Tag: Cass MBA (page 1 of 2)

Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership at Cass

Nina and her cohort

My MBA experience is coming to an end. I am about to graduate this summer. Reflecting back, I can only say that my experience was mad – good and bad and crazy and intense and really like a roller-coaster. But I wouldn’t have changed it for anything, it was exactly how an Executive MBA is supposed to be. Except, my class had a higher proportion of men to women. Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion for a minute.

I am a proud recipient of the Women in Business Award by Cass. A few of my cohort members are. My school is extremely supportive of female leadership starting from a female dean, female board members and offering many scholarship opportunities to women applying to various programs. As with many schools, during the application process we are given an opportunity to apply for a multitude of scholarships, and us women have an opportunity to go for the diversity awards. Like in many boardrooms, business schools seem to struggle to entice working women to join the classroom part-time on top of their full time careers as professionals, and most likely even fuller time careers as mothers and wives. Therefore, many business schools will offer various awards to supports future female leaders and our prospect achievements in our individual fields. What a tremendous opportunity for us, but are we discriminating men? Who cares, you are thinking, women have been discriminated for years, it is our time to rise and shine!

#CassWomen

Hey, I don’t disagree. Give me an opportunity to shine and I’ll take it, nobody can stand in my way. Except, I don’t see the world with ‘men vs women’ eyes. I see an opportunity to grow personally and professionally, perhaps competing against other people, but their gender doesn’t bother me. I see an opportunity to shine, not because I am a woman, but because I have a unique perspective, and unique experience and knowledge that I bring to the table. That is what others should see too. Those that are incapable of seeing past my gender are not worthy of my time, and certainly organisations that recruit me because I am a woman and they ‘lack female leadership’ are not the places I would fit in. Not because I don’t bring a female touch to anything I do, trust me, I am emotional and I don’t hide those emotions, but that is also my choice. These are not the places for me, mostly because they care that I am a woman, and don’t care that I am an experienced professional. That is where I want equality.

I recently read an article in which a personality scientist states that if you are a woman and you popularly ‘lean-in’ you will become a dysfunctional leader. This scientist further states that most people have little insight into their leadership talents, and those that believe that are the best leaders are in fact the most incompetent leaders lacking self-awareness. Statistically, those leaders are most likely to be men – whether women have chosen a different path, chose to stay at home or were just not interested in leading, we are still working in a male dominated business environment. So if we are to lean in, and mimic the behaviours of these dysfunctional leaders, won’t we become dysfunctional as well? That is not my goal. My goal as female leader is to be humble but also to utilise my strengths: communication, passion, endurance, emotional intelligence, empathy, the ability to listen and connect, and the ability to think about my bigger picture, but also to think about the picture of the people I touch and bring on the path with me.

Nina Kerkez (Modular Executive MBA, 2019)

Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani education advocate, who at the age of 17 became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, is a true inspiration in leadership for me. She has overcome adversity, she is standing up to her rivals and she is overcoming diversity, whilst fighting for girls to pick up the books and pens, and get the education that they deserve. There are many things we could all learn from Malala, but as I talk about diversity and inclusion, in words of this wonderful woman it is important for us to remember: “Dear brothers and sisters, I am not against anyone… There was a time when women social activist asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it for ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on the women to be independent to fight for themselves.”

So, in my view, my MBA class was extremely diverse containing people of all genders, many races and nationalities, and many professional backgrounds. It consisted of a group of 38 amazing individuals, each and every one of us unique in our own way. We have learned from each other and built relationships that will last us a lifetime. Perhaps, I am finding it harder than I thought to be at the end of this journey. But those connections built in the two years of classroom activity, travel and, let’s face it, pub activity together, give me the feeling that this is not quite the end.

Post-study drinks

Building a bright future

International Consultancy Week in Dublin

Typing down a reflective essay could take a great deal of time! And why not? After all I was scrupulously penning down a yearlong journey of my MBA at Cass Business School that concluded on 22nd January this year. Collecting my degree as a Full-time MBA with Distinction in the presence of my cohort of qualified MBAs and Executive MBAs from Cass Business School, family, friends and other postgraduates from City, University of London was truly a proud moment. The Reception party organised by the School was equally quintessential.

