may also have helped!
Transformation was the topic of the moment for the companies we visited. Everyone is striving to shift their focus to address a pressing issue in the way their companies react to world changes. For example, Nokia is trying to overcome the trauma from their failure to adapt to the transformation of the smartphone market, and reinvent themselves in the mobile network technology market.
ICEYE, a satellite radar imagining firm, is re-defining the satellite imagery market by providing governments and businesses timely satellite images to enable them to make better-informed business decisions. Their satellite images can even be used to calculate the world’s stockpiles of oil or steel! Supposedly their images can detect the height of an oil silo’s roof, telling how full it is.
Even the central bank of Finland, Bank of Finland, was looking to transform. Their focus was on restructuring the economy to ensure they can tackle the impending pension crisis.
Each company we visited was pushing the boundaries in which they operate. Over the next few months, we will all need to do the same and continue to do so. The world is ever-shifting and we need to keep shifting with it.
How can you use an MBA to help you negotiate the price of an old bike?
The answer is, simply, by enrolling in one of the many electives offered as part of the UCD Smurfit MBA program: “Managing the Negotiation Process”. Personally, I always felt that I am not very good at negotiation; but after attending this course, I feel more and more confident about my abilities as a negotiator.
The course’s first pillar is to build self-awareness about our strengths, weaknesses, biases, and even the myths in which we believe. After doing my first self-reflection for the module, I found out that I am described as a ‘satisfier’, which means that I am not too ambitious when engaging in negotiation. I focus too much on being fair, thus letting the other party get the bigger piece of the pie.
“You Need to Be Either Tough or Soft” ; “Good Negotiators Are Born”; “Good Negotiators Take Risks”; “Good Negotiators Rely on Intuition”: here are some examples of the myths in which I believed in the past, and which I now know are wrong. The course helped me understand myself as well as improve my negotiation skills.
Many people think that negotiation is all about instinct, but it is also wrong. Negotiation is a logical process. The second pillar of the course is to give us a clear analytical process which if followed correctly should lead to a Win-Win situation. Yes, a Win-Win situation! Many people think that a successful negotiation should be a Win-Loss: False. A Win-Loss situation is usually unsustainable, especially if it is with a supplier, a client, or even a partner.
After my bike was stolen, I decided to buy another one, because riding is one of the most efficient means of transportation in Dublin. My criteria were that the bike should look as old as possible to avoid being stolen again, and that it should have a fair price. I found what I was looking for in a bike store downtown. The only issue was that it was priced twice the budget that I had planned for. Thus, I decided to apply my newly acquired negotiation skills.
One of the first things that I learnt is that negotiation is never a fixed pie. It is a variable pie. Therefore, I was looking to expand the pie, so both the shopkeeper and I can find a win in the situation. While discussing with the shopkeeper, I shared with him information that completely changed the course of the negotiation: I told him that I still had the tire of my old bike. For me, the tire had zero value; but the shopkeeper had a different perception of the same tire. He probably can use it to repair other old bikes, or sell it as it is.
This example perfectly shows that a negotiation is not a fixed sum and that a
Win-Win situation may arise if both parties are open to communicating effectively. Knowing from my first self-reflection exercise that I am a ‘satisfier’, I decided to maximize my part of the pie as well and accept the deal only if the shopkeeper cut the price by half, which – happily – he did.
Therefore, I was able to apply the process I learned during the module in one of the simplest negotiations of our daily life–and it worked. That is how the MBA helped me negotiate the price of my bike.
The MBA gives you a new set of lenses so you can see the world differently. The skills that we gain apply not only in the business world, but also in our daily life.
A couple weeks before we were set to begin orientation week, we were able to submit our preferences for the mysterious “GNAM.” We were to spend a week in October away from our regularly scheduled programming, attending a course at a member school belonging to the Global Network for Advanced Management. We received our placements quickly, and just as quickly forgot about them, as classes started in earnest. After all, we had studying and assignments to think about!
Sure enough, the time came for us to head to our respective corners of the globe to gather with other MBAs and complete the modules we had chosen two months prior. Our classmates attended sessions at ESTM in Germany, Koç University Graduate School of Business in Turkey, Haas School of Business in the US, UBC Sauder School of Business in Canada, Fudan University School of Management in China, and a strong contingency stayed to participate in the course at Smurfit. I was among four Smurfit students who spent our week at Yale in the US, learning about the Behavioural Science of Management.
