Tag: Cass MBA (page 2 of 3)

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.

Reflections on the first month

Within a blink of an eye, the first month of our Executive MBA at Cass is complete. It therefore is an appropriate time at ‘reflection week’ to look back across our first two modules.

In that first month, as a group we have experienced a vigorous but rewarding induction, and have already completed five-week block lectures. In such a short space of time we have bonded as a collective group and within our coursework groups of five or six, are fully immersed into our first group submission (Financial Accounting), as well as extra-curricular activities such as executive presence and media skills training. The cohort is very diverse with regards to background and experience, which is one of the key reasons I chose Cass.

 

What more could one need to survive the next 2 years?!

With Cass regularly mentioned in the wider press (only this week moving up the FT Executive MBA rankings) it feels like a very topical time to be completing an MBA. It already feels like the correct decision in selecting Cass and I know the reputation of the institution was a key reason in gaining support from my employer (I am a sponsored student), along with the optional real estate investment modules which can follow in Year Two.

The recruitment sessions at Cass are definitely worth exploring and are a great indication as to how professionally run the programme is too. I personally attended a breakfast seminar, which took on the format of an informal roundtable discussion with past and present students and senior members of staff. It was very informative and welcoming and was also a great chance to experience the excellent facilities at 200 Aldersgate. The location is fantastic for me as my office is on the same street; but it is worth travelling for, trust me!

There are also many opportunities to attend lectures as a guest, which is another option I took and one I would also thoroughly recommend (we have already had our first prospective future students join us in a lecture to consider an application for next year). If an institution doesn’t offer them, then what are they trying to hide?

There are people who applied for the programme nearly a year in advance, or others like myself who flirted dangerously close to the deadline date. Another piece of application advice I would offer to candidates is if they are looking for sponsorship from their employer, is to start the conversation early. I am somewhat fortunate that I work within a small team (but in a large organisation). It is not uncommon for companies to have several layers of approval for further education requests and each stage can require multiple conversations.

Cass is mindful of this too. I found the published document about asking for financial assistance from your employer very worthwhile. It is certainly not a conversation you can go into without preparation.

Another great perk of the programme is the number of digital and physical subscriptions you have access to, which are already proving useful for wider reading. From the FT to Orbis (a global online companies archive), along with Bloomberg terminals, it really is top of the range. The library is still in existence in a physical form, but much changed from my days as an undergraduate; my back is certainly thanking me for the number of books available electronically!

A cause for celebration! The opening weekend induction

 

Now the first block of modules are completed it feels like the momentum is building, and the lecturers are warning us of the uptick in assignments. We have several weekend sessions coming up and with the first exam timetable published it is certainly now feeling ‘real’. It certainly felt that way this week when I finally got around to updating my LinkedIn profile!

It’s also great to be receiving the amount of support that I am experiencing too, both professionally and personally both inside and outside the programme. Without both the entire process would definitely be more of a struggle. As it stands I am thoroughly enjoying the programme, but I would be lying if I wasn’t a little bit apprehensive about what is around the corner. Fortunately we have been paired with some great former students as our mentors who have proved invaluable already.

The group work begins – it is more exciting than it looks honest!

Here’s to the next month!

Thomas Narraway
Executive MBA (2019)

 

The Apprentice

In March 2017, I attended the International Consultancy Week in Hanoi, Vietnam, as part of my Modular Executive MBA programme at Cass.  It’s been an amazing experience, both in terms of MBA and professional learning as well as from a personal perspective. All 42 cohort members were grouped in small teams according to the business project we chose to deliver for a particular local company. A key objective of the Consultancy Week was to apply the learning from the first part of the MBA programme in a real business context but in a foreign setting.

 

For most of us, it was also an unfamiliar setting as we soon realised that the business norms and culture in Asia were different, something we needed to adapt to and learn.  Prior to the project, our team considered it would be good to touch base with the client to allow us to plan ahead.  What we also thought would be good was to obtain a briefing from British University Vietnam which is Cass’s in-country partner for that programme.  We soon realised that there is a lot of emphasis and importance given to relationship and trust in doing business in Vietnam, something most of us perhaps usually take for granted.  Knowing this helped us adapt our approach when engaging with the client: offering to have lunch together to get to know each other; not expecting internal information to be readily provided to us on request; or appreciating hierarchy and formality when engaging with stakeholders.