From classroom lessons to leadership training week at Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and Digital Innovation elective that included a notable Design Thinking seminar at Stanford University in San Francisco, Cass MBA proffered a plethora of experiential learning at each stage of the programme.  Some of these learning experiences culminated into great successes and were directly entered in my resume. Working with the C-suite as a Strategy Intern at a London-based travel company and as an external MBA consultant at a health-tech company for my International Consultancy week (arranged by Cass in Dublin) are a few to list. The icing on the cake for me was getting a chance to learn about the different industries in which these companies operate.

People make the difference. Cass Business School made me feel this much more than I had thought. The school’s fantastic academic staff assisted me round the clock for all official activities, well-qualified professors offered exceptional teaching in core MBA subjects and welcomed after class discussions; and well-trained external faculty from iOpener Institute offered personality development workshops on when and how to lead and follow teams. Jorgen Sundberg’s session on ‘How to Build a strong and an attractive LinkedIn Profile’ and David Ohrvall’s ‘Crack the Case’ session were truly skilful and elucidating to leverage my professional profile.

To top it all, MBA classes were a complete fun with an energetic cohort of 70+ people from 23 countries. How could I miss bringing up here ‘The Great Cake-Baking Event’? It was the most frenzied way to learn strategy while baking cakes in groups. Besides giving weight to group exercises, the Cass MBA geared me to look at the business world with a unique lens through its Business Mastery Project. My project demanded understanding of concepts from several subjects – strategy, operations and digital innovation and the MBA programme had underpinned this right in the first half of the course year with its four learning blocks of 12 subjects and 6 electives where I covered all managerial subjects from HR to Corporate Strategy.

Study tour in San Francisco

For obvious reasons (MBA fun – activities, classes and exams), time flew very fast in those 12 months but that same clock ticked unrushed at the very end of the programme aka the job-hunting process. To make this process seem quite effortless, Cass Careers department provided me with copious amount of guidance and motivated me how to key-in my tech experience with management studies for various consulting roles. I’d like to give a special thanks to Laura Levy, MBA Relationship Manager for this! Starting with getting my resume and cover letters apt for these roles to preparing me exhaustively for assessment and partner rounds, the team helped massively before I accepted a role in a Big Four professional services firm in London. Ever since I’ve been on the job, the combined learning experience of the MBA networking events as well as the classrooms sessions of Digital Technologies and Business Innovation, Operations, Analytics and Corporate Strategy have been immensely useful.

Cass FTMBA is a fast track MBA in its complete sense. It opens up a whole new set of interesting alumni benefits, such as attending one free elective per year, which is rarely offered by other business schools. It has brought a great opportunity for me to learn something purely for my own personal interest or curiosity. Just last week, I started studying an elective on fast track venturing. As my learning continues – be it on a new role, project or industry, I look forward to build a positive future in the business world!

Finally, we graduated!

Prerna Thitme
Full-time MBA, 2018

 

How four female fund managers broke the glass ceiling

I knew when I made the decision to study for an MBA, I’d be required to take on challenges that would feel uncomfortable. I expected that the structured path on the course would guide me through, and over, certain obstacles. I wanted to face barriers head on, and improve upon them.

Kylie Poole

In my role as a sales and marketing executive I was used to speaking in front of small groups of people when giving product demonstrations, or meeting new customers for the first time at one-on-one events. I felt relaxed and in control in those types of engagements. But I wasn’t regularly required to speak to much larger groups of people.

My sister, who’s an excellent public speaker, told me that preparation and practise were the keys to success. With that in mind, I was both excited and extremely nervous about the prospect of running an event for the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme which would require me to mediate a panel, in front of a large audience.

On the one hand, it was a huge honour. I’m so proud to be involved in a programme that’s asking tough questions and looking to improve female involvement at all professional levels. On the other, I knew it was unchartered territory – what if I lost track of time or struggled to help conversation flow amongst the panellists?

The good thing about hosting a panel is that actually, the stars of the show are your panellists. They do most of the talking and it’s their insights that make the event special. The difficult thing is that you can’t over-practise – you don’t know which direction the conversation is going to go in, and you have to stay flexible.

