Month: June 2018

What makes my MBA

“I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me” is blasting from my radio as I’m driving and all I can think of is Vietnam. Why, you ask? Well… that is how we closed our trip to Vietnam, in the dodgiest karaoke parlour in a private room, somewhere in the middle of residential Hanoi.

We are not really sure whose idea it was, but nights in Beer Street and endless amounts of beer or other alcohol will do that to you. It was a long week for all of us; our exam results came in just before Vietnam and thankfully, the whole cohort has passed.

We also just finished our International Consulting Week with various Vietnamese companies and we were ready for celebration. Not that we needed an excuse for it.

When you start exploring an Executive MBA as an option for the first time, nobody prepares you for what it truly is. You hear that it is the hardest thing people have done in their life. You hear that a lot, as well as that you need a lot of family support, work support and plenty of hours of study a week.

If you are exploring Cass, you also hear that you will get a lot of international exposure through International Consulting Week and electives. That is all true. You need plenty of time to work with your groups on assignments and you definitely need a lot of support from your surroundings.

Then, 38 professional adults get to go on a consulting week to Vietnam, supported by their families. You are placed into a new working group from your cohort, new country and new company, all you have to do is figure it all out within a week and deliver amazing results. Really, not much of an ask (sarcasm intended).

Vietnam – a country that we learned is struggling through high level of instability, a country that is culturally hierarchical and extremely different to our normal environment. With such differences from our world, we were not sure what to expect in the business environment or how to navigate it, but most importantly when we had expectations, the reality turned out to be completely opposite.

Not only are you navigating thousands of motorbikes on the streets of Vietnam, but you are also navigating the unknown working environment and language barriers.  But don’t let that dishearten you! All the difficulties we faced, proved to be a challenge that we all wanted, and we came out on the other side with a very positive feeling.

Vietnam is a very fast developing country, and with that so are the companies that we have worked for. With growth come challenges, and many of the things could have been addressed within businesses. Scoping our work was probably the hardest thing we had to do, but once it was agreed between us and the hosts, we embraced it and we delivered. With the pace of change in Vietnam, the scopes can change daily too, yet that is all part of the fun that this week brings to you.

The day before our presentation to the business’s directors, we had a sudden lightbulb moment and decided on a scope change at 4pm. When you are a part of an MBA group, you most likely don’t like to make things easy on yourself and embrace any challenges thrown your way, so we buckled up and continued working as a group till’ after midnight.

In the end, we delivered an extremely successful presentation the next morning, and our company loved us, they want to adopt us, or perhaps just permanently employ us.

 

But let me focus on my cohort for a minute. My friends, rather. The most amazing, the most resourceful and fun group of people I have ever come across with. It comes by no surprise that most of us share ambition and drive, but all of us have different backgrounds, and yet again most of us are very alike. We work hard and we party even harder – the quiet ones will always surprise you.

We also argue and disagree more than you would think, at times we don’t like working with each other and we think that we would get things done much quicker and easier if we could just finish them on our own. But, the reality of things is that we can’t. So we learn to be patient, be there for each other and love each other regardless of what happened five minutes ago in that team meeting where we annoyed each other.

My MBA friends are there when I need them, they are there for the highs and the lows on this crazy journey and we sympathise with each other as we are going through this collectively. If I had to pick one thing that made my Vietnam week, or even my first year of MBA, then it would definitely be the people around me. I thank Cass for bringing us together and placing us in the most random of places where we could go to the dodgy karaoke bar for a song or ten.

After all, we are all each other’s wonderwall.

 

Nina Kerkez
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

 

Cass International Consultancy Week: Providing real companies with real solutions

Early Saturday in Hanoi, the tropical heat starts to build up on the streets, MBA students wearing suits and pushing their carry-ons roll out of the international terminal at Nội Bài Airport, heading to a five star hotel in the central area, south of the Old Quarter.

It’s been 12 months since this group first met in a cold and grey London morning. Twelve incredible months of constant challenges and big achievements, all in preparation for this moment.

We are in Vietnam!

Some of us arrived a couple of days earlier and the pictures shared on a messaging app look very promising. The remaining group just landed from a connection in Doha and that is the group I am looking for at Hanoi’s international airport.

My trip followed a different route, through Dubai, where I dealt with life and taxes, met friends for the first time since I left one year ago, and generally had a good time. I arrived in the country the night before in Ho Chi Minh City and after yet another sleepless night in an airport (oh so many), landed in the domestic terminal some 30 minutes before my cohort.

After a stroll between terminals I meet our local contact, Chris, Dean of the British University Vietnam. Slowly, familiar faces passed through the terminal gates and joined us in the lobby, everyone displaying a mix of tiredness from the long trip but also a certain freshness. The excitement was visible.

We are all here for one reason: to climb a mountain. It’s a rite of passage that marks the culmination of a year of learning. It is International Consultancy Week.