We were four in the team and we were tasked with examining the marketing case for a prospective new baby product line for a leading local fashion brand.  Interestingly, apart from one colleague in the team who had young children, none of us knew much about babies, fashion, or marketing! Of course, we had all learned about the principles of marketing and strategies for marketing during the first year of the MBA programme, so it was very much our starting point.  Once we had worked with the client to ensure that the scope of work was manageable and that we could deliver effectively in just four days, we approached the problem as we were taught at Cass, starting from the marketing 4 Ps (price, promotion, product, place).  Together, as a team, we then designed the structure for our project and each of us led a key delivery of the project: customer survey, focus group, competitor store visits, and desktop market research.

From a team and collaboration perspective, we generally worked well together but, admittedly, did go through the four stages of team transitions – forming, storming, norming, performing.  The storming part was rather uncomfortable but somehow, with our MBA hats on, we knew it was to be expected – we had even shared with each other our leadership styles prior to flying to Vietnam.  As such, we quickly resolved our conflicts to ensure that they did not get in the way of the project.  After all, we had a client to satisfy and we were determined to deliver work in a professional manner and to a high standard.  That said, there were several moments of “I am not sure what I am doing” and “Aarrgghh!!”, especially when we had a focus group planned for 10.00am and at 09.55am, we were still briefing each other and our interpreter on how we will facilitate the workshop.  None of us had facilitated a marketing focus group before, so no pressure there…  We did a good job though, and our clients, who were observing us in action, commended us on our work and effort.  It truly felt like an episode from The Apprentice!

We were not all alone – we had three academics accompanying the cohort to guide us and a debrief was available every evening to cover team dynamic issues or discuss any other operational or delivery problems.  We even had someone from the course office who made sure our programme went smoothly.  Indeed, the Consultancy Week was not just about the business project, but also about networking and having a good time (but shhh!).  We had the opportunity to obtain a country briefing from the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and to network with British Business Group Vietnam at an evening reception hosted by the British Ambassador to Vietnam.  I felt that we were well looked after and that the programme was well paced.

On a personal level, my experience in Vietnam reminded me that I had to be continually mindful of my leadership and management style to adapt to cultural differences and changing team dynamics. I kept an open mind, willing to explore how things were done locally. I made local friends and tried local food, including the famous Pho soup from a roadside stall. It was my first time in Vietnam and in many ways it was a humbling experience: I learned how hard the Vietnamese people work, having only come out of war conflict not too long ago.  I learned that the country was ambitious and was eager to grow as fast as it could. I remember walking around the iconic Hoàn Kiếm Lake with a fellow colleague and randomly being approached by this six-year old Vietnamese girl who wanted to converse with us.  Her parents then explained that they bring their two children from their surrounding town to Hanoi to give them a chance to practise their English.  It felt like a real testimony of how much the country wanted to progress and adapt to international standards. All in all, it’s been an amazing experience and certainly one I will cherish!

Hemrish Aubeelack

Modular Executive MBA (2018)

An Icelandic Saga about the President, a Volcano and my Missing Laptop…

Iceland – Day Zero

Good morning folks – blog time. Today I am writing to you from a height of 33,000 ft. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean while on board a British Airways flight to Iceland. BA800 to be exact actually, and rather annoyingly I’m penning this entry on a 4inch IPhone screen because I somehow managed to leave my laptop at the x-ray machines in Heathrow Terminal 5. Damn!

Luckily, I was raised by a family with a reasonably positive outlook and have therefore managed to identify at least 1 positive from this 1st world problem – the week ahead can only get better from here!

Not that this week needed the help however. Today, the talented and keen members of the Cass Full-time MBA travel to Reykjavik for a week long industry placement with selected Icelandic companies. We have been invited by these companies to work with them and help solve real business challenges. Translation: there will be no theory, no case studies – just practical application. Brilliant.