On the night, I got to the premises quite early – I wanted to see the space in the room and get in a few more run-throughs. By that point, I’d practised my introduction and questions many times over. I was trying to concentrate on the pace and tone of my voice when speaking – I naturally speak quite quickly and knew I had to deliberately slow that down.

Kylie Poole hosting the Global Women’s Leadership panel

I met the fantastic panellists for the first time about 15 minutes before the event began. I was lucky enough to be hosting four seasoned and highly experienced women from the fund management industry, who’d also grown together in their careers, becoming great friends. Their warmth, obvious rapport and intellect had a very calming effect – we were already talking amongst ourselves about some of the topics I was due to bring up and I could see how engaging and knowledgeable they were.

Once the crowd had arrived, there were about 50 people in the room. Some of my friends and my partner had come to support me. When I gave the introductory speech, I tried to picture speaking to them. The rehearsals I’d done in preparation paid off – I was familiar with the script and was able therefore to devote my concentration to remembering to speak in a deliberate, relaxed manner.

The panellists were as I’d expected them to be – absolutely brilliant. The chemistry between them was fabulous – one of my friends after the event commented that it was like being a fly on the wall as four friends from a fund-management version of Sex and the City talked to each other at dinner. It felt intimate, and genuine.

Time seemed to fly by and on reflection, I can remember four messages the most clearly – I’m sure for people in the audience there’d be other topics that resonated. Each point I think is inspiring and helpful to both men and women.

Dagmara Fijalkowski emphasised the importance of practise and preparation for workplace engagements. After she said this, her friends on the panel described her as the most prepared person in the room, despite her vast knowledge and many years of experience. Dagmara explained that she still puts hours of thorough research and rehearsal into all of her presentations. This may at first sound like common sense, but I found it reaffirming to hear how hard work and determination can still often be a differentiator.

The second point I remember highlighted was the importance of following and choosing paths in your career that lead towards what you’re passionate about. This was raised by Jane Lesslie who’s had a fascinating journey into fund management from journalism, through government service and economics. She pointed out how hard it is to lack confidence when talking about a topic you love, or lack motivation in an area that invigorates you.

This discussion of how careers can grow, develop, and flourish over time lead us to talk about the multi-career life. The panel challenged the audience to put less pressure on themselves about whether or not they were exactly where they wanted to be in their careers at this exact moment. They highlighted how every step contributes unique learning, and that it’s all part of a longer career journey.

Global Women’s Leadership scholars

Lastly, the panel described that despite fund management’s reputation as a male oriented career (backed up with a consistent under-representation of female talent applying at entry levels), it doesn’t at all live up to the image of shouting and bravado on trading floors. Instead, it’s a measured, calculated, research-oriented environment where everyone’s performance tends to be measured in a meritocratic fashion (long term returns).

Once I’d brought the panel to a close, I went out into the reception area and could see pockets of people energised by the event, expanding on the conversation amongst themselves over drinks. I knew I’d achieved a personal milestone with the type of public speaking I’d just done, but I was almost happier to see the inspiring effect the event had had on the audience. For that mostly, we and Cass have the star panellists to thank.

Why I went back to school (and chose the Cass MBA)

My long-term professional goal is to become the CEO of a large financial institution. For that reason, I spent some time researching common traits leaders possess that have climbed up the corporate ladder.

I found that they are all driven, hardworking people that have persevered throughout adversity but the commonality that truly stood out, is that at some point of their lives they all made a decision that transformed the course of their careers.

I knew that I shared these traits with them; however, I was yet to take that life-changing step that would put me on track to fulfil my ambitions. Doing an Executive MBA was that next life-changing step to take, so here I am, on track and ready to squeeze every opportunity on my way up.

My journey before Cass

My name is Natalia Lopez and my dream has not always been to score that top job in the banking industry. In fact, I left school in Spain without qualifications and, having landed in the UK without speaking a word of English, the minimum wage was the first thing that I learnt in this country.

