Back to Where it All Began

After 12 transformative months and a year like no other, I found myself walking through the tranquil gardens of Blackrock’s Michael Smurfit Business School with the MBA cohort of 2020. We had just returned back at the gates of Smurfit from our end of year MBA trip in Galway City and the nostalgia levels were running high.

Falconry activity on the end of year trip to Galway
Falconry activity on the end of year trip to Galway

On the back of strong advice from past MBAs, we decided to end the year with a trip away together. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, international travels were all off the cards. Fortunately, restrictions set by the newly formed Irish government did permit us to safely take a two-day trip to Galway. The activities had something for everyone, whether you were interested in go-karting or falconry, or simply taking advantage of the excellent food and sites the city has to offer. However, heed my advice: take caution when introducing any activity that has a winner when you’re working with an MBA class, as we do love our share of healthy competition! 

We were lucky enough to have had weather that allowed us to take a long walk to the famed diving board in Salthill. Many braved the cold Atlantic waters on the sunny August afternoon. I opted for a more frivolous approach. I enjoyed ice-cream as I engaged in commentary with fellow ‘remainers,’ judging those who took the immediate plunge… and those who took a little longer. 

Renewable energy project in a disadvantaged region of Argentina
Renewable energy project in a disadvantaged region of Argentina

I had found myself back in Galway City, where I finished my undergrad 6 years prior. I never imagined that one day I’d be returning with an MBA class made up of over 7 different nationalities and numerous professional backgrounds – engineers, lawyers, doctors, bankers, pharmacists, and the list goes on. A group of motivated, intriguing individuals, many like myself, who have found themselves at a crossroads in their careers. Equally, there are those whose next step is a foregone conclusion. 

UCD Smurfit GNAM Students at Yale School of Management
UCD Smurfit GNAM Students at Yale School of Management

The title of the New Radicals 1998 hit, “you get what you give” often comes to mind as I reflect on the past year. As much as I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the phrase, it’s quite appropriate when approaching an MBA in Smurfit Business School. The ingredients for success, growth and development are laid out for you. However, it is up to you to engage and utilise them. The facilities and staff at Smurfit are world class from start to finish, but to have a truly brilliant MBA you need one final ingredient: great students. The college also does a great job in recruiting candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds which truly makes the experience so remarkable. 

Trips to the U.S., Argentina, and Lisbon, early Monday morning classes with Professor Niamh Brennan, late Friday afternoon classes with Prof Eamonn Walsh, and everything in-between will ensure there is never a dull moment. 

March trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina
March trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina

If you are someone joining or thinking of joining this program, here is my advice: engage with the course, connect with the people around you, and always strive to control the controllable in the sometimes turbulent but highly enjoyable experience that is an MBA at Smurfit Business School.

To borrow a line from a recent mentor of mine, “it’s not a meal ticket but a licence to fish.”

Daniel Duignan, FTMBA Class of 2020

The MBA Survival Guide

 

prashant-sharma-headshotThe following pages are a modest and unstructured attempt at the supplement to an MBA survival guide. The pieces of wisdom and quotes that appear hereon have been collected over the past year.

“With two weeks left in the term, students are just sauntering around enjoying themselves as though this first year at business school was no big deal. It was a big deal, and now that it’s almost over I want to see some recognition. I want the school to hire a brass band and stage a parade across the campus. I want the Dean to hold a press conference. I want the class president to release a thousand pink and azure doves from the courtyard. We’ve made it.”

Peter Robinson makes the MBA sound pretty grim in the above lines. I seemed to find that different people process it differently, with the exception of the first semester. The year starts with induction: you’re meeting your classmates and understanding how to access the learning resources and BAM, it’s Christmas. No one knew what hit them. 

It is easy to get lost in the busyness of business as the year goes by. However, it is imperative to remember the reasons that brought you to the MBA. Take this time to reflect about your values and goals because life only gets busier. If you’re in the full time MBA, you’re also unemployed, which is both scary and liberating. Use this time to chart a path for yourself, while being mindful of not copying someone else’s path; this is not the time to copy off someone else’s worksheet (the author does not encourage copying at other times either btw).

“Business school did prepare me for the real world — though not in the ways I expected.” – Erica Zendell.

Time management- the one thing you will surely learn in the MBA, willingly or otherwise.

Here is a simple and popular illustration which deserves a separate article of its own. If you are a non-Jedi human being, you can only pick two out of the three, not necessarily the same two every time. The fun lies in juggling, when two are in your hands and the other one is in the air.

If you are an international student, you are in for the double whammy of the MBA and the “culture shock” – the “anxiety that results from losing all of our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse’’ (Oberg K., 1960). But it all works out in the end, take it from me. 