To say it was an incredible week would be an understatement. We received five lectures from leading professors in the field, whose topics ranged from Making Better Decisions Using Behavioral Science to Negotiating Mindsets. Mid-week we visited an investment firm in a nearby town and learned about Behavioural Finance: how psychology affects investors and the markets or financial analysts, and subsequently, the markets. Most importantly, we shared the experience with our new friends from around the world. We spent our evenings socialising, and those from Ireland got a taste of life in America. One of our Irish friends even tried his first fried pickle.
Many of the other attendees were nearing the ends of their programmes and getting ready to start the next phase of their professional careers. They understood the hard work of doing an MBA and the mindset it required. They gave us advice, encouragement, and a window into our near futures. At the end of the week, we promised to visit each other soon, connected on LinkedIn, and then Instagram, because LinkedIn felt too stiff and professional for the bonds we had forged. Despite having only spent a week together, I have no doubt that we will continue to be part of each other’s professional and personal networks as we move onto the rest of the MBA and through our careers.
Ciara, Colm, Ger, Swathi and I were delighted to be chosen to represent UCD Smurfit at this year’s IBM Georgetown case competition, which took place in Georgetown University, Washington DC. The competition involved developing an innovative digital strategy for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). FEMA is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security and its primary purpose is to coordinate the federal response to disasters that overwhelm local and state authorities such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires. We were able to use our diverse backgrounds from engineering, finance and medicine to formulate a solution that considered the needs of all relevant stakeholders including victims, governmental and non-governmental partners, and FEMA itself. Our solution centred on reducing complexity and increasing the speed of access to critical information on the FEMA website and app, as well as proposing virtual reality educational modules for emergency response staff.
In the run up to the competition we were fortunate to have a number of prep sessions with past students, faculty mentors and Paul Slattery, our coach in presentation skills. One of my main goals for my year in the FTMBA has been to work on improving my presentation skills and through the additional sessions we received from Paul in advance of the competition, I feel that my presentations have come on leaps and bounds!
We flew to Washington on Thursday April 11th and checked into our hotel next to the historic Capitol Building. The competition began early on Friday morning and we arrived to the McDonough School of Business all set for a morning of final preparation before our afternoon presentation. Unfortunately, as we were the second to last group, we were unable to sit in on any of the other finalist’s presentations. The other competitors came from notable schools such as John Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, Hong Kong University and Georgetown itself. We presented to a panel of 5 judges, all working for IBM and consulting with FEMA. We were thrown some tough questions at the end of the presentation but were happy with our performance overall. We had the chance to watch some presentations from a design challenge that had been happening concurrently before the case competition winners were announced. We were amazed when our team’s name was called as the first place winner! We were the first international team to ever win the competition! The competition was extremely well organised and provided a great opportunity to learn, to challenge ourselves and to mix with other MBA students.
We were free then to relax and enjoy all the sites of Washington DC for the rest of the weekend! We whizzed around on electric scooters that are dotted all over the city and visited all the major landmarks along the National Mall, such as the Washington and Lincoln memorials, as well as the White House, Arlington cemetery, Capitol Hill and the Library of Congress. We also got to visit the Natural History museum, Air and Space museum and Hirshhorn modern art museum.
The trip was absolutely fantastic and I would encourage next year’s students to apply so Smurfit can defend the title next year! A big thank you to everyone in the school who helped us along the way!
India is separated from Ireland by numerous countries, 4979 miles and a world of traditions. I applied to a foreign university with the sole purpose of broadening my horizons. Prior to my MBA, I had received all my education in India and I thought that a different perspective on education would be insightful and interesting, along with the course content itself. So far, I have not been disappointed.
I arrived in Dublin on a Friday evening and was just in time to attend the Smurfit Welcome Dinner for MBA students. After an 18 hour journey to a new country, with a considerable time difference, coupled with meeting 30 new people I was left feeling completely overwhelmed. I definitely needed the weekend to recover.
As the course work and my roles and responsibilities got clearer to me, I realised that the approach to education in Ireland was very different from the one I had experienced in my home country. The focus and approach of the system in Ireland is on what we learn, how we learn, and how we can apply it in real life situations. The most beneficial part of this approach is the way we are marked for each subject. The scores are usually dependant on a number of factors; including class participation, team work, assignments, mid-term exams and finals. The focus is on what we learn and how well we perform during the whole semester rather than how well we can cram and write in a two hour exam.
Another important cultural difference I found is the social factor involved in the whole experience. Socialisation is a big part of student life, and culture and social involvement is considered to be as important as classroom participation. Knowing your way around Dublin and getting comfortable with commuting through the city is as vital as knowing your course work.
