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What to expect on your first month of the Cass Executive MBA

 

This September it really was back to school.  A new satchel, calculator and some weighty textbooks proved useful accessories to distract from the natural apprehension of meeting new classmates. A round of 60 second introductions only whet my appetite to find out more about my forty-five or so fellow passengers on this much-anticipated journey.

Time is tightly scheduled from the beginning on the Cass Executive MBA (EMBA). The whole induction journey has been well choreographed.  It is no accident that a personal development workshop and Organisational Behaviour module are timetabled upfront to ensure study groups bond quickly.

The first professional development workshop built on a pre-course question to identify our strengths. Strengths are defined as the underlying qualities that energise us, and that we either excel at, or have the potential to excel.

These strengths may overlap with technical skills, but also recognise that you may not always thrive on your technical competencies. You may have the capacity to be detail orientated, though it could be nurturing external relationships that puts the spring in your step.

Awareness of our strengths helps to manage performance and helps team-mates spot warning signs of strengths tipping into overdrive. For example, an overwhelming focus on future scenarios and a strategic perspective could mean current realities are overlooked.  Sharing this snapshot with our new study buddies was an effective ice breaker!

The lectures that followed on team dynamics, motivation and leadership provided a rich theoretical framework to reflect on our respective team roles. Belbin’s theory describes nine team roles clustered under three headings: action; social or thinking roles.

Overlaying our Belbin scores onto Strengthscope scores and patterns started to form; a Monitor-Evaluator carefully noting scores in the Excel spreadsheet; a Shaper encouraging those who had missed a session to find out their scores; a Plant seeing the patterns between the two reports; and an early warning that we are short on Completer-Finishers!  Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, the popular personality test completed the trio of ‘type’ tests.

Early on we were invited to suggest a collective noun for a group of MBA students. The winning entry was a ‘muscle of MBAs’.  It is already evident embarking on the Cass EMBA is going to require a lot of heavy lifting in terms of textbooks, time and commitment.

It is clear the motivation for many is not the extrinsic reward (Herzberg’s theory of motivation) of a higher salary or corporate sponsorship but intrinsic drivers of personal growth and accomplishment. The textbook example of intrinsic reward is a mountaineer which is fitting as we have heard how Cass aims to cultivate an explorer’s mindset: there is even a Cass MBA Expeditionary Society.

Our cohort reflects a spirit of enquiry and respectful challenge. Executive presence sessions working in small groups and one-to-one provided immediate feedback on how I show up. It also provoked early reflections on what leadership looks like, and could look like for me.

When people ask me why I wanted to do an MBA, I explain it is to kick start my career after working part-time while my daughters were young. It is also an opportunity to brush up on technical skills; Accounting and Financial Reporting is underway. More than that, embracing the spirit of adventure and trusting in the process – I am ready to explore how I can reach my best potential.

The alchemy – in the truest sense of the word – has already begun.

Executive MBA (2020)

 

Let the transformative Cass Executive MBA journey begin!

I am on my way to the first day of induction for the Cass Executive MBA (“EMBA”) in Dubai at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). A bit early, I feel – but it’s better than being one second late.

While driving to the DIFC where the classes for the Cass EMBA are delivered, I think of some of my teachers and professors at school and university in Latvia. I guess they would not believe that I am going back to school again.

Having considered an EMBA for the past two years, I felt that the right moment to get myself out of my comfort zone has finally come. After exploring different programmes at various business schools around the world, my choice unsurprisingly fell on Cass Business School: it’s one of the world’s leading business schools with the longstanding reputation of excellence built on its academic heritage and impressive success stories of alumni.

And – luckily for me – the School has a presence in Dubai! It’s hard to believe that six months after attending a Cass networking event, I am officially a Cass EMBA student, rushing to my first day of induction.

Feeling like a curious child and adult at the same time, I am entering the Cass floor at the Academy. The room fills up quickly.

Having never been forced to go to school or university, today feels special to me: I strongly believe that one can close gaps in skills and professional experience efficiently with academic knowledge, especially if it’s gained through the programme like the world’s class EMBA. After the first personal interactions with other students, I conclude that I am not the only one in the room who thinks this way.

Diverse student cohort

The four days of induction passed in the blink of an eye, so will the following two years, we have been told.

Witnessing the remarkable spirit of enthusiasm among my cohort has been really heart-warming. I wonder again about the incredible times I live in: my cohort consists of 39 ambitious professionals from 16 different nationalities who all share a common goal, which is to achieve success. I really enjoyed getting to know each and every one of my classmates and finding out about their careers and what led them to Cass.

