September 2016, Madrid. From our office, we could perceive the hectic pace to which the capital was retrieving stepwise after summer vacations.
In the meeting room, a few seniors and I were helping to organise the new working groups for the upcoming projects. It was curious how all the managers fought over the same juniors to join their cluster. Surprisingly, even though they were well qualified, the most resounding names were not the most technically skilled ones.
I will never forget the response given by one of the managers when asked what was the most desirable qualities these juniors shared.
“Technique is easy to teach, and it is professionalised with practice. The firm offers training courses to cover these matters. However, attitude, emotional intelligence, and leadership are virtues that cannot be learned easily. Many resources are required to convey these capabilities and for this reason, we need people that already have them, especially in a job like this, where team work is essential and thus, coexistence is intense.”
Globalisation has created a highly competitive work environment and technology forces companies to constantly adapt to change. Therefore, nowadays employers need people that can learn at the speed of change and develop a disruptive mentality while knowing how to manage information and time. Employees must be able to work in different environments and to adapt to diverse people and contexts.
Studying the MBA can be a little intense but after some crazy weeks of studying everything that I should have studied during the course (I hope my teachers don’t read this), and surviving exams (I hope so), I had some days to step back and think.
It is hard to believe that we are nearly at the half-way point of the course. Suddenly we realise that already five months have passed, and now our main concern becomes the job search. Now I wonder: “What is a company expecting from a potential employee?”, and the story I have shared comes to my mind making me question: “Is Cass conditioning us to become adaptable? Can the MBA transfer all those skills that are so desirable? Am I now able to think in a disruptive way? Am I able to lead, to follow the change, to work with different people? Can I now say that my working attitude, the way I relate with people, and the way I manage resources have improved?”
I remember my first teamwork at Cass with nostalgia. It was a gymkhana-like competition during the first week of the course in which we had to face various challenges, each one in a different place in London. I must admit that I enjoyed it like a kid.
At the time, I wasn’t familiar with those who were soon to become my team members for the next two blocks. Max, a British doctor and one of the cleverest guys in the cohort. Ziko, an investment analyst from Trinidad – a great dude. Aishu and Tom, from India, with experience in pharma and marketing respectively. Qays, from Malaysia, with a strategic and business development background. And Yanyi (Or Amanda, for western people), from China, with experience in sales.
As you see, in a group of seven, we had six different nationalities, and each one of us had a very different background. That day we dressed up like pirates to make the competition funnier. We were seven crazy pirates running around the city. We won.
During the course, teamwork has been constant, but the hardest part comes at the end of each block – what Cass people call “the integration weeks”, when we must implement all the knowledge gained in each of the subjects that comprises the block. Each team must solve a different case.
In the first integration week, we were supposed to advise a company, as if it were a consulting project. Particularly, we had to re-define strategy for a very well-known British armaments firm. But for better or for worse, the company was doing very well; increasing sales and profits every year, loads of cash and a high level of investment, and no alarming leverage indicators. It had been a long time since I have seen such a solid company. What was there to be done or changed? Obviously, our recommendation couldn’t be “you are doing great, keep going”.
It was Wednesday night, we only had one day left before the final presentation. The room was flooded with sheets of brainstorm papers, the three blackboards where covered in illegible scribbles, and the table full of junk food scraps. By that moment we felt defeated, but suddenly we came up with an idea – “Let’s send them to space”. It could sound as a mad idea, but actually, made sense.
After Brexit, government budget for space projects is about to increase significantly. It was not only a great opportunity to adapt to a new demanding trend as a flagship British company with no strong national competition, but also a way to improve relationships with its major customer – the British Government. The company actually had enough resources, infrastructure, knowledge and technology to face a project of this size.
“Great, now we have something to work with, but still we only have one day left to shape it, elaborate an action plan, and commit it to paper.” That night we slept soundly, at last. The day after, we shared the “to do list” and each of us undertook the work in which we were better skilled, so that we could be finished by night and ready to present on Friday. And that is how we won, again.
I also remember that other day when they took us all to a big hall in Cass. Each team had an assigned table with some ingredients and kitchen tools on it. We were to participate in a cake competition. Time was limited, and so were the resources each team had. Furthermore, phones were not allowed, and we had no internet. At least, there was a chef willing to share cooking advise in exchange of some ingredients or kitchen tools.
We had to organise ourselves very well as a team as well as our cooking resources and, at the same time, we had to interact and negotiate with the rest of the teams, to trade ingredients and tools. It was like playing ‘Catan board game’ in real life. This time we didn’t win, proving our questionable cooking skills, but still we had a great time, and most of all, we learned new ways of managing people and resources.
There was even a week when we all went to Sandhurst military academy, where we spent some days of physical and mental overcoming. We were always guided by a coach, who gave us continuous feedback about our personal performance, and advice on how to improve our teamwork skills and how to better manage time and people.
It is difficult to align the pieces that comprise a group, and to create an outperforming team. It is hard to breakdown preconceptions and to think outside “the box”. It is not easy to think in a different way and to learn how to bring out the best of each team member and cover each ones’ deficits. But it all begins with the process of coming to know oneself and the ability to understand others, and yes, Cass teaches us how to do it every day.
From the beginning Cass has invested a huge amount of resources into studying our profiles, our preferences and our personal weaknesses and strengths. Throughout the whole MBA we have rotated among different teams set thoroughly based on our individual capabilities, combining different profiles in a programme where diversity is especially celebrated.
We have been pushed into adapting and adopting diverse roles according to the circumstances and resources available. We have been guided on how to be flexible, adapt to different work methods and ways of thinking, and how to deal with conflict. For this reason, we have not only acquired technical knowledge which will probably change in the course of time, but also, we have acquired an attitude and a character that will remain forever.
Tristán Oriol Lapetra
Full-time MBA (2018)