Today I am part of the FX trade technology team at a global custodian bank in Canary Wharf. Given a set of requirements, I configure clients to trade FX products across a number of platforms, carry out test trades and ensure the system architecture is correctly set up to allow the flows.

So, you might be wondering how did I end up having such a cool job in an expanding industry and, more importantly; why is it that I would like to become a CEO? I will reveal all in the next post.

Having obtained an Economics degree from City, University of London, and mentoring for the University, I have worked closely with Cass Business School students for three years. This meant I have been aware of the School’s great reputation for a long time; therefore, I decided to attend MBA related events to explore their programmes (on a side note, this is something I highly recommend if you are thinking of applying for a programme).

First day jitters

I have to be honest though, even after accepting my offer I still felt a bit nervous when I was on my way to the recruitment events. But after five minutes of interacting with the incredible bunch of people that makes up my cohort, I was certain I was in the right place. Have you ever had that feeling? It is great.

During the first week, we were allocated into teams that we would be doing projects with. Sally, Saj, Gemma, Ahmed, Mike, Guillaume and I are Team Cook. We come from different backgrounds which is perfect as each one of us brings something different to the table. We have only been working together for a few weeks but I already know we are going to smash it through the next teaching block.

That is us having a great time at the welcome dinner. I am on the second right 😊

The day after the welcome dinner, we had a masterclass on mind mapping and speed reading. I took this as a hint of the workload we will be given! In only a couple of weeks I have already attended a two-day workshop on presentation skills and another on executive presence (to be continued), both of an excellent quality. So far, I have signed up for Insights into Leadership and the Executive Media workshops, which I am looking forward to it!

I wonder how I will feel when I read back to this blog in two years’ time. At the moment, all I know is that it is going to be a very exciting time in my life and I am going to enjoy every moment of it.

Executive MBA (2020)

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.

 

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)

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)

What makes my MBA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Nina Kerkez
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

 

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)

Can an MBA teach a lone wolf new teamwork tricks?

From the moment you walk into Cass as an MBA student, barely having exchanged a few platitudes and making the utmost effort remembering everyone’s name, you’re thrown into a team and before you know it, someone’s already shouting because you need to make a decision NOW before you all die on an alien planet. And then you die anyway. Have I lost you already? Welcome to induction week at Cass.

When I researched my MBA, I realised very quickly that teamwork would be a major aspect of it. Personally, I dreaded the thought of it. Throughout my professional life, I never had any problems working in teams but rather than real teamwork or collaboration, what I had mostly experienced were lone wolves that happened to sit next to each other, occasionally covering someone’s work during holidays.

Equally, in my personal life, my preference of working alone is well reflected in my hobbies: I write fiction, play classical piano and run marathons. There are ways to incorporate others in all of these activities but I have never actively chosen to do so.

When I applied for my MBA, I made the conscious decision to address this weakness of mine. However I didn’t realise just how much teamwork would be required.

At Cass, not only do you have a team of eight you work with for all projects in the first two blocks (including an integration week after each block which is an entire week of just your team and your project), there’s a team for your Strategy Project, a team for your leadership training at Sandhurst, a new team for blocks three and four, various teams you’ll be in for your electives and probably other teams I don’t even know about yet.

In summary: there are a lot of teams and A LOT of teamwork is involved.

So why is there such an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration?

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Corporate Recruiters Survey Report 2017, 4 out of the top 5 skills employers wanted from new hires could be grouped in communications skills , while teamwork skills such as adaptability, valuing others’ opinions, ability to follow a leader and cross-cultural sensitivity were all to be found in the top 10.
GMAC makes two observations:

  • Changes in today’s workplace occur faster and on a more global scale. To be successful, employers need business leaders who are solid team players and good managers: people who can both follow and lead, who can work with those from different cultures, who can quickly adapt to change, manage strategy and innovation, and make decisions.
  • Though employers place increased emphasis on teamwork and managerial skills this year, they still rank communication as an essential skill to have mastered (Graduate Management Admission Council, 2017).

This year, Cass Full-time MBA class is comprised of 73 students, 29 nationalities with no single region represented by more than 20 per cent. Students coming from so many industries, even the biggest group of finance professionals only makes up 23 per cent. It makes sense then to experiment and hone teamwork and communications skills in the uniquely diverse setting of this MBA.

