Author: Tristán Oriol Lapetra

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)

 

Work like a captain, play like a pirate

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.

Yes… that was our cake

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)

 

One more beer!

Beer, friends, laughs. The bar is full of MBA students. “Okay, the last one before I leave, we still have to read six chapters of the markets and investments book, and prepare the slides for the economics presentation. Also, it would be great if I make some time to do the statistics exercises, if not, I wouldn’t be able to understand a word from Malvina”.


"One more beer, please"

The alarm clock goes off, my head aches for silence, and my body begs not to get out of bed. But I desperately need to drink water. I finally get up. Besides, the lecture starts in an hour. “I should have come home early,” I think. Of course, after that “one last beer” came a few more, at least.

In a programme like an MBA, where the workload is huge, there is no place for much more, and one should choose between sleep and socialising, but doing both, while saving time to study, is impossible. As you might have sensed, I discarded the sleeping option, but I promise it is worth it. Luckily, people in Cass are aware of this, and everywhere we go, we are provided with a free mug of coffee.

"Mornings at Cass"

“Lord its freezing”, I think while hitting the street. I stick my hands into the pockets, “I must buy some gloves”. I can’t get used to the London weather, “at least, this morning, the sky is clear, and I can feel the sun heating my face”.

While walking on my way to School, I start recapitulating the previous night. As you all are aware of, the best topics surge between beer and beer, and yesterday was not an exception. We discussed politics, experiences, goals. After the second beer, we passed to more important matters; football, love, and bright ideas that will make us rich entrepreneurs.

Two months have passed since the welcoming reception at Bunhill Row. I remember it as if it were yesterday, that feeling I had when entering, for my first time, at Cass. It was so exciting, living in London, doing an MBA, it was something I’ve wanted to do for years, though I had always seen it as something distant, even utopic. But there I was, after many months of research and reflecting, after a deathly battle against the GMAT, the interviews, the essays, the applications, and all the odyssey that any MBA applicant goes through. Yes, of course I was excited during that first day, excited and proud of myself, but I also felt like a stranger, I guess we were all strangers.

"A stranger"

However, the teamwork, trips, day-to-day activities, the willingness of learning, and beers, has made this cohort come together. I remember that conversation, a few weeks ago, with a Chinese colleague. We stayed at the university until late in the evening, working on the strategy project, and decided to go out to have dinner somewhere around the place. I have always been interested in the Chinese culture, which is so different to my own, and on occasions, awkward, to my understanding. I didn’t know where to start, but I was eager to listen her opinion on some issues such as the restricted access to the internet, press freedom, or the right to have children. We spoke so much that by the time we started to eat, our dinner had gone cold.

The other day I went out with a mate, he is Muslim, whilst I come from one of those classic Mediterranean big, catholic and conservative – picture it from Almodovar films scripts –  “old school” families. We both ended up talking about religion. We shared opinions, and he helped me to better understand the Koran, which I just recently read.

I think about the main motivations that brought me here: CV, money, status, network, professional knowledge, but now I realise that the true added-value that an MBA provides is the human quality; the personal development and the broadmindedness, that goes further beyond of professional and technical skills excellence. How fortunate am I to have the opportunity of meeting and listening to such different people, learning to see the world from other perspectives.

 

Tristán Oriol Lapetra 
Full-time MBA (2019)

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