Category: Full-time MBA (page 2 of 6)

One month into the Cass Full-time MBA – my two cents!

Choosing Cass Business School over other schools was a well thought out and rational decision. But as most students would be, I was a little nervous and wondered if I had made the best decision.

One month into the Full-time programme and I knew I couldn’t have chosen a better school for my MBA. There are plenty of reasons. Not only are all my expectations being met, but I am sure I will gain much more than I hoped for.

Learning from a diverse cohort

As we began introductions on the first day, I realised that we have a truly international cohort. My classmates are from all over the globe and belong to varied professions. The spectrum spans from Michelin star chefs, entrepreneurs to finance professional, to name a few. London is definitely the melting pot of culture and so is Cass business school.

Meeting my classmate during induction

Geography is on our side

The School is at a geographically advantageous position and the staff at Cass makes sure that they utilise this aspect to curate the best opportunities for students. In the first four weeks, we have had over seven global company representatives visiting the campus to speak to us. The companies range from small businesses to corporate giants in fields ranging from artificial intelligence, fintech, investment management and investment banking.

This has been instrumental in stretching me intellectually and has compelled me to think of my unique and sustainable career path post-MBA.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much

The School’s ethos lies in instilling values of collaboration and team work between students. We work in teams to support each other in our journeys. This creates a highly positive environment for learning. But also brings out our very best leadership skills and helped us identify our personal leadership styles. It is fair to say that when we re- enter business, we shall be more equipped to lead teams and deliver results.

My team make for the simulated strategy exercise ‘The Great Cass Bake-off’

Dedicated staff

The Cass staff deserve a special mention. They know each one of us personally and it is their endeavour to work with us and help us achieve our goals.

Learning for life

As I slide into block one of the curriculum, I have observed that the School believes in a learning method which is engaging, draws from our experiences, adds value and an opportunity to reflect and internalise our learnings. We also have the opportunity to come back to our alma mater to learn new skills each year. This indeed is a highly attractive offer as it will help me update my skills every single year!

Cass has stood true to its words and beyond. I am surely being groomed both personally and professionally to be able to contribute significantly to the business environment. Also, we have a fair amount of outdoor activities and a thriving social life! Having a three day leadership training at the very prestigious UK Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, has been exciting.  Our cohort is thrilled to be part of these exciting experiences which the school offers!

At Cass, I am truly home 🙂

Full-time MBA (2019)

Chat to Tejasvini on Unibuddy to find out more.

The last hurdle before reaching the Cass MBA finishing line

 

The BMP, less known as the Business Mastery Project, is the final puzzle piece of our Cass Full-time MBA and simultaneously the biggest one.

What is the Business Mastery Project?

The name itself is puzzling. If you are wondering ‘What on earth is a BMP?’ let me make things clear for you. It’s our version of a dissertation or thesis.

So why can’t it just be called that?

The thing about the BMP is that apart from being worth 50 of your 230 credits and therefore clearly a defining part of your MBA experience, there are so many variations to it and no two BMPs are ever the same.

The BMP can be broadly divided into three types: a desk-study project that is closest to an academic research paper, a company-sponsored BMP that is set as an internship, or a business plan that may be used as a basis to kick-start your start-up.

If that’s not wide enough in scope, I heard one of my MBA classmates, Ross Kelly, who was researching on LP Fundraising for early stage Venture Capital firms, say “I think mine is a bit of all three.”

Our course director, Dr Paolo Aversa, told us that the BMP should be a work of passion, since for many of us, it might be one of the last opportunities to really dig our teeth into a project outside of work.

I took those words to heart and truly believe that this was the most important thought in my decision-making process.

Starting on a project idea

Throughout my MBA, I have learnt to flexibly apply concepts to a variety of situations. While many want to silo situations, as MBA students we learn to keep an open-mind.

Thinking about digitalisation and evolving business models have been constant topics throughout our MBA and it seemed perfect to link these to my area of interest: creative writing, the subject of my other master’s degree.

After several iterations talking to classmates from both my MBA and MA, I had managed to distil my thoughts into a BMP title: “The impact of digitalisation on the publishing industry: How is digitalisation changing the publishing industry’s revenue model for authors?” It was putting a business spin on a creative product.

I chose Dr Alessandro Giudici as my supervisor; he had co-authored a paper on digitalisation in the publishing industry. He helped me in the early stages with suggestions of academic research to start my literature review (I’d have fallen into all sorts of rabbit holes otherwise, like reading an 18-page research paper just on the definition of e-books).