As one fellow classmate put it: “It’s the crucial part of an MBA to learn how to lead a team and prepare ourselves to use the same skills to lead people once we step out of the classroom. We need to understand our leadership style and make a conscious effort to readily change it based on different scenarios.”

So that’s the thought then. Learning by doing. Work in teams and polish your teamwork and communications skills. But how exactly does it work in practice? Does throwing a bunch of people into one room, calling it a team and making them do stuff really teach you anything?

Now that our first block is over, I took some time to reflect on my experience working with my team for eight weeks. I was also interested in how others perceived the experience and asked my cohort to participate in a quick survey.

Although we’ve been together for just two months, our team already developed a strong sense of identity and looking at others, we often said we were lucky with the mix of people. I for one, had gone into this with a healthy level of scepticism and defensiveness, so I am quite surprised to find myself in this rather happy position.

I wondered whether this was luck or whether at the end of the day, pretty much any group could be happy and perform to a level that made them believe they were better off than others. Asking my cohort, 70 percent of respondents said they felt lucky with the mix of people while 16 percent considered themselves unlucky but thought they still made the best out of the situation. Yes, people who sign up to an MBA are a particular subset of society already and perhaps there are not that many things to clash on but I still find this to be a respectable result.

 

Using Tuckman’s framework of Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing (Tuckman, 1965), I then asked my cohort to identify where they saw themselves in the team development process. The majority saw themselves either in the norming or performing stage; promising after just two months.  Of course, not everyone had gotten past the storming phase with one respondent considering themselves “floundering like a fish out of water.”

More significantly, the majority had gone through some difficulties to get to where they were now. That’s to be expected and a healthy stage in team development to get to the other side. Someone mentioned “avoiding confrontation” as a problem and I can see how that would suppress the growth of a team which may be a reason for some (38 percent) picking out groupthink as a problem. Many commented on these conflicts as minor and I would probably count myself in this camp too.

However, some voiced larger concerns over individuals dominating the team and taking over the discussions, warning that it stifled progress by causing the team to be stuck in minute arguments. Clearly some frustrations built up in some teams.

Given the demographic mix of our cohort, some of this is unavoidable but it did make me sad and made me reassess my own behaviour, looking for ways I could possibly make someone in my own team enjoy the experience more. After all, I already was someone who was benefitting from this. As one student said, “to work together you need to honestly care about each other’s opinion. Don’t formulate pre-conceived ideas. Sometimes genius comes from unexpected places.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, what was more surprising to me however was that 62 percent of respondents thought they were victims of free-riding (assuming they weren’t talking about themselves). The optimist in me wants to believe that this high percentage is rather a sign of miscommunication and a proof that teams may not have reached the norming or performing stage just yet. MBA students have made a lot of sacrifices for this experience, so why would you be here just to free-ride and upset the rest of your team, when you’d at least spend another two months working with?

An issue that often comes up is the differences in motivations and aims which may be a cause of what others perceive as free-riding. As one respondent put it: “Some want to get a distinction, others would rather save time and effort for networking and professional development.” In our team, we quickly developed very direct and honest communication which would usually be led by someone asking something along the lines of: “How do you feel about this? What do you personally want out of this? Are you OK with what we’re doing?”

Overall, as a team, we do have similar motivations and our work during integration week was rewarded with a grade we were all satisfied with. We could have done better, no doubt. But I believe no one regretted the outcome. In an MBA setting, motivations are much clearer and easier to discuss. Once we get into the real world again, individual motivations can be much more complex and may not necessarily be shared. You can’t just ask “what do you want out of this?” and expect a straight-forward answer. I’m not under the illusion that these few weeks of working through conflict have provided me with all the answers. Still, it has definitely raised my awareness around these issues and I will think more about individual motivations before making any assumptions about others based on what I want.

If you’d ask me today how I felt about working with a completely new yet-to-be-disclosed group in blocks three and four, I’d tell you that I still dread the thought. I am however in a minority. The majority (73 percent) in my survey are excited to work with a new group of people in blocks three and four. The reason I don’t look forward to it though is a different one than at the start of my MBA.