Or is it? Where are we going again? Iceland? That’s right.

Iceland and Challenges? Hah! The irony of such a posting at this present moment is I’m sure not lost on you too, even if you had spent the entirety of last week submersed in the Blue Lagoon.

Iceland’s sensational exposé in the Panama Papers last month, and just at a time when the country was preparing to open its doors following their post 2008 Financial Crisis exile from world markets, has forced itself into the international limelight once again – and for all the wrong reasons. This time, at least for now, it is their government in the cross-hairs.

No doubt that the pressure that forced the resignation this month of their previous Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, will inevitably implicate other government leaders and businesses within Iceland. (Post script: President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has just recently been implicated in the mess too) I’m sure that many local people, still feeling the after effects of Iceland’s role in the Financial Crisis, would be preparing for some serious turbulence ahead. Iceland’s metaphoric seatbelt warning sign is well and truly illuminated. What a time to be here!

Hold on to your hats!

Our cohort has been split into teams of 5 people. Each person was hand-picked by the participating organisation to work with them. As I mentioned above, this isn’t a token gesture by these companies, they are hoping to gain a real edge within their market by matching our talents and experiences with their specific business problems. We are very lucky and the breadth of companies is impressive. Digital start-ups, tourism operators, fashion retailers, supply chain specialists and many more are all looking for help. For example, some businesses are looking to grow and expand, others want to launch new product lines and are looking to improve their internal operational efficiencies. There are clearly some really interesting projects to be involved with.

Let’s just hope that when our plane touches down in a few hours I, along with the rest of the cohort, are ready to go and we hit the ground running! Actually, I’ve just thought of another positive – running is MUCH easier without a 13inch MacBook Pro on your back.

 


Iceland – Day Four

Today is our penultimate day with our Icelandic companies. Our team, consisting of George, Shiba, Ankur and Alejandro have spent the last 3 days with a digital start-up called Activity Stream. Its time for us to decide on an appropriate course of action for our company.

IMG_0187

Broaden your perspective… the view from our office.

The problem is simple enough – which industry should Activity Stream develop their product for next? They have a fantastic platform, which allows for a very sophisticated level of operational intelligence. The answer to their problem however isn’t so straight forward.

Our team are arguing. We tried to approach the task systematically. Drawing on our partially completed MBA and personal experiences to date. We tried to understand Activity Stream’s capabilities. What is it that Activity Stream do that their competitors can’t? We tried to look at the industries they could operate in. What type of business would actually need Activity Stream working for them? We approached it with the rigour and detail you would expect after 6 months of intense training in business theory.

We developed spreadsheets, we created models, we spoke from our own industry experience and we spoke to those in our networks for more. We were doing OK. But as a group, we were arguing. So, I left to get a coffee. We hadn’t had a break since breakfast.

I returned and the place was much calmer. Perhaps it was me all along. At this point it is worth clarifying that I still didn’t have a laptop to use and, like any tradesman without a tool, I found myself anxious and unable to contribute  constructively to the documentation, shouting largely unhelpful directions to our group members. The idle time did give me time to look at the problem from a  wider perspective however, and, also a time for some reflection.

I found myself looking at the 5 of us working diligently. (Well there were 4 actually working at this time – I was still finishing my flat white.)

Now I realise I did say that we were arguing before but it wasn’t all that bad. The coffee break had allowed me the time to see that despite the tension, we were constructive and it wasn’t at all malicious. We were arguing because we were passionate about delivering value for our client. We wanted to be sure we were giving them appropriate advice. It wasn’t lost on any of us that we were in Iceland, working with a 2-year-old start-up, a pioneer of their technology in many ways, making decisions that would likely have a significant impact on this company and its employees for many years to come. I caught myself in this bizarre moment a little stunned – I was immensely proud to be involved in such a great group of people and I couldn’t believe how far we had all come, as individuals and as group, during our MBA experience at Cass. As I savoured the gravity of this moment a little longer I took another sip of my coffee and begun to feel a little chill down my throat. It was as if my coffee had turned cold. Oh wait a minute, my coffee was actually cold! Right, where’s my pen and paper? Back to work.

