A Day in the Life of an MBA Dad; or the Mid-Life Crisis Induced Return to Study!

I was thinking about how I could describe life on the Full Time MBA, when a verse of The Beatles song “A Day in the Life” came to mind (well the title, and a Google search actually);

Woke up, fell out of bed

Dragged a comb across my head

Found my way downstairs and drank a cup

And looking up, I noticed I was late

Found my coat and grabbed my hat

Made the bus in seconds flat

Found my way upstairs and had a smoke

And somebody spoke and I went into a dream


The song is from the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album. It has been described as the first ‘concept album’; dealing with a single issue through various songs. Is this a metaphor for the MBA or what?

Anyone who has undergone, or is undergoing, an MBA will understand the various images the above conjures. However, not so many FTMBA students have had the MBA Dad/Mum experience. Nor have they had the 40+ experience. Each brings its own nuances, but the combination creates a fascinating experience; the experience of experience; so to speak.

Dragged in many directions, yet strangely intact, I can honestly say that my experience has been no more difficult than that of the younger, single (or otherwise), FT MBA classmate; or of the ‘work all day’ and ‘study at night’ Executive MBA. What I lose in study time by maintaining a presence at home, is compensated for by my ability to devote full days to the course, a regular hour of Simpsons with Sadhbh (7) & Ailbhe (4), bedtime stories and the reality that once all of this is done my mind is clear and the MBA seems somewhat less oppressive or omnipresent.  I cannot do it all, nor can any one of us, but I get more than enough from the time I do spend engaged in the daily MBA experience.

A number of my class mates are married with children, but typically there is no one version of this. One has just had his first child; the other’s wife is a stay-at-home mum. My wife travels a week a month with work so we have a child-minder; Sophie, who at 22 is more like a big sister/cousin than a governess. In fact her presence means that when Fiona is away I can stay in college until 5.30, so have a full day of study fun. Additionally, because Fiona has been in her current job for the past 18 months, we are acclimatised to not being a ‘both parents home at six’ family.

Sophie, Sadhbh & Ailbhe

One aspect of the course I feel I ‘missed’ was the evening/night sessions in the Syndicate Rooms. To see the cross pollination of ideas and solving of problems between project groups, as classmates flitted between syndicate rooms, was to see the power of the MBA. “Sorry, but I must be home for six to relieve Sophie” was a regular refrain from me. As a result I think I missed the intense bonding of the first term. I had to make an effort to take on additional work, to make up for missing the group work done during those hours. In fact it is virtually impossible to make up this work, so thanks to those with whom I worked in groups; it’s good to help the elderly!

As I mentioned in my previous missive, I entered the MBA programme hoping to draw together the strands of my varied work experiences; I needed a focus. Many of my contemporaries sought breadth, or a broader view of the business world. Both are available on the MBA. In fact both are compulsory; nothing is excluded in the package the MBA offers. The course is suited to all shapes and sizes of student and it is this that makes it so worthwhile.

P.S. I wouldn’t look up the full lyrics of “A Day in the Life” as they are rather depressing; the selective focus of the MBA in action, perhaps!

– David Gosling, FT MBA 2010/2011

Sleep, Thought and the MBA

I usually sleep soundly. A couple of years ago I found myself waking in the morning with a sense of anxiety, which I could not explain. Then one morning I woke in the middle of a dream, in which I had arrived at an exam for which I was absolutely unprepared. Well, I thought as a not particularly academic person, I will never study or sit an exam again, so I can relax. And I did. The sense of anxiety departed. How then do I find myself in the tenth month of a full time MBA; surely the epitome of all that created my anxiety?

Without delving into the details, I found myself at a point in my life where I had worked in the government, commercial, self-employed, charity and entrepreneurial sectors, over 20 years. Yet my CV did not say what I was; a soldier, a facilities manager, a property developer, a do-gooder or an  e-tailer? I entered the Newstalk MBA scholarship competition, did not win, but did secure a place on the course. I realised that the MBA was just what I needed to focus my CV, so I accepted the place and started the course in September.

So, how has that worked out for me? Apart from not yet having secured a job, it was a brilliant decision. The MBA is an amazing product, experience and challenge. Central to the MBA is understanding relationships; between people, decisions, structures, markets etc. This applies to the subject matter but also to the students. For 10 months we have been ‘mushed’ together in class, groups, at lunch and socially.

