Monday, October 31, 2016

Week at Yale

Haven’t written anything for a while, mainly because studies have been going as usual: lectures, assignments, cases, etc.

Last week, however, was different. Smurfit is a part of Global Network for Advanced Management, an alliance of 28 business schools, and twice a year students from those schools mingle across locations for a week long course. For my GNAM week I decided to go to Yale School of Management, because its course was the most relevant to my interests (Behavioural Marketing, Economics, and Finance). Also I was curious to have a sneak peek into business education at one of Ivy League’s institutions.

Two days in New York

We flew from Dublin to New York on Saturday morning. Since classes were starting only on Monday, it was a great opportunity to experience New York for two days. During these two days we walked in total 55km across Manhattan, saw most of the neighbourhoods, had fantastic Mexican food, some amazing desserts, and saw the sun rising over the city from Brooklyn Bridge. Overall, the city is incredibly hectic and fast-paced. I don’t think it resembles any other city on Earth. Not exactly the type of place I imagine myself in the long run, but at the same time there is something fascinating about the city’s vibe.

Anyway, off to New Haven!


The week started with welcome greetings from various professors, few words from the administration, and then the lectures begun. Overall, the quality of lectures was extremely high. Highlights for me were Professor Zoe Chance and her lecture on persuasion, and Professor Gal Zauberman on understanding consumer choices. Our teaching assistants told us that same lecturers teach MBA students, which made me feel quite envious…

Yale SOM

Yale was one of the latest top ranked universities to establish its business school. The administration told us a long debate took place on whether SOM should be establish and what type of school should it be. In the end, they established a “School for Business and Society”, which means that the education is focused a lot on societal factors, social entrepreneurship, CSR, development, etc. drawing expertise from other schools at Yale. I must say this is a very interesting concept, and a big proportion of graduates end up in NGOs and public sector. Btw, for those considering MBA and a career in public sector, Yale SOM has one of the broadest loan forgiveness programmes.


Overall we were about 100 people in the course coming from business schools all over the World: Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Brazil, Canada, Philippines, China, Germany, Spain, etc. I probably shouldn’t tell you that this was great environment to get to know other cultures. I also liked that people were not focused on networking that much, but more on having fun together. In the end, we got to know each other, established contacts on Facebook and LinkedIn, but all this happened without the pressures of purposeful benefit-focused “networking”. It was great fun, and Karaoke (no videos here) was definitely the highlight.

One thing I think the course could have done differently is to have a case study discussion in such a diverse class. The range of our cultural and professional backgrounds, in my opinion, would have created a great discussion for learning about other cultures and business practices across countries.

Company visit in New York

On Wednesday we had a company visit day. I was looking forward to it a lot, because the last year they went to Goldman Sachs (not planning to work there, but would be fun to see). This year the company chosen was IBM, which, in my opinion, was a little bit too niche. Also, unfortunately, the company didn’t prepare for the visit well. We had to sit in a corridor, where they put chairs for us and two LCD screens. I got a place in the back row, and no matter how hard I tried to listen, I wasn’t able to hear anything, because of regular busy office noise. Also I wasn’t able to see anything on screens.

Luckily for me though, L’Oreal HR Director from the Baltics managed to arrange a visit to L’Oreal New York for me later that afternoon. Oh, what a fancy office they have! The cafeteria on 42nd floor has astonishing view over New Jersey from one side and Lower Manhattan (Wall Street) from the other! The discussions with people from HR and Sales were also very interesting and informative. Overall, thanks a lot for this opportunity!

Also later that evening we were invited to UCD Business New York alumni benefit dinner in Metropolitan Club, a building right in front of Central Park. Visiting an American benefit dinner and listening to the speakers: Marie O’Connor, Partner at PWC working there for 20+ years, Paul & Gary O'Donovan, Silver Olympic Medal Winners in rowing; was something new and exciting for me.


Overall this was a fun and beneficial trip. When going there, I was absolutely tired and sleep deprived, and even though I didn’t get much sleep, I came back rested and full of energy. I also think this initiative is a very good one. I give the week and the course solid 10 out of 10: the content of lectures, getting to know classmates, and getting US experience was definitely worth it.

I wish I could go to another GNAM week in Spring, but unfortunately we have only one …

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Why Smurfit?

Many people asked me after my first blog entry, why Smurfit? I will answer the question in this post.

