Paul Surgenor is National Director, Information, Support and Education with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is based in Washington DC.
I didn’t plan to do an MBA. I worked in the charity sector and didn’t want to start my own business, so why would I? But I did recognise that I’d reached a point where I needed new skills if I wanted to get to the next stage of my career. I was looking at leadership courses when the details of the MBA caught my eye. I went along to the open evening, listened to some alumni and chatted to the lecturers. As my wife said at the time, if you’re going to do a course then you should do the best. So I did.
I’m not going to say it was easy and that everyone should do it. There were times I wondered what I was doing (usually the night before an accounting assignment was due) but at no time did I regret the decision. I was always challenged and, more importantly, always supported – by the staff and especially by my classmates. I was initially concerned that my academic and public sector background would put me at a disadvantage, but my skill set just brought a different perspective to our diverse student group.
One of the main reasons I chose DIT was the Silicon Valley Immersion Programme – a week of intense classes with a range of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It was easily the best learning experience of my life. I learned so much in that one week and from the work we did around it.
This time two years ago I started to think about the MBA. Two years later, I now have the skills, language and the confidence to take my career to the next level, and I’m writing this on my way to work in Washington DC. I can honestly say that I would not have got this job without the DIT MBA. The MBA won’t be for everyone, but if you want to take your career to the next level, and are willing to get stuck in to a challenging but rewarding learning experience, then this is for you.
About the DIT MBA
The DIT MBA is a part-time executive programme, accredited by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and designed for motivated individuals seeking to maximise their career potential.
Sean O’Reilly, Lecturer in the School of Accounting and Finance at DIT’s College of Business talks to Accountancy Ireland Extra about his journey from trainee Chartered Accountant to full-time lecturer.
How did you go from FAE exams to lecturing in DIT?
Following my training contract in PwC, I looked into the possibility of becoming a lecturer and decided that I should put my accounting knowledge to use. I then set up my own tutoring company, which ran workshops and mock examinations for accountancy students sitting third level and professional accountancy exams. Following this, an opportunity arose to lecture part-time in the American College Dublin and I also started working on a part-time basis in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) lecturing in finance. After receiving very positive feedback, I gained more part-time hours in DIT and was interviewed for a full-time position within the School of Accounting and Finance, where I now work as a full-time lecturer in audit, financial reporting and finance-related modules.
As someone who achieved a top decile spot in the 2014 FAE exams, what study hacks did you have?
The key for me was organisation. The ability to identify the indicators in the case study and adequately link the points back to the case study was extremely important. I spent a lot of time to ensure I understood the course material and key concepts before undertaking case studies. In the month before the FAEs, I focused solely on a mixture of case studies in the morning and covered specific topics I found difficult in the afternoon. This was very important, as getting the balance between covering the material and the ability to answer case studies is important.
What advice do you give your accountancy students?
The advice I give to students is to work hard during each semester as they are laying the foundations for the professional exams and ultimately, the FAEs. I also advise students to have a solid foundation of knowledge and get the basics right – this will inevitably help them on their journey to becoming a Chartered Accountant.
Lastly, what’s the one trait that helped you succeed?
Self-belief. To pass your exams or secure your dream job, it’s always important to have self-belief that one day, regardless of what route you initially think you will take, you will get there. It was my ambition to work in academia and it took a lot of focus, determination and resilience to get there. I also think it’s extremely important to set realistic goals and give yourself something to aim for on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis. I’m in the habit of setting small goals to achieve my next target and it’s something that helps me focus. I’m also a strong believer in having a growth mindset and being willing to try new things.
Students from the Postgraduate Diploma in Fashion Buying & Management at DIT College of Business paid a visit to the headquarters of Primark in Dublin to present their discoveries from their recent trip to Première Vision Paris.
Première Vision Paris is the world’s premier fabric show, showcasing the season’s fashion directions up to 18 months in advance. This hub of inspiration and trend laboratory, is a unique place where students are given access to exclusive conferences and workshops, exhibitions and artistic installations.
As part of their continuous assessment, students were assigned to present their findings from the Première Vision Show in the form of mood boards, where they shared their vision on the key trends for Spring/Summer 2018 with the use of fabrics, colours, inspirational illustrations and imagery. From a business perspective, students were assigned the Penneys customer as their target market and presented their ideas to the design team at Primark HQ.