At induction, the Cass faculty went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. Each lecture felt like a magnet of an incredible strength that won our attention and drew great interest in no time.

Journey of self-discovery

Together with my peers, we spent a lot of time discussing the importance of teamwork and collaboration. While these are not foreign concepts to any of us in the cohort, we tend to underestimate and forget about them under the growing pressure of daily routine.

Knowing my strengths is great, but admitting my limitations takes me one step closer to the desired success. I believe that the EMBA at Cass will help me understand the correlation of complex business processes and develop strategic and analytical skills.

I am looking forward to the next visit of the Cass Careers and Professional Development team. Their professional advice will help me shape my long-term career goals, steering me towards the right path of my professional life.

After spending four incredible days at the induction, I now know exactly what I want to achieve at Cass! I want to be “a better version of myself”.

Let the transformative journey begin!

Executive MBA in Dubai (2020)

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.

 

You can survive an Executive MBA. Here’s how.

It was with excitement and trepidation that I started my first Modular Executive MBA weekend in April.

The induction weekend the month before had given me a good taster of what was to come and my cohort was split into groups ready for the teamwork required ahead.

Four months on and I can’t quite believe that we’ve finished our first block of lectures and handed in our assignments already. It has certainly been intense, but I’ve already got so much out of it, more than I thought I would at this stage.

However, there have been hurdles I had to figure out along the way.

Find an equal footing

Firstly, due to the intensity of the learning, we bonded within our cohort group very quickly; supporting each other, understanding everyone’s work or personal commitments and identifying each other’s strengths.

It had been a long time since I had done project work where we were all on an equal footing, so it took some adjustment to realise that no one person was in charge and we were all equally responsible for completing the work together.

Be ruthless with your time 

Secondly, I tried to figure out how to fit studying around my work and family life. While I had a study timetable worked out for my readings, the element I hadn’t counted on was the timelines for the group work; an assignment was due around the same time as the next block of lectures which had prerequisite readings.

Learning quickly that I had to be ruthless with my time, I concentrated on what needed to be done and made sure to go back and fill in extra readings if I had the time.

Put weekend activities on hold 

Thirdly, I identified what I needed to change or give up in my personal life to accommodate my new study commitments. As my husband and I have a young child, I knew the majority of my study would need to happen in the evening, which meant I was unlikely to have any time for TV.

However, I soon realised I would need time during the weekends as well. We worked out a schedule where we both had some personal time during the weekends, but this meant I had to give up the baking and gardening I usually did for relaxation. But something had to give. I figured these sacrifices were only for a short period of time and the end result was worth it.

Learn to adjust your sleeping pattern

The fourth thing that suffered was my sleep. While I can function on six hours sleep a night, I can only maintain this for a few days at a time. Thankfully there were only a couple of intense weeks where my sleep suffered in the lead up to deadlines and lecture weekends. I learnt to adapt my sleeping pattern according to my programme timetable.

All in all, I am impressed with how much I have learned over the last few months and the connections made with my cohort. I’ve noticed I am more confident in dealing with things outside of my comfort zone at work and look forward to the year ahead!

Katheryn Needham
Modular Executive MBA (2020)

My extraordinary experience on the Cass MBA South Africa elective

When I signed up for the South Africa study tour, led by Professor Cliff Oswick, my decision was based  on feedback from several alumni who had given me glowing reviews about this elective – I knew then that it was an experience I couldn’t miss out on.

Before donning our student hats, a group of us arrived in Johannesburg from Dubai, two days prior to the tour, to get a flavor of, what is arguably South Africa’s most vibrant city. We spent a terrific day in the Pilanesberg National Park and Sun City, we watched the beautiful sunset on our way back and spent the evening exploring the nightlife scene and experiencing local cuisine.

 The study tour

The programme commenced with a tour of the historic township of Soweto. We visited the Hector Pieterson Museum and Nelson Mandela’s old house, a squat, red-brick dwelling that has now been converted to a museum. Mandela’s house brings history to life; every room and every corner tells a story about his struggles and triumphs and how he sacrificed his freedom for the dignity of his people.

As a Palestinian, the struggles of black Africans resonated with those currently living in my hometown of Palestine.

It was overwhelming to be in the house of my idol leader who changed the history of black Africans and inspired the entire country to move from the unjust system of apartheid into a brighter and more peaceful future.

During the remainder of the week, we paid visits to various businesses and not-for-profit organisations in Joburg and Capetown, from educational institutions such as Harambee and the Gordon Institute of Business Science to large corporations like Pick n Pay.

We also met senior executives and truly inspiring speakers who gave us a better understanding of the history of South Africa, its economy, politics, sustainability, business opportunities and challenges.