However, I believe that the MBA is essentially a course about thought, about thinking and about joining the dots. It is a slow burner. During the first seven week term we were so busy, and the subjects so seminal, that we gained five separate perspectives. The second term saw the thought, the dot joining, commence. Financial Reporting was leveraged by Managerial Accounting, Decision Making contextualised by Financial Markets & Valuations, Business Economics de-mystified by, well everything. By May, when the In Company Projects were in full flow, we were deep in the art of demonstrating ‘cross learning’s. This cross pollination of ideas is what the MBA takes away from the course, not the T Account, Black Scholes, ROI, Decision Trees or Porters Value Chain. No, the MBA graduate is a business thinker, leader and manager. She is primed for the future. He is launched into an interconnected world, with an interconnected way of thinking.

But is he/she the stereo typical arrogant MBA? I will leave you with this anecdote and let you make up your own mind. A student on the premier UCD Smurfit marketing course, the MDP, asked me “what do you do on the MBA?”. “Well” I said “they teach us to be your boss!”. I presume he got my point.

David Gosling, FT MBA Class of 2011

Congratulations! UCD Smurfit MBA Team Wins Prestigious All-Ireland MBA Award

UCD Smurfit has won back the MBAAI Strategy Forum Trophy.

Our team are All-Ireland Champions after a historic win for UCD Smurfit at the annual business strategy competition held on Saturday last, June 18th in the salubrious surroundings of the St. Stephen’s Green Club in Dublin city centre.

Congratulations to our team which was made up of participants from the Executive Year 2 MBA City cohort:

UCD Smurfit 2011 MBA Association of Ireland Comp Winners. L to R: Alan Dunne, Fionnuala Healy, Siobhan O'Dowd, Maria Finnegan, Tom O'Connor


Organised by the MBA Association of Ireland (MBAAI) and open to all MBA programmes in Ireland, teams of MBA students from around the country met in Dublin on Saturday (June 18th) to compete in the day-long Inter-Business School MBA Strategy Challenge.

Well done to the team who came through an internal preliminary round and put in the hard work required to reach the standard necessary to become All-Ireland Champions for 2011 and demonstrating the high calibre of participants on our programmes this year.

The wonderful Waterford Glass trophy is currently on view in the MBA Office and will be moving to the new MBA Trophy Cabinet to take pride of place beside the MBA World Cup trophy.

I hope you will join with me in congratulating the team.

Well Done!

Michael McDonnell

MBA Programme Manager

What I learned during the MBA

With only two weeks left before finishing up the MBA I’ve started to reflect a little on what I have learned during the MBA. What little gems did I find? Perhaps the secrets which created great companies and differentiated them from just good companies? Perhaps what did I spend all this money on college fee’s, loss of earnings and a year of my life? Or even the age old question; is the MBA worth the financial and personal cost??

Before deciding to start the MBA, I read a book called “What they teach you in Harvard Business School” and the key message I got from this book was that the real source of wealth and information in the MBA class was not the academic staff but your classmates. So on the first day of the MBA I was understandably wondering who were these people I was about to sit beside and work closely with for the next year?

Quickly we launched into Semester 1 and raced through subjects as diverse as Economics (the Celtic tiger gets slaughtered!) and Operations Management where the issue of Sustainability became a class favourite. Marketing introduced the class to Professor McLoughlin which was an entertaining education in both Marketing and Life! However the highlight for me was the introduction to Strategy where we were guided (patiently) through how some of the great companies became and continue to be successful.

Continue reading What I learned during the MBA

The MBA Rollercoaster Experience™

Apparently a picture speaks a thousand words, but I find a confusing chart takes those words and puts them into an indecipherable language that only the overly-enthusiastic engineer, who created it, can understand. Thus, the genesis of my MBA Rollercoaster Experience™ Chart:

Click on the chart for details

As I come towards the end of my MBA at Smurfit, I’ve tried to capture the emotional car wreck of the MBA and chart the journey along three main variables: ‘Fear & Uncertainty’, ‘Motivation & Enthusiasm’, and ‘Self Development’.

