UL MBA insider

The UL MBA International Experience

Suzanne Dunne, Executive MBA Student at UL

Suzanne Dunne is Head of Strategy at UL Hospitals Group and currently undertaking year 2 of the part-time Executive MBA programme at University of Limerick. Having travelled to San Francisco for the 1-week international trip on the UL MBA programme earlier this year, Suzanne provides a full account of her experience, learnings and insights from the trip.

Anticipation and excitement for the international trip was incredibly high for everyone on the MBA programme. This only heightened further when we learned that the destination for our week-long class trip would be San Francisco; the home of Silicon Valley, the HQ of global corporates and the haven for start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Lecturers and past learners that I had spoken to always commented that the international trip provided one of the key learning experiences and highlights of the entire MBA programme. This year’s trip certainly delivered that and more.

Settling into San Francisco

We had a full itinerary in place for the week so to help us settle into the Golden City, we were treated to a walking tour of the city on arrival followed by an evening meal overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our first company visit was one of my overall highlights of the trip - a half day visit to Intuitive Surgical Headquarters, one of the leading medical device manufacturers in the world.

Their engineering team delivered an informative presentation on the futuristic technologies coming down the path in medical devices while company CEO Dr. Gary Guthard also spoke to us on the history and development of the company.

It was great to see the CEO of such a large company being so extremely generous with his time and ensuring to answer all the questions to give us the best insight possible into the company’s journey to date. A humble man with big dreams and the ability to continually deliver.

Learning From Start-Ups

We were given the opportunity to meet with and hear about so many intriguing start-ups on our trip, including presentations by Countsy, Voxpro and Primer during our visit to the Entrepreneurship/Start-up Forum and a group lunch with the MD of Silicone Valley Bank, the bank supporting so many high-growth start-ups.

A charming tech CEO, with Irish roots

One of the most intriguing start-ups we spent a half day workshop with on the trip was Active Mind Technology, a software development company with Irish roots.

CEO John Maguire is originally from Galway and his background in sports psychology no doubt aided his determination, tenacity and the negotiation of his first $10 million investment to start up the company.

With an honesty that was both disarming and charming in equal measured, this was a visit I will remember for a long time! John gave me a great insight into having belief in yourself and your project, not giving up and going to great lengths to achieve your goals. John’ words on the value of partnerships also continue to resonate with me:

“Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships get you nearer to your goal”.

Exploring the birthplace of the next big biotech companies

The group also visited Johnson & Johnson Labs (JLABS) and were very generously hosted by Dr. Lesley Stolz, Head of JLABS. They have built a world class community of up to 50 independent, emerging Biotech startups in San Francisco.

The innovation, and how that innovation was being harvested in this Biotech “hub” was really inspiring. The ground breaking medical research that the companies in this hub are dedicating themselves to really emphasised to us the need for further investment in this area.

Teaming Up With Technology Giants

Our class participated in workshops, meetings and discussions with senior personnel at three leading global technology corporates headquartered in Silicon Valley - Oracle, SAP and Salesforce.

This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and brought about so many new learnings for me.

Social inclusion at SAP

Apart from its design thinking methodologies and intelligent enterprises, what impressed me most about our half day to trip to SAP was how they are actively supporting social inclusion and diversity.

The visit to SAP really helped me to develop new perspectives on business beyond bias. In the words of Stephen R Covey “strength lies in differences, not in similarities” and SAP have gone from strength to strength from embracing diversity.

An audience with Oracle

Our visit to Oracle’s Silicon Valley HQ saw us meeting Jeremiah O’ Shea, the company’s Vice-President of Enterprise Network Services. He blew us away with his presentation on the future of tech and cloud. I came away with so much new knowledge on the current and future possibilities of technology and the key innovations that Oracle see as critical to empowering future growth.

