Month: August 2017

International Consulting Week – Vietnam

As an avid traveller with family in South East Asia, I’ve travelled fairly extensively in the region, although I’d never spent significant time in Vietnam. I was excited to see how it was different to other South East Asian countries and what it would be like working with a local company during our visit to Vietnam, on International Consulting Week.

The aim of the week was to give us real-world experiences working across cultures on a project with a local company.  We would be working with our company in Vietnam for just one week on a consulting project, giving a presentation at the end of the week and writing a full report after our visit. The projects on offer covered a broad range of theory we had studied in our first year on the MBA programme, giving us an opportunity to put what we had learnt into practice.

A couple of months before our entire class headed to Vietnam, we were given a list of companies to choose from, along with an outline of the projects, and then had to rank them in order of preference. On discussion, different people had different approaches to this. Most seemed to choose based on industry, whereas I was looking at the projects in terms of type, e.g., marketing, organisational design etc. Despite this, I thought about what I wanted to achieve from International Consulting Week, as well as from the overall MBA programme, and decided to list Vietcombank as my number one choice. The reason being that I am already a consultant and I’d like to build my abilities and credibility outside of the specialist field I work in.  The largest company in Vietnam – Vietcombank – seemed in prime position to help me achieve this. The move to list Vietcombank in first place was perhaps slightly risky as I had no idea what we would be doing – slightly typical of the region, the project hadn’t yet been finalised. Still, having completed all core modules. I believed I would be able to tackle a broad range of problems.  I was also fairly comfortable that Cass would ensure that the project would be one that we could make a success of.

As ever, juggling the MBA while working full time is a challenge, and one of our team member lives overseas and has to deal with a time difference (travelling to London each month for our Modular Executive MBA weekends). This meant that we hadn’t been able to get together as an entire group, so we held our first full team meeting in Vietnam. On the plane journey to Vietnam, I had powered through the pre-reading and found it very helpful to put into practice some of the material we had acquired when first forming as a team. Soon after, we developed a plan for the first couple of days, focusing on ensuring that we really understood the problem, including what they wanted to achieve and the deliverables they were expecting.

We had just one week to take on to take on the project and deliver a solution to our client– meaning that we had a lot to do in a short space of time! When we arrived, we were fortunate that the people we were working with at Vietcombank spoke good English. We started our first day with our sole focus on fact finding – identifying and framing the problem. It turned out that Vietcombank works with a number of major global consultancies, so we wondered what impact we would actually have. There were certainly some cultural sensitivities we discovered working with people from a different culture.  Our project was based on helping Vietcombank understand its current and potential customers. We spent our first afternoon writing the scope of work, which we presented back to them on Tuesday morning to confirm that we had understood their requirements, and to ensure we were on track with what they were expecting.

What was most interesting to me was how we worked as a team. Whilst we we’re in the same cohort, most of us were new to working together and at times, it was fascinating how wildly different our interpretations were.  Whilst on paper we didn’t initially seem particularly diverse, it quickly became clear how differently we thought to one another. As a result, every so often we stopped and collectively discussed and agreed our interpretation, along with our approach and next steps. If we were still not in agreement, we clarified our understanding through our contact at Vietcombank.  From there, actually completing the work was relatively straightforward as we had reached agreement about how we would proceed, and so we were able to define tasks fairly easily. Collectively, our diversity significantly added value, given the breadth of initial interpretation and different ways of thinking by adding extra depth and clarity to our work. We were always able to agree a way forward. Don’t get me wrong, we had our moments, but these were fleeting.  Our discussions were thoughtful and we always sought to understand the various points of view within the team.

As the week progressed, our work seemed to snowball. Vietcombank seemed to become more enthused about what we were doing. We interviewed members of internal teams and started to realise that our project had the ability to make a real difference to the bank. We were also sensitive to the fact that it was important we make a good impression to all those we interviewed to help ensure that everyone was involved and had agreed to what we were trying to achieve. Ultimately, our presentation ended up being moved from Friday to Thursday morning, as it was important to them the right people were in the room. This was very exciting for us and created the impression that we would generate positive change, it also added a huge amount of pressure.

 

 

We split into different groups based on our individual strengths and powered our way through to the finish line, working late to get our slides completed. We could have liked a bit more time to polish our presentation delivery, under the circumstances, we were all delighted with how it went.

 

The bank was genuinely interested with the insight it generated and how  they could take the project forward. It was an absolute pleasure to work with Vietcombank and an amazing opportunity for us.

