Tag: Vietnam

Veep, collaborative leadership and the MBA

**Warning.  This blog contains spoilers.  Read on if you’re okay with that. **


Artwork by Jin Kim

There’s no shortage of stuff to remind us that collaboration matters.  Being a good ‘team player’ is shorthand for the qualities needed to work with other human beings and get things done.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Mix up a bunch of people with different skills, experiences, and objectives; chuck in conflicting priorities and time pressures, and what do you get?  It’s the reason shows like The Apprentice are so compelling.  Collaboration is rarely about caring and sharing.  The fact is, proper collaboration – and leadership – is tough.

Politics is a brilliant case in point.  But let’s spare ourselves from partisan ranting and instead, focus on a perfect example of collaborative leadership gone wrong: the finale of Veep.  After seven seasons, former president Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has a shot at a second term in the Oval Office.  What stands between her and returning to the White House?  Her fellow party nominees.  The 2020 national convention is at a deadlock.  None of four candidates have the 2368 majority needed to get the party’s nomination.  The only way to get on the ticket is to cut a deal with another candidate.  They need to sort it out swiftly, or face another four years with President Montez at the helm, and their party pushed to the margins.  It’s a classic opportunity for collaborative leadership.  By working with the other three, Selina can minimise power struggles and increase the odds of a successful outcome for her party. 

Obviously, that’s not what happens.  Selina rejects the ‘simple solution’ of asking her opponent – and personal nemesis – Kemi Talbot (Toks Olagundoye), to be her running mate.  Instead, she makes a bunch of explosive choices which get progressively more divisive and dubious.  Tom James (Hugh Laurie) enters the race as a fifth candidate at the last minute, and Selina quickly rips him from the running by persuading his chief of staff to accuse him of sexual harassment in return for a top job in her White House administration.  She promises to ease fracking legislation in New York state to get the governor onside, and outlaw gay marriage to get Buddy Calhoun (one of the three remaining threats played by Matt Oberg) to back her and step aside.  She makes Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) – described as ‘an unstable piece of human scaffolding’ and a ‘sentient enema’ – her running-mate, to the complete disgust of her campaign strategist and Jonah’s own campaign manager Amy (Anna Chlumsky), who basically begs her not to put such a vindictive narcissist anywhere near power.  And to put some awful icing on this dicey political cake, Selina shops her personal aide Gary (Tony Hale) to the FBI, has him jailed for the misdeeds of her dodgy ex-husband to make allegations of financial impropriety go away, and has it happen WHILE SHE’S ONSTAGE ACCEPTING THE PARTY NOMINATION.


Collaboration in action: consultancy week in Vietnam

I’m not even going to try and pitch this as a morality tale where good triumphs over the most Machiavellian political operators, and bad behaviour gets punished in the end.  The fact is, Selina wins – though the top spot is pretty lonely as she’s kicked all the support from under her on the way up.  No, the point is  there’s never been more of case for collaborative leadership in 2019.  Partnerships and collaborations – especially between sectors – are vital for creating change, and creating social and economic value.  However, collaboration is HARD.  There’s no guarantee it’ll succeed, and no formula for doing it well. 

Jennie Albone (Modular Executive MBA, 2019)

Over the last two years, my Cass MBA colleagues and I have combined full-time work with intensive study.  Our achievements are a combo of results from individual assignments and group tasks.  When we graduate in July, we aren’t just celebrating our own successes; we’re recognising that we worked together to make this outcome possible.  From co-writing essays, to working with Vietnam’s first unicorn tech company on a consultancy project, group work and collaboration was a staple of the course.  You’ll be pleased to hear my experience in no way resembles the brutal hard knocks doled out by President Meyer.  Instead, I had the chance to work with a cohort who bought diverse talent, experience and views to everything we did.  Sure, there were times when it would’ve felt easier if we’d thought a bit less divergently and just got on with it.  But diversity is massively important.  Working with people who approach problems from a completely different place helps you to check your assumptions, reveal your blind spots, and reach a better result.  It’s taught me how to recognise and value the skills others bring even more, which is something I’ll take with me to the next stage of my career.  So, does that mean a Cass MBA the answer to all of our leadership challenges?  Well, no – nothing is that simple.  But opportunities to hone our personal collaboration skills matter.  And for many of us, the MBA’s been an intensive chance to reflect on our approach. 

For an interesting primer on the four areas that make for an effective collaborative leader, try this.  

Find out more about opportunities to study an MBA in London or Dubai and continue your leadership journey here.

Jennifer Albone
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)

 

 

Cass International Consultancy Week: Providing real companies with real solutions

Early Saturday in Hanoi, the tropical heat starts to build up on the streets, MBA students wearing suits and pushing their carry-ons roll out of the international terminal at Nội Bài Airport, heading to a five star hotel in the central area, south of the Old Quarter.

It’s been 12 months since this group first met in a cold and grey London morning. Twelve incredible months of constant challenges and big achievements, all in preparation for this moment.

We are in Vietnam!

Some of us arrived a couple of days earlier and the pictures shared on a messaging app look very promising. The remaining group just landed from a connection in Doha and that is the group I am looking for at Hanoi’s international airport.

My trip followed a different route, through Dubai, where I dealt with life and taxes, met friends for the first time since I left one year ago, and generally had a good time. I arrived in the country the night before in Ho Chi Minh City and after yet another sleepless night in an airport (oh so many), landed in the domestic terminal some 30 minutes before my cohort.

