Returning from Brazil and China

After a busy week in Brazil and China on the International Study Trip, respectively, my colleague Roisin and I are  now back in the “real world” in Dublin. With the MBA students still on Spring Break (and indeed some still in Brazil and China) this is a time for us to start focusing in more detail on the MBA programme 2013/2014.

This is always an exciting time for us, planning, keeping, chopping and changing, organising and indeed meeting applicants and participants for next year. As we speak, I am drafting up my first communication to the 5 (maybe 7?) students coming to the UCD Smurfit MBA programme on exchange in September and indeed also to those who have already confirmed that they are ready to start the MBA Programme  fulltime in August. Happy and exciting days ahead!!

– Rikke Budolfsen, MBA Programme Manager

A Canadian in Dublin

This is my first attempt at having a consistent blog, so I hope you all bare with me. Let me first start off by stating that I have had this entry started since the first week of the programme, and it is only now that I am able to complete it. This is pretty indicative of what life is like in the MBA. There is always lots of work, group meetings, and even more readings. Now, coming from a corporate background the work and volume of meetings are commonplace. As for the readings, that is an entirely new ballgame! Having been 5 years removed from my undergrad I did not expect this, it consumes a good portion of the “free time” I can muster.

But I digress, back to the point of this blog: to share my experience of a Canadian coming to university in Dublin. With that said, it is best to start off at the beginning of my time here in Dublin.

I landed in Dublin, on a surprisingly sunny and warm Sunday morning in August (what I now know is even more rare than I initially thought). As I sat on the bus passing the River Liffey, it dawned on me… “I’m here”. Now as theatrical as this may sound, this was several months in the making. From researching MBA programmes, to writing the ever popular GMAT (which still haunts my dreams), to the long and arduous application forms. It is a process which takes months to do, and I had successfully accomplished it.

Continue reading A Canadian in Dublin

One month in

It is now 1 month since we arrived in Ireland. What a month! Looking back it is quite amazing how much can happen in just 30 days!

On arrival, Dublin was a foreign place with foreign people for my wife and I coming from South Africa. Today, we already have a local pub and diner, and I can quite confidently tell you the names and nationalities of all 40 of my full time MBA classmates, who I now call friends.

How did we move so quickly from feeling like foreigners to feeling at home? I can only attribute it to something quite special about the Irish culture and the Smurfit School in particular.

Our prior knowledge of Irish culture extended as far as the Irish pubs back in Johannesburg, renowned for their jovial character. I previously attributed this to the ale consumed in the pubs, but I now see it more as an outworking of the lively and social way of life lead by most Irish people. We could not have guessed the state of the economy through our interaction with the Irish people. Be it from an offer of the estate agent to store our bags for us, the solicitor who asked us to just drop the 10euro we were short in the post box sometime, or the ‘out of country’ lady writing down her full lineages contact details if we were ever to be in the area. The Irish are a welcoming people.

This ‘not wanting to disappoint’ attitude of the Irish does come with some risk however, as we were warned in the MBA foundation week. If an Irish person advises that it is a 5 minute walk somewhere, it is probably closer to 15 minutes, and if it is mentioned to be a ‘long’ 5 minute walk, it is closer to 30 minutes.

The Smurfit School for its part is particularly good at assisting foreign students to relocate and integrate. They do need to be, as 65% of our MBA class are international students, coming from all continents excluding Antarctica and Australasia. A specific highlight of my short time here has definitely been the foundation week that the business school holds for full time MBA students before the start of lectures. This provided valuable time for our diverse 40 person MBA class to get to know one another in a social setting and quickly turn acquaintances into friendships.

The course work so far has lived up to its reputation of being challenging and stimulating, and the external talks and events have been high class. Of particular interest to me has been the personal development focus of the Smurfit course and I look forward to much self discovery ahead.

Although it is still early days and the assignments are only starting to pile up, I can quite confidently say that I am looking forward to the coming 11 months, if the 1st is anything to go by.

-Neil Krige, FTMBA 2012/13

Is anyone regretting taking the MBA yet?

While having lunch today with a few classmates, Michael (the MBA LDP Manager) joined our table and asked how we were doing. All three of us laughed.