Although I got to this point rather quickly, it took me months to tackle initiating it. Only once I had done some preliminary research, did I start to get a sense of where I was going with it.

It took a few back and forth discussions between myself and Alessandro to finalise the project. In the end, my BMP developed into a qualitative study with semi-structured interviews of recently published authors and a case study on the London-based alternative publisher Unbound.

Unlikeliest outcomes during my research

I had come across Unbound through one of my favourite books, “The Good Immigrant”, and was intrigued by their model. I was lucky that the London Writer’s Club–a newsletter I’m signed up to–was organising an event with one of their editors which allowed me to hear their thoughts.

After having secured the publisher’s side of the story, I wanted to interview authors who published with Unbound as well.

Following a few cold emails, the ones who replied were the unlikeliest candidates: Andrew Grumbridge and Vincent Raison, the two men behind the Deserter blog and podcast, “an aspirational lifestyle website for those with a predilection for doing f*** all.” (Their words, not mine!).

I had supported their crowdfunding campaign on Unbound and their book was now in the typesetting stage. Not only did they reply to me in detail and provided me with all that I needed for my case study but they ended up inviting me to join them for drinks at Brick Brewery in Peckham Rye to the opening of a free photo exhibition on the Dulwich Hamlet’s 2017/18 season.

So, despite neither liking beer nor football much (yes, I’m a complete failure as a German), I found myself exploring a brewpub in Peckham Rye to have a beer with some authors I cold emailed for my BMP.

And it’s become one of the best most memorable nights of this summer.

That’s possibly the most unexpected outcome of my BMP.

I used my network from my MA to find a few other authors willing to volunteer some time for this project. I was surprised at how forthcoming everyone was. They weren’t just being nice to me; my research resonated with them. It wasn’t a theoretical concept but a real-life issue that was at the heart of the writing profession.

In early August, I handed in my first draft and thought I was pretty much done. I was wrong.

Submitting my BMP

After a week of peace (burning up in the heat that was the 2018 European heatwave), I received the feedback. Alessandro’s comments were practical and to the point, guiding me in the right direction but leaving the interpretation and execution to me. After the second iteration, I knew my work was done. And thanks to a late-night open printing shop near my house, I got it printed and bounded, ready for submission on Aug 27th.

…and now we wait!

It’s been over a month now since I submitted my BMP and I don’t know the final outcome yet. But whatever it is, I rest secure in the knowledge that I’ve done something meaningful that will stay with me forever as a tangible outcome of my MBA.

Whenever anyone asks me about writing and the publishing industry, you will see a fire light up in my eyes. This is the fire that people want to see, the fire that makes you interesting to others.

My advice when choosing a BMP topic is to not get too caught up with having it directly relate to your job or expecting it to open doors for you. If it does, great! But if not, don’t worry, just make sure it’s something meaningful to you. The rest will follow.

Full-time MBA (2018)

Ready, set…GO! The Cass MBA commences

Two months ago, I had the scariest dream I have had in years. I had started the Cass Full-time MBA and it was time to pick groups for our first group assignment.  And like the infamous PE (or gym) class nightmare, I was the last to be picked.

I woke up shaking. Halloween had nothing on this dream. Happily, I can tell you that this dream did not come true!

In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

Learning how to learn

Here we are at the end of our first month and it’s been a pretty intense period.

For most of us, it has been five to ten years since we last stepped into a classroom. So even though we’re familiar with the rigours of work we’re a bit out of practice when it comes to lessons and homework.

To help with our learning, we had a session in our first week on how to speed read and how to improve our memory. For our studies, we worked on mind maps, linking each branch to the one before, adding quick pictures in to help.

We have been given lots of advice on how to economise our time over the coming year, so we can fit in lectures; networking events; careers research and preparation; and of course reading and assignments.

Some of this means a bit of multi-tasking and everyone has different ways of using their time as efficiently as possible. It is early days, so I am still trying things out to see what works best for me, but so far, the gym and the train have been definite winners.

When I grow up, I want to be a leader … and a follower

Another big focus has been teamwork. After brainstorming the differences between managers and leaders, between strong teams and weak, we were given a challenge to put what we had said into practice.

These are all the things we had listed as important qualities of effective teams:

  • Buying in to a common goal;
  • Mutual respect and trust;
  • Communication;
  • Listening;
  • Support;
  • And, if possible, fun!

Our challenge was hands on: building a construction out of newspaper, tape and six coffee cups. Never have so many adults been so eager and competitive to get a ping-pong ball from one corner of a table to the other as slowly as possible.