“What has truly changed in the two months, is that I am comfortable telling people in my team when something doesn’t really motivate me or when I know someone else is better for the task.”

What has truly changed in the two months, is that I am comfortable telling people in my team when something doesn’t really motivate me or when I know someone else is better for the task. Equally, I’ve learnt to trust every individual’s performance and let them lead when it makes sense. For example, when you end up in a baking contest (yes, that happens in an MBA) and one person in your team tells you they’ve baked their own wedding cake. Then you can happily let go and just do what they tell you to. I am one of those who felt very lucky about their first team and , I can’t imagine it to be better or even just as good next time around.

Having said that, I approached my team for the Sandhurst leadership training last week with the same hesitations and was very positively surprised how much I enjoyed the experience working with this completely different set of people. In fact, several people in the survey commented on how good their Sandhurst teams were. Perhaps it was the different types of tasks that provided us with the right kind of stimulus after five weeks of academic study.

I am honest in saying that the outdoor tasks were an absolute nightmare for me. There were several occasions where I seriously thought about leaving this all behind and just head back to London and have a couple of quiet days off. I was paying for the pleasure of this torture.

What made me stay however was my Sandhurst team, who readily accepted the fact that this wasn’t my cup of tea and still recognised the effort I was putting into it. We don’t all get pleasure out of the same activities and knowing when someone is struggling, recognising it and acknowledging the effort they are making can go a long way. I truly appreciated everyone’s kind words that kept me going until the end. If I would have given up halfway through, I would have never known the sense of accomplishment I felt when I reached the end and for that I’m truly grateful to my team and a particular someone who told me how disappointed they’d be if I left.

 

“We don’t all get pleasure out of the same activities and knowing when someone is struggling, recognising it and acknowledging the effort they are making can go a long way.”

Sandhurt Team 8

That leads me to the final question of my survey: has all the teamwork you’re exposed to at Cass changed the way you feel about it?

Thirty-eight percent of respondents saw no change in the way they felt about team work of which 14 percent disliked teamwork to begin with. One respondent commented, “team work at Cass has reinforced my anecdotal rule that 30 percent of the team are good performers, 30 percent try but lack technical skills and 40 percent are substantially sub-par in skills and attitude.”

Two months of teamwork can’t convert everyone. What was encouraging however was that 57 percent of respondents said they saw more of the merits of teamwork than they had previously, and felt comfortable doing more of it.

As one student said “I have come to the realisation that working effectively in a team is perhaps more important than being individually brilliant for doing most jobs.” I’m certainly one of those who see teamwork in a more positive light. While I still dread working in a new team and having to face new personalities, I am likely to be more open and understanding to it than I ever was before. If that’s the result of just two months, I’m optimistic that while I may never be a teamwork-loving person, I will be confident to embrace any teamwork environment that comes my way in the future and be able to recognise the merits of it.

 

I’d like to conclude with a comment from one of my survey respondents that beautifully sums up the MBA teamwork experience:

“The biggest surprise for me was how often we actually operated as a team – where the total output of our work was better than what we (probably) could have done individually. I’ve yet to feel like I could have done better on my own (maybe the same, but certainly not better). We’re somewhere between storming and norming now – we see our flaws clearly but haven’t yet managed to overcome them. But we have a good group, and we all have each other’s backs. I’m nervous for my next groups – I feel like I’ve been blessed this time around!” (Anonymous,  Cass Full-time MBA, 2017).

Full-time MBA (2018)

 

References:

Graduate Management Admission Council (2017) Corporate Recruiters Survey Report 2017. Available at: https://www.gmac.com/market-intelligence-and-research/gmac-surveys/corporate-recruiters-survey.aspx (Accessed: Nov 5, 2017).

Nilsson, P. and Moules, J. (2017) ‘What employers want from MBA graduates — and what they don’t’, Financial Times, Aug 31, 2017.

Tuckman, B.W. (1965) ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’, Psychological bulletin, 63(6), pp. 384-399. doi: 10.1037/h0022100.

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