Staying on Track

Semester two is tough. It is not tough because the workload is greater than Semester one. Nor is it tough because the courses are more challenging. In fact, for a vast majority of the class the workload is lighter for the option modules. It isn’t the obvious things that make Semester two tough. It is the growing realisation of the need to figure out where the next stage of my life, post-MBA, is going to take me. Deciding what and then moving onto the how should be the focus of my time. It is, let’s face it, the reason anyone embarks on an MBA. Whilst some of the academic staff may not wish to admit it, the academic parts of an MBA course are a means to an end. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to learn and plenty to stimulate the intellectual curiosity, but the MBA is a springboard into a potentially new and exciting career.

Semester two is tough. There are so many pulls on your time and it is too easy to neglect the longer and longer shadow being cast on a future career. Many will say this is simply down to time management, and there is a certain degree of validity in that assertion. There is more complexity to it, however. Using the year in an MBA is, as has no doubt been noted by my colleagues previously, a unique opportunity to explore a totally different career path. However, this requires a depth of research and contact building that could in its own right be a full time job. Notwithstanding the HR strategies to get you around, the Activity Based Costing in Managerial Accounting and Investment Management classes that leave you mentally exhausted, trying to forge a new career is a considerable challenge.

Semester two is tough. As more and more gets thrown at you from preparing for the trip to China to extracurricular activities to assignments and late night classes, many things can knock you down. The prospect of developing an exciting new career from September is enough to motivate you to keep bouncing back off the canvas. But it is easy to lose track, no matter how often you are reminded of the real reason you are doing an MBA.

As the days get longer and (hopefully) the sun starts to get warmer, it is a great time to revaluate priorities and at the same time maintain the commitments you have made to family, friends and colleagues. That is the challenge.

Jim Radmore

Full-time MBA 2014

United Kingdom

Back to the Smurfit Ranch

The pressure and intensity of the end of first semester exams seem like a distant memory after a long Christmas break. I hope everyone in the class enjoyed it as alumni have said that it’s probably the last time we’ll get 4 weeks in a row off again at that time of year. The provisional results of the semester exams should be released next week so hopefully everyone has cleared the bar. Looking back at the first semester, the learning curve was steep but I can truthfully say that I have never learned so much new theory and concepts both from the MBA academic staff and my fellow students at any other time during my academic or working life. The challenge this semester, I feel is to consolidate this new knowledge and integrate this into the remaining modules and the Capstone project in the summer.

Sorry to see Becca Baumann leave the class at Christmas to take up a post in the US. I have no doubt that her career will go from strength to strength if her earnest engagement in class discussions is anything to go by. Hopefully she will be able to complete the MBA at a later date there.

Looking forward to the opening lecture by Professor Walsh in Financial Statement Analysis tomorrow afternoon and the first session on the International Study Trip with Professor Gibbons in the evening. I sense the evenings being less free than they have been over the past few weeks.

Cathal O’Ceallaigh

FT MBA 2013

Dublin Airport and Design Thinking

During our ‘Performance-Driven Marketing’ course we had the pleasure of working with the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) on marketing solutions within Dublin airport. This kicked off with an initial ‘design thinking’ brainstorming evening. Design thinking uses creative thinking-in-action design principles to solve management problems. Some of us are taking an optional course in ‘Design Thinking in Business’ next semester and are looking forward to exploring it some more. I knew that brainstorming with this bunch of MBAs would produce some pretty interesting and innovative ideas. I’ve previously seen the class make very short work of a task to come up with 100 uses for the paperclip, which included such innovative uses as lock-picking and creating snow shoes for mice. Their creativity would put MacGyver to shame. The marketing ideas generated were great and really showcased the wide variety of backgrounds in the class. Being a keen technologist (nerd), I pitched ideas involving smartphone interaction using geospatial location-based services.

