Global Executive MBA: Managing Growth (Stanford University, USA)

By Jonathan Wu, current student in the Global Executive MBA

GEMBA JonathanRecently I have returned from the United States where took part in the Global Executive MBA module, Managing Growth, at Stanford University. While being nervous about what learnings the US would bring since the last time I visited was 15 years ago (3 months before the 9/11 tragedy occurred), I was pleasantly surprised.

My first impression of the Palo Alto area (where Stanford is based) was innovation on steroids. The speed at which things were moving and the affluent nature spoke volumes about the monetary rewards being reaped from the aforementioned innovation. Throughout the two weeks, we heard from successful venture capitalists, and their strategies on how money makes more money (many of which made their first pot of gold from a radical innovation and used that to then leverage their returns). We also gained some impressive insights from Dr. George Schultz (Secretary of State under the Reagan administration) about global politics and where to from here for the world at large.

While looking into growth strategies for businesses (including my own), there was a strong underlying theme which came out, that being incremental innovation/improvement vs disruptive innovation.

Many of the businesses we looked into over our time were the large MNCs, which while large, also found it very difficult to bring to the market disruptive innovation, and could only really achieve it by acquiring small businesses with the right characteristics. To me, this seemed like a defensive strategy for the large MNC to defend its place in the market by buying out the still “small” player before they got too large and disrupted their key revenue drivers.

The US definitely is a highly adaptable economy and the module certainly did not disappoint. Next stop on the Global Executive MBA, the maturing nature of the European market!

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Data Analytics and Modelling

By Associate Professor Tony Webber, Data Analytics and Modelling Unit Coordinator, The University of Sydney Business School MBA program

A61F7841It’s interesting teaching a subject like Data Analytics and Modelling (DA&M) within the University of Sydney Business School MBA program, knowing that 90% of students dread doing it, and most try and delay taking it. Although inevitably, like death and taxes, they must because it’s a compulsory unit.

This dread mostly comes about because there’s always a subset of students that don’t see themselves as analytical, and when they see maths or stats involved in a subject, they start hyperventilating. It’s really hard to change this mindset, because more often than not, it’s just part of someone’s DNA. So my job as an instructor is to try and make it as fun and accessible as possible, and to offer the best ‘after sales’ service imaginable, so that when the anxiety kicks in with an assignment or exam, I’m available to bring relief.

Often the dread and anxiety with a subject like mine is misplaced. While the name does look a bit daunting, much of DA&M and subjects of this ilk are about identifying the data you need, determining how you source the data, selecting the right approach to dissect the data, communication of the information you see in the data, and how you use the data to make the right decisions at work. None of these critical parts to DA&M involve mathematics and statistics.

A big part of the first two weeks of my course, for example, involves enlightening students on the best way to present a PowerPoint presentation to senior management, executive management or a board. Having presented to all three groups of people during my time as Chief Economist at Qantas, and after Qantas as an aviation and tourism consultant, I know that the key to a good presentation is understanding the layout of the room in which you are presenting, understanding the IT capabilities of the room, starting with the material in which you are most confident, ensuring the content is succinct, correct and useful, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so.

The course also looks out how you make conversation in an elevator with a senior executive about how the economy may be playing out over the next twelve months, and how that may affect the company.

So why is DA&M important and taking on increased importance? The GFC taught us a very big lesson – the world’s economic and financial markets are uncertain and volatile, and, as Willy Wonka once said to Charlie and Grandpa Joe, and possibly some Oompa Loompas, even the unimaginable can happen.

Data helps us to identify when these types of events are building up, and when they are likely to occur. Data also helps us to understand how to best react to these types of events. To do this, companies need to identify the phenomena that are external to the company and that affects the company. For example, macroeconomic phenomena like GDP, oil prices, exchange rates, interest rates and inflation. Companies need to source data for these phenomena and quantify how they affect the company. To react to these phenomena companies, need to understand how their own operational levers, such as price, advertising and investment, affect profits. Collection of internal data, combined with external data, can deepen this understanding.

Certainly, there is more than meets the eye with DA&M. And sometimes when you use just the eye, things will seem more complicated than they are. The ears and brain also help from time to time.

