“It was the best of times, it was the worse of times”….. Actually to misquote Dickens, it never really was neither.. The time that I am talking about is the three and a half years that I spent doing my MBA.
While not the best times, there were many highlights, many of which seem to involve excessive amounts of alcohol and outrageous behaviour. SM5 at the QT hotel where we managed to mix Colonel Sanders, Maverick and Iceman, french burlesque dancers with cat woman, Indian cricketers and a Mexican taco are images that are hard to forget.
The delights of Kings Cross on a Monday (backpacker) night, being surrounded by backpackers and fellow students getting thrown out of the Irish bar for exuberant Karaoke; other infamous nights centered around tea pots and dancing at World Bar.
Friendships were forged through shared experiences like building a bridge with straws and tape capable of holding a drinking glass through to how to give feedback in a constructive way. While sharing your life story and ambitions was a challenging if liberating experience.
A central feature of any university course today seems to be group work, anything from asking random strangers who you happen to be sitting next to in week 1 to random university allocated groups and then carefully selected individuals based on pre-existing friendships and reputations. Across my group, individual members came with a variety of industries; financial services, utilities, technology, consulting, quick service restaurants (fast food), logistics, telecommunications, retail, health care, mining, professional services, manufacturing and construction. Each team member brought different strengths and their personality to the group; a shared love of (or was it necessity) biscuits and caffeine seem to propel the weekend discussions and late night working sessions.
The academic side took some getting used to, as for many of us it had been at least 10 years since our undergraduate degree (for the bravest among us, it was their first degree). While some of the assignments were felt academic such as using statistical tools to analyse a production process and reflecting on skills learnt through a writing an Action Learning Journal; many were grounded in real business challenges including how to develop a business from concept to an implementable and realistic 5 year business plan.
A highlight of my studies was a 10 day trip to China and Hong Kong, where we managed to cover 20 visits to a range of organisations including freight mover, steel manufacturer, pharmaceutical production, advertising agency and a start-up hub. While learning about how to business in a different country is powerful from a fellow student or business person; being able to witness how a multinational like KFC adapts its menu to “Orange chicken” which was made from chicken thigh and chips were shoestring more similar to McDonalds. While the notion of China being the factory of the world was evident from not only the destinations of goods but the “completed manner” of goods shipping, where the clothes were shipped were on hangers and racks with their final destination identified and tagged.
One of my favourite assignments was “Promotion of Australian Wine in China” ; research started in earnest at Sydney International Airport with observation (and a bit of eavesdropping) of the wine preferences and spending habits of Chinese consumers. Active research undertaken while exploring the streets of Shanghai and Xian; not to mention the restuarants and bars we visited. While this culminated in a 10 minute presentation and 5 minute Q&A; the search for innovative depictions of our lecturers and the audience reaction will remain a special memory.
Life also happened during this period, with some friends meeting their partner (through the course), others going from newly married to completing their family; while for others the stress of juggling work, study and relationships proved too much with divorce being the final outcome.
So, I hear you asking; you still haven’t answered the two unspoken but key questions… what did you learnt and was it worth it?
The short answer is yes to both…
While the academic content, the theories, the frameworks, countless academic journals and numerous assignments seem to have faded quite quickly; I have acquired the ability to break down a problem in an efficient manner; present a solution in a structured and coherent manner; which will hopefully leave me in good stead for all future endeavors. What has left the biggest mark on me is the friends that I have made, their counsel, unfailing support and belief in my abilities in the face of professional challenges are something that I am grateful for and will I be happy to return the favour if and when the tables are turned.