Our mission is to help local companies with diverse challenges, from Human Resources Management to Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Finances, Innovation and Digital Transformation. There is something for every background and interest.

So much to do, only one week to go.

If I had to pick only one life lesson from the first year of my MBA studies, it would be that front-loading pays off, always, and that was the force behind our engagement strategy. By the time we arrived to our client on Monday morning, we have had a couple of conference calls with our project’s sponsor, defined and clarified the scope of our study and had learned a lot about the country and the business, their cultures, challenges, and opportunities.

Hoffstede’s cultural dimensions, Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT and PESTEL analysis, the voracious consumption of industry reports and our secondary research enabled us to touch the ground running. By the end of the first day we had our hypotheses lined up, our primary research planned and the data to backup our analysis on its way.

In the pursuit of helping the company to move forward with their mission of benefiting the Vietnamese society, we leveraged our knowledge of Economy, Business and Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Finances and Organisational Behavior.

From the group dynamics perspective, we accelerated the group transition stages through our pre-engagement preparation which helped us understand our individual strengths, styles and preferences, allowing us to split the work so each one of us was challenged and confidently capable of delivering significant value. Some of us focused on secondary research, the elaboration of financial models and preparing the presentation, while others went to the client’s office daily for a series of stakeholders interviews that allowed us to form a firm grasp of the issue at hand.

In this process we used proven frameworks and cutting-edge knowledge, balanced with the realism and pragmatism that only a deep immersion in the business of our client could provide.

What followed was hard work, more learning, more hard work and the resulting satisfaction of knowing that our input was not just valuable, but potentially transformational.

The rite is complete

As a smart and quirky man once said, there is no honest way to explain the edge because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over it.

These words feel very appropriate to describe my experience with the International Consultancy Week. As a rite of passage it successfully marked the transition into our second year of studies, and as a life experience it pushed us into a new realm where we can all feel confident in our ability to bring positive change to our companies, our host country’s economy, but most importantly to society.

Postscript

On a not-so-early Saturday in Hanoi, the freshness in our eyes was replaced by dark circles and, in some cases, a well-deserved hangover. The sense of accomplishment is visible.

Some of us left the night before, heading to Sapa to climb another mountain, the Fansipan.

As for me, I’m off to explore beaches and tombs, the old and the new, the north and the south of Vietnam, from Hanoi and Ha Long to Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, all before departing towards Singapore and London in a few weeks… but I’ll tell you that story another time.

 

Luiz Grzeca
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

Reflecting on the Cass London Symposium

“Trying to split?” If you ever meet any of my good friends from the Cass Full-time MBA or back home in Washington, DC they will tell you that I persistently ask this question every time we go out to eat at a restaurant. My counter argument to this is of course how can you blame someone for wanting to try all the different delicious choices on the menu?

Wondering how my maddening indecisiveness has anything to do with the 5th Annual Cass MBA London Symposium? Well let me provide you with a bit of my own personal background as well as the exciting week that transpired at the London Symposium.

Before I accepted my place in the Cass cohort I worked in the retail banking sector. While the work was challenging and the knowledge obtained was valuable, my inspiration for obtaining an MBA was to transition to an industry that would suit my skill sets better. I had a general idea of a few industries to transition into, but I was still hoping to learn and explore others where I had absolutely no bearings.

Upon seeing the London Symposium being offered as an elective, I knew I had to partake as this elective would allow me to gain insights from leading London organisations in many different sectors without having to narrow it to just one.

The week consisted of four days with speakers for everyone in the morning and a choice for three different site visits in the afternoon. Many of the speakers were alumni of Cass Business School and on top of sharing their insights and experience with the students, also graciously hosted us in the afternoons at their offices.

During the mornings we heard from many impressive speakers, with highlights from the late Lord Mayor Sir Andrew Parmley, commissioner for Transport for London Mike Brown and Deputy Mayor of London for business Rajesh Agrawal, among others.

A Look into the Luxury Sector with Markus Kramer

The three site visits I chose were in vastly different sectors: retail with John Lewis Partnership (JLP), media with Sky News and financial technology with Starling Bank. The speaker that had a profound impact on me was Andrew McInnes who is currently Head of IT Operations and a proud Cass alumnus at John Lewis. While John Lewis is known to be a highly respected and trusted UK company, it was refreshing to hear about the unique challenges that JLP was facing both online and in their brick and mortar stores.

In a fast moving climate where vast amounts of consumers are changing their behaviours of shopping, Andrew was able to share with us the necessity to quickly adapt or be left behind. After listening to the talk and getting a tour of one of JLP’s flagship stores, I was pleasantly surprised reflecting on how different areas of strategic decision-making were all intertwined in operating such a large and successful corporation.

Being provided with back stage access to so many unique and important speakers from such different fields of business was instrumental to our views in how business is run in the global hub that is London.