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It takes a village

By Carla Harris, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

C_HarrisIt was Saturday morning, 8:45 am to be exact. This is actually one of my favourite times – just before a weekend class commences. It’s a time when you get a chance to catch up and connect with the people you spend unnaturally large amounts of time with on the MBA program, across an abnormal range of hours.

But despite all that time together, you feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface of knowing them outside of their professional self. Sitting down next to my friend, I asked how his family was doing. His eldest son was just starting school and I was interested in how his first week went (no tears, phew). Similarly, discussions shifted focus to yours truly, as to how I was settling back into work after a year of maternity leave (great, but full on)! Then the clock struck 9 and the notion of lives outside the MBA dissolved as we put our ‘leaders of the future’ hats on and got stuck into an intense weekend of learning.

Clearly, we all have a life outside of the MBA. Particularly fascinating to me is that the phase of life during which one tends to embark on an MBA also coincides remarkably well with other evolutionary life events – namely having a family. So perhaps what’s not fully appreciated (or at least something I’ve personally not sufficiently articulated), is the huge web of support networks that exist for many of us to be able to do an MBA in the first place.

To give you a sense of what this looks like as the primary carer of a young child, for me to be sitting next to you in class means someone else needs to give up their time to step in for me.  Partners need to leave work early, often entailing car swaps in the city with screaming offspring in the back; rearrange their work schedules or move conference calls until well after bed time to get our toddler home, fed, bathed and in bed.

Weekend classes mean that while I’m swanning around campus in a civilised fashion, there is a combination of parents, grandparents and occasionally neighbours rolling up their sleeves to help care for my son in order to facilitate my learning. In truth, the precision timing and strategy required for it to be possible for me to be on campus makes a hostile takeover look straightforward.

And it’s not just us parents; recall the family birthdays we’ve all missed out on, friends we’ve not seen in what seems like forever. Thank God we’ve mastered the art of recognition feedback.

There’s no doubt that it’s all worth it. Rather, as we start the 2015 MBA year, and classes and assignments begin to ramp up, I’d like to thank in advance the small to medium sized village that donates their time, blood, sweat and tears to make it happen for me and many of my colleagues. We couldn’t do it without you.

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Are you in the moment?

The vices of modern society, trying to be present and making the most of your MBA – HELP!

By Natalie Cope, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and BOSS Emerging Leaders MBA Scholarship Recipient

NatalieCope2-(2)I read recently that learning new information while multi-tasking causes the new information to go to the wrong part of the brain. In fact, the cognitive losses from multitasking are even greater than the cognitive losses from smoking marijuana. Although we think we’re getting a lot done, multitasking makes us far less efficient. It would thus seem that while there has never been a moment in time where more is possible, this very abundance of possibility is driving us to such distraction as to reduce our ability of simply ‘being’ and thereby learning and growing.

On the eve of commencing my MBA, a not insignificant undertaking, and one, which like many, will be juggled alongside a life already full with career, travel, family, co-curricular and community commitments, and of course, the pursuit of happiness – one can only imagine my trepidation. If multitasking really does over stimulate the brain leading to what the same article referred to as ‘mental fog’ or ‘scrambled thinking’, then how on earth would it be possible for me to ensure that I achieve the outcomes to which I aspire from my MBA (and life for that matter), that being to be focused, to be present, to learn and to grow?

This question gave me pause to reflect. When was the last time that I was truly focused? When was it that I was so involved in the moment that it was the moment that was experienced? When was the last time that I was fixated on the task at hand and not distracted by the anticipation of an email, wondering how many likes I’d received on Instagram, how had my comments on Facebook been interpreted, who was it that just tried contacting me on Skype, and Wechat and LinkedIn. Am I good enough? Fast enough? Smart enough? Thinking about the future, and the impact of the past, and thereby missing all I stood to gain from being in the present. Oh dear, yes it would seem that I am every bit the victim of our modern world.

Then it occurred to me – the ocean. When I am in the water, it is just my board, the waves and myself. Freed from the shackles of technology, the anