Having finished my MBA, I am now looking for a job. This, in turn, has led to some watching of daytime television during meals. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed watching cartoons, and it is no different these days. However, I have noticed new business subtexts in some of these cartoons, whether intentional or not.

Spongebob Squarepants

Spongebob Squarepants

Spongebob Squarepants is particularly rich in business lessons, two examples of which I shall outline below.

  1. The Krusty Krab Company Culture

    In the cartoon, the main character, Spongebob, works in a fast food outlet called the Krusty Krab. He loves the work and lives for being the best at flipping burgers and for the extra work that his boss, Mr. Krabs, demands from him.Mr. Krabs drives the business by the bottom line, always on the look out for profit, but he understands the importance of giving customers what they want. Spongebob buys into this philosophy wholeheartedly, and is a very satisfied employee, routinely going above and beyond for the good of the customer.

    Squidward, on the other hand, is the other employee at the Krusty Krab. He only works there because he has to, and he does not buy into the customer service philosophy. In fact, Squidward routinely wishes that he would be fired, allowing him to move on and fulfil his dream of being a famous and respected clarinet player. He does not care about the organisation, nor does he care what happens to it. The minimal work he puts in for his job reflects this lack of commitment.

    Business Lesson Bit

    These dynamics highlight the importance of fitting with a company’s culture. If one does not fit with the culture, one is going to feel demotivated and work only the hours that one must.

    If, however, one is a perfect fit for an organisation’s culture, then one will be motivated to work above and beyond, contributing 110% to the “cause”. I can’t help thinking that, were Mr. Krabs to address Squidward’s lust for the clarinet by, for example, providing him with training or a gig at the restaurant, then Squidward would also be a more motivated employee, buying into the company’s customer-focused ethos.


  2. Sandy Cheeks and Customer Needs Identification

    Sandy Cheeks is a squirrel that lives in an air bubble dome at the bottom of the sea. She is an inventor and scientist, always coming up with new gadgets. In one episode, we see that her bosses are simians when they come to run an inspection on her progress.

    Sandy Cheeks

    Sandy Cheeks

    None of the inventions that she shows them are (in their eyes) impressive. They would all be very useful for a human’s day-to-day life, and certainly impress the other residents of Bikini Bottom (the name of Spongebob’s town), but they do not address any of her bosses’ needs.

    Just after Sandy’s bosses have decided to shut down her dome for cost reasons, Spongebob and Patrick find a forgotten-about invention – a gadget that peels bananas. The simians are enthralled by this, and immediately agree to continue funding Sandy’s venture at the bottom of the ocean.

    Business Lesson Bit

    This is a common occurrence in everyday business, especially in startup companies, where the inventor sees huge utility in a gadget, but neglects to find out if it addresses any real consumer needs. A moral might be that, if other people aren’t as excited about your business idea as you are, the business plan might need to be changed.

    Remember: no plan survives first contact and ideas cannot be precious (especially first ideas).


(originally posted here on 10th June 2011)

Undertaking an MBA changes the way one’s mind works.

In fact, right there is an example; I would previously have written “your” instead of “one’s”. Formal writing is inherent throughout the many assignments that we have done this year. But the changes have been far, far more serious than changing my word-usage.

The changes have also affected my pub chat.

Recently, sitting in Murray’s bar on Bow Lane, Dublin, I was talking to a friend about charity events. Specifically, she perceived the spending of money on charity events such as black-tie balls as a waste of money.  In other words, she proposed that the money spent on them should be put towards the charity itself, thus earning the charity more money.

In reply, I began by explaining a fundamental business concept that the price of a product or service has to exist somewhere between its perceived value by the consumer and the cost to produce that good or service:

Benefit (value to the consumer) – Price – Cost

In the case of charity events, the perceived value of a ticket to a black-tie ball is greater than the value of a ticket to a session down the pub. Of course, the costs of organising a black-tie ball are higher than the costs of organising a session in a pub.