 


Iceland – Day Five

Aside: When I was planning this week long blog, I had originally planned to use this last entry to write about hiking up Iceland’s infamous volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, that was planned for Day Six. However, given that readers could most likely read elsewhere on the internet about what it is like to hike up this beast I elected to cover our final dinner party instead. I had also assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that this evening’s events would simply be a standard affair and not worth documenting too much.  I was quite wrong.

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykavíc

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik

 

Our industry projects culminated Friday evening in a glamorous event at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik. And, as fate would have it, tonight I met the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. (See? Its probably better I write about this than the hike? Of course!)

I didn’t just meet him actually, I had dinner with Ólafur and we even shared a few conversations. I am pretty sure I missed the lecture on Icelandic diplomatic protocol at high school so with a reasonable degree of arrogance I talked to the President about the company we had been working with and what I thought of the Icelandic people and culture I had been exposed to while in Reykjavik. He then talked to our entire table at length on Iceland’s business reputation within Europe, the state of the European Union, on Brexit and his opinions on the green economy, of which Iceland has been somewhat of a pioneer within. I was impressed at his willingness to discuss detail and his understanding rooted in academic theory. Understanding tempered with practical experience, economics and social theories. To some this may sound like I am being a bit big-headed. The reason I say this is because it is refreshing. It is refreshing because in this new world of three word slogans  and rapid fire staccato diatribes, (ex Aussie PM Tony Abbott and Donald Trump you are clearly in my sights), to hear one of our leaders explain in detail, and with a willingness to discuss their reasoning, is fantastic! It hardly goes without saying that Ólafur made a great impression on me.

I didn’t agree with him on all points though, if you are interested. For instance, I’m not convinced that Iceland’s green initiatives and economy can be so easily replicated in other countries around the world. Iceland’s very fortunate to have had many natural resources, political stability and isolation from the rest of the world that has given it ideal conditions to experiment and grow. The Tyranny of Distance, so often referred to when describing Australia’s unique development, also can be applied to Iceland. It is important to acknowledge the unique opportunities a remote, resource rich, politically stable and economically wealthy country can take advantage of that others can not. The world can indeed learn a lot from Iceland’s approach to the green economy, however countries not as ‘lucky’ cannot be expected to be as successful or as willing. Its all relative.

Still, it was great to hear him talk and I appreciated the frankness of the conversation. What a great way to end the week.

Actually, tomorrow we climb the volcano so its not over yet.

Later.

Sam Cook, Full-time MBA 2015, Cass Business School

The 50/50 Cass Experience: Equality means business

Melissa Ridley, Modular Executive MBA, 2016 Cass Business School

Melissa Ridley,
Modular Executive MBA, 2016

Gender equality is so equally distributed on the Modular Executive MBA intake that in particular for the women on this learning experience it is being felt literally as a breath of fresh air. Women from all walks of life and professional backgrounds have signed up to the arduous and rewarding journey ahead to grow their potential.

My fellow classmate, Clair, had just come back from the United Nations (UN) for the 60th Committee on the Status of Women (CSW60), flying back into London directly to attend the induction weekend. The theme for this year’s CSW is women’s empowerment and sustainable development. Two weeks are dedicated to bringing Government delegations and NGOs together from most parts of the world to address women’s human rights.

It was the first session of the commission on the Status of Women since the adoption of Agenda 2030 with its 17 Sustainable Goals, including SDG 5 conference on Gender Equality, which took place on 1 January 2016. An ongoing part of this work has involved The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) (www.weprinciples.org) which are a set of Principles for businesses offering guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community.

The Principles emphasise the business case for corporate action to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment and are informed by real-life business practices and input gathered from across the globe. The Women’s Empowerment Principles seek to point the way to best practice by elaborating the gender dimension of corporate responsibility, the UN Global Compact, and businesses role in sustainable development. As well as being a useful guide for business, the Principles seek to inform other stakeholders, including governments, in their engagement with organisations.