A number of overarching key trends were noted by the Fashion Buying & Management students for Spring/ Summer 2018 where fashion lovers will see denim with distressed edges, a move to a relaxed fit from the ‘skinny jean’ craze and the oversize flare make a comeback.
Tropical colours and prints was another key trend with more muted colours of pinks, greens and purples, a focus on embroidery detail and the parrot as king with accessories. Sheer clothing and a move to more daring design with bra-lets, mesh and sheer sleeves with a feminine edge.
Primark’s headquarters, which houses a whopping 600 employees, were designed by Morey Smith and includes cafes, informal working areas, photographic and design studios, a reading room stocked with retail-focused reading material and a gym. Large light boxes and felt-covered walls were created for fashion buyers to pin new campaigns and textiles.
One lucky student, Meghan Goode was awarded with a paid placement for her key insight and in-depth knowledge of current fashion trends and influencers in the industry. Meghan brought relevancy to their target audience with key trends such as ‘anything but basic’ for denims and the ‘Transparent Age’ for the sheer vibe happening for Spring Summer 2018. Meghan will join the expert team at Primark HQ this summer and you can look forward to hearing about her experience over the coming months on our DIT College of Business Blog.
John Molson Undergraduate Case Competition Concordia University Montreal, Canada
A team of four students from B.Sc. Business & Law and B.Sc. Business & Management- Georgina Hughes, Roisin Power, Serena Gallagher and Jack Daly – represented DIT at the 9th edition of this the largest undergraduate case competition in the world.
This maintains the College of Business’s very proud tradition of qualifying to participate in every edition since the competition was first held in 2009 – one of only three schools with this distinction – along with Concordia University (the hosts) and the University of South Carolina.
This year, our participation was again, in part enabled by very generous support and sponsorship from Accenture.
The format of the competition is such that each school competes heads up against each other school in the division (4 teams) over the first three days of competition. Each school has three hours to analyse a case study on a company and prepare a PowerPoint presentation of 20 minute duration prior to making that presentation immediately thereafter to a panel of judges. The students have no access to books, notes or internet during this period and must design the PowerPoint entirely from scratch. They compete for a maximum of 11 points each time – the potential results are 11-4, 10-5, 9-6 or 8-7. In other words the maximum a team can attain over these first three rounds / days is 33 points and the minimum is 12 points. The final round i.e. the research round is carried out over a 24 hour period during which teams do have access to the internet and in this round all for teams compete against each-other for 25, 30, 35 or 40 points. The top team in each division after these four grueling rounds progress to the Grand Final.
Day 1 – Opening Ceremony and Divisional Draw
This evening, teams, coaches, organising committee members, Concordia faculty and competition sponsors all attended the opening ceremony and divisional draw at 8pm. The DIT team just made it on time … having had their original connecting flight from New York to Montreal cancelled at the last minute. When it came time for DIT to draw their division number, the President of the Committee announced “DIT haven’t arrived yet” and requested our team ambassador to do the honours. However we had arrived … just at that moment- in our Accenture hoodies … and to great cheers of welcome, we shouted “we are here”!
And so on to what everyone had been waiting for – the draw to decide divisional opponents. The 24 selected schools were drawn into six divisions of four schools. DIT were drawn against reigning 2016 Champions, Queensland University of Technology, 2016 runners up the National University of Singapore and the University of Muenster, Germany. A very tough group!
Day 2 – Round 1
And so it begins! After three months of team selection and preparation, with significant input from DIT faculty, previous DIT JMUCC participants and Accenture Consultants – most especially Katie Brennan and Darragh Smyth, rehearsals are over and the action begins. Against competition kingpins – the National University of Singapore. The case today is on Ardenne – a Canadian fashion retailer with intentions to leverage their omni channel and to expand to the US. The guys did a great job presenting their analysis, issue prioritisation, options evaluation and recommendations. The panel of five judges had only one criticism – perhaps too much focus on option evaluation including critique of rejected options. So a key lesson here for tomorrow.
Anyway – the decision: a one point win for NUS 8:7. Disappointed. But unbowed and even more determined to win Round 2.
Day 3 – Round 2
Today the opponents are reigning champions – Queensland University of Technology. The case was on Mwana Canada – a Montreal headquartered Canadian not for profit / charity for family support in the Congo. Totally unexpected – the first time a not for profit organisation has come up at JMUCC in 9 years. The key Issues were volunteer recruitment & retention and fundraising. QUT did a cracking job and DIT were right up against it as they entered the presentation room. But … a brilliant analysis and extremely creative recommendations would be enough according to many in the audience. But it is the judges’ – including the founder of Mwana Canada – opinions that count
And so the long anxious wait until judge’s feedback. And … a win for DIT over QUT on a 9-6 score line. And fabulous feedback from the judges … giving DIT great confidence ahead of the final 3 hour round.