I went from scouring the supermarkets for palatable food, to becoming a quasi-MasterChef. (The earlier you learn to cook, the better). 

From living in Mumbai, where it’s never really winter, to moving to Dublin, where it’s never really summer. There is a silver lining though –

“If you don’t like the weather in Ireland, wait five minutes.” – an auld Irishman who prefers not to be named.

Moving abroad also gives you an opportunity to question your own values and priorities. When you’re exposed to new cultural values and norms, it challenges your own personal values and compels you to rethink if your values are really your own, or a result of the culture back home. Be prepared to have your sense of self unraveled and put back together.

“Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am…Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines…you are forced into direct experience [which] inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.” ― Michael Crichton, Travels.

“You get what you put in the MBA” – Prof. Karan Sonpar. This goes for EVERYTHING you do in this year. I have also seen people who stayed cocooned in their own universe and could not reap the benefits mentioned above. Immerse: in the classroom (or zoom) and everywhere else too.

My classmates demonstrating how you’re supposed to react when you see pints (from right to left)
My classmates demonstrating how you’re supposed to react when you see pints (from right to left)

If you feel lost in the hullabaloo of the assignments, deadlines, and papers, worry not my dear fellow, for there shall be pints. “You will also find that help pints will always be given at Hogwarts UCD to those who ask for it” – A.P.W.B. Dumbledore.

Prashant Sharma, FTMBA Class of 2020

Capstone Support: the Market Research Master Class

soumyajit-chakraborty-blog-pictureThe Capstone Project, a core element of the MBA experience at UCD Smurfit, was complemented by the Leadership Development Programme through a master class on Market Research, facilitated by Martha Fanning of Martha Fanning Research. The session provided insights and practical advice on market research aimed at adding an additional layer of richness and quality to the final set of recommendations for the clients. 

One big takeaway from the session: market research should never be underestimated. Many successful new businesses enjoy longevity because they conduct regular market research to understand their target market, identify consumer problems and pinpoint realistic competitors. A well-designed market research can identify how customers and potential customers might view products, solutions, and offerings in a very competitive landscape, and can identify gaps in customer expectations. Having good market intelligence helps minimize risks when making key business decisions. Most of our Capstone Projects had some, if not all, of these goals associated with them. 

The aim of market research is to gather information about a business’s buyer to determine the viability and success of the product or service. In the context of our Capstone project on talent management, scoped within employee recruitment, retention, and reskilling, the buyers are the employees themselves and the product and services are company offerings in learning, work opportunity, compensation, reward and appraisal systems etc. which build up the various levels of needs influencing employees to intrinsically partake in behavioral motivation and align with the company goals.

There were several factors that were considered while designing the research questionnaire and identifying the right surveying technique. Our approach was top down, starting with understanding what the company wanted and what they were willing to offer in exchange. Our approach was in alignment with understanding human nature and the innate hierarchical human needs responsible for motivation, how they could be transformed, and the social-political implications. The results from the research were structured into broad categories that looked into employees’ and potential employees’ opinion on a wide range of factors, which could be considered as building blocks or resources for success; for example, the unique work culture of an organization. 

The reason why some companies outperform others is a result of an organization’s competitive advantage, emerging from a refined understanding of the factors that determine market attractiveness. Our research highlighted the importance of leveraging the knowledge and views of employees to both engage the workforce and to create a unique organizational strategy.

Soumyajit Chakraborty, FTMBA Class of 2020

Learning the Agile Way!

sahil-singla-headshotOut of many wonderful learning experiences in the Smurfit MBA, Masterclass sessions were very insightful. Masterclasses were not a part of the pre-defined course curriculum but were arranged on-demand as extra learning opportunities for MBA students. These were optional classes, providing flexibility to students to choose sessions of their interests. In order to boost the spirits of all of us during the COVID environment, the classes were designed with a practical approach towards the usage of those tools and concepts which would help us in our future assignments.

One such masterclass was organized on “Agile” philosophy. The class was in high demand and the facilitator had to take two sessions to accommodate all interested students. 

Even though my area of expertise is operations and supply chain, with very little prior exposure to Agile concepts, my learnings were immense because of the interactive sessions chaired by a highly experienced professional, and thanks to the contribution of my many classmates who have in-depth knowledge on the subject.

We learnt the key differences between Agile and Waterfall methodology, and that both have their own use cases. It was interesting to find out that while in Waterfall methodology, resource planning is done based on deliverables and timelines, the whole focus of Agile is on available resources and timeline, and the deliverables are prioritized accordingly.

