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The Smurfit MBA: Personally transforming students

  • Date: Fri, Jan 25, 2019

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Originally published in the Irish Times

MBA Academic Director, Professor Cal Muckley, speaks to the Irish Times about the experiential, transformational and international aspects of the Smurfit MBA programme

Graduates of the globally ranked UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School MBA enjoy salary uplifts of 63 per cent with three years while 90 per cent of those seeking roles are employed within three months of graduation. But these benefits are almost secondary, according to course director Prof Cal Muckley, who points to the experiential, transformational and international aspects of the programme.

“The Smurfit MBA can personally transform a student and make them capable of managing in complex and challenging situations,” he says. “That’s our objective. Our aim is to produce individuals who are internationally focused and global minded.”

The UCD Smurfit School is the only Irish institute that has been included in the prestigious Financial Times Global MBA rankings for almost two consecutive decades, he adds. Currently the full-time MBA is ranked 94th in the world, while the Executive part-time MBA is ranked 68th. In December 2018 the school was ranked 23rd in the 2018 Financial Times ranking of leading European Business Schools.

“We have been in the Top 100 Financial Times ranking for 20 years now,” he notes.

That international dimension is central to the programme. “We do a lot of work on that front,” says Muckley. “UCD is a member of the Global Network of Advanced Management [GNAM] which comprises 29 of the top business schools from around the world and each year students have the option of participating in a global network immersion week at one of those schools.”

During these trips, students participate in a series of workshops and lectures, and have the opportunity to visit local businesses and hear experts speak about current business problems.

UCD Smurfit School also hosts Global Immersion Weeks for visiting MBA students. Last October the school hosted a GNAM week entitled Digital Business Leadership with students visiting from IE Business School, Yale School of Management, and ESMT Berlin. A group of Smurfit MBA students also visited Yale in October.

International modules
Students can also participate in two international modules delivered overseas; Doing Business in International Markets and the International Consulting Project.

The Doing Business in International Markets module combines a variety of high-level company visits, presentations and panel discussions from leading executives, government officials and entrepreneurs. Previous study tour destinations have included South Korea, Japan, South Africa, China, India and Brazil. Last year students could avail of trips to Vietnam and Singapore and Chile and Santiago and this year’s destinations include Tokyo and Seoul.

The purpose of the International Consultancy Project Trip is to develop research knowledge and skills to solve live business problems faced by companies operating in international markets. Key topics include organisational diagnosis, data collection, data analysis, a foundational overview on the strategic and cultural nuances of operating in a specific market, strategic planning tools, project feasibility, and collaboration with clients.

The overall module involves classroom learning and a live consulting project in an international location. For the past two years students travelled to Iceland.

The school also enters teams into international case study competitions. In 2017, a team of five MBA students won the highly prestigious John Molson MBA International Case Competition in Canada. The five-day competition presents teams with case studies of seven businesses and problems they face. For each case, teams are given three hours to develop and present a solution using the skills and knowledge gained from their MBA programme.

The UCD team took home the overall $10,000 (€8,801) prize for its highly topical presentation on how Walmart could protect its bricks and mortar market share while also developing its online operations for the future of shopping.

“Last year, a team from UCD won the Best Team Dynamics award at the Yale Integrated Leadership Case Competition,” Muckley adds. “Those were great achievements competing against teams from the world’s top business schools.”

Another important element to the programme, which is being introduced this year, relates to the increasing role of automation in financial markets. According to Muckley, the increased use of data analytics in the area combined with a shortage of skills will naturally lead to a requirement for automation, and this will have to be managed.

“We are looking at helping students develop the skills to manage the quantitative analysts who will automate the processes,” he says. “We are helping make MBAs comfortable with the language of data analytics. A lot of MBA students will have come from quantitative backgrounds in any case. By mixing that with the language of data analytics, we will give them another very important string to their bow.”

While technical skills such as these are very important, Muckley emphasises the significance of the softer skills which are also acquired during the programme. “Students learn new things about themselves and how they interact with others,” he says. “That helps them work in new areas. They learn to interact with teams to solve complex problems.”

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