(I am happy to say we managed it in the slowest time of 9.59 seconds–well done team!)

Now we’re starting our first Strategy team projects, so it’s time to put these skills into practice!

Starting off with a bang

As part of our careers induction, we have done a lot of work on ourselves and our presentation skills. Much of it was about confidence, identifying our strengths and weaknesses and understanding the audience we are presenting to.

Of course, we had to resist the temptation during a presentation to look down at your notes for a prompt, just to remind yourself what your name is.

We were given the task to start the presentation and introduce ourselves with a bang – cue writer’s block!  There were a lot of nerves in the room, but once one of us had presented, then another, then another, it became clear that it wasn’t so scary.

It didn’t matter if we lost our train of thoughts, our groups would be supportive and the higher the fear hurdle, the louder the applause.

We are now a couple of weeks into block one and my nightmare from months ago never came true.

In its place are the friendliest cohort I could have hoped  to be working and studying with. We had a great barbecue and are enjoying getting to know each other.

We all know the coming year is going to be hard work, but we have been given every tool to achieve the best we can. Now it’s time to use them.

Rhiannon Ludlow
Full-time MBA (2019)

Chat with Rhiannon on Unibuddy to find out more about the course.

 

Roar of approval for Dublin MBA consultancy week

Right at the end of the core components of our Full-time MBA, our entire cohort went off to Dublin to complete our International Consultancy Week in early April. I think many would agree with me that this was one of the most pleasant experiences of our MBA so far because it was the perfect setup for so many reasons.

First of all, unlike most of our coursework, we got to choose the project we’d be allocated to according to our top four preferences. This was an opportunity for us to find areas of personal interest but also to reflect on what our own unique strengths were, ensuring we’d be choosing a project we could contribute to the most. It wasn’t surprising at all that HouseMyDog  was one of the most popular choices.

A start-up platform business that connects dog sitters and carers to dog owners, HouseMyDog is representing the kind of digital innovation and changes in business models we have discussed throughout our MBA right from day one in our strategy course.

Combine that with dogs and you have a winning formula to attract keen MBA students ready to leave their mark and contribute to a growing business. Being a dog lover myself and having also worked occasionally as a dog-sitter using a similar platform in London, I was keen to learn more about the differentiating factors of this business and what they saw as their formula to success.

Putting this aside, the project brief also outlined an early stage growth strategy in Germany which suggested my German background may be of some use here. Although several other projects caught my interest, I was delighted to find out I had gotten my first choice in the end.

Even better was discovering who my team mates were. Even though we hadn’t chosen each other, it almost felt like it when I saw the list. By the end of our core modules, we had pretty much worked in one project or another with almost everyone on the MBA and also had developed a good understanding of everyone’s skills and personalities.

There were people I naturally  gravitated towards and many others whose talents and qualities I had discovered through the team working process. Varun and Vicki had both been in my block 1 and 2 team which was where most people had developed the closest bonds due to the intensity of the work and the sudden change that had hit us all at the beginning of the MBA. I knew that my block 1 and 2 team was a strong performing team with a successful track record throughout.

Betty and James were both part of my team during our ‘Achieving Your Potential’ professional development training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst which was the most physically challenging outdoor aspect of our MBA and these two helped and supported me through it. I knew I could not only trust all of these people but I looked forward to working together in this new constellation.

The project started with us getting in touch with Santi, one of three Cass professors who were our mentors for this project and spent the week in Dublin with us. Communication with James, the CEO of HouseMyDog, started via email to get some hints on how to prepare ahead of our stay.  We began with basic market research around the pet care industry in the UK and globally.

Once in Dublin, we met James in person on Monday and were given some space within the Huckletree coworking facility where HouseMyDog were based (in case you wonder: no, there were sadly no dogs). James introduced us to his team and ran us through a presentation of the company. It’s right then that we understood how small this company still was and how our own contribution through this project could make a real difference to them. James emphasised this wasn’t just a school report; our findings would be really valued and put to use in the company’s growth strategy going ahead.

At the beginning of the week, we had a brief discussion around the bigger aims of the consultancy project. Throughout the week, those aims were broken down further with a clear set of deliverables that we’d have by the end. The project had to fulfil James’s expectations but also our criteria as a project that was part of an academic course. It was a hectic week for James, still he found the time to answer any of our queries and give us feedback through the process.