I continued by explaining that the difference between the money that can be raised through the sale of black-tie event tickets and the costs of organising said event (especially for charity) far exceeds the profits that can be made by having the same people down in the pub for a networking session.

It was at this point I realised that I have changed. My pub arguments have become far more coherent and informed…especially given the number of pints I’d had. So I decided to sit back, relax and watch the end of the Eurovision.

(originally posted here on 4th May 2011)

We full-timers now find ourselves mostly finished with classes, but still very busy. The company project is what we do in lieu of a thesis and is a lot more practical. Instead of simply researching a theory we get to go out into the real world (scary after six months of school!) and solve a real company problem. We are, essentially, cheap consultants.

The company project is a great opportunity to push ones boundaries and try something new. Coming from an electronic engineering background, I wanted to challenge myself in an area with which I was unfamiliar, and signed up for a project involving strategy for Ogilvy Ireland. My partner on this project, Gemma Ginty, found it through the CEO of the Ogilvy Group, JP Donnelly. JP is also a Smurfit MBA alumnus and a board member of the Smurfit School.

The first and most important thing that needs to be done when helping a customer to solve a problem is understanding that problem. In order to really understand a business problem, one first has to understand the business itself. To that end, we spent the first week of this project reading a lot of background material on the advertising business and the challenges it now faces due to social and technological changes. This immersion in the business not only gave us a deeper understanding of the industry, but also added to our credibility when speaking to people involved with that industry.

We then interviewed key players from different parts of Ogilvy Ireland to get their views on what was required. This is also a very important part of any potential change, from the “people problems” side of things (props to Ian, John and Pat for pushing the human element during our classes). A basic tenet is to include as many stakeholders as possible during the planning phase and listen to their feedback, so that as many parties as possible feel ownership for any change. As a consultant, one doesn’t want to crash into a company and step on toes, because it’s a sure-fire way to create resistance to any ideas that one might have.

Gemma brainstorming with Post-It notes

Gemma brainstorming with Post-It notes

Both Gemma and I found getting under the skin of the industry to be extremely rewarding. This basic understanding allowed us to engage in some creativity with respect to our aims and proposal, and we engaged in some divergent and convergent thinking, advice from our Entrepreneurship lecturer, John Cashell. To this end, we found ourselves covering syndicate rooms with post-it notes, trying (and succeeding!) to come up with ways to tackle the core problem.

As of the time of writing, we are still slap in the middle of the company project, so there is not yet any conclusion to this tale. What I can say for sure, however, is that an MBA gives one a different view of the world and a deeper understanding of business as a whole. This understanding can be used to really get to the core of problems that one is trying to solve, and develop an innovative solution. In this day and age, innovation is the key to success in any business.

(originally posted here on 18th April 2011)

The full-time MBA social committee organised a trip to Leitrim Quay as a last weekend away before we started into our company projects. Unfortunately, some of the guys that signed up were unable to make it, due to course workloads and the MBA rugby world cup that was happening the following week in Duke University (which Smurfit won! Go team!).

Justin and Tham sailing the boat

Justin teaching Tham to sail the boat

However, some of us were able to head down. On the night of Thursday 31st March, five of us headed down to check the place out and, more importantly, grab the nicer beds. We arrived late, so it wasn’t until the following morning that we were up and about and playing with the boats.

One of the Vietnamese girls from the class, Tham Nguyen, had never driven a vehicle in her life. So we decided that a very slow boat on the river Shannon was good place for her to start. And she loved it! We, of course, loved it too because it meant that we could sit back and drink beers while Tham guided the craft for us.

We took a cruise down to Carrick-on-Shannon for our day trip, where I found a chipper that sells battered Mars bars. It was one more item marked off the bucket list and, at 1,000 calories, one large step closer to kicking the bucket. We also visited the Costello Memorial Chapel, the smallest chapel in Europe.

Upon arrival in Carrick-on-Shannon, we noticed a bar with a mooring called Ging’s. Before we took the boat home that afternoon, we decided to stop in there for a pint and some games of pool. Tham had also never before played pool, so it was quite a day for her. She beat both Justin and me before we called it a day.