The success of Salesforce

David Gibbons, Sales Director of Product Marketing was our host at Salesforce and he really brought to life for us how acquisition and internal development has powered the company’s success to date. He also provided insider insights about the promising partnerships with Apple and others set to power the company’s success in the future.

It was such a great opportunity to speak with and learn from one of the most senior sales and marketing figures at Salesforce.

Lunchtime Leadership Talk

Another key highlight of the trip for me personally was the excellent lunchtime leadership talk with Anita Sands, Board Director and Advisory Board member for companies like Symantec, DocuSign, Thoughtworks and more.

Anita gave the whole class several valuable nuggets of wisdom around career development and leadership including:

- Be comfortable with your inherent self - if you are ambitious, you can own it!
- Be clear about what you are solving at each stage of your career
- Be an authentic leader – be myself skillfully
- Work on self-awareness, be aware of who you are and develop
- Protect two things - where your time is spent and your network
- Reciprocation is the greatest gift you can give
- Great leaders figure out a way to overcome fear

Anita was very inspiring in terms of her achievements and has really walked the walk for women in leadership. The opportunity to learn from a significant ambassador for women and a great female leader really meant a lot to me.

Irish Success Stories

The billion-dollar product development company

PCH International is one of the world’s leading product development companies. The company is founded by Irish man Liam Casey, the current CEO, with the company’s global HQ located in Cork.

We visited PCH’s LimeLab, the company’s core prototyping facility and innovation hub. We were treated to a full tour of the engineering workshops where various drones had been taken to market and new initiatives were in the pipeline. It only took another 30 minutes to get the “boys” in the class away from the staff pool table and into the coach!

Enterprise Ireland in the U.S.

Paul Burfield, SVP West and United States with Enterprise Ireland, met with us to explain the role of EI in the U.S. and delivered some key advice about doing business in the U.S., highlighting several cultural nuances.

Among many other things, we learned that using pathfinders and consultants and leveraging your network is imperative when doing business in the U.S. too. Paul also explained how when hosting events, having a “rockstar” guest, co-host or partner for the event is key.

Insights from the Consulate General

Meeting the Consulate General of Ireland Robert O’ Driscoll at the Embassy of Ireland was really interesting.

Robert helped us to understand the 3 main reasons why the West Coast is such an attractive area for business and innovation, investment being the most significant reason. In 2017, 46% of venture capital came through the bay area. Adding to this is the abundance of skill sets - the bay area is rife with world class talent and the fact that there are excellent research institutions fuelling innovation in the region.

Enjoying Our Downtime

The international trip wasn’t all business! The equal mix of male and female students from different professional backgrounds has lent itself to many laughs throughout the year but most especially on the international trip.

To truly immerse ourselves in the culture of the city, we took in some incredible leisure activities. The group went to the AT&T Park to see a major league baseball game; San Francisco Giants vs. Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a fantastic experience and the group absolutely soaked up the incredible atmosphere!

We also took the boat trip to the island of Alcatraz, the historical military and federal prison and even took a private tour to V. Sattui Winery. Each evening we sat for a dinner in a new amazing eatery in the city. These additional social activities really helped to integrate the groups and cement lifelong friendships.

Putting Theory Into Practice

For me, the international trip provided the key link between the academia learned throughout the year and the practical application of business strategies.

The international management module really came into perspective with so many speakers on our company visits highlighting different cultural and institutional determinants in international management practices.

One of the most thought provoking modules in year one of the MBA was Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) so it also was great to learn how companies like SAP are heavily invested in CSR and are making it a part of their everyday business.

The international trip even helped us to expand our networks and make solid, valuable contacts, with many company executives exchanging business cards and affording us the opportunity to keep in touch.

The trip is an invaluable component of the MBA and a superb way to end first year, igniting my knowledge, innovation and creativity. It also aligns well with year 2 modules such as Information and Knowledge Management, Corporate Strategic Analysis, Relationship Marketing and Strategic HR Management so I find myself feeling really motivated for the year ahead.

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