Clair says “From the UN to Cass, the induction has been an empowering experience as a woman who deals with inequality in the workplace to see reflected in my cohort the 50/50 experience. The initial experience has felt balanced, productive and supportive, it was fascinating for me to hear the men on the course in initial conversations saying how much they sought out having a female manager in their workplace, as they often had a positive, growing and nurturing experience which had helped them to develop professionally. In this balanced gender cohort experience, I can truly say a he4she climate has been achieved”. 

Clair Rees, Modular Executive MBA, 2016

Clair Rees,
Modular Executive MBA, 2016

More than 1190 business leaders around the world have demonstrated leadership on gender equality through the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs).  The Cass MBA has pinned its gender equality flag to the mast showing true signs of business leadership with the cohort gender integration we are proud to be a part of within its innovative history as executive students.

In the UK the Government under the leadership of Nicky Morgan – Minister for Women and Equalities in collaboration with the select committee on Women and Equalities has currently launched an inquiry on Women in Executive levels. The scope of the inquiry seeks to address significant under-representation of women in executive levels. For example, less than 10% of FTSE 100 companies have a female CEO. It will look at 1) The situation for women in senior roles 2) The barriers to women achieving senior positions 3) The measures being taken by organisations to improve the situation & 4) Actions the Government should take in this area.

“I have experienced that the City is a great place for women to start their careers”

But what is it really like for the working woman of today?

Today, women make up 60% of junior managers, 40% of middle managers and 20% of senior managers and I have had the fortunate experience of working with the City for the last handful of years. I have experienced that the City is a great place for women to start their careers and I experienced a place of evolution from long standing institutions opening their doors and welcoming female CEO’s to a place aligning their HR strategies to incorporate the modern working woman. The city is such a hub of activity for networking, with networking accounting for nearly 80% of the succession of business we do today, networking brings benefits such as future opportunities, advice, engagement and inclusion into the business world the value and importance of women at such events should not be underestimated.

However it cannot be overlooked that there is still some challenge ahead to attract talented women to leadership roles. Research shows that only a third of ‘top’ jobs are currently filled by women in the UK. By 2018 UK Government has pledged that all companies with over 250 employees to disclose their pay gap of which statistics suggest is still at a large 19%. Bonuses will be included in the figures to make sure a light is shone on pay disparity in City firms, where there is suspected to be a particular problem with pay inequality.

Of course transparent reporting of pay at every level will tackle the glass pyramid that stifles potential and productivity in business however there is some apprehension from those that believe such disclosure could encourage large loss claims on equal pay in a sort of ‘ no win no fee’ type culture. However critics to this would say why this should be an issue with the Equal Pay Act firmly embedded.

But from the offices of the City into the classrooms of Cass it has been a fantastic to see their response to the evolving changes of the market. In particular the society correlated by Cass to address some of the challenges faced above. I am proud to be part of this year’s 50/50 cohort, one of my main drivers for choosing Cass was its level of diversity and it has been engaging and refreshing to see this work throughout my cohort.


Visit our website for details about our Full-time and Executive MBA programmes or our various scholarships for women in business. Alternatively you email our MBA recruitment team at cass-mba@city.ac.uk.

cassmbalondon.com

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY – HOW I SUPPORT WOMEN IN BUSINESS

In a climate where there is considerable interest in wider issues relating to women in business and the relevant drivers, I believe that International Women’s Day is a day for us all to reflect on not just women but the growth of our nation as a whole and its relationship to the world. Understanding what is good for women is to understand what is good for business.

Healthy societies equals healthy workforce which is key to good business and astute decisions being made with integrity. Women entrepreneurs are acknowledged to be effective in enhancing the economy generally, and evidence indicates that women-owned businesses have a beneficial community impact.

Unlocking this potential for myself holds a poignant moment of reflection on this year’s International Women’s Day. This year I have been given the opportunity to develop my own potential by beginning my MBA with Cass Business School and its Modular Executive MBA.

In taking this on, I am delighted to have been awarded Cass’s ‘Women in Business’ award. Not only does this help to reduce my fees but allows me to advocate for the role of women in business. All the world’s a stage, and it’s up to us to decide how to use it.