After a stroll between terminals I meet our local contact, Chris, Dean of the British University Vietnam. Slowly, familiar faces passed through the terminal gates and joined us in the lobby, everyone displaying a mix of tiredness from the long trip but also a certain freshness. The excitement was visible.

We are all here for one reason: to climb a mountain. It’s a rite of passage that marks the culmination of a year of learning. It is International Consultancy Week.

Our mission is to help local companies with diverse challenges, from Human Resources Management to Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Finances, Innovation and Digital Transformation. There is something for every background and interest.

So much to do, only one week to go.

If I had to pick only one life lesson from the first year of my MBA studies, it would be that front-loading pays off, always, and that was the force behind our engagement strategy. By the time we arrived to our client on Monday morning, we have had a couple of conference calls with our project’s sponsor, defined and clarified the scope of our study and had learned a lot about the country and the business, their cultures, challenges, and opportunities.

Hoffstede’s cultural dimensions, Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT and PESTEL analysis, the voracious consumption of industry reports and our secondary research enabled us to touch the ground running. By the end of the first day we had our hypotheses lined up, our primary research planned and the data to backup our analysis on its way.

In the pursuit of helping the company to move forward with their mission of benefiting the Vietnamese society, we leveraged our knowledge of Economy, Business and Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Finances and Organisational Behavior.

From the group dynamics perspective, we accelerated the group transition stages through our pre-engagement preparation which helped us understand our individual strengths, styles and preferences, allowing us to split the work so each one of us was challenged and confidently capable of delivering significant value. Some of us focused on secondary research, the elaboration of financial models and preparing the presentation, while others went to the client’s office daily for a series of stakeholders interviews that allowed us to form a firm grasp of the issue at hand.

In this process we used proven frameworks and cutting-edge knowledge, balanced with the realism and pragmatism that only a deep immersion in the business of our client could provide.

What followed was hard work, more learning, more hard work and the resulting satisfaction of knowing that our input was not just valuable, but potentially transformational.

The rite is complete

As a smart and quirky man once said, there is no honest way to explain the edge because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over it.

These words feel very appropriate to describe my experience with the International Consultancy Week. As a rite of passage it successfully marked the transition into our second year of studies, and as a life experience it pushed us into a new realm where we can all feel confident in our ability to bring positive change to our companies, our host country’s economy, but most importantly to society.

Postscript

On a not-so-early Saturday in Hanoi, the freshness in our eyes was replaced by dark circles and, in some cases, a well-deserved hangover. The sense of accomplishment is visible.

Some of us left the night before, heading to Sapa to climb another mountain, the Fansipan.

As for me, I’m off to explore beaches and tombs, the old and the new, the north and the south of Vietnam, from Hanoi and Ha Long to Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, all before departing towards Singapore and London in a few weeks… but I’ll tell you that story another time.

 

Luiz Grzeca
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

Cass Modular EMBA: starting block two

The last six months has flown by and I can’t believe that I have started block two of my Modular Executive MBA!  Everyone is feeling more assured that they know what to expect in terms of reading, coursework and exams.  As a cohort, we have bonded making it feel like I have 39 friends that I can count on to support me, have fun with and stretch me academically. Cass seems to have some magic formula or perhaps the equivalent of the ‘sorting hat’ from Harry Potter that enables them to attract and bring together exceptional individuals who complement each other.

After, what feels like a long break since exams, we launch into block two on a high and with much to look forward to. We have been informed that the 2017 Modular MBA cohort will be in Vietnam for our consulting week in March 2018. As part of the consulting week, Cass is offering students an optional professional development opportunity – a leadership expedition day in Sa Pa. The aim is to build and test our resilience, determination, collaboration and personal leadership: all of which are sought-after qualities in MBA graduates. The consulting week is a highlight that we are all looking forward to; and many of us have also put ourselves forward for the leadership expedition to test ourselves outside of an office environment. Personally, I can’t wait to immerse myself in this experience.

But coming back down to earth and block two itself. The first two modules, Human Resources Management and Business Economies dive straight to the heart of what makes organisations successful. Understanding the people – any firm’s most important resource – exposing us to economic principles that shape competition and firm performance in the marketplace.

David Macleod gave a compelling account of employee engagement as a way of improving a firm’s performance

Professor Nick Bacon organised three visiting speakers who gave fascinating insights into some of the fundamental components of managing people: David Macleod gave a compelling account of employee engagement as a way of improving a firm’s performance; Linda Holbeche illustrated linkages between HR to Business Strategy; and Marc Meryon introduced how to manage industrial relations.  Three eminent speakers in their field added depth to this module that you cannot achieve from a text book.

 

Linda Holbeche illustrated linkages between HR and Business Strategy

In Business Economics, Professor Andres Hervas-Drane brought to life concepts around prices and perfect competition by getting everyone involved in pit market trading. Simulating a scenario where some of us were sellers and others were buyers led to organised chaos with hardcore negotiations and deal making to rival the traders at the London Stock Exchange.  More fundamentally we experienced how the firm determines the market price.

Marc Meryon introduced how to manage industrial relations

November takes us to Corporate Strategy and Corporate Finance, both of which build on modules in block one. With more guest speakers and an interesting syllabus to look forward to: roll on next month I say.

 

Radhika Narasinkan
Modular 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)

© 2019 The Cass MBA Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Skip to toolbar