At the other end, our mentors were available to us every day to discuss the progress we had made and make sure that we hadn’t gone off-track;  the objective professional perspective was very helpful and Santi did a great job at guiding us within the path we had chosen, leaving us in control.

On the final day, we presented our findings to James. Even though we had worked on this for the entire week, I was still surprised at how it all came together in the end with contributions from everyone in the team neatly captured in the final presentation (which was largely a product of Betty’s great visual presentation skills). James’s overwhelmingly positive feedback was an extremely satisfying end to our week’s work and we proudly took home our HouseMyDog t-shirts.

Apart from working on the project, there was also plenty of time to enjoy the last occasion our entire cohort would be together. Dublin offered plenty of opportunities to get a drink and it didn’t always have to be a Guinness (although it often was). After Sandhurst, this was the second time we all spent days together in the same hotel. While at Sandhurst, we were still finding out a lot about each other and it was time to perhaps mingle with people we hadn’t had the opportunity to with, yet here in Dublin, we were just enjoying each other’s company, completely at ease with each other.

One afternoon, we were also taken on a tour of Howth peninsula and Malahide Castle. It was interesting to experience everyone’s perception of that too. Having grown up in Germany myself, I have visited large castles but also smaller ones that may look more like a luxurious large-size villa. Malahide Castle is not imposing in size but steeped in its long history including claims to possibly possessing the oldest chair in Ireland. Hearing about the losses during the Battle of the Boyne especially caught my interest, given I only recently revisited this part of history for my Life in the UK test.  The visit was a welcome break for everyone to replenish and get to know Ireland a bit more beyond the city centre of Dublin.

The whole project didn’t end in Ireland. Once back in London, we had another month to prepare our final report to the company. Largely based on the work we did in Dublin, it gave us some more time to reflect on the experience and the knowledge gained, and compile it all in a clearly structured report which we could be confident would make a positive contribution to the company.

Overall, the International Consultancy Week was such an uplifting and unique immersive experience contributing to HouseMyDog, an exciting start-up with so much potential, working alongside a group of people I respect for both their personal and professional qualities.

Full-time MBA (2018)

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)

 

The road to Toronto

I was recently asked whether six months down the line, the Cass MBA was what I had expected it to be. My answer was ‘No, not at all.’

Well for one reason, I wasn’t quite expecting to be heading to Toronto with my MBA classmate Varun Venkatraman next week. We will be representing Cass as one of only three teams to make it to the Ben Graham Centre’s 2018 International Stock Picking Competition Finals, hosted by Ivey Business School. Better yet, we will be the first European business school to do so!

Having just visited Dublin for International Consultancy Week and Israel/Palestine on the agenda for my international elective in early May, I definitely hadn’t planned to add any further trips during this hectic period; juggling MBA studies, job applications and working on my Business Mastery Project.

Yet here I am, squeezing in another trip to Canada.

When I told my mum, she marvelled, ‘Stocks? That’s so not your thing. That Varun guy must be very special if he can get you to do something like that.’ That surprised me in two ways: despite her general pretence of not really understanding what I do in my job in financial markets, my mum actually knew I don’t care much for microeconomics and stocks.

And secondly, she was absolutely right about Varun, he was the only person who could have made me sign up for this. So how did we end up here then?

Rewind to October 24th when the Stock Picking Competition was first announced via email, barely two months into our MBA. I remember reading about it, taking note of yet another interesting challenging experience to gain during the MBA and quickly hitting the delete button. Stock picking wasn’t in my sphere of interest at all. But I undoubtedly knew who’d be all over it: Varun.

In life we develop many types of friends and I dare say the older we get, the less likely we have people we call friends just out of circumstance. We know the difference between work colleagues, acquaintances and friends, and even though we might publicly use those terms more loosely, most of us reserve the title of real friends for the special people in our lives.

Unlike in kindergarten, the mere fact that you ended up sitting in the same row is reason enough to become friends. Very rarely we find that one person who we can bestow the title of ‘best friend’ we so innocently gave to people when we were little.

Funnily enough, Varun was the equivalent of that kindergarten kid sitting in the same row; alphabetically next me so that I sit right in front of him during all exams, he was also in the same group as me through induction to Block 2. The Cass MBA Gods (most likely our Course Officer Tony Whiteman) made it easy for us to find each other. And we’ve been pretty much inseparable since.

So when this competition came around, I was quick to dismiss my own participation but also to encourage his, telling him to apply alone because I knew he’d be more than capable of handling this challenge independently.