Application strategy

My application strategy was pretty simple: apply to a couple of very top tier schools and to a couple of schools with opportunities for scholarships. I applied to HBS, Washington University, and Smurfit. HBS replied me with a 2 page letter saying I didn’t even get to the interview stage. However, after going through full admission process with Smurfit and WashU, by Christmas I had offers from both of them with full tuition scholarships.

Choices to be made

Having these offers there were choices to be made.

  1. Should I continue applying? Try INSEAD, LBS, Booth, Kellogg?
  2. Which one should I pick out of WashU and Smurfit?

Should I pay 100-150K premium for a brand name?

First I had to decide, whether to continue applying to other top schools. Northwestern and Chicago University are big names, but I knew I cannot expect a good scholarship there. European schools like LBS and INSEAD usually grant even lower scholarships. In the end, had I gotten a place in one of those programmes, I would have had to borrow quite a large sum of money for tuition. Probably, I would have ended up with a loan of 100-150K.

The decision to take a loan or not in this situation depends on the aims for pursuing MBA, I believe. If the aim is to land a job in a top consulting firm or an investment bank upon graduation in London or New York, I certainly think it is better to aim as high as possible and disregard the costs. First it is an unfortunate fact of life that top firms for their top locations recruit mainly, if not exclusively, from the very top schools. Second the earning potential is high, so paying off the debt is very realistic.

My objective for pursuing MBA though is largely personal development: becoming a better leader, taking a step back from daily work to see a wider picture, and reassessing my career. I want to have an option to come back to my home country, and I want to have an option to go to work for a non-profit, if I choose so. These options are hardly manageable with a looming loan.

First question is answered – pick one of the scholarship offers.

Smurfit vs. WashU

This analysis of Smurfit vs. WashU probably would be applicable to most other US programmes as well.

I have to admit that first I picked WashU and kindly rejected the offer from Smurfit. Then I was contacted by their admissions office willing to provide me more information (by the way, the responsiveness of administration at Smurfit is amazing).

My main motivation for picking the US school was that the programme is two years long and much more flexible, which allows to get in-depth into a specific area of interest. Most US schools have core curriculum only for the first semester, and for the following three semesters every student gets to pick their own courses. Usually the catalogue is quite large - WashU had about 150 courses to choose from.

The admissions office at Smurfit suggested that I could pursue specialization at UCD in one of two ways as well: (i) by choosing Yale MAM programme, (ii) by going for an exchange semester after the core year (partners of Smurfit include McCombs and IE).

Yale MAM

Smurfit is a part of GNAM network, which unites approximately 40 business schools around the World. Yale is considered to be the lead school in GNAM, and it offers a special programme for GNAM graduates. After completing MBA degree at their schools, students could apply for Masters of Advanced Management at Yale, which is a one year programme, in which its participants join Yale second year MBA students. The best part of the programme is that besides a couple of mandatory modules on global business, students could pick ANY subjects from ANY graduate school at Yale (not only SOM). I was given contacts of two Smurfit-Yale alumni.

Both said the programme is great, because students enjoy the same benefits as Yale MBAs, but expand their network through being in 2 schools during their studies. Also they said MAM degree is considered by some employers to be superior to a regular MBA, while other employers consider it to be the same. MAM students get full access to Yale career services and become full members of its alumni community. So the opportunity to get a degree, which is at least as good as a regular MBA, from an Ivy league institution is definitely a good option for the future. However, one of the alumni I contacted gave me useful insights beyond MAM programme about Smurfit MBA in general. Now that I am four weeks into my MBA, I see all of them are very much true.

Leadership Development Programme

Smurfit praises itself for putting Leadership Development Programme (LDP) as one of the major components of its MBA. These are workshops, trainings, even individual coaching sessions delivered thorough the year. Normally, we would have at least one day per week devoted to these activities. The feedback I received was that Smurfit surpasses (!) Yale in this area. Now I see that the investment Smurfit makes into this programme is truly enormous: we have workshops on team work, presentations, leadership. Each student is assigned to a personal coach and gets at least 4 coaching sessions thorough the year. These all activities are not for credit, but constitute a major part of learning experience. Because my initial motivation for MBA was leadership development, going into a school with such a programme was very logical.

