BANANAS! The Importance of Support during the MBA and other Sweaty Pursuits

I have met no one who does the MBA all by themselves; such a travail would be foolhardy to attempt on one’s own.
That is not to say that there isn’t a lot of lonely nights in the library perspiring over possible questions that might come up on the next day’s exam – there most certainly is! But, throughout all of this, it has been vital to have people to lean on – both emotionally and physically.

So who are these heroes?

These tireless people who put up with the whinging, the exasperation and exhaustion, and the absenteeism?

Having discussed the point with classmates, I can say that support has been overwhelming in positivity and strength and comes in all forms: parents, siblings, partners, offspring, friends, old work colleagues, college staff and lecturers…. The list is endless. It has to be acknowledged that when I am awarded the MBA, I won’t look at it as a personal achievement, but as a successful joint team effort.

Which brings me to BANANAS!

Figure 1: Claire, Mam, and I after the Cork Marathon 2011
Marathons are a lot like MBAs: you sweat a lot, it’s important to rehydrate regularly, and completion seems more important than results by mile 22. Each year I participate in the Cork City Marathon (The REAL marathon in Ireland). This year I shared the run with my sister, Claire. One of the most important factors in our completion, and a constant since I’ve being running in the Cork marathon, is the presence of our Mam by the side-lines – jumping up and down, shouting, and throwing bananas at us – she does resemble a crazed monkey, but it’s that encouragement and knowing the support is down the road that keeps us running.

So to all the side-line supporters on our MBA marathon – THANK YOU and one final request – it’s the final stretch, we need one final blast of encouragement to get us over the line.

– David Lawton

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

China: Free-Market Economics in a Command Economy

Prior to our International Trip to China, I had heard the rumour that China was a communist country. Having spent two weeks there, I’m certain that this is not the case. China exhibits all the elements of a free-market economy, with a healthy display of consumerism and a liberal sprinkling of capitalist greed and exuberance. However, in contrast to traditional capitalist societies, we were told that China is governed by a decisive and strong central governing body, which acts unilaterally to control the market.

There were several examples of where government control is all-powerful in determining the power of the individual players in the market: Continue reading China: Free-Market Economics in a Command Economy

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

Back to work preparation

My MBA class’  return to the labour market is several months off yet, but it is something that is on everyone’s mind (well, that and our international trips to China or Brazil!)

In years past, Smurfit graduates have always done extremely well gaining full employment after three months from graduation. But in these more chastened times, when even a Vanity Fair reporter scoffs at our country’s past spending excesses, the confidence that one might have approached the jobs market has evaporated, and in its place a dire sinking feeling.

But all is not lost. We are given every opportunity and tool to equip us for the daunting task of winning our dream role.

Mock Interviews: Getting it right before the first time

Continue reading Back to work preparation

Do I know exactly where my career is going?

“Who am I? What are my strengths? Where do I want to go?”

These are all very existential questions, which for a thirty-year-old person to be pondering may seem a littlebelated! However, in the context of career path planning, they are fundamental to an MBA’s post-academic professional life. The importance of addressing these questions is underlined by the fact that our full time MBA class spend up to 20% of each week’s lecture time on personal and professional development.

Often we know what we are good at, what are our values and strengths, and how we interact with others, but it can be very difficult to articulate these succinctly and to tie it all into a package which aligns with a specific future career path. In my opinion, this is the most important output of my MBA experience: clarifying my future career wants.

Continue reading Do I know exactly where my career is going?

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