The 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.
Out 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.
Early 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.
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, 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.
“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 meiade 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…
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have worked as a mechanical engineer within the power industry for the past 17 years and decided to do the full-time MBA to build on my business experience. Although I have only completed the first semester so far, I can already say that the UCD Smurfit MBA course provides an excellent set of business tools and has already opened many opportunities.
It was a bit daunting to get back into student life after so long away, but the orientation week and support from the college made the process seamless. The classes are small, so you get a great chance to develop a bond with each class and can easily interact with the professors.
I have had some great experiences in the MBA. I got the amazing opportunity to participate in the GNAM (Global Network for Advanced Management) week at Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley–you can learn more about that week here.
I currently interact with students throughout the world via an online course on Corporate Entrepreneurship at EGADE business school at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico, which is also facilitated by GNAM.
The UCD MBA Entrepreneurship Club, which I serve as a board member, has proved to be a great opportunity. The college has assembled an advisory board from government agencies, SMEs, and start-ups, to provide connections for the club members. We have arranged one event so far that brought in Conor Hanley to give us a fascinating talk about his entrepreneurial adventures within the medical device arena.
In November, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Edward F. Crawford visited the Smurfit campus to speak about his fascinating entrepreneurial journey. He met specifically with members of the Entrepreneurship Club before the presentation.
Participation in the MBA includes access to Executive Coaching and an assigned business mentor. I am taking full advantage of both options. The coach acts as a sounding board and offers help with my career direction. The mentor, provided through Career Services, is an experienced UCD alumni from the power industry, so will be another great resource.
I have also arranged to put what I’ve learned in the MBA directly into practice by providing some consultancy work to an energy company based in UCD’s start-up hub UCD Nova.
As the MBA programme at Smurfit has an international focus, I am preparing for a trip to Argentina next month for the hands-on ‘Doing Business in International Markets’ module. In June, we’ll travel to Lisbon, Portugal for a week of consulting assignments with local businesses.
I could not more highly recommend the UCD Smurfit MBA. It provides an exceptional opportunity to build your business and personal skills, while becoming part of an extensive alumni family.
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.