More mature class, more challenging lecturers

Another insight was that Smurfit class tends to be older and more mature, which provides better environment for the development of soft skills. Also the class is more collaborative and team work oriented, while students at US schools were painted as younger, less mature, and more individualistic J I have never studied in the US and I generally try to avoid stereotypes, but in terms of future work it is better to learn to work in teams. Even the smartest person in the World is a poor leader, if he or she is not a good team player, and it seemed Smurfit provides better environment for learning that.

Now that I am here in the programme, I agree with all said. I received a comment to my first post about average GMAT, and I also had first some reservations about that. The average GMAT score at Smurfit is 630, while at WashU it is 700. However, I see that GMAT score is not at all an indicator of individual capabilities and capacity to contribute. It is only natural, if in a US school, which tends to have a younger intake, the score is higher. I took GMAT myself, and I must say the score is an indicator of time and effort put into preparation, less so of individual abilities. I often get a banner of “from 470 to 740” GMAT prep course through Google ads. If it is possible to improve one’s score by several hundred points, I don’t think the test is good at identifying inherent capability of individuals.

Lastly, about lecturers. I got feedback that lecturers at Smurfit were very engaged into class and interested in developing students. I see that lecturers here are extremely approachable, and even though they try to push students hard academically, they provide very high level of support. I guess that a class size of only 32 people (compared to US programmes normally of at least 200 people) provides better opportunities for interaction and personal engagement.

International outlook

Last reason to choose Smurfit were international opportunities. During this year we will have at least 3 international weeks. First all students participate in a GNAM week in October, and personally I will go for a week long course at Yale. Second we will visit a foreign market in Spring (it is likely we will go to Japan and South Korea this year, but not have been confirmed yet). Third used to be a trip to China as a part of Global Strategy, but this year it seems the plan is to tie a trip to the Capstone project. However, more to follow on this one. And by the way, in January we will have a Virtual Team exercise with Yale students, working on a specific project distantly, to learn how to collaborate across continents.

WashU MBA programme had almost no such opportunities, except for a consulting project in Budapest. Also I found a lot of reviews about WashU MBA being focused primarily on Midwest recruiters, and the contacts I made with current students or alumni confirmed it. They said that if a person wants to get a job in another part of the country, it has to be done independently, as well as a lot of money has to be invested into plane tickets to go for interviews. Even though living for two years in St. Louis sounds fine, I am not sure I would want to stay in Midwest for work afterwards.


Overall, because of great Leadership Development Programme, academic rigor, and international outlook the balance tipped in favour of Smurfit. This is not to say that MBA programme at WashU is poor. I am sure it is a brilliant programme, and I even picked it first. I got very good feedback about teaching there, and in general US business experience is a valuable asset. It seemed that for me, however, the right choice was Smurfit.

Several lessons for future MBA candidates: (i) define your objectives, (ii) research the schools and programmes thoroughly, (iii) contact alumni, (iv) geography, apart maybe from top 10 programmes in FT rankings, is extremely important.

Finally, even though I did all of that on my own, my decision changed after speaking with the school’s administration. Don’t be afraid to do that as well! Talk to admissions office, raise any issues or questions you might have. People are there to help you and are very interested in providing maximum information for you to make an informed decision.


Now that I am in Ireland, I have also learned that rankings is not a perfect indicator of the quality or reputation of the school. Maybe, if I do a bit of research on that, I will write a post about it. But for now I have learned that Smurfit is a good brand name in the region (Ireland and the UK). My landlord’s daughter did her first Master’s in Ireland and went for second Master’s to LSE. Then she went on to work for Goldman and has achieved quite a good career there. My landlord said her feedback was that Smurfit was known and well regarded both at LSE and at Goldman. I guess this should be a reasonable indicator.

Image: personal

Monday, September 19, 2016

Foundation week and the start of the programme

When I embarked on my Smurfit MBA journey, I said I will start a blog. I didn’t expect the workload to be so high though.

Three weeks later I am posting my first blog entry. I am still very excited to share my experience with you, and I hope you are still interested in reading it. I promise writing more often and on time in the future.

Foundation week.

The foundation week is a pre-programme part of the MBA to get everyone to know each other, and get everyone “up and running”, as they say.

It definitely involved a lot of running! From Monday to Friday we spent all day from 8.00 to 18.00-19.00 at the school. The week was so intense and beneficial in terms of learning that at the end of it, it was hard to realize that the programme itself had not even started. I felt I already learned so much! It would be easier to describe the week day by day.