That evening, more of our classmates arrived down and we ended the night drinking and chatting in one of the houses until the wee hours.

Jamie and Cian relaxing...

Jamie and Cian relaxing…

Tham the Skipper

…while Tham is at the wheel

(originally posted here on 24th February 2011)

In our second term on the MBA, we had a Leadership class. This class concentrates on what makes a good leader. We learned about the different aspects of leadership and also thought about what would happen if some of those elements were missing, i.e. what would that do for the leader’s influence over people?

It was a very discursive class, and everyone had a point of view based on previous experience with bosses or with managing and leading people. Hearing all of the different points of view was a learning experience in itself.

One day, however, we arrived in and our lecturer, Ian Walsh, had set up about 25 sheets of A4 paper on the ground in the shape of a cross. He then asked us to volunteer for an experiment. Half the class could take part and the other half could remain sitting and take notes.

Not one to pass up the opportunity to escape note taking, I made my way towards the centre of the room. We were told to stand on a piece of paper, creating a cross out of four lines of six people, all facing the centre (empty) square.

The objective was to switch places with the opposing team, but only by following certain rules. These rules stated that one could only move past a person whom they are facing, and then only if there is a free square behind that other person. They are similar to the rules involved in the marble game of solitaire, but without removing “taken” pieces from the board.

Ian then told us that we had only 15 minutes to get the job done and we were then left to our own devices. The first thing that happened was that people started trying stuff out, as a 24-person group. This, rather quickly, descended into chaos because nothing that was tried was working. Splinter groups formed and began trying to solve the problem.

Smurfit MBA Leadership class challenge

Getting ready – I’m in the middle

Off to one side, I decided to have a go at solving the problem, or at least working out an algorithm that I thought would work. I worked one out and then decided to run it past Donal, one of the other engineers in the class. He said that he’d come up with the same idea, so I was very sure of the solution after that. I managed to get my own team to line back up, along with the opposing team. I then proceeded to run the solution.

As it started to work, the din began to settle down, and people got back into their positions when they realised what was going on. As the solution unfolded, the engineering/problem solving side of me began to feel elated. After I had swapped my team with the opposing team, I got to work on the two remaining teams. There were calls to stand on the desk, so I did, getting a better overview of the situation.

Smurfit MBA Leadership class challenge

Me “directing” the exercise from the table

While it felt very weird at first, standing on a desk giving people instructions, it started to feel a lot more natural when I realised that my classmates were trusting me to act in their interests. Organising the two groups felt great from a problem-solving perspective as well as a leadership one.

When I had finished, Ian asked me to do it again, but this time without saying any words. It was very surreal, but I managed to do it all again by pointing and gesturing at my classmates. It really boosted my own confidence to be leading people and bringing them with me towards an end goal.

The exercise really drove home the camaraderie and team-oriented nature of our class. There were no squabbling egos or attempts to wrest power. It was a clear situation of “working for the good of the team” when a trusted colleague has shown the way.

Unfortunately, we took 17 minutes to complete the task, which goes to show why some wiggle room should always be built into the critical path of any project.

(originally posted here on 27th January 2011)

In one of the first “class admin” sessions that we had, there were a few committees to be voted in, along with class reps. At the time, none of us really knew each other very well, so it was all going to be based on faith. The class reps sounded like important jobs, as did the liaison to the education committee. The perk from the liaison job is “free sandwiches”, and no full-time student can in good conscience turn down free food.

The final jobs were for the Social Committee. There were supposed to be five members and some representation from the various cultures in the class. Five people put up their hands, including me, and we had ourselves a committee.

Hanging out with Smurfit MBA Class

Colm, Prof. Boyle, Franklin & Megan

Three of us are Irish: Christopher, Franklin and I. Franklin has been an entrepreneur in the restaurant/catering business and his contacts are a bonus for any social committee. He always has someone in his network that can help out with social events.