However, as the deadline grew closer, he grew more encouraging for my participation. He wanted someone to bounce ideas off but also to critically check his logic, someone with a different way of thinking and unafraid to express it but whose opinion he equally valued enough to listen to.

We both come from the financial industry but at opposing ends of the spectrum, Varun from private equity, myself from foreign exchange in financial markets, and born in the same year just 10 days apart but on the other side of the world; our friendship is defined by having enough common ground that connects us but so much that sets us apart that we approach problems in very different ways.

Another month into our MBA and we saw more and more examples of how our collaboration brought the best out of both of us, I increasingly understood why he wanted to have me on his team. I also recognised that this was a unique experience I was never going to have again; one I could never do outside of the MBA and never without Varun.

Reminding myself that that was what the MBA was all about, I jumped at the offer the next time he asked me and was signed up for the competition with him.

For the first round in mid-January, a couple of weeks after our exams, we were given a list of stocks to pick one from that we would analyse over two weeks and recommend as a buy, submitting a report to a panel of industry professionals and academics.

Never having done anything like it, I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly contribute to this. I must confess I rather resented doing something that would make me potentially feel helpless and highly dependent on someone else’s experience. After a decade of work experience, it can be hard to accept doing something that pushes you completely out of your comfort zone. But Varun had it all covered. He knew what he had to get done and also knew where I would be of help.

Picking a company based in Germany meant that my German background became useful, sifting through company history and industry material in German. Understanding the very unique German legal structure and its implications made us recognise specific challenges of our company and how this would affect its value and potential for an outside investor. Using Bloomberg to extract the relevant data was another way I could help and I gradually saw my efforts contribute to the bigger picture.

When we submitted our report, I knew I didn’t want it to end here. Although I had gotten so much out of it I knew how much this meant for Varun. Seeing him rise to the occasion, I wanted him to get the recognition I believed he deserved. And long before the results were revealed, the dates were set in my calendar and I waited hopefully. When the confirmation email came on 21st February informing us as one of the top three finalists to present to a panel in Toronto, we took half a day to celebrate our achievement and then were ready to crack on.

When I signed up for my MBA, I went in with an open mind, ready for every new experience, expecting or even demanding the unexpected. In spite of this, I couldn’t have foreseen finding that invaluable friend who would challenge me and help me grow, taking me all the way to Toronto.

 

Full-time MBA (2018)

No rest for the wicked MBA students

Anyone who worked in Foreign Exchange as sales or trading on a markets floor will know that once you’re in it, there’s no break.

From the New Zealand Open, on what is Sunday evening European time to the final closing on Friday evening, you live and breathe FX —alert to all and ready to react. On the weekends, you’ll be following the news on anything that might trigger a market gap open. And you’re loving it!

People like me are picking up the phone (yes, phones!), heart-rates soaring, shouting over each other to emphasise the importance of our client and deal. But the world I described is without a doubt rapidly moving towards extinction as technology takes over and reaches new efficiencies. It’s good that way and a reason why I’m doing an MBA.

But I’m unashamed in saying that for many years, that world and its people were my biggest love, passion and pride. One privilege that I gained working up the ranks was that by the time I became a senior team member, I could leave the juniors to hold the fort between Christmas and New Year to switch off during that short window when the FX market allowed itself to go to sleep.

I don’t mean not going to the office. I mean completely switching off, following no news and having no idea where FX rates were —World War 3 could have broken out without me knowing it. Those were the days where my biggest achievement would be rolling out of bed to take my dog on a long walk.

This Christmas, as a Full-time MBA student at Cass, I looked back to those days with nostalgia. Because while life as a Cass MBA student may not require the sort of alertness that makes you bark out prices at a moment’s notice, it also doesn’t let you switch off. Ever.

The most obvious element dampening Christmas is the lingering dark cloud of exams.

Can I step forward and use this as a public forum to express my grievance at exams being scheduled on January 3rd and 4th?

Yes, we had six exams over two days with just over two weeks since the last day of university attendance. You can only believe someone high up hates us and wants to see us suffer. Or is this another attempt to challenge us and train our perseverance?

My suitcase that should have been filled with Christmas gifts was a carefully crafted exercise of figuring out which textbooks and notes were worth taking up the weight. Moaning didn’t help either as all I got from my mother was “I don’t know why you do these things to yourself…” followed by a deep sigh as if I was the one who was spoiling Christmas for her. My stoic uncle only remarked how all exams in his PPE degree at Oxford followed the holidays to keep students on their toes and years later now, not being the one taking them, approving of this method of discipline. No sympathy here.