Two prominent problems were raised in almost every meeting we attended: the state of the educational system and youth unemployment. I have to admit that the commitment displayed by the leaders to tackle those issues was inspiring. It was amazing to see how these leaders have adopted Mandela’s values and ethics in their businesses.

One of the most impressive organisations we visited was Harambee, which means ‘pull together’. As an accelerator designed to tackle youth unemployment, Harambee offers a range of training programmes to provide young people with the necessary practical skills and knowledge to find work opportunities. As part of our tour of Harambee, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview several students.

With big, bright smiles on their faces, the students shared with us their stories, challenges and hopes for the future. Additionally, they shared their views on leadership and the positive impact they would like to have within their society when they eventually get the right work opportunity. Despite the challenges they face on a daily basis, it was incredible to see how determined they are to create better lives for themselves.

Towards the end of the study tour and after a very busy week, we went on a well-deserved boat cruise to soak up the superb views around Table Mountain Bay in Cape Town – it was a wonderful way to end this memorable trip.

I came back from the tour with profound lessons, great memories and new friends. It’s incredible that a study tour in a foreign country can change you in ways you never imagined possible – this is what made the Cass MBA South Africa elective an extraordinary experience.

 

Reem Awad 
Dubai Executive MBA (2018)

A unforgettable week at the Cass London Symposium

As mentioned by Dr Sionade Robinson during her introductory speech, the Cass London Symposium is a “backstage pass” into the dynamic and culturally diverse city of London. It opens the door on the challenges business now face and how they strive to remain competitive, especially with the rise of new technologies and digital transformation.

The theme of this year was truly relevant, Network Effects. By definition [i], it is a phenomenon whereby a product or service gains additional value as more people use it. It also applies to us as individuals, as the more important and diverse our social network is, the more opportunities we can create and the more value we add to our career. The subject was illustrated throughout the week.

London, a city of diversity

Sir Andrew Parmley, late Lord Mayor presented ‘London and Its Wonders’, showcasing how London is the most complex and advanced financial city in the world with more than 250 foreign banks. He also introduced the topic of cybersecurity as a critical and new opportunity to export skills and expertise from London, globally.

London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world with 300 languages spoken in it, the most in Europe. Conscious that this cultural diversity was a significant advantage, Julie Chapelle told us how London & Partners built an international brand for the city to attract tourists, students and investors so that international business and talent remained, despite Brexit.

For its eight million inhabitants, London has one of the biggest public transport systems in the world. Mike Brown from Transport for London took us through its new strategy: to provide more transport, more security and a comfortable and affordable journey.

During the symposium, we travelled around the city using the tube to attend presentations at some of London’s most prestigious sites: British Museum, Royal Institute and the National Gallery at Trafalgar square and we also enjoyed some fine cuisine 😉

Network Effects in the financial sector

Crypto currency or digital currency using cryptography for security is disrupting the financial sector. Olivier Von Ladsberg-Sadie, CEO and founder of BitcoinBro, talked about crypto currency contagion; how good (and bad ideas) spread fast and evolve faster in a decentralised digital economy. The number of users is constantly rising and continues to draw attention to the bitcoin phenomena, subsequently impacting its value.

With regards to equity funding, in order to build a good network of buyers and sellers it is key to develop the most optimal processes, taking into consideration which buyer missed an acquisition and why, which buyer refused a deal and which deal was not closed. Greg Fincke from Equiteq helped illustrate the Network Effect using mergers and acquisitions examples.

James Chew, Global Head, Regulatory Policy at HSBC and Director of BGF, talked about starting a new investment company from scratch which requires building a strong physical network with branches in strategic locations and connecting with a pool of talent.

How the consultancy sector is adapting to new technology trends

From EY to Accenture, giant consultancy firms are adapting their skill set and portfolio of services in order to be sustainable using new technologies. Tasks that used to require significant man power have seen resource reduced significantly since Block Chain, Augmented Reality, the Internet of Things and Big Data have developed. The focus of a consultancy firm has shifted to help businesses stay competitive in a digital world by making use of smart data.

Media and telecommunication transformation

The way people consume TV has changed. According to a recent survey in the UK, most people now watch in their bedrooms, on tablets and in alternative – albeit illegal – ways; apparently the most watched TV episodes are pirated downloads of Game of Thrones.

On our visit to Sky – a leading broadcaster and service provider in the UK – we were shown around by Director of Data Engineering, Oliver Tweedie. He emphasised that to stay relevant in the field, content is the new oil. It has to be innovative and in line with customers’ needs.