Is it because we’re really happy that we’re doing the MBA?

Is it because we needed the adrenaline and positive hormones we got from the laugh to ease our stress?

Rani, who was sitting with us, remarked, “One of the biggest myths in doing the MBA is that you’re going to have free time.” And I agree with him 100%. I thought I would take some time off working on a full-time job and enrich myself intellectually at a ‘normal’ pace. I have been proven wrong in a few instances :-D . But I think most of us still think we made the right choice to do our MBA..

Here’s why I think I’ve (still) made the right choice by taking an MBA:

1.    Special campus for graduate students

a.     Dropped by the student union to get some used books for class a few weeks ago and walking through the throngs of young students, I felt very thankful that the MBA is housed in a campus for graduate students. It feels different culturally, intellectually and makes studying feel more serious in the more peaceful and quiet environment.

2.    Case studies, thinking

a.     I love the intellectual challenge posed in analyzing and breaking apart the cases for most of the classes. This is apart from the obvious lessons and motivational values that I get from reading about these great companies (just to name a few: Ideo, Honda, Cemex).

3.    Classmates and teamwork amongst the bigger group

a.     The experience and maturity of the classmates, with such diverse backgrounds. I have learned so much from them and find that I fit in well with the group, as well as finding so much benefit in the conversations and reflections between classmates that I believe I wouldn’t find in a cohort with too little or even no working experience.

b.    Sincere and kind classmates. I couldn’t say this more. This morning, I spilt some coffee on the carpet. I went to the restroom to get some tissue to wipe it up, but came back realizing that Lien had already wiped it. It’s small thoughtful things done by classmates to help each other that makes school much less stressful and makes it definitely bearable and something to look forward to.

c.     We have come together as a team in great ways. It started off from the mandatory team building, the compulsory groups set by MBA office, and now we are comfortable enough to band up for reading groups.

So if you’re thinking of doing an MBA, think about why you would want to do it. For me, it’s mainly the intellectual growth, but the two other points really add to the positive experience in the school.

– Nur Zahira M Sukran, FT MBA 2012/13

Scaling new heights

It’s important to pause and reflect during the busy MBA. Here is how I chose to savor the opportunity outside of the classroom during a day off:

We reached the Glendalough Valley, now part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, at around 1.30 p.m. The weather was almost perfect for an excellent hike. When my colleague Nihar insisted that we take the Spink and Glenealo Valley Route, a 9 km spiral loop trail, I thought to myself that I was never going to make it.

A view from near the upper lake at Glendalough

We had to complete the walk by 5 p.m. so that we would be on time to catch the only bus back to Dublin city. We set off at 2 p.m. with a few cans of beverages and a handy map (according to the map, the estimated time for the walk was 3 to 4 hours!). As we hiked along the scenic valley admiring the breathtaking landscape, I understood why Ireland was renowned for its walks. We saw so much from beautiful cascades to dense forests. After about two and a half hours of walking (at 4.30 p.m.), I noticed a familiar building about 100 metres ahead – it was the visitor centre, our starting point. Before this experience I never knew that I could push myself so much physically. In a sense, it has also been the story of my MBA so far!

– Vishal Balasubramaniam, FT MBA 2011/12

We had to complete the walk by 5 p.m. so that we would be on time to catch the only bus back to Dublin city. We set off at 2 p.m. with a few cans of beverages and a handy map (according to the map, the estimated time for the walk was 3 to 4 hours!). As we hiked along the scenic valley admiring the breathtaking landscape, I understood why Ireland was renowned for its walks. We saw so much from beautiful cascades to dense forests. After about two and a half hours of walking (at 4.30 p.m.), I noticed a familiar buildingabout 100 metres ahead – it was the visitor centre, our starting point.Before this experience I never knew that I could push myself so much physically. In a sense, it has also been the story of my MBA so far!

It was not ‘just another day in my Life’…

Today is the beginning of my wonderful MBA journey; from the inception of the thought of doing an MBA till the first day of the class at Smurfit, it was all very decisive. I met many people, contacted many more over emails and over phone, did all of this just to make sure that this one step I take should make me a better person both personally and professionally. The decision to join Smurfit Business School was very strongly influenced by two factors; the first one being the reputation and strength of the course and the second being the city that made many a people fall in its love by its sheer charm, Dublin.

