Month: May 2019

Real-World Consultancy and Expert Insights

Studying an MBA is a big decision and a huge investment. The reasons for doing an MBA are varied, but I have found one common thread: the desire to build a successful career! Prior to starting the degree, I was working in insurance in India, primarily in Product Development and Management. My motivations to pursue an MBA were to gain international experience from a top school, to bolster my technical knowledge, and to increase my business acumen. After months of research into business schools, I selected Cass Business School and I must admit, this is the best decision I have ever made.

Cass has taught me many things. As a top-ranked school, especially renowned for its expertise in strategy, academic rigour and excellence are high. Apart from the world-class faculty members teaching us, we also have the privilege of having renowned academicians and industry experts from around the globe give guest lectures. I was gobsmacked when Professor Robert M. Grant, author of the bestselling strategy book “Contemporary Strategy Analysis” conducted one of our strategy sessions. This was one of the many amazing external sessions we have had so far during the course. Gaining insights from experts is not only beneficial for our learning but also it highlights the credibility of the institute in the outside world.

Nikesh Das and cohort meet Professor Robert M. Grant

London is a place where there is no dearth of opportunities and Cass has the great advantage of its location between the financial and tech hubs of the city.

Arriving here from India, the biggest cultural difference I noticed in a professional context was the importance of networking and presentation skills to land a dream role. The careers team at Cass does a fabulous job in ensuring that the tenets of successful networking and effective public speaking are ingrained within us from the day we start our course. The team organises networking sessions, presentations, and public speaking training sessions and events. One such event was the ‘Tallow Chandlers Contest’ where we were asked to present solutions to a challenging strategic issue facing British Petroleum (BP) without the help of any slides or hand-notes. To my good fortune, my team won the competition!

Many business school candidates aspire to work as consultants. If the opportunity arises, I too would like to work in consultancies because of the variety of project opportunities you receive. Here again, Cass has an upper-hand! We recently concluded our International Consultancy Week in Dublin, Ireland. It was an exceptional opportunity for us because we did consultancy for innovative products and service offerings for different Dublin-based start-ups. In an educational setting, this is one of the most practical consultancy experiences one can get. The challenges of a start-up are unique because their products and services are novel and therefore lack historical data. Delivering a solution for a complex problem as a team, within the short span of five days, is a perfect simulation of what to expect in any big consultancy firm.

Nikesh Das and his MBA cohort

So far, my journey has been enriching. Learning from experts, developing personally, and solving the very real and complex problems of start-ups are the kinds of thrills I was expecting from my MBA. If “Extraordinary Calling” had a face, then it is Cass Business School for me!

Nikesh Das (Full-time MBA, 2019)

My eye-opening experience on the UAE study tour

I had just dropped off my children at school. Pulling out of the school’s driveway, I took a right turn, abandoning my familiar route to the office. Fifteen years after my first degree, here I was, driving myself to school too. I relocated to Dubai in 2017 as an expat from my home country, Nigeria. Shortly afterwards, I enrolled at Cass Business School for the Executive MBA in Dubai programme.

My cohort recently completed just over one year of “academic workouts”. I have to say, writing exams with a pen after a decade and a half of using computers required “workouts” on a digital level (think finger digits), not to mention juggling work, studies and family commitments.  I was all too glad that the first phase of the MBA was over, and we were moving on to international electives, such as the UAE Study Tour.

Members of the Cass Executive MBA in Dubai cohort on the UAE Study Tour

This elective presented an opportunity to gain practical insights into how businesses operate within the UAE’s cultural, economic and regulatory environment. Being a resident of Dubai, I was quite familiar with the general cultural and regulatory framework. Therefore, I was more interested in learning about the economy of the UAE. The UAE stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best countries in many aspects, including tourism, security, infrastructure and leadership. I was curious to learn more about how they did it in a relatively short space of time.

Not long after handing over my car to the valet service at the Roda Al Murooj hotel, I bumped into Professors Steve Thomas and Roy Batchelor in the hotel lobby. The duo would chaperon a class of 20 odd MBA students, on an exciting four-day tour of selected parts of the UAE. Rain showers on the first day, a rare occurrence in these parts, set the ambiance for the week, peeling off the rustic silhouette of dust from the surrounding Arabian desert. The first two days were spent gathering first hand insights on the Dubai and Abu Dhabi brands, products of cleverly integrated branding, innovation, marketing, strategy and investment principles.

Memorable stops in Dubai included visits to the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, a digitally advanced city branding and marketing company that promotes and regulates all tourism related activities in Dubai, and the leadership institute/innovation center of Majid Al Futtaim, the leading retail and leisure pioneer across Asia and the Middle East. In Abu Dhabi, First Abu Dhabi bank (FAB), impressed strongly with its Aa3/AA-/AA- credit ratings by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch respectively. We also visited the Emirates Aviation College where I got to play pilot for a few minutes.

Emirates Aviation College.  Inside a simulator

The other two days focused on the Arab consumer, Dubai real estate, and the Islamic economy. The ingenious expansion of Dubai’s coastline, and other man-made land-marks like palm Jumeirah and the world islands left me with zero doubts about the relentless efforts to diversify the economy, creating a model for the region.  It was eye-opening to see how concepts in marketing, big data, economics and strategy were being brought to life at dizzying speeds in virtually all aspects of the economy. Visits to the Dubai Expo 2020 site, Dubai Islamic Economy Development Center (DIEDC), and Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), made me understand more clearly the role of the government and their plans to remain relevant in all aspects of life and living.