The other two members are Megan, from the USA, and Nargiza (pronounced Nar-ghee-sa), from Kyrgyzstan. This multinational presence definitely helped curb the Irish trait from spending the entire budget on drink.

So far, we have organised a “one month anniversary” social evening, two “end of exams” parties, a trip to the Leinster – Munster Magner’s League , some trips to the pub to watch the Ireland Guinness Series international rugby matches, a “Vietnamese/welcome back dinner” for the start of 2011 in Koh Restaurant and a future weekend away in Leitrim Quay for a bit of boating on the Shannon and general relaxation.

We try to take into account the needs and desires of the class. We have used surveymonkey surveys to fish for ideas as well as get feedback on some of our own ideas. The most popular ones were chosen as foci for our budget.

All in all, we seem to be doing a good job in keeping the class together on a social level as well as a study level. We’ve become a very tight-knit group, but how much of that is simply down to the overall intensity of the course, rather than the socialising aspects, we may never know. But what we do know is that, on a course this intense, it is vitally important to relax and blow off steam from time to time. We will keep you posted on our activities…

Vietnamese Night Out - Smurfit MBA FT MBA 2011

Vietnamese Evening, Jan 2011

(originally posted here on 15th December 2010)

I was very nervous as I walked into the main hall of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. There was a group of standing around near the door, chatting. It didn’t look like a close-knit group, so I walked towards them. One was talking about the life he’d just left in Bermuda.

“Aw, it was paradise”
“Heh, no. It’s about a mile wide and very violent.”

The group turned out to be a mix of Full-Time and Executive MBAs, all male. There was even a comment of “sausage-fest” just before the first female student arrived which put us out of our misery.

Given Ireland’s small size, the odds were in favour that I’d know at least one person on the MBA. Sure enough, in walked Ruairí, a classmate of mine from Oatlands College, where I had attended secondary school. We’d gotten along well in school and we had a lot to catch up on. But, while it felt good to see a familiar face amongst 40 or so strangers, it was not necessary. The dynamics of the class are such that close bonds formed very quickly. Within the first week, friendships had formed, and everyone was doing their best to help others with accommodation information, travel, or simply advice on where to get a good pint of Guinness.

All in all, I would have to say that these are some of the nicest people that I have ever met. I immediately felt comfortable and at ease with them, and I’ve made both new friends and great contacts for the future. The sheer wealth of knowledge held by my classmates is mind-boggling, and it’s always a pleasure to tap it. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie and of being a team. We help each other out with projects and study, running tutorials or bouncing ideas off one another.

And a team is what you need on this course. There is a lot of learning in a short space of time. It’s doable but intense. It is also highly interesting and at least one lecturer had to curtail our numerous questions about the economy in order to cover the actual course material. The lecturers themselves are experts in their field, and not only academic but also practical having worked in the real world thus gaining credibility with a class of students that has many years of experience.

To summarise, doing this MBA is turning out to be the best decision that I could have made. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

(originally posted here on 8th December 2010)

The MBA is a wonderful course. The sheer amount of learning done in such a small space of time really opens the world for you. There’s so much learning that you want to share it with those around you – even if they’re not that interested!

An example of this comes from when we were studying the Elan case for our Financial Reporting class last term. I was lying in bed with my girlfriend…

“What are you reading?”
“It’s an interesting case study about a certain company and their accounting practices.”
“Oh, like what?”

She regretted asking that question as I launched into a description about joint ventures, Bermuda and the questionable ethics in management. I was fascinated with how they managed to make all of their R&D costs into either assets or income. I tried to explain it, but just got a blank look in return. The look was supposed to convey the idea of “I don’t care…” but I took it to be one of confusion and, therefore, assumed that I hadn’t explained it properly. It didn’t cross my mind that anyone would be less than enthralled by this story, even at midnight.

It was only as I reached for the pen and paper and offered to explain with the aid of diagrams that she finally snapped, told me that she was only being polite, and that I should now shut up and go to sleep.

What one learns on an MBA is indeed fascinating…for some!