So all I could do for some comfort was to turn to my fellow classmates, many of whom collaborated on exam preparation. I did partner up with my closest classmate to prepare for Strategy and had a couple of others who taught me how to get through the Analytics for Business once I was back in London. Without any results yet, I don’t know how successful their effort was but, whatever the outcome, I thank them for their patience in teaching this girl who’s allergic to the word statistics.

While that’s the immediate concern, there’s also the Strategy project that’s increasingly nudging and poking us from November onward. Unlike most of the projects I’ve worked on, this project forced us to face the outside world putting our networking skills to the test to source a business that wants to do a consulting project with MBA students. At the onset, the Strategy project is just another analysis piece set in the real-world.

We quickly realise that the biggest task and challenge lies in the first step of convincing that one company to work with us. Panic spreads in the first week of December as many face rejections which may be better than the lack of response from companies others experience. We had to prepare how we would approach businesses and how we wanted to present ourselves. I prepared a Power Point presentation outlining our project including short bios of all our team members which I sent out to companies who showed the first signs of interest.

Myself and my team were lucky enough to have narrowed it down to two good potentials by early December, providing enough meat for the first monthly report due on December 10th. The monthly reports, separate from the final report and analysis, are a good way to feel that constant pressure on our back.

After briefly exhaling having submitted our first report, we reminded ourselves to keep the communication with the companies alive because they couldn’t care less about our monthly report deadlines. And then we started counting. It’s five weeks until the second monthly report is due but in two weeks it’s already Christmas and no one does anything that week. And then we had exams and who was going to do anything in the first week of January anyway? So we really only had three weeks to create anything meaningful; two weeks in December and one week in January.

We got in touch with those companies again,  politely courting them and slowly pushing them towards commitment. Of course they have actual work and may be planning the biggest shop opening of the year just when you think you only have three weeks to achieve anything.

How many emails are too many? What exactly do they have to say so that you are sure of their commitment? When do you press for next steps? All of these things went through our mind during the cheerful Christmas period. And before anything is done, it’s Christmas and the corporate world comes to a standstill. And all we could think of was that we now only had one week to get anything done before that second report.

In the midst of all of this, I was reminded that the deadline to submit my electives choices— that will determine all the things we do beyond Easter —was also on January 2nd. You panic some more because it hits you how two of your four core module blocks are already over and you’re nowhere nearer knowing what you really want to do. You also know that the electives build on what you’ve learnt in the first two blocks and while you’re leaning towards the topics that you really enjoyed in the first two blocks, you also think about the many things you might be missing out. You don’t know yet what Marketing or Corporate Governance is like as those core courses haven’t even started yet.

Some consider committing to a concentration which then limits but also guides your electives choices. I intentionally went against that because I wanted to leave myself free to any option that I found genuinely interesting. In the end my choices were a colourful mix across disciplines just as I expected.

My international elective will take me to Israel and Palestine, a learning experience I’ve been already excited about even before the MBA started. Once in the middle of Block 3, I changed one of my electives as my first experience with Marketing made me quickly realise the subject wasn’t for me. So although there’s a soft deadline on submitting your electives, the truth is that there’s still some flexibility around that if you ask Tony Whiteman, our course officer, really nicely.

So, here we are. Exams, Strategy project and electives. Anything else? Oh, yes, the Business Mastery Project, the Cass MBA’s equivalent of a dissertation. Similar to the Strategy project, around Christmas, it’s more of a approaching danger, like a stampede you see forming on the horizon heading your way with definite certainty.

The first deadline on March 16th is for the submission of my academic proposal. Ideally, at this point you already have an idea and a supervisor.  To have an idea that’s valid enough to submit, you better have done some initial research beyond just having a vague notion of it in your head, to at least convince yourself that it’s viable before you go and convince others such as your potential supervisor. While most will go ahead and use this opportunity to add another strong credential to their CV, gaining industry knowledge and valuable connections in that universe, others take this unique opportunity to follow a personal interest.

I may be the only one among my cohort whose chosen that path, as far as I know. I’m looking to combine my MBA learning with my passion in creative writing (which lead to my previous MA), researching the changes in revenue models for authors stemming from the digitalisation in the publishing industry. I started to have an inkling about this in November and tentatively mentioned a much broader and different version of this to my creative writing workshop group. All I knew then was that I wanted to work in publishing and working with authors. Very clear, I know.