Day 4 – Round 3
The Division is really tight going into this the third 3 hour round. NUS Lead on 17 points, DIT lie second on 16 points, QUT have 15 points and Muenster, today’s opponents, have 12 points.
Today’s case was on Buffalo Stationary – a Canadian Stationary company looking for a short term (6-12 months) sales growth strategy.
And … another win for DIT – beating the rapidly improving University of Muenster 8-7. This result and score line in tandem with QUT beating NUS today means DIT top the division going into the 24 hour round on Friday – Saturday. However the division is so tight that in effect whichever school wins that 24 hour round progresses to Grand Final on Saturday afternoon.
This is the fifth year in a row that DIT has lead their division going into this the final 24 hour Round. But this is never a guarantee of success. So …. nothing to get excited about … for now at least.
And now, ahead of tomorrow’s rest day – a gala party in the John Molsen Brewery in Old Town Montreal. Time to dress up and chill down!
Day 5 – Recovery Day
And boy does everyone need it!
Day 6/7– Round 4 – the 24 Hour Research Round
Nerve-wracking for the 24 coaches … who have had no contact whatever with their team since commencement of the 24 hour round. And all the more so as the news coming back to us from the Organising Committee is that all teams are finding the 24 Hour Case extremely challenging. We are not told what the company is. Nor the sector. We place small wagers among ourselves as to what it might be. Some of the competition sponsor companies are popular picks – Sun Life Financial, RBC, CN, Brother, IBM or would they really throw a curveball and have Ardenne, Mwana or Bufallo again? Or as in previous years have a silent sponsor as the focus of the 24 hour round?
So 24 hours later … down to the presentations in the Sheraton Hotel to find out!
It is Agripur – a Canadian Agri Co-Operative with CAD$200m to invest in agri sector start ups. The task: to identify such startups to invest in. A curve-ball for sure. A non traditional case and a total surprise.
Queensland are up first. Good job. Some quite interesting suggestions here.
And now Muenster. A very different set of companies suggested here.
Now it is DIT. Wow – the very best set of 24 hour round ppt slides many in the audience have ever seen. A perfect presentation in terms of timing and delivery too. Feeling a little confident. But it’s only NUS up next!
Ahh … it’s going to be close between DIT and NUS for the win. NUS have just done a great job identifying and evaluating startups.
So now the agonizing wait. And the announcement of the divisional winners – Concordia University, University of Florida, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Pan American University, University of New South Wales and … NUS!
Heartbreaking. During feedback Judges said “it was a fraction” – they “debated long and hard about who to deem the winners”. On balance good for team to know they were so close. But certainly bittersweet.
Fast forward now to Announcement of 1st, 2nd and 3rd In the Grand Final at the Closing Gala Dinner. 3rd – Concordia, 2nd – NUS, 1st Florida. So … NUS’s presentation which bettered DIT was deemed second best overall in Grand Final. Again – bittersweet.
In summary, great experience, great challenge, great learning, great networking, great performances. Georgina, Roisin, Serena and Jack wonderful ambassadors for DIT College of Business. Roll on JMUCC 2018.
Network of International Business Schools (NIBS) International Case Competition 2017, Rauma, Finland
This year a team from DIT B Sc Marketing, final year has qualified for the final of the 22nd NIBS International Case Study Competition, one of 16 teams from an initial entry of 40 Business Schools who entered this prestigious competition. This is the longest established business case competition globally and is running from 26th February to 3rd March 2017 and hosted by Satakunta University of Applied Sciences – Rauma, Finland.
All teams are seeded into four groups of four teams and compete in a round-robin over three days. Each team ‘plays’ against the other with a scoring system that allocated 11 points between the teams for each match. The top two teams from each group, based on points scored, go forward to the quarter-finals and so on.
All cases are chosen by the host university and are international in focus but can relate to any domain of International Business. Teams, with nothing but the case study and their references books, are expected to analyse the situation using appropriate methodologies, evaluate alternatives and produce creative, well-argued solutions, within a three or four-hour period. They present these in a twenty minutes in their role as consultants to a team of judges. The judges then have ten minutes to ask questions. After both teams present, the judges make their evaluation and provide scores and feedback to both teams.