Great Insights from Sir William Sargent

A wise person once told me the phrase “work hard, play even harder” and after four exciting but rigorous days of business, the closing celebration party at The Ivy Soho was a perfect opportunity to mingle with newly formed connections and have some fun. What we didn’t expect was a faculty flash mob executed to perfection but this is just a perfect example of how Cass Business School upholds the motto.

The Ivy Soho Closing Party!

In reflection, my personal conundrum of trying to experience too many items while dining out is still a challenge with no tangible solution. On the other hand, participating in the London Symposium opened my eyes on how businesses from different sectors across this fine city operate and attack challenges.

As I transition to my next career upon completing the MBA, I know that it will take a combination of different skill sets and frameworks to conquer unique business challenges that lie ahead. Thinking with an open mind and exploring every opportunity is something that myself and every student can take into the future.

Beautiful Trafalgar Square on final day of London Symposium

Tony Song
Full-time MBA (2018)

May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been and the foresight to know where you are going

It’s Monday, half three in the morning and Liverpool station begins to awaken with early travelers who, like me, will catch the first train to Stansted airport.

Ironic how I really wanted to go back to Spain to forget London’s cold mornings and short evenings. After this last month of hard work —the strategy project,  last block’s integration week, exams and the Irish consulting project— I was hoping for a holiday, but now that the time to leave has arrived, I feel a lump in my throat. “After all, it won’t be easy to leave you London, I am even going to miss this terrible Pret a manger coffee”, I think whilst taking a sip.

In spite of all the hard work, these last few weeks have been amazing, perhaps the best MBA experience so far. A few days after sitting the exams, we all boarded a plane bound for Dublin for our last all together experience and the last project I will experience with the rest of the cohort before we cluster according to our own elective preferences.

More than 15 companies from different sectors and ranging in different sizes; startups, companies in expansion or in maturity stages, with different capitalisation levels, they were all waiting for us to arrive and to begin on the consulting projects in which we were to help them face their particular business challenges.

For this project I chose to work with a software company who had developed a data base designing tool and needed our help to define a launching plan. We were to identify the best segments to target, improve features to match potential customer’s needs and identify the best ways to monetise it.

The truth is the first time I knew what SaaS (software as a service) stood for was, in fact, a few months before during the Digital Technology projects and without any doubt one of the MBA subjects that I enjoyed the most.

As you can imagine I’m not an expert in the field, but it was precisely for this reason that I wanted the project, after all, I came here to learn. Luckily there were two tech cracks in my team: Arpit, who worked as a Software Designer at the Royal Bank of Scotland and as a Software Engineer at Ericsson before joining JP Morgan to be an asset manager; and Shawnik, experienced as a business analyst and consultant at TATA and graduated as an electronics and communications engineer.

The remaining team members, Mich and Ali, offered valuable experience from their vastly different backgrounds. Mich has experience on the renewable energy sector. Ali is the only one in the group I had worked with before in previous projects during the MBA. I remember one of the first conversations I had with him, it was September, at the Artillery Arms, the bar next to Cass. After listening to all the places he had worked at, conducting businesses in more than 65 different countries and his achievements as an author, with three published books and multiple articles in different magazines and newspaper, I knew he was someone from who I could learn a lot.

In spite of my limited knowledge about the software industry, I have worked as a consultant helping people to start up and aid companies to grow and profit. As in this case, each of the projects in which I worked were different, so I had already overcome the fear of starting from scratch. Furthermore, with the great team I had on this project I knew we were going to do a great job, and we did indeed.

I remember that last night before we presented to our respective companies. It was  a Thursday and my group and I decided to work around a big table in the hotel bar. From our position, we were able to see the rest of the teams, each of them had conquered a particular place to work, some of them where sitting on the big couches at the lobby, others pacing nervously in and out from the meeting rooms, some groups where even working in their bedrooms.

The bright side of working at the bar was that sooner or later everyone came around to have a break, so we were always in good company. It was not until two in the morning when we finally closed our laptops and went to bed.

Since I started the MBA this has been the fourth practical experience in which I have worked hand to hand with real companies, from a FinTech start-up to an energy trader. All of these projects have complemented the human values and professional skills I was looking for to improve when I arrived. Nevertheless, I will remember the Irish project with special fondness. Once again, it has been the people who I have shared this experience with what made the trip so great.

The good atmosphere made it possible for us to enjoy this experience to the fullest. I take with me all that I learnt from my colleagues and the team at the company that worked hand to hand with us, the good conversations at The Bleeding horse bar, the early morning jogging through Dublin’s streets, the hotel’s jacuzzi after a long day of work, the Irish stew of the Hairy Lemon, the meatloaf at The Old Storehouse, the Redbreast whiskey and the Guinness beer, the live music at Temple bar, dancing at Dicey’s, working long nights at the hotel with the team, and the satisfaction of a job well done and, above all, I take with me all the good friendships I have made.

 

Tristán Oriol Lapetra 
Full-time MBA (2019)

 

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