To really understand how our ideas would work in the environment, a group of us arranged to take a trip out to Dublin airport to meet the client and get some additional inspiration. The security team at the airport run a tight ship and rightly so. Some of us discovered that, while a student card will get us a 10% discount in Boots, it’s not enough to get us through airport security. For our particular expedition we might need something more along the lines of producing a DNA sample or a signature from the pope, or solving a series of cryptic riddles. Once we got through security (well most of us) we were given a full tour of terminal 2. The economic timing may not have been ideal but terminal 2 really is a fantastic foyer to the country that we should all be very proud of. It’s great that the MBA gives us the chance to learn new ways of thinking and to apply what we’ve learned by working with organisations such as the DAA.

– Dave Byrne, FT MBA 2011/2012

The last stretch

After been released to the wild for 8 weeks it was back to the comfort zone of C301. Getting back into case studies, assignments and group meetings initially seemed daunting but the quality of the courses on offer made it enjoyable. A highlight was the opportunity in the Entrepreneurship in Practice course to visit companies, incubation centres and support networks.

The course allowed for an opportunity to speak to start up businesses and get a practical opportunity to understand whether are learnings are truly applicable; outside of understanding how to read a case study.  It was inspirational to see so many budding entrepreneurs starting up their own enterprises even when all the news around us talks of Ireland as an economic basket case. In many respects this is the kind of course you want when starting the MBA to offer inspiration of what Ireland has to offer in terms of support from Nova UCD to the Guinness Enterprise Centre and what the latest research is been made available. As already noted this sort of opportunity offers a positive outlook amidst all the doom and gloom.

And there it ends, at this stage I am writing this blog from the couch while watching the tennis, there lies the bonus of been finished. It truly was a great year with a great class.

– Colm O’Reilly

Final Two Classes

As the end of the MBA draws near, my classmates and I had to ask ourselves a final academic question – which two electives would we choose to complete the program? While I was tempted by Strategic Brand Marketing and Design and Artist-like Thinking in Business, I ended up selecting Entrepreneurship in Practice and Mergers and Acquisitions – two topics I’ve been intrigued with from a distance but haven’t had much direct experience with. In both cases, I’ve been truly pleased with my decision.

Entrepreneurship in Practice was taught by John “the serial entrepreneur” Cashell, a man with more stories about starting businesses than anyone I’ve ever encountered. Throughout the week, our class was given a crash course on the “dos and don’ts” of entrepreneurship, as we listened to John talk about his experiences developing new ideas, creating teams, designing business plans, and acquiring finance to make it all come together. Furthermore, we visited numerous companies throughout the week – small start-ups such as HeyStaks Technologies and Equinome, and large multinationals such as Intel and Microsoft – learning about the entrepreneurial process in both environments.

In the Mergers and Acquisitions course my classmates and I have enjoyed the great opportunity of learning from a visiting professor from the University of Denver, Dr. Donald Bergh. Dr. Bergh comes to Smurfit with 27 years of experience in M&A’s, both as a practitioner and as an academic. This experience has been obvious to us all, as the week has been full of valuable discussions, presentations and lectures on a topic that has arguable influenced more people than any other organizational action.

As a result of both classes, my classmates and I have been given yet another couple of tools that will enable us to achieve success in our future business pursuits.

– Patrick Hillis

Back to the real world – for a while

Everyone in the class is back in real world at the moment. We’re in the middle of our company projects. Having a normal nine-to-five job has been a nice break from the intensive study.

From my own point of view, I have had some of my option modules running in the background which is annoying. It still feel as if I’m in college. I should have been a bit more strategic in my choice of subjects. But then again some of my classmates were very busy with their extra subjects back in February and March so it all evens out over time.

Regarding being back at the coalface….A surprise, and a pleasant one at that, has been how much of the material that I have learnt on the course has been applicable in the few weeks I have been on the project. Who would have known that in the real world Prof Brennan’s accounting notes or Prof Gibbons’ frameworks were actually used? I’m even looking into applying Dr Mac Fhionnlaoich’s real option theory to RnD expenditure.

An even bigger surprise has been that the material has come back to me which has been helpful. Maybe I have learnt something worthwhile on my year off!!

– Donal O’Sullivan

A Small Win

From time to time we ask ourselves whether this MBA program was of any use for us. Do we understand different aspects of business better? Did we gain any knowledge that would be practically applicable? And of course if our investments of money, time and efforts were worth it…

Those are not easy questions. Probably we’ll be able to answer them only after couple of years.

