Dr Michael Smurfit arrived into the Laurence Crowley boardroom in Smurfit College on Tuesday Sept 30th where the noise filled room of curious MBA and business students immediately fell into a quiet hush. He took his seat next to the Dean and then opened with a self deprecating ice breaker apologising for the inadequacy of his book. Result? Everyone immediately relaxed and warmed to their college namesake. Dr Smurfit proceeded to give a fascinating account of how he developed his empire and set up the Business School and shared some lessons learned along the way. Our very own Lindsey Nguyen (Full time MBA) did a great job as MC and posed some carefully crafted but pointed questions to Dr Smurfit which he duly answered.
What became quickly evident was a lot of his success was down to doing the obvious, like cutting costs, managing stocks and being a forward thinker in a time when everyone was looking inward instead of outward. What is also interesting is how Smurfit took a small Irish company to the top of the world in the area of wood and wood products, beating off rivals from countries with significant wood and native paper industries.
As per his autobiography A Life Worth Living, Dr Smurfit was the first Irish mega tycoon, who built a small family business into Ireland’s first multinational company and one of the world’s largest paper and packaging companies. A particularly spectacular feat coming from a country with no indigenous wood industry to speak of. Dr Smurfit’s motto was “I must, I can and I will” and he did.
Friday April 4th saw the second session in the Dean’s Speaker Series presented by the MBA Thought Leadership Club. Our speaker on the day was Alan Ennis, a member of the School’s North America Advisory Board and former CEO of Revlon. During his presentation, Alan reflected on lessons learned on his journey from trainee accountant in Dublin to the CEO of a multi-billion dollar turnover business in 2009. Alan spoke candidly about his role as CEO, a role which he held until recently, and passed on some inspirational messages to those in attendance. He advised all students to fully immerse themselves in any career that they pursue. In his own case he told us that while at Revlon this included physically testing nail varnish to see if it really did dry in 60 seconds or lipstick to see how hydrating it really was! He also advised us that as a leader you have to create a culture in the workplace where others want you to win, it is okay to be wrong and that life does not owe you a living – you need to work hard in order to achieve your goals.
Impressively, for someone who has managed a company as large as Revlon, Alan came across as an approachable, normal person. At lunch after the presentation we shared a few laughs about life and work. Alan seemed to be fun, outgoing and engaging just like any member of our class. Talking through his rise to responsibility it could be seen how anyone on the MBA could be progress to the levels that Alan has. He admitted that achieving in one’s career took preparation, hard work and a pinch of luck to spot and access opportunities to progress. Let’s hope that the hard work we’ve been putting in over the last year will meet some good luck on the road and this time next year we’ll be well on our ways to career success.
On February 7th 2014 Niall Fitzgerald kicked off the first of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School’s Dean’s Lecture Series for 2013/14. Leading the introductions, the Smurfit Thought Leadership Club President, Liam Doyle, introduced the Dean, Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, as well as Niall Fitzgerald to students from the full-time and Exec MBA programmes. Niall Fitzgerald had a 35-year career at Unilever, including eight spent as CEO and chairman of the global consumer giant. To read more about Niall Fitzgerald please click here.
The title of this event was Rebuilding Trust in Business, A Perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility in the 21st Century. Niall started off by giving a brief background of himself and the businesses he has worked in and with. He then went on to outline the major challenges Unilever faced and the methods they utilized to alleviate these challenges. In his first example, Niall described how Unilever brought its goods to areas it previously could not reach in South Africa, and how empowering women to start selling the product at a profit to their neighbors brought about a social reform to the area as families were now able to buy things they previously could not afford. Niall then went on to ask a difficult question “Is it socially responsible that we should have introduced our own products and direct selling methods in these communities?”
Niall stimulated discussion within the room about the topic of social responsibility and what that really means and spent time answering questions from the audience about his career to date and his opinion on social responsibility topics.
Niall Fitzgerald was the first to present as part of The Dean’s Speaker Series 2013/14 and these lectures are certainly a welcome addition to the students as it allows them to hear about practical applications of what is being taught in Smurfit, as well as letting them see how important it is to stay flexible and informed in the corporate world by highly successful corporate leaders.
Quite often, our lecturers bring in guest speakers from industry, trade unions, organisations etc. to bring to life some of the topics and cases covered in class. Earlier this week, Ashley Hughes (lecturing in Organisational Behaviour and Decision-making) had invited Minister for Education and Skils and longterm member of Dáil ÉireannRuairi Quinn to address the class. It was a very entertaining hour where the majority of the time was spent answering questions from the class.
As China gears up to overthrow the U.S. as the leading superpower in the world one can only expect things to heat up on the world stage. It has become almost impossible these days to not find a mention of China in the leading business newspapers of the world. As some of us are gearing up to visit China next month as part of our course module “Doing business in emerging markets”, the School decided to play host to Michael J. Enright, “one of the world’s reigning strategy guru”. Michael is a leading expert on the regional strategies of multinational companies in the Asia-Pacific and he shared his insights on China’s business environment.
Michael explained the magnitude of opportunity that exists in China for businesses to exploit. It has become one of the largest markets for numerous consumer and industrial goods. As per the data provided by China Statistics Bureau, 25 provinces in China had a GDP of over $100 billion for the year 2011. The two major drivers of consumption have been economic growth and growing urbanization. Clearly, China is an opportunity which global heavyweights can’t afford to miss. In fact it needs to be an integral part of the strategy of these companies. Though, China is based on different values but it has still been able to prosper, which is a fact many people in the democratic part of the world find hard to digest. The government has played a dominant role in China’s economy until now and it seems it would continue to do so in future as well but off late it has been taking steps to enable the private sector improve its contribution to the economy.
The challenges of operating in China are as big as the opportunity. Companies are discovering that many industries are in the nascent stage of growth and this rapid growth is sometimes not turning into profits. Also, consumers are not that brand loyal in China. Communication can also be a big issue for foreign multinational companies operating in China. It’s not being right, but being on the right side and having effective communication. Though it can be a difficult market to crack for businesses, the potential rewards can be enormous. In the words of Michael, “China changes, China adjusts.” The lecture provided us with valuable insights which not only helped us understand the Chinese market but also understand the nitty-gritty one can expect to encounter in an unfamiliar environment. These are lessons for lifetime and I would be looking forward to more such intellectually stimulating lectures.