Fear & Uncertainty:
Obviously this starts high as I entered the unknown. I gave up a full-time job in a time of recession, I was investing a huge amount of money – some of which I didn’t have, and I was entering a class of strangers – all of whom I feared would be hard-nosed business types. It got worse. Lecturers randomly asked questions, the workload at the end of the first week seemed insurmountable, and my genetic inability to remember names was just plain rude! Luckily things got better once the first round of exams were over. Our class really gelled and celebrated achieving our quarter-MBA. As the year has progressed things have got so much better: we manage work together better, we aim to beat deadlines by weeks, and confidence springs from our newly acquired knowledge. The end horizon does bring with it the need to scavenge for hard fought careers, but we are now MBAs and we have less to fear than we did!

Motivation &Enthusiasm:
In a class of achievers, it’s hard not to succumb to the competitive motivation. I’ve had just one slump in February, when the motivation for yet another module was zapped from me. International trips and the support of my team, pulled me through!

Self Development:
Every moment on the course is an opportunity to learn, but learning takes a different pace in terms of self development throughout the year. The first few weeks are particularly introspectively enhancing as team situations, new concepts and subjects are thrust upon you, and a place in the class dynamic is carved out.

So is the MBA worth it? Well, to answer this, I’ve listed out just some of the things that I’ve done, but never would have without the MBA:

  • Written a blog (this is number six!).
  • Interviewed for a job by the CEO, CFO, CCO, and Company Secretary of a major Irish plc.
  • Thought about a life/career beyond engineering (and even pharma!).
  • Discovered the joys of ferreting for ‘weasel-words’ and ‘jiggery-pokery’ in Company Annual Reports.
  • Networked with strangers.
  • Developed a self-confidence in my business acumen (or should that be over-inflated sense of myself?).
  • Met a group of strangers from all over the world, who are now my friends.

– David Lawton

In pursuit of the ‘Big Idea’!

What is the best process to produce the Big Idea? Is it more art than science?  Can the application of tools and models bring forth from the chaos, the simple compelling idea? And is this process best enabled by the lone wolf or pack of wolves?

In architecture it’s said that great buildings which capture the zeitgeist of the times come from 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. This  same  principle could also be applied to creating  sustainable business platforms.

In the realisation of architecture, 99% of the time spent on the blood, sweat and tears is involved in influencing others. From convincing a client to be brave, the authorities to be visionary, inspiring collaboration between the right expertises, to develop a solution that is within budget and then be the guardian of its integrity, as it’s executed on site by builders. The real test for architecture is how it’s occupied, used and perceived and it’s legacy for society, if any.  Yet, it’s a slow and ultimately noble process that can create vestibules of permanence that celebrate the passing of time.

So why  would I venture outside my profession as an architect to pursue an MBA? Several reasons, but the main one is, although it is a beautiful profession, staying in business and been able to practice architecture is a huge challenge, especially when the opportunities for architects are diminishing in this ‘new world ‘we find ourselves.

Twelve years ago when I began my journey into architecture, I would never have conceived a need to do an MBA. I probably had no idea what it was or its relevance to my end goal. Architecture was going to provide me with every opportunity that I desired. But in 2007, following two years working in an award winning practice, the reality of the business environment in which architecture was conceived made me re-evaluate my strategy of my goals. I made the decision at that point to take a position with a commercially orientated office , as it had the ability to make money as opposed to the majority of vocational practices. As the alarm bells of the recession began to toll, I realised then that I would need to expose myself to as many experiences as possible, as specialisation in boutique extensions and family houses was not sustainable. Three years later in 2010 the company eventually went into liquidation following a very painful process of redundancies and cost cutting measures.

While experiencing this implosion, I began to realise the relevance of an MBA and the attractiveness of learning the skills to create a business model around a profession which has  a creative output at its core. Continue reading In pursuit of the ‘Big Idea’!

A pleasant surprise

While I was deciding whether or not to do an MBA, and where, one of the things I considered was the ranking of Smurfit (recently up 78th worldwide in the FT and 31st worldwide in The Economist.) I also thought about the academic content of the programme and the anecdotal reputation of the School.

One thing I didn’t give too much notice to was the specific careers and personal development day that we have every Friday. This day focuses on each student as an individual, and leading professionals from the worlds of neurolingustic programming, personality type testing and time management are brought in to share their specialist knowledge with us. The process is highly interactive, and generally gives very good and personalised feedback to the students. The results are that after less than two terms, most fellow MBA students now have a good idea about their inner drives, specific skill sets and even in what types of career their personal motivators would be most likely to be satisfied.