Before I landed in Dublin, I had many apprehensions written all over my face; Cold weather, new people, heavy work load, no Indian food and no native language were the important ones. But the moment I was greeted by an Indian friend at the airport I felt like home. The very day I went around the streets of Dublin city centre and it gave me a good insight into the culture of Ireland. With all its diversity, amicable people and rich culture, Dublin reminded me of my own country. I could find people from different countries especially India spread across the city and it was no wonder because Ireland as a country has so much to offer.

The long wait was over; 29th of August, the day after which my perspective towards things around me would never be the same, had come. I entered the campus all excited to meet my family for the next one year; I was delighted to see a well represented group of 40 people, all of them were carrying their dreams and aspirations into the class room. After meeting everyone in the class, I was directed into a lecture hall where the entire class was cordially welcomed into the MBA program. All along the day, the class was provided with loads of information required to survive the year and come out with flying colours.

That night I retired to my bed with a completely relaxed mind as all my fears were addressed; then I realised it was just not another day in my life, but it was the first day of my new journey, MBA.

– Aditya Koppula, FT MBA

The change after one-year in Smurfit School

Recall last August when arriving in Dublin, many things were strange to me: people go on the left hand-side on streets, the weather was cold even in the summer and the sun was still on my head even in the evening. In my country, Vietnam, evening means dark and no sun, summer means very hot and humid; and of course, we go on the right hand-side. All those things made me feel unusual and I asked myself how could I adapt to a new society and what should I do to perform well in the MBA?

How am I now after one year? Everything is different. I am confident walking on streets in Dublin, I am confident to be a tour-guide for my friends visiting the city. I can speak fluently about Cork, Galway, Killarney, Cobh, Dingle bay, Belfast and Giants Causeway. More than that, I also have experience of working in family farms of my classmates in Sligo and Mullingar.  I love to play football and hurling with my mates in sunny evening (you cannot say “sunny evening” in my country!). What has changed me? That is one year MBA with lovely people.

The first day coming to my class, I worried – how can I catch up with the class, how can I work with people from various countries? My concerns were reasonable because the difference in culture, the unfamiliar business environment and the language barrier were big challenges waiting for me. In the first term, those challenges accompanied with heavy workload were extremely tough. Indeed, language barrier was the major obstacle. For example, sometimes, I was confused in class discussion; and it took me double or triple times to finish all readings and assignments in comparison with others in my class. I feel that the first term was the hardest time of study in my life.

How am I now? Now I am confident to involve in discussions and presentation in my class, I understand the business customs and I am comfortable to contribute ideas from the viewpoint of people from an emerging and dynamic economy in the East. My contributions are valuable to the class because I give them the perspective from different experience and different angles. What has changed me? That is the MBA.

It is the end of June now and there are only three days left for me to finish my journey with the MBA. I am very sure that MBA in Smurfit School is my best decision ever. It is a bridge for my future, both in career and in life. I came here with a group of Vietnamese people and I am very sure that they learned a lot too. I would like to say thank you to my classmates, to the school, to all my professors and teachers and especially to Irish Aid who sponsors me for my MBA. Only three days more in the school and several weeks before coming back to Vietnam, I am very sure that I will miss Ireland and the school a lot. To me, MBA is unforgettable in my life and Ireland is my second home.

– Phuong Hoang, FT MBA 2011

Slowing Down…or am I?

Slowing Down…or am I?

(This blog is from a fulltime UCD Smurfit MBA at the Spring mid-term break, about seven months in.)

I’ve just bought some books in town …not exactly a life-changing event, but the difference now is that this is the first time in what seems like a long time (well seven months) that I’ve purchased books solely for reading pleasure. Most of my class modules are finished up for now and I’m heading to China on Saturday as part of our international study trip, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch up on some non-curricular activity.

But the experience of shopping for books in Dublin, a UNESCO City of Literature, got me thinking in a manner I would not have considered before starting my UCD Smurfit MBA.