These initiatives like Masterclass and Leadership Development in the post-COVID environment are a reflection of the school’s commitment toward the overall development of MBA students and are amongst the key contributors to our experiential learning process at Smurfit.

Sahil Singla, Full-time MBA Class of 2020

Take the Plunge!

peter-walsh-headshotEarly last spring, I came to the decision to apply for the UCD Smurfit MBA. I had reached a crossroads in my career where I wanted to expand my skillset and potentially look at moving into a different industry. I did plenty of deliberating on whether an MBA was the stepping stone I needed: I found myself spending hours reading online forums, reviewing the application process and GMAT requirements. Eventually, I took the plunge and applied.

As I approach the end of the programme, eighteen months after deciding to apply, I can safely say that I made the right choice. The Smurfit MBA affords you opportunities you wouldn’t get over the course of an entire career. In addition to expanding your expertise and knowledge through interactive lectures and the experiences of your classmates, the programme creates many opportunities for students. A dedicated careers service helps you explore career paths you may have not considered in the past and leverages the Smurfit alumni network to help you follow up on potential career paths: each student is assigned an MBA alumnus mentor who will give you practical advice regarding your career aspirations and goals. 

If you’re not comfortable networking, fear not: the careers team also organise a course at the start of the year to equip you with all the tools you’ll require to become an effective networker. The programme then gives you countless opportunities to test out your new skills, with guest speakers, company visits, and networking events scheduled throughout the year.

The Smurfit MBA also emphasises experiential learning to prepare you for a global career, incorporating three international trips over the year. In October I was lucky enough to take a course in the behavioural science of management at Yale School Of Management as part of an exchange week organised by the Global Network for Advanced Management. At the beginning of March, we travelled to Argentina for our class study trip, where we visited a number of local businesses. While travel restrictions meant we were unable to travel to Portugal for the International Consulting Trip module planned for late May, we were able to work remotely to complete projects for small and medium enterprises based in and around Lisbon.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with options and hesitating with the MBA application process, take my advice and just take the plunge. Below are a few points on the application process which would have helped me along the way: 

  • While preparing your essays, make the content as personal as possible. The admissions team want to get to know you, your career aspirations and what you will be able to contribute to the overall class experience. 
  • While compiling your application, don’t go down a rabbit hole in pursuit of perfection. Write and write, then trim. Let the ideas flow, rephrase where needed and then edit to highlight your strengths. Reflect on your past experiences and tie them in with the MBA to create a story for the future.

Peter Walsh, Full-time MBA Class of 2020

A Capstone during Covid

The Capstone Project is the final part of our MBA journey. It involves consulting with an organisation on a real problem faced by them. Throughout the six-week project, we will put everything we have learned throughout the year into practice in order to propose a viable solution for the client.

I was delighted to find out that my team would be working with Brown Thomas Arnotts and I was imagining myself in the BTA office,keelins-blog-illustration meeting the team and seeing all the latest fashion trends. This year however the ‘Capstone during COVID’ experience has been very different from the Capstone Projects of previous years.

As restrictions are still in place, we have been working virtually, not only with the BTA team, but also within our own team. The usual Zoom related challenges apply: sharing words of wisdom while on mute, and constantly interrupting one another. However, all in all I think we have been managing quite well.

We are half way through the Capstone Project at the moment and already it has been an excellent experience. Having the opportunity to put our newly acquired knowledge to the test has really helped to reinforce the learnings. It has also shown me how beneficial the MBA has been to my personal development.

Keelin O’ConnorFTMBA Class of 2020

Audição (Dry run!)

satyaki-headshot“You go first, Satyaki,” said Grace and Eamonn. With my heart pumping in anticipation of the final presentation, suddenly, the old blazer that I had put on seemed way too tight. 

Our client was a serial entrepreneur who was looking for suggestions on a new business channel for his big idea. Right from our introductory meet he had been extremely generous with time and information. I could not help but think how much more enriching an experience it would have been if the world were still ‘doing normal’: we would have been in Lisbon, sipping meia de leite while we exchanged ideas.

Working from our homes in these pandemic times has taken away a lot in terms of in-person experience. In return though, it has provided a window to metaphorically “stand and stare”, to quote William H. Davies. This is the first time since 2011 that I have been home for such a long period of time at a stretch.

We started our International Consulting Project on the Monday the 2nd of June. In a discussion around how to make the offering customer-centric, the perspectives that came from my team opened avenues of exploration from angles that I would not have approached from. This is purely down to the diverse cohort that the FT MBA class of 2020 is. I had a team of MBA students with backgrounds in medicine, music, operations, technology, and consulting having a crack (also craic!) at a flow design problem.