The UAE is definitely a reference point for countries in terms of articulating and actively following a focused development agenda. They are so far on track to meet or exceed the development objectives laid out in the country’s 2021 and 2071 master plan.

The awe-inspiring Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

International Consultancy Week: Discovering Dublin

Dublin International Week

As the end of the Full-Time MBA programme approaches, my cohort and I visited Dublin for a week-long consultancy project. International Consultancy Week gives MBA students the opportunity to apply the academic theory we learned over the previous four modules in a real-world setting. My cohort and I were on hand to consult for a pool of start-ups and larger organisations and help them resolve issues as diverse as business development strategy, human resources, marketing and operational challenges.

During the initial selection of companies, it was no surprise that The Project Foundry, a professional project management services provider and the firm I selected to work with, was among the most sought-after projects. The business was seeking an optimal market entry strategy in the cloud-computing space within existing parameters such as budget restrictions.

This project was of personal interest to me because I created and executed a market entry strategy in a new segment for my previous company. I was excited about the opportunity to broaden my understanding of the niche field of cloud computing.

Meeting the The Project Foundry team

My team: strength in diversity

This project’s success ultimately hinged on the team I had and the various skill-sets and expertise we could collectively leverage. We had Filippo Capirone, whose knowledge of the telecom industry and cloud computing were key for our understanding of the market. I also got the chance to work again with Lina Rahmanian, who had been a part of a gruelling three-month long strategy project team in which we developed an award-winning project. I had also worked previously with Rhiannon Ludlow, who was part of my team during the professional development training workshop at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and is someone I knew I could count on under strenuous circumstances. The only person I hadn’t worked with previously was Steve Le, but his expertise in the finance world along with his PowerPoint skills won my trust. Based on the diverse skill-sets and industries represented by my assigned team, I was confident in my team’s ability to deliver a solid project.

Meeting our client

Our initial contact with our client came via WebEx a week before we flew out to Dublin. Declan Ryan, Managing Director of The Project Foundry, gave us a better understanding of the project scope and the deliverables. We also started doing background research on the cloud computing market under the guidance of our faculty supervisor, Dr Senem Aydin, to get an accurate idea of the industry.

Once we arrived in Dublin at The Project Foundry Office, we had the chance to meet Declan and the rest of his team. We met the Director David Laird, who helped us get a strong understanding of the company financials and projections; Mark Carragher, Chief Technology Officer, whose industry expertise on cloud based platform gave us great insight on future of the business; and Sai Srinivasan, who helped us with the coordination of the project as the rest of the team was constantly on the move. We also had the chance to chat with a few members of the project management team and The Project Foundry’s marketing agency to get their insight on the business.

The project

During the initial few days, we started by identifying strategic issues faced by the firm, identifying the key industry trends, conducting competitor analysis, and rounding off with the strategic approach and financials to support our findings. This research was done in conjunction with the input we received and the conversations we were having with TPF. We drafted up an action plan for TPF for the way forward, looking at both the long-term and the short-term picture. By Friday, we had an amazing presentation deck (thanks to visual expertise of Steve Le) ready to present to the TPF team. We had a great discussion with the TPF team following the presentation to get their general feedback and answer any queries they had. This was an intriguing session where each member of the group pitching in to lend their expertise and helped wrap up an amazing consultancy project. Special thanks also goes to Dr. Aydin who offered us useful advice during our daily meetings – enabling the development of the recommendations!

Umar Mahmood and his consultancy team hard at work

Discovering Dublin

The Dublin Consultancy Week was not just about work! TPF hosted many fun social occasions, and Dublin is a young, vibrant and cosmopolitan city. Highlights for me were seeing the sights the city had to offer such as Trinity College and watching football matches in the historic Temple Bar Neighbourhood.This trip did culminate in a self-guided tour and a group dinner at the Guinness Storehouse. All groups got the chance to talk about their experience working with their companies and delivered some memorable presentations. This was also when the realisation sunk in that this was probably the last time all of us would be in the same room together, as just around the corner our international electives and the BMP Project are set to begin.

The International Consultancy Week will be a cherished highlight of the Full-Time MBA programme to me. Specifically, it was great to work with a fast-growing start-up and to learn more about how business is conducted in Ireland. I got the chance to work with an amazing group of individuals. Despite the hectic work schedule and the sleepless nights that came with it, I wouldn’t trade this dynamic experience for anything.

Fun in Dublin

My top three insights from International Consultancy Week

  1. There will often be times when you have to work with limited information – making a “decent” plan based on existing parameters is often more prudent rather than waiting for the “perfect” plan to develop, as the situation continually evolves.
  2. In the spirit of Leading the Adventure: always keep an open mind and be willing to learn something new, or have your viewpoints challenged.
  3. A unified team makes even the toughest jobs enjoyable.

Umar Mahmood, Full-time MBA (2019)
Contributions from Oliver Yogananthan, Full-time MBA (2019)

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