I feel an MBA will help me to  find better solutions and business models to bring business, local Government and Charity together to find effective ways of social financing to support corporate social responsibility which is good for business and community.

One issue and one message I wish to impart on International Women’s Day is to highlight the growing driver of maternal mental health. As Executive Director for the organisation Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK and as a senior parliamentary researcher my day job is concerned with mental health and in particular the minds of women in the antenatal and postnatal period of pregnancy, birth and parenthood. It is a growing concern to many about how well we are supporting this driver of the wellbeing of parents to be in the workplace and community life.

In the context of mental health shocking statistics show a far reaching impact for women and their families, and indicate why this is truly everyone’s business:

  • More than 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby
  • Over a third of domestic violence begins in pregnancy
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for women during pregnancy and the year after giving birth
  • Taken together, perinatal depression, anxiety and psychosis carry a long-term cost to society of about £8.1 billion for each one-year cohort of births in the UK

Attitudinal change is required to tackle this issue

This is not just about supporting parents to be in our workplaces but reducing the impact upon the next generation who will equally be the future workforce in our business, corporations and stock markets. Mental health in the marketplace matters and perhaps no more for women in particular in the perinatal period.

Earliest relationships matter for future workforce matters and it is why supporting women and their families in the perinatal period is key to tapping into workforce potential. James Heckman, the Nobel Prize winning economist advocates through his research at the University of Chicago which promotes models for growing human potential – that the biggest bang for your buck lies in investing into our earliest relationships.

Leading economists have joined forces to advocate for business investment through social responsibility into community ventures which nurture the earliest years for the future workforce. It is in the interest of each business to get on board and strategically position its social responsibility to reap benefits from human potential and growth in its future dividends.

It is relationships that matter to the marketplace – why not begin by investing into early relationships in which the earliest foundations of our minds are laid which grow potential for a business mind of innovation, ingenuity and productivity.

I believe women are key to sustainable and productive communities – growing their potential grows relationships and community potential. Business must offer further flexibility and see within their profit making margins that the image of healthy relationships equals a healthy society equals good for business. This is how I am going to use my stage.


 

Clair Rees
Modular Executive MBA, 2016 Cass Business School

Cass’ first ever Innovathon

So what is a marketing innovathon I hear you asking? When I saw this advertised, my curiosity got the better of me too and I had to apply to find out.

Innovathon was the perfect word to describe this event – a mixture of marketing ideas, innovation, hands on industry experts and definitely a test of endurance.

Over fifty Cass students arrived at Unruly headquarters on Friday evening after a week of lectures. I’m sure few of us were debating the decision, as we arrived cold, tired and a little hungry. But within an hour I knew I had made the right choice. Over the next 24 hours I would meet senior managers from Colgate & Tesco, be one of the first people in the UK to see their new whitening pen product and finally get the opportunity to pitch an idea of how to market this new product on their e-commerce platform. You could win the ultimate prize of pitching your idea to the marketing & sales teams at Colgate-Palmolive and Tesco and even see your campaign rolled out in the UK. Split into teams we quickly got to know each other, as we had lots to do in the next 24 hours.

With briefings from both Tesco and Colgate, and huge amounts of research on the customer profile, statistics on their e-commerce platform and world class digital campaigns we were armed to tackle our first task – create our big idea!

Re-fuelled with Pizza and beers, and our energy feeding off each other we spent the next 3 hours coming up with innovative ideas. We left that night buzzing, and our energy levels a long way off our arrival that evening.

An early start the next morning we all filled back in with a nervous tension in the room. In less than two hours we had to pitch our idea to the judging panel in an X factor style audition. This would be the hard bit, focusing all our ideas on one and delivering our X factor pitch. With smiles from the judges during our pitch we knew they loved it. So we were back to work now to put this big idea into practice.