Encouraged by their approval, I sporadically bounced the notion off a few other, including my MBA classmates. Articulating it to others and receiving feedback helped me define it further until I was ready to send an email to Paolo, our course director, who suggested Alessandro as a potential supervisor, on the basis that he recently co-authored an academic paper on digitalisation and Axel Springer. Being our Strategy project course lead, I knew I would love for him to be my supervisor therefore sent an email with the rough outline of my idea early January.

One email and one quick meeting later, my proposal reached its current shape and I am about to start the literary review thanks to his suggested readings. And somehow in this process, it’s already February 1st.

So while 2018 is almost by default a very ambitious year, there’s a reason why I actually don’t have any clear New Year’s resolutions. Because for New Year’s resolutions to happen, you need that little break in between to stop and reflect. No such option for Cass MBAs (if you do have New Year’s resolutions though, here’s some Cass advice on how to keep them alive beyond January). I woke up in September 2017 and I know already now that the next time I blink and open my eyes, it’s probably already August and I’m graduating.

 

Full-time MBA (2018)

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)

 

Corporate culture, personal branding and authenticity – What the right MBA can teach you

Corporate culture, personal branding and authenticity are just a few of the many buzz words you’re likely to hear if you’re seeking a career change or new role, and, words you’ll never be able to un-hear if you’re doing an MBA. Personally though, I found these concepts often too abstract and hard to grasp.

What does it mean to be “authentic”? It’s not the same as not lying, apparently, and also doesn’t mean you should just be an ass because you’re being honest. And what is your personal brand? It’s what you want to be known for. Easy to say. But when asked what it is for them, most of my fellow students would come up with answers such as being trustworthy, a team player or being authentic (back to that again!). Don’t we all want to be that (or at least appear to be that)? Do we all want to be the same then?

Throughout my MBA experience, I’ve been preoccupied with this and tried to make sense of what any of these things mean. Recently, I’ve turned to look at Cass Business School itself for answers. After all, shouldn’t a business school that is teaching us to become better leaders, be a role model for such things?

I started to think about what makes Cass special. What is it that makes it different from all other schools. Sionade, our Associate Dean, will tell you about the “explorer mindset” Cass tries to instill in its students; Paolo, our newly appointed Course Director will tell you about learning from Professors who are at the forefront of their research; and the latest FT European Business School ranking backs this all, with a ranking 11 positions higher than previously to 15th.

But if you asked me what makes Cass unique, my answer would be completely different. What I have experienced in my three months here is a culture of inclusion that fosters a family-like sense of community, care and dedication.

Perhaps it’s the size of our cohort that makes it possible. Saying our faculty is accessible would be an understatement. There’s a sense that each of us is known to our Professors. I remember in my third year as an undergraduate, walking into a programming class and being told by the Professor each week, “Sorry, this room is booked for a class.” At Cass, we are encouraged to be known by our Professors right from day one with our big name cards on display. Half of the class learning relies on interaction and our Professors listen to us as well as push back when it’s needed. There’s banter with Professors on Twitter. Sometimes it would just be funny comments and yet other times, it would be a full-blown discussion over corporate strategy to be continued offline.

On the day I came to Cass for my interview, I had prepared several pages of notes, thought about the right things to say and the right things to ask. The interview itself ended up being a much less formal experience than I had anticipated and if anything, one of the most stimulating and fun conversations I had in a long while (fellow students confirmed having a similarly pleasant experience with other members of the faculty in their interview process).

But when it was done and dusted, my mind was all ready to leave. That’s when the Admissions Officer stopped at the  sixth floor MBA office and introduced me to Tony.

Tony is our MBA Course Officer. Tony is important. I know that now.

But frankly, when I was there on interview day, I was rather confused as to why I was being introduced to this person and how this interaction was relevant. Wasn’t he some sort of admin person? Now, four months into my MBA, I recognise the importance of Tony.

Tony knows it all. Tony fixes problems. Tony is your man for absolutely everything. Ask any Cass MBA student and they’ll tell you Tony is amazing. Because he is.

When you say “goes above and beyond,” you should have a picture of Tony next to it. He may send around the silliest pictures of our group endeavours or most important updates about exams. He is there for us. There to share the fun but has your back when you need it. Ok, you might say, that’s just Tony. That’s how he is. And I’d argue, yes, it’s definitely a personal trait but it’s also the Cass culture that seeps through every level of the university.

When early in the MBA year, an email came around asking for students to volunteer to write for the Cass MBA blog, I seized the opportunity. I saw it as a way to engage more with Cass members, to reflect on my own experiences and to expand on my passion for writing.