However last week an interesting happened to me. My brother told me that he was planning to write a business plan. He had an idea and there were potential investors for realizing it. So he asked if I have any tips for writing a business plan. First of all, I should say that I was proud that my extremely intelligent ‘Big Brother’ was asking my advice. That is the influence of an MBA status I suppose )))

And I surprised myself how eager and excited I was about that topic. First of all I told him everything I knew about business plan writing from our Strategy class (see related links below) . Those were quite practical tips on structure and style of a business plan, do’s and don’ts, etc. Besides, I recalled that one of guest speakers of MBA Entrepreneurship Club gave a good advice that “presenting to investors you are selling the idea, not numbers or anything else”. So the key is to really believe in your idea, be confident and inspired – and inspire others.  I also suggested different options on promotion and distribution channels referring to the discussions we had in Sales Relations class.

So we talked for an hour and developed a draft plan of what to do. During next two days we were exchanging ideas. And after that my brother sent me the draft of his presentation to investors. It was really catchy and interesting, plus creative and original. I cannot imagine what would happen if my brother took a full MBA course, if he got the point so easily just after listening to my summarized tips!

Leaders should celebrate small wins in order to motivate their team (this is again from one of our courses, Leadership).  I am celebrating my own small win these days. I had a chance to see that my learning from MBA can work in practice.

– Nargiza Kalmamatova

Useful links:

How to write a great business plan, W. Sahlman (article ; full paper)

Are you sure you have a strategy?, Hambrick and Fredrickson

How to present to investors

The art of telling your story

Honing your investor presentation

Smurfit MBA Int’l Study Trip – China

Life is just returning to normal after our return from China which was one of the two MBA study trip destinations for 2011.

This tour was an 8 day intensive trip to Shanghai and then Beijing which took in a range of educational, political, business, social and cultural visits and meetings.  Between Monday and Friday we visited with a large and varying group of institutions and businesses – the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), the Chinese Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP), Bristol-Myers Squib, Deloitte, Coca Cola University, JWT, Treasury China Trust, Tesco, Motorola, the China Education Initiative, Enterprise Ireland, and Aramark. We also had a climate change panel comprising representatives from orbeo, Azure and Rhodia who are companies in the renewables business at the prestigious Chang An Club in Beijing.

In between the business and educational elements of the trip we managed to fit in a river cruise in Shanghai, a visit to the Birds Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing, a walk on the Great Wall of China and under our own steam visits to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City among others and any number of markets, pubs and restaurants in both Shanghai and Beijing.Smurfit MBA Int'l Stuiry Trip 2011 - The Great Wall of China

The group celebrated St. Patricks Day twice, on the day itself in Paddy O’Shea’s pub in Beijing and then on the 19th March at the Irish Ball in Beijing run by the Irish Network China with approximately 720 members of the Irish ex-pat community in China and their friends, this ball is a major social event and is one of the largest in the region.  Some other things may have happened too during the course of the trip but it is probably diplomatic to forget them!

The word I heard most commonly to describe the trip was ‘intense’ but this was always said with some satisfaction and not a little awe at how much we managed to fit in.

– Roisin O’Loughlin, MBA Programme Manager

Smurfit MBA Int'l Study Trip 2011 - China

UCD SMURFIT IN THE SPRING: A quick look back at TERM 3

At the time of writing my previous blog as a full time UCD Smurfit MBA, I was full of questions and thoughts. It was my reflection time.

So much has happened since then even though it has only been three weeks.

First of all, we have finished our exams for Term 3! Only someone who has had seven months of continuous challenges every day and every hour can imagine the relief I feel now.  As my coach, Eadine Hickey noticed, challenges are the best motivation for me. So when I say challenges I mean something tough, but exciting that makes you move, improve and develop.

In my opinion, Term 3, which is the first part of Semester 2, has been the most stressful one.  And, I’m not the only one who has observed this. Maybe it is because we are closer to finish line, which is sad and good at the same time. Maybe it is because there is a limit to a person’s energy and we are running out of it. Or maybe we had a busier schedule this term because of the Option Modules.