Top screening company Netflix understood the game and are developing their own content. They use big data to understand customer preferences and expectations in order to create new programming.

Partnerships are key.  For example, Sky teamed up with Google for their data analytics tools. Other than cyber security, this is an opportune way to learn more about consumer behaviour in order to make more proactive decisions.

Collaboration is key for great leadership

Business and Leadership speaker, Rene Carayol, summarised the essence of the week perfectly with his moving presentation on collaboration. Authentic leaders care about people as well as results and performance. A combination of both is what makes us stronger.

The Cass London Symposium was a magical week. It ended with a closing party at The Ivy Soho Brasserie. This elective is a rare occasion to meet with a number of your London professors and classmates but also to meet new people from MBA teams from partner business schools in Europe and South Africa. We built unforgettable connections and had a lot of fun. The Cass London Symposium is a “must-do” elective which I highly recommended as there is so much to learn and experience.

Joanne Ebata
Dubai Executive MBA (2018)

[i] Wikipedia

Leadership and innovation in a war zone

As I am crossing at the Qalandya check point between Israel and the West Bank, the huge red sign shocks me: “The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and is against the Israeli law”.

It looks like something from a movie scene and you are not quite sure what to expect on the other side. We cross, and all I see is unfortunate reality of the region and conflict between these two territories, thoroughly reminded of my childhood in Yugoslavia.

On the Israeli side we saw the prosperous modern society, full of life and colours that are reflected in almost everything from streets, to people and food. On the Palestinian side our first impressions are the ruins, wall murals of past leaders, abandoned cars and chaos.

Israel and Palestine were my choice for the Cass MBA international electives. The focus of the elective was on Innovation and Technology, which comes as no surprise with Israel being known as the start-up nation. The first month into my Cass MBA, I learned that one of the international options for study will be Israel. I knew in that moment that this will be my choice of an elective – working in technology and financial crime, my interests spans across cyber security and regtech and fintech world.

International electives are intense. You go on a trip abroad and visit numerous locations and companies daily, whilst meeting and learning from founders, owners and investors. You travel from city to city and you cross borders, or in our case – check points.

Many won’t know that a large number of successful businesses materialised from Israel, such as Viber, Waze and Mobileye. The country prides itself as the start-up nation mostly driven by the uncertainty that seems to run through their DNA due to political and economic factors surrounding them. Success on the Israeli side, but what is going on behind the literal wall on the Palestinian Territory?

The western world often can’t understand why there are conflicts between people ‘somewhere far away from us’, and don’t really want to engage in that conversation. Most of my cohort was also confused as to why these two nations can’t be one. It just seemed logical that working in unity would be beneficial for both sides. The Palestinian side suffers a lack of infrastructure, lack of water and many other resources, yet they are as resourceful as Israel is!

The streets may look empty, but don’t let that fool you. Palestinian residents know how to live. On our first night we enter a restaurant and it is buzzing inside, the whole restaurant is packed with families and young couples dining and smoking shishas.

Our night ends in a famous bar packed with kids of American expats living in Palestine. Bizarre, you think? So did we. They are young, happy, dancing, and invite us to join them. We were not that cool to wear bandannas and lose ourselves to the sound of music, but nevertheless we did enjoy our night – we were useless at playing darts, but we proceeded to do so until late at night.

 

We met many successful entrepreneurs during the two days in Palestine. The Palestinian society is a lot more progressive than we are lead to believe. For example, the CEO of Bank of Palestine has fully eliminated the gender pay gap within the bank, insisting on this change himself.

There are in fact a number of factors working in favour of Palestinians. The Palestinian society has a high number of highly educated individuals, and it seems that its diaspora can fuel the culture of innovation and finance it. Of course, the circumstances of country’s occupation are also helping to kindle the creativity of Palestinians.

Speaking to a young entrepreneur at one of the events in Palestine, he mentioned the collaborations between Israelis and Palestinians. Whilst the countries are in conflict, the people seem to be less so. ‘We work together with our friends from Israel’, he said, ‘and our business is thriving.’ Of course, software has the unique ability to flow through wires and borders, but perhaps even more surprising was that he was talking about a medical business, moving people across borders and offering them medical help when needed.

I got home two days before the American embassy moved to Jerusalem. The news were full of horror stories coming from the region, and I was thinking – could successful cross border businesses help build peace in the region? Is it the organised chaos that is prevalent in the region that we need in order to innovate successfully?  Perhaps.

I wouldn’t want to attempt to predict the future of the region, but I hope that these two nations find a common language in innovation – after all making innovation happen is a collaborative process on many levels, from nations to countries, to companies, to military and teams.

Nina Kerkez
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

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)

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