Innovathon

How would we measure success of this campaign? Where would we advertise? How would we take the customer on the right journey to ensure product sales? What social media would we use? These were just a few of the questions we had to answer in the next four hours, when we would present to whole judging panel and the winning campaign would be picked. This is where the marathon definitely kicked in, and we had to keep focused to ensure we stayed on the right track. Thankfully our industry mentor helped and intervened a few times to keep us on course. We got advice from Tesco’s, Colgate and marketing agency experts, which was invaluable to help create and develop our online strategy.

Focusing on the target customer, we created the campaign “Celebrate your smile”. We based our idea around times that make ordinary people smile, with social media campaigns and videos from the public showing their smile. This was to drive engagement in an innovative way to the public and launch this new product. The next key focus had to be converting this engagement into online sales, with the main KPI as conversion rates when visiting the Tesco e commerce platform.

Four hours later the teams were going head to head with presentations, hoping to win the overall prize and the chance to pitch to Tesco and Colgate senior team. Great ideas, and confident pitches made it difficult to choose the winner.

Who would have thought teams of students could create a complete digital campaign to launch a new product in just 24 hours. It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. As a few great leaders have said to me, “when you want something done in life you give it to a busy person.” I think that’s definitely true in this case.

What a great opportunity the weekend was to meet and learn from new people, and put our ideas into practice in a real life industry. Good luck to the winning team who get to pitch their idea to Tesco & Colgate. How amazing would it be to see it launched in the UK.

The team

Cara Macklin, Full-time MBA 2015, Cass Business School

 

Choose your Business School based on how hard YOU will work for it

First of all, let me be upfront about one thing. Hard work matters.

I will explain. Earlier this week when thinking about my first ‘blog’ I harbored grand visions. Visions where thousands of followers would log on to read and share my clearly inspiring posts covering politics, education and culture. The reality is, that after three months of a full-time Cass MBA I realise there are at least two things wrong with this image. First, that perhaps my writing isn’t as interesting as I thought it was, and second, that successful internet bloggers put in hours upon hours of work a day to earn their keep. I mean, check out this guy!

parachute​-selfie


Clearly, I have a long way to go, and don’t expect me to buy a selfie stick. If my very short time in MBA studies had taught me only one thing it would be that talent alone will not bring you success. Hard work, and a lot of it, is what will get you to the top. Quite simply, I haven’t yet put in anywhere near enough work into this blogging. For now, my audience will be only the very eager few who are currently putting in enormous amounts of research into Business Schools and have probably stumbled across this article by mistake. And that works for me, as you are the ones who understand hard work already.

And so it is with that realisation that I begin this entry to you now. It is the end of Block II and we have just finished our second ‘Integration Week’. The pace of the course is relentless. Cass run a 12-month full time MBA which really moves. It is just over 3 months since I began my studies and already we have covered the basics of Accounting, Economics, Investment, Strategy and Analytics. As well as completing a week long leadership course at Royal Military College Sandhurst, extensive public speaking and personal development workshops, and several networking opportunities with industry and faculty. Having said all of that however, I am writing to you from an apartment in Paris while on a short ‘study break’. Life is tough. (Of course, the pain au chocolat taste even sweeter knowing I have earned them.)


Integration Week #2

This was initially going to be an entire post in itself, but I soon realised that I would never be able to capture the energy, spirit and tension of the week that was. I will leave you with a few notes however. Integration Week will leave you mentally and physically exhausted. Even typing about it makes my eye twitch uncontrollably.

But despite the late nights, heated debates, terrible instant coffee and countless hours trying to master business theory I can hardly begin to express how rewarding it is to work together with a motivated team of individuals and deliver something that we are truly proud of. It is the lessons learned during times like this that will forever be with me, long after I have graduated from Cass. Lessons that unfortunately do not reveal themselves through reading an MBA syllabus or looking up FT rankings.

Another reminder that the real lessons in life lie far beyond the text book. But you already know that. So just keep working harder than everyone else.

Sam Cook, Full-time MBA 2015, Cass Business School


Now, let me share with you some photos from Integration Week

It is fair to say its a week of mixed emotions!

IMG_5140IMG_5141IMG_5143

During Integration Week


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After Integration Week. Nothing more to say really.


Later

Executive MBA – International Consulting Week in Chile 2015

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