Nevertheless, I feel that I am on a different level this term thanks to the preparation from first two terms. I have enjoyed readings and discussions on different topics on strategy, HR, finance, negotiations, etc more than ever before. At the exams, I felt a little disappointed when questions did not cover some of the topics I was passionate about. So I tried to attach them to my answers even if it was not very relevant. And after exams, my classmates stopped me several times from talking about questions and answers saying that “this one is over now, switch to the next one”. Anyway, we have finished with exams, and still have couple of assignments to do to wrap up this term full of stress, learning and progress.

As for my choice of Option Modules, I should say that my decision to try to get a deeper understanding of different aspects of business was the right one. For example, I find Managing Sales Relations course very useful. Sales are everywhere, no matter what post you hold and what industry you are working in. And that class is special, because it considers Sales from a fresh perspective with reference to contemporary reality with its hypercompetition and incredible dynamics of markets. One of the guest speakers stated something that is applicable not only to sales people: in order to succeed you should admit the fact that in three out of four cases you will be rejected, and that’s absolutely normal.

Another interesting part of this term has been the “Mock” Interviews. I had interviews with two experienced recruiters Mark Burgess from Spirit Executive Fiona Tierney from Dalriada.  These training interviews bring you back to reality, and assess if you are ready to face ‘real world’.  All the grades and study will remain within the walls of your school. What those people outside college care about is if you are able to work hard, achieve goals, get on with people, etc. All the knowledge we acquired here can be useful only if we know how to apply it. That wasn’t news for me; whenever I heard any interesting theories I always tried to imagine how it would work in real life. The interviewers gave me valuable and insightful feedback, including advice on CV, main points for me to highlight during real interviews, some tips about career choices, etc.

And the last piece of news is about my Company Project. In my previous blogs, I confessed that even if my background and future career plans are all about finance; I would love to have a chance to do a project with a music company.  Although our MBA Careers Office provided us with a great choice of projects from which we could choose one for ourselves; I really wanted to find my own project in the music industry.

I should say that it is not easy to convince music people that an MBA project can be useful for them. Most of the companies I contacted did not even reply to my messages. It’s not surprising, because MBA and music seem to be two different worlds. However, luck was on my side and I eventually found a music company that expressed an interest. Moreover, it turned out that their idea for a project was very interesting and would allow me to apply my knowledge of strategy and marketing. But, I exchanged dozens of e-mails with the company before meeting them and coming to a consensus. Following the best traditions of adventure movies, everything was decided at the last moment, when I almost signed up for a different project. I would like to thank my coach, Eadine Hickey, and my classmate, Diarmuid O’Keeffe, who supported me in my in my idea of a project with a music company.

So here I am now, almost finished my assignments, looking forward to do my Company Project and heading towards our one-week International Study Trip to Brazil.

Oh, life is so beautiful!

–          Nargiza Kalmamatova, Full-time MBA 2010/2011

Photos: Spring in UCD Smurfit campus

A bunch of thoughts

Thoughts on the MBA Programme

Time flies, and in 5-6 months we will finish our course… Actually we’ve got only 2 weeks of regular lectures left. And then exams, international trip, and we will all go in different directions – first for doing an individual company projects, and then back to “real life”.

As I realized how close we are to the finish line, a whole bunch of thoughts came into my mind. The following are the main ones “bothering” me.

These next few weeks are our last dash in regards of regular lectures and exams, and we need to be extremely concentrated and work on maximum capacity.

Company project is a chance to experiment. For example, if you are a boring banker, who is secretly passionate about music, you have a chance to make a project for a music company.

And finally, the biggest question is What am I going to do after finishing the course? I have described my thoughts on this issue in the previous blog. And now it becomes more and more important.

So, you can see how many thoughts are going at the same time in my mind. As a result I feel like have no right even for a short break. I have ambitiously registered for three option/elective courses instead of standard two. So my lecture schedule keeps me busy over the week. Group meetings are taking place almost every evening after the lectures. And weekends are devoted to preparing individual assignments. No wonder that I have less time for socializing… However, tomorrow I am going to a walking trip to Dublin Mountains, yay!

–  Nargiza Kalmamatova