Monday was a “getting to know each other day” with programme directors and staff greeting us, several lecturers giving introduction to specific fields, as well as a bit of talk on leadership and the year to come.

I was positively surprised by the quality of lecturers and by the experience of my fellow classmates. I obviously knew Smurfit is one of the top schools, but the quality of lecturing turned out to be beyond any expectations! Also I was happy to get to know my classmates. People in this programme are probably a bit older and more experienced compared to many other MBAs. It seems that the average experience among full time cohort is about 8-10 years, while among the Executives about 10-12. I was very happy to be among people older than me, even though at first felt a little bit weird, recognizing I am one of the youngest and less experienced in the class.


Tuesday was Financial Reporting all the day. Boring, you might say, right? Yes, not the most exciting subject on Earth, I agree! That is why our class was amazed that our professor Niamh Brennan managed to keep our attention for the whole day! Truly fascinating, and it adds to my previous comment about the quality of lecturers.


Team building activities. Many people have certain stereotypes regarding outside team building activities. People would picture running around, doing crazy stuff with no purpose, falling on their backs and hoping their team mates would catch them.

This workshop was very similar and very different. We did a lot of outside activities: we solved puzzles, did physical exercise, and even walked around with our eyes blindfolded trying to form a certain figure. However, a very distinct feature of this particular workshop was that it served a purpose of understanding, how teams operate. The facilitator gathered us together after every activity, and we debriefed what happened. The lessons adaptable to real life would be evident afterwards.

For example, we were given a task in groups of 4 and 20 minutes to plan, how we tackle it. Then 5 minutes into the exercise we were approached and told that the task had been changed, and we will have to perform it with other 2 groups of 4. We would spend the remaining 15 minutes still in the same group of 4, planning the task. When the time to perform comes, we would not perform well enough, of course.

Why is it so? Because we were blind to see that 5 minutes into the task our group has changed, and instead of planning in a group of 4, we should be planning in a group of 12. Now think how often you experience at your job that two departments (say sales and marketing) are doing something on their own? This funny experience in an outdoor game was a good illustration of how groups of people fail to see what are the boundaries of the team. 


Thursday was a business simulation that I will not go into details about just to save your reading time. One distinct feature about that day was that it was my birthday, which I celebrated by getting a 2 for 4.25 EUR salad deal from Marks and Spencer. 

Friday was another day full of highlights. First we had a workshop on listening and personality types (Myers Briggs). I think it might be because of the background of trainers in psychology, but they delivered the best workshop on listening and personality types I have ever seen (out of at least 3). The personality types was a more interesting part. They explained what it means, how it affects the working preferences, as well as sources of stress for various types. We didn’t do the test, but they explained each component and two extremes so well that my self-assessment completely corresponded to the results of the test I took later.

After lunch we had a presentation skills workshop. Again, when you have attended several poorly delivered presentation skills workshops, there is not much to expect. However, this one was brilliant! I did a lot of debating during my undergrads, and speaking in public is never an issue for me. I learned loads of useful tips and information from the workshop. It was not only the information, but also real time interaction, practicing, and coaching that turned the knowledge into practice. Now that we also had a second workshop in week 2 of studies, I see that not only me, but every single person in the class massively improved their presentation skills.

Cheers Smurfit for the fun and beneficial week! Thumbs up for the quality! We ended the week with a visit to a local pub, as Irish traditions require.

First weeks of studies

I am now in my third week of studies, and I will not lie, if I say I have mixed feelings about it. The quality is outstanding and beyond any expectation! People in class, lecturers, learning environment, and leadership workshops contribute massively to my development. I feel like an empty book shelf, gradually being filled with new skills and knowledge. I will write separate entries on the class, subjects/lecturers, and the leadership development part of the programme. The downside to this is that I find myself studying literally for 12-14 hours on most days. “Gotta run and keep going” I suppose! At least I know that all the effort put into studies will benefit my development.


I think it is enough of reading for the first entry. In the future, I promise to write shorter articles. I plan to write on several topics: (i) why I chose Smurfit; (ii) about the class, lecturers/subjects, and other components of the programme, so that people considering MBA in the future are better informed about Smurfit; (iii) about scholarship opportunities here and at other institutions, and why you don’t necessarily need to pay 100K+ for a degree.

Cheers for now!