Dublin, in common with many parts of the world has recently experienced a spate of bookstore closures.  Personally, I find this trend devastating; the opportunity to wander around the labyrinthine levels of Waterstone’s on Dawson Street (that shop has about four and a half levels fitted into two floors of space!) and discover new reads and bump into old friends has been robbed from a new generation of readers.

But what I’m learning through Strategy and Marketing classes is that this trend is inevitable. Book-selling has been commoditised, and not enough people value the bricks and mortar aspect of their local bookstore. Cost leadership rules, and Amazon excels at this.

Not only this, but the phenomenon of the long tail means that choice is ever expanding too. A simple Porter 5 force analysis would show the predicament traditional stores are in; being squeezed significantly by rivals, substitutes, suppliers, and customers, in an industry with barely any barriers to entry.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this, and it has become a challenge that will face many industries in the future, and by extension will face possibly me and my class colleagues. The positives are that we are equipped with the training to identify what trends are happening in our industry and make strategies to overcome future hurdles.

The importance of the business language and perspectives that we are absorbing can be daunting and frustrating, particularly around exam time. But it’s when that perspective is applied to the everyday world around us, that it bowls me over how differently I look at products, transactions, and how businesses are run. The anticipation and excitement of real-life application of strategy is immense – and the rewards could be ultimately survival in increasingly hypercompetitive markets.

Incidentally, thanks to my generous little sis’, Claire and the gift voucher she gave me (all the thoughtfulness of cash, without any of the convenience!!!), I bought:

  • The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean – science stories based around the periodic table – well I am a Chemical Engineer at heart!
  • The People’s Act of Love, James Meek – Conor’s recommendation – he texted (no web 2.0 crap here!): “v provocative book, loved it”.
  • Rich in Russia, John Updike – food for the brain I thought – really cheap issues of classic short stories from Penguin Classics.

Don’t forget – all these are available at your local book store!

– David Lawton, Full-time MBA 2010/2011

B-school B&B

Ireland is described by Lonely Planet as, “one of Europe’s gems, a scenic extravaganza of lake, mountain, sea and sky that’s gorgeous enough to make your jaw drop.” This jaw dropping natural beauty leaves many with their chins on the floor when you add a fascinating history, literary giants such as Yeats and Joyce, music icons such as U2 and an island full of people that are world renowned for their ability to have a good time.

What does this mean for me, you ask? Well, 2 things to be sure:
1) it means that my year long education on the Smurfit MBA is coupled with the one of a kind experience of living on the “Emerald Isle” – a remarkable opportunity to say the least. In six short months, I’ve been fortunate to travel north, south, and west, taking in the beautiful sites and meeting extraordinary people;

2) it means that nearly everyone I know from back home who wants to visit Ireland is doing their utmost to plan a trip to visit my wife and I. Thus far, we’ve welcomed five visitors and have 10 with trips planned for the spring! We’ve been joking recently that it feels like we’re running a B&B, and I need to use some of my newly acquired management skills to turn a profit on all this tourist traffic. Still haven’t figured out how to broach the subject with family members… “You see, Mom, the thing is… uh… nothing’s free in this world and I need to think about the return on investment for this apartment”… ;-).

Continue reading B-school B&B

Diary of a Vietnamese MBA student

Feb 4th 2011

“Tet – the lunar new year” is knocking the door when I start writing this entry. This year we Vietnamese students welcome our traditional “Tet” in Ireland – a wonderland in my mind. Missing home so much, I know that I will miss this land evermore when I am back to Vietnam.

There are thousands of reasons that make me love this country. My first impression is Irish people, who are very warmhearted and friendly. You can easily get acquainted with people and talk with them, even on the buses or in the streets. I still remember a cold winter day, when I got lost on Moorehampton Road. Thank God, an old lady passed and asked if she could help. She took me to the nearest bus to get home and told me about Ireland in the past. Her stories conjured me up an old Ireland with family ties, catholic norms and community spirit. Above all, I feel the very human nature of Irish people when they communicate and do charity, as in a lyric of my favorite song: “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away”.

Continue reading Diary of a Vietnamese MBA student