There’s even a one on one personal coach set up for students to discuss anything they like, in my case how to best network nationally and internationally and how to best target specific career opportunities. It could just as easily be used by the student to talk about their personal experiences on the course, additional help they need or confidential issues they may have.

The whole area of personal development, whilst something a lot of people will have some experience with, takes on a whole new dimension of usefulness when it’s a full time integrated subject. For me, it’s been one of the standout experiences of the course so far.

– Andrew Higgins

Challenges and rewards

Smurfit came to me as a predestined affinity.

Thirsty for knowledge and further management development after several years working experiences, I tried to find an opportunity for MBA. Scholarship was the only feasible option for a candidate from an emerging country, like myself. And I found Smurfit and Irish Aid.

However, I was not that lucky to be selected for the scholarship. After several challenges and fierce struggles, I thought that I would give up. However, thanks to the encouragement of my fiancé, who is my husband now, I decided to go forward with the program without waiting for any other opportunities. I came to the school with mixed feelings where I felt both anxious and worried. Deep thoughts normally occupied my mind during the initial time. I only looked forward to gaining as much knowledge as possible to make up my efforts. My husband, and also my classmate ;), was the only place I could put all pressures on during those days.

Gradually, things have changed. Going along with the program, I get used to the culture and study load, I feel more comfortable now, not only in study but in social life as well. I have friends who I can talk with. Not only my husband, but I now also have Germany, US, Kyrgyzstan, Indian and Irish gals who have the same concerns with mine about the programs, life, etc. I started to approach lectures and program more softly. The presentation ways, communication methods, how to realize true facts from daily news, etc. are more valuable to me now. Besides studying, I go here and there to discover Ireland. I know more Irish and react better in specific situations both in and out the classroom ;). Especially, when Tet, the biggest event of Vietnamese, came, my Vietnamese friends and I had all classmates and lecturers to come to enjoy Tet atmostphere with special dishes and images prepared by ourselves. In Pillar Room with special smell of my mother land’s foods, we all shared the enthusiasm and I really felt I was home at that time. “All wishes may come true to all of us” was my prayer for a new year.

Time flies. It has been almost three terms. I am now more confident with what I have gained from the program and eager to be back to my home country to apply to reality.

And finally, “no life with full of roses”, a Chinese sentence, meaning to live is to take both rewards (roses) and challenges. But on my own perspective, challenges are also “roses”. MBA and my peers are beautiful roses that I have enjoyed.

Anh Pham, FT MBA Class

Multinational friends
Multinational friends - I'm the second from the left

Tet event
Me with Prof Pat Gibbons at Tet
Visiting Connemara

Financial Times MBA Ranking 2011

The Financial Times ranking of the top 100 global full-time MBA programmes was published today. The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School MBA has jumped 20 places in the global MBA rankings. We are now ranked as 78th in the world and among the top 25 MBAs in Europe. We are among less than 50 schools worldwide that have been consistently ranked in the top 100 over the last twelve years.

We are the only Irish MBA programme that appears in the ranking and are pleased given these difficult economic times that we have improved our standing.

So what’s behind this? We believe it’s a combination of continuous improvement; a collegiate leaning environment coupled with small class sizes, dedicated programme and academic teams and outstanding alumni.

For example we are currently undergoing an academic review of our curriculum, the objective being to enhance student learning. We have streamlined our Personal and Professional Development Programme, which includes team development and individual business coaching with experienced professional business coaches. Finally our MBA Careers Service continues to work on a one to one basis with our MBA students providing them with the skills to accelerate their career.

Orla Nugent UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School MBA Director

Stay posted for more updates.

– Orla Nugent, MBA Director

What is an MBA all about? Top 5 questions about the MBA

Over the holiday period, you may be able to give more time to the thought of doing an MBA.

Dave Lawton is a Process and Chemical Engineer from Cork. He has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for seven years, prior to starting his full-time MBA in UCD Smurfit Graduate School of Business. In writing this blog, he thought he would answer the more common questions out there about an MBA.

What is an MBA all about?
I was in this situation six months ago, and despite some extreme environmental conditions the exit from full time employment and entry back into education has been and continues to be a rewarding decision (hmm, something tells me the transition may not be so smooth – but more of than anon). So what would I have liked to have known prior to starting out? These are the top five questions.

Continue reading What is an MBA all about? Top 5 questions about the MBA