When I signed up, I knew I’d be writing a blog, send it for proof-reading and someone at the other end would do whatever needs to be done before it can be put up in the public domain. In theory, it could have been a very faceless interaction. Just wanting to put a face to a name and to have a better sense of expectations, I asked the person on the other end, Khus, our Marketing Manager, to a quick coffee. He happily agreed and ended up having so many questions about my MBA experience, asking me what my thoughts were on the individual courses, my cohort and my Professors. He cared.

In my ten years of Professional experience, I’ve come across plenty of marketing people and none of them were particularly bad nor did I ever think that they did an inadequate job. But they were all marketing people who remained in their marketing domain without any visible real passion for the product itself. I know that Khus cares about Cass and us.

At some point, I sent a piece that was over 2,000 words. I thought I’d get some feedback on it via email, some changes maybe. Instead, Khus set up an early morning meeting with me to discuss the piece in more detail and handed me a printed version with line by line edits by Khus and team member Mai, respecting all my ideas, only improving the language and structure. I never expected this level of engagement. It’s even deeper than the interaction I had with some of my editors when I was a reporter and I’m loving it.

When looking at companies to work for, we’re often told to talk with people there to see whether the culture they are trying to portray is truly the culture they are living. Come to Cass and you’ll see the culture of dedication is not only lived by the faculty but is reflected through all other teams that support this institution. When I look at my next job, I’d love to see this sort of culture and I know that it is one of the things I will take away from my MBA. A good culture can exist and be lived through the entire company.

Working your way down from corporate culture, personal branding comes next. There’s no one better to teach you about that than Paolo Aversa.

Paolo has personal branding down to a tee. By the end of term one at the latest, you will know what Paolo stands for, what he’s passionate about and what he wants from you. Whether you like his style or not, you’ll learn to respect it because you can see that he’s all in 100 percent, all the time. He’s passionate about Formula 1, strategy and teaching strategy.

When you sign up to his course and login to the course page, you’ll discover a Spotify playlist students can contribute to and a filmography of strategy-related movies. He’ll encourage you to get engaged with him on Twitter, talking about the lectures, talking about strategy, talking about anything to get us all involved beyond just the classroom hours.

Some of it may seem silly to you. You may even think all you want from your Professor is to teach you strategy and nothing else and it might just not be your kind of thing. But there’s something about Paolo’s energy, coming at you every day that you won’t be able to deny. What’s driving him is his deep-rooted desire to make Cass better. And you’ll find it in so many of the Cass faculty. They have their own individual style, unique to them and yet fitting the Cass family, whether that’s Laura Empson, the face of professional women in finance or Arthur Kraft, the most laid back accounting guy.

And what makes it really work is their authenticity. I don’t always think Paolo is right. We do have our fair share of confrontations but at the end of it, I still respect him because I know he comes from a place of personal conviction. That’s a trait that’s visible in so many at Cass. I saw Sionade in an interview on YouTube for the very first time when I was deciding about applying. She struck me as very kind and open. Marianne, our Dean, is always buzzing with energy when you see her walking down the corridor, always a smile on her face looking straight at you.

Everyone must have some sort of a welcome dinner at the start of the MBA with some speeches and there’s nothing special about that. What was special about both Sionade and Marianne, was that I felt like they were opening up their heart to us. The vision they shared with us about Cass and our future came from a place of love and hope. When you love something, you are authentic.

I often get asked by friends who are intrigued by MBA courses, what we actually learn from it and what the classes are about. I sometimes have a hard time telling them the full story. I could list all the courses I did in Block 1 and 2 and it wouldn’t even reflect half of where my learning comes from. Teaching and learning in an MBA goes way beyond what you learn in the classroom. It comes from the institution as a whole and from everything everyone shares with you each day.

Experiencing concepts such as culture, personal branding and authenticity is another part of the learning that will never be found in any of my textbooks. I didn’t actually look too far for my MBA and rather got lucky to have ended up in the midst of all these dedicated people who are teaching me so much. If you look for an MBA, look out for that.

Don’t just check league tables but rather look at the people and think about whether you could learn more from them over reading books. Look at whether they are the people you want to tell your family and friends about. If you’re lucky enough, they’ll become people you want to stand up for and defend in front of others because you know they’ll do the same for you. They will be a second family you’ll invite to your Christmas party. Learning what a good company can feel like; therein lies a lot of the value I see in my MBA.

 

Full-time MBA (2018)

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