In addition to the rigors of case analysis, there is a significant social and cultural dimension to the week with company visits, a visit to city hall to meet the city’s politicians and an opportunity to taste Finish culture and life.
Monday started off early with teams commencing their case cracking from 8am. Brisk, cold but clear here in snowy Rauma.
With months of speculation on the flavour, focus and content of the cases to come we were still none the wiser as we arrived to start on Monday.
All was revealed with a Harvard case ‘Emaar; The Centre of Today Tomorrow’, which focused on the U$15bn property developing business located in Dubai. The core business was very successful and the issue to address was the next stage- to develop further in the home market or invest abroad, all within the context of the recent downturn and subsequent uncertainty.
All teams either opted for an expansion strategy to a new market or further development of the Dubai market.
The team did a great job presenting their solution with confidence and clarity (a key issue for non-English speaking judges) and their analysis was excellent. The excelled in the Q&A in particular. However, it fell short marginally to Heilbronn University in the judges view and we lost 6 to 5. A close call which puts the pressure on but was still a great performance with nothing to complain about. So we are up against the University of Vermont tomorrow who were beaten by our other group member, and reigning champions, Carleton University.
Greetings from Finland at the start to day two of the competition. Today is an important point for our team with a real need to grab a win and put us back in contention. The case was ‘Tiger Balm: Internationalisation and Product Extension, an NUS/Ivey case which was ideal for our team. Up against Vermont, it was hard to differentiate the two presentations, with both featuring some good innovations and high quality presentations. Again, it was a nail-biting wait for the scores from the judges but thankfully in our favour 6 to 5.
So we now sit second in the group, just behind our competitors tomorrow, Carleton, and one point ahead of Heilbronn University. Every permutation is possible with only one team (Carleton) now guaranteed for the quarter-finals and the other three teams all in a position to get the remaining place.
The teams started the final group round today at 6.45am as all groups must be completed by lunchtime.
Todays’ final group case was ‘Samsung Mobile: Market Share and Profitability in Smartphone’s’ with a tight three-hour turnaround for all teams. Everything depended on the outcome of both matches in our group and it couldn’t have been closer. We were against the group leaders and current champions, Carleton, with a 100% record. We didn’t dint that record but we did enough to finish second in the group and qualify with the top eight teams for the quarter-finals.
Day Three, Part Two
So with a mere 90 minute break the team entered the preparation room one more time, on this occasion, against our great friends Memorial University in the quarter-final match. This was also a three-hour preparation. The case was a BTB one titled ‘Ultrarope: Crafting a go-to-Market Strategy for Kone’s Innovative ‘Ultrarope’ Hoisting Cable’. Despite the grueling day with two cases back-to-back the team did a magnificent job with a bold, innovative strategy, enough to win the day and go forward to the final day, along with Concordia University, London Southbank University and Carleton University.
Day Four (the day off)
The well-earned ‘day-off’ included a sleep-in, a walking tour of the UNESCO world heritage city of Rauma and a particularly Finish phenomenon of Ice-Swimming, yes ice swimming.
All the students went to one location for a range of activities and the coaches were deposited by the shores of the Baltic sea. Following a traditional Finish lunch everyone enjoyed the heat of a sauna, to be balanced by a dip in the Baltic sea (see photo), currently a balmy 1°C/34°F!
An experience hard to describe.
After a well-earned rest day yesterday, we went forward with the three other teams to compete for the final two spots. After a week of speculation, we finally got a CSR-related case with ‘Nestle SA: The Nescafé Plan in China’: A nice case with lots to work with and certainly suitable for the team. We were on after our keen rivals in many previous competitions, Concordia University. As a semi-final there was great support and turnout from all the other competitors with the Memorial University Team, despite losing to DIT in the quarter-finals, sporting a ‘Good Luck DIT’ banner.
However, we narrowly lost to Concordia who go on to battle Carleton later today, once again a Canadian-dominated final.
Carleton University won the final which featured a case on strategic integration ‘Sany’s Cross-border Acquisition, Integration and Strategic Renewal’.
The week finished where the DIT team were awarded their bronze medals and received the most inspiring coach of the competition award.
So overall, a great performance at every step of the way by the whole team and while disappointed not to reach the final, there were no regrets as the team performed exceptionally well. Also, the have represented DIT so well and are a real credit to us making the final four in this ultra-competitive competition.