After three days of intense work and daily meetings with our stakeholders, we had come up with what we believed was the right way to design the product for the new channel. This was based on market research conducted through surveys, statistics from the market, and academic literature. The data provided by the client on usage in the existing channel also helped us formulate our solution and provide substance to our suggestions.

The highlight was the client agreeing to think on our recommendations and even implementing some of our proposals in the final product to be released in August.     

The plan was ready. Three of us would present, then Peter, Sachin, and Sahil would take questions that came our way from the audience. All the effort that the team had put into the International Consulting Project was to be showcased within the next 15 minutes.

“You go first, Satyaki,” said Grace and Eamonn. My heart pumping…

Satyaki Ganguly, Full-time MBA Class of 2020

Another 38 Suitcases in Another Hall

UCD Smurfit students with Irish Ambassador to Argentina Jackie O'Halloran
UCD Smurfit students with Irish Ambassador to Argentina Jackie O’Halloran on our first full day

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:

Colourful storefront in La Boca
Colourful storefront in La Boca

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. 

Subhajit Dasgupta, FTMBA Student

Welcome dinner at La Malbequeria
Welcome dinner at La Malbequeria

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. 

Caroline Shakour, FTMBA Student

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.

The closing night exhibition at Tango Porteno
The closing night exhibition at Tango Porteno

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

A last-minute tour to Buenos Aires' solid waste management plant, which includes a wildlife preserve built on top of a landfill.
A last-minute tour to Buenos Aires’ solid waste management plant, which includes a wildlife preserve built on top of a landfill.

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. 

Keelin O’Connor, FTMBA Student

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. 

Steaks and sausages being prepared for our lunch at Estancia Santa Susana
Steaks and sausages being prepared for our lunch at Estancia Santa Susana

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.

Aishwarya Mehrotra, FTMBA Student

Hard at work.
Hard at work

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.

Hard at work
A student team

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.

Sreelakshmy Koonath, FTMBA Student

Heading home
Arriving home

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.

The whole trip flowed like a well-executed tango.
The whole trip flowed like a well-executed tango.

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

This is what we train for.

The Doing Business in International Markets Scandinavia Study Tour with the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki, Finland
The Doing Business in International Markets Scandinavia Study Tour with the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki, Finland

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.

The group at the Ice Bar
The group at the Ice Bar

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. 

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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.

Ruan Dillon McLoughlin, Executive MBA 2020

Generosity of Spirit: 6 Lessons I’ve Learned About Nurturing Effective Teams

The team!
The team!

My MBA journey thus far has provided me with so many new insights. One of the lessons I have valued the most was not taught in the classroom or by faculty, but by my peers. I have been lucky this term to be part of a project team made up of a diverse set of backgrounds: a doctor, an engineer, an entrepreneur, a venture capitalist; and myself, a solicitor. Whilst I have worked in multi-disciplinary teams in my past career as a solicitor, this team takes it to a whole new level. Not only do they each have something different to offer during our team meetings, but each individual has also taught me so much.

The following are some of the lessons that I have learned:

  1. Empowerment– Each member of our team has a voice when it comes to making a team decision, and never has to doubt their opportunity to share that voice.
  2. Trust and Respect– Trust makes each individual member stronger. We can rely on each other’s abilities and strengths, which in turn has allowed us to achieve our goals. Furthermore, we respect each other’s input during discussions and listen to each other.
  3. Diversity– We recognise, and utilise, each individual’s strengths, talents and skills. Each team member has a specific skill set, background and way of thinking that brings something different to the table during discussions  and results in a more effective team.
  4. Honesty– No one is afraid to offer their opinion if they are unhappy with any aspect of a task. We can openly discuss and agree on common goals. This allows us to work effectively and efficiently on tasks.
  5. Fun– From day one when we were completing our team charter, we made a specific note to ensure that we had fun during the semester. We were conscious that the workload can get intense but that it was important to inject some enjoyment in to our schedule. We are only two months in to semester 2 and have already organised a team hike to Seefin Passage Tomb in Co. Wicklow! It is important to realise that there is a life outside of college and this helped us to bond as a group.
  6. Celebrating Achievement – As a team, we recognise the need to collectively celebrate every success along this journey, whether that be by words of support following a presentation or going for drinks after submitting a report. This has helped us to remain motivated and increased team morale.

 

At the beginning of term we were asked to choose a team name. We chose Generosity of Spirit. Reflecting now on this name, I can see that a successful team is just that: a team where everyone can feel empowered to share the very best of themselves.

Anita Puri, Full-time MBA 2019-2020