The greatest leaders in the world stand on the shoulders of giants. To make true change happen we need to learn from the change makers, the thought leaders and those that have gone before us trying to break down barriers. When I learned we would have a Thought Leadership Society I immediately knew I would love to get involved, little did I know that I would end up helping to run the committee.
With no information left from last years committee members, I initially had no idea of how I would be able to get the society off the ground. After a few brainstorming sessions with the other members of the team, we decided the only way to find out what was the best way to move forward was to reach out to our fellow students and see what they would be interested in learning. So our first event was created; the Thought Leadership Society Mixer. On a cold crisp evening after finishing one of our exams, we congregated outside the MBA Clubhouse for nibbles and drinks. We had set up little questionnaires for our fellow cohort, to learn who they would like to hear from and what subjects most interested them.
Ankita, pictured above, can be seen handing out the surveys. The most interesting part of the survey was that there was an interest in our class hearing from each other. It was nice to see the respect and reverence and I think this spoke to the quality of the students in our cohort. Also, there was an interest in debating topics within the college, rather than just being lectured to. This was an interesting idea that I for one would not have thought of, had we not opened this up to the wider group. It just shows that consumer research pays off!!
The first event was a great success and a lovely time to catch up with each other without the pressures of exams and college bearing down on us. There was a great turn out and hopefully this is be a good sign for future events. We look forward to scheduling many events for the following year and look forward to having a good debate and discussing far-reaching topics from the thought leaders in Ireland and beyond.
Following our mixer, some of the Society headed to Belfield to see the UCD Orchestra perform which was the cherry on the top of a fantastic day. I would highly recommend fellow students to check out some of the great events on the main UCD campus too.
As part of the Smurfit MBA application, each hopeful applicant is asked what his or her unique contribution to the MBA class would be. I remember thinking long and hard about this question, vacillating between thinking “of COURSE, I have something special to offer the class!” and feeling intimidated by my own imagination of the impressive feats and accomplishments about which the other applicants were surely writing.
From day one of the MBA, it became clear that I was right about both of the above.
What I did not consider was the purpose and outcome of this unique contribution “competition” for acceptance to the Smurfit MBA programme. Asking that the candidates prove themselves to be exceptional and inimitable ensures that throughout the year, we will learn as much from each other as we do from our first-rate professors and module coordinators. Seven months into my MBA experience, I still never cease to be amazed by my peers. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to collaborate with such incredible people.
Each MBA candidate in the Class of 2019 brings valuable and unique experiences to the class. Oh boy, are my classmates impressive.
I learn things each day from someone who has a black belt in karate, from someone who has climbed Kilimanjaro (twice!), from someone so well connected that he just may be the Godfather of Dublin. I learn from talented musicians, artists and poets, bloggers, travellers – all generous, kind and funny spirits who masquerade as stud managers, medical professionals, business owners, and orthopaedic racehorse surgeons (among other disguises) by day.
How about this – a PhD in Optical Engineering, specialised in the behaviour of photopolymer organic holographic material, with a killer GMAT score, a great sense of humour, compassion without limits, who is on the Board of Directors for a child trafficking charity in Nepal? That’s exactly the type of “unique contribution” that I feared competing against during the Smurfit MBA application process!
The Umbrella Foundation is a non-profit NGO and registered charity in Ireland, working to alleviate the impact of trafficking, poverty and war on children and their families in Nepal. It was established in 2005 in response to the growing number of illegal “orphanages” neglecting children’s most basic rights of food, education, safe shelter, healthcare and love. As a responsible and ethical organisation, The Umbrella Foundation works to prevent further trafficking and operation of corrupt children’s homes in Nepal.
Inspired by my extraordinary classmate who contributes so much to my life, our class and the greater community, I decided to make a unique contribution to my own MBA experience here in Dublin. This past winter, I have trained and raised money for the Brawl for Nepal 2019 – a charity boxing match in aid of The Umbrella Foundation.
For me, the Smurfit MBA is not just learning about corporate finance, organisational behaviour and supply chain management. This incredible experience is also learning how to ask for help, how to support those who need help, figuring out the best place to flag down a taxi home at 3:30am in town, being able to the differentiate an Irish bar from an English bar by name alone, how to throw a mean right hook and how to keep myself entertained in A&E!
We are more than just sales directors, model managers, engineers and communications specialists – we are marathon runners, painters, boxers and friends. This is the Smurfit MBA.