I learnt loads about myself through the project in Vietnam. Firstly, it gave me confidence in a broader range of situations, with a conviction that whatever the problem may be, I’m able to work through it. None of us were specialists in the specific project’s subject matter but we were able to give Vietcombank useful tools which could be implemented immediately. It also demonstrated how far we have all developed since we started working in groups on the programme and despite the pressure, we spent lots of time laughing throughout the week.

The shared experience I had with the rest of my team will stay with me.  It really helped me to appreciate the benefits of diversity within teams, including how to avoid conflict and harness the power of diversity, especially when under intense pressure.  In addition, it gave me a better appreciation of cultural sensitivities working in international business. Finally, the International Consulting Week also succeeded in consolidating everything I had learnt in the first year of the programme, giving me a much better understanding of what we are capable of, both individually and as a team.

Natalie Flood
Modular Executive MBA (2018)

When innovation is your only option

Cass Business School offers a wide range of electives, I was spoilt for choice and extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to take multiple. After much deliberation, the electives that I chose ranged in themes and locations; Silicon Valley focused on Digital Transformation, the London Symposium was themed “London is Open” and Cuba was on Sustainability. However, the one I attended and reflected upon most recently was Innovation & Technology in Israel and Palestine.

In my opinion, the Israel-Palestine elective was most thought provoking, and it discredited everything I ever knew about the region; Israel using its ‘obsession’ for security to secure itself from its Arab neighbour nations, to Palestine coming to terms with their current realities, both resolving their issues by use of innovation and entrepreneurship to better their future.

The elective started with me arriving on Friday in the “start-up nation”, a term I would hear tirelessly in Tel-Aviv, only to realise that the airline had left my bag in Berlin. I immediately took to Twitter, and a few tweets later, the bag was delivered to our hotel reception early the following morning. The majority of the cohort arrived on Saturday, and following the meet and greet, most of us had relocated to the beach, where you could easily forget we were on a study trip.

 

First thing on Sunday morning (the start of the week in Tel-Aviv), we visited the Peres Centre for Peace, followed by back-to-back visits to a host of other organisations such as The Bridge (Coca-Cola’s answer to an accelerator program) and 83 North (a venture capital firm). Another exciting part was the panel discussions, where we met a group of female entrepreneurs, angel investors, and different co-founders who were are at various stages of their start-up journey. These were very enlightening and educational experiences.

Fast forward three days later; our male Israeli tour guide left us, and swapped with a female Arab Palestinian tour guide. We didn’t need anyone to tell us, it was clear that Israelis were not allowed in Palestine. We were proceeding to the West Bank border crossing, a stark difference from Tel-Aviv. Heightened presence of Israeli military forces, high concrete fences and long queues at the check point. In less than an hour everything had changed. We were in Ramallah where there was no 3G mobile internet. We could see overhead tanks on roof tops and the subtle colour change of car number plates gave us a sense that we had gone back in time. However, we were arguably at the closest point where politics, religion, and economics meet.

In Palestine, we met with various stakeholders of the innovation and technology ecosystem, but this time in Palestine. This ranged from co-working accelerator spaces, entrepreneurs, politicians, and of course the financial institution, the Bank of Palestine. The highlight of Palestine was visiting Rawabi city, and meeting with the man behind the vision, Bashar Masri, who didn’t hesitate to give us his thoughts on how Ramallah is doing business, his quest to bring development to the people of Palestine, and his thoughts on Israel.

I am really hopeful, that one day both sides would come to an amicable solution, simply because they both need each other.

The elective ended with us visiting the holocaust museum, and then the old Jerusalem city. However, the experience of these two different states is bound to leave you with mixed feelings. To me, it is impressive how both sides have accepted the current status quo and decided to use innovation and technological advancements to better their lives.

In Vestates, which is my real estate business, we are about to commence a new development. We are working on how to utilise “waste” and excavated rocks and use these in the project, where previously we would have had them disposed. This idea came after Bashar Masri spoke on how the Israeli military did not allow them to dispose excavated stones, and so instead they used these stones to build the theatre in Rawabi city.

We have asked some of the Israeli and Palestinian software engineers, whom we met at the Bridge and Leaders organisation, to assist us in working on our mobile application for Jetseta, my startup. We hope to outsource some of our IT requirements to them.

One of the main take aways from the elective, is how optimism and innovation have acted as catalyst to the development of both Israel and Palestine (especially in the case of Rawabi city). In the words of the late President Peres “Optimists and Pessimists die the same way, but live differently”.

Harold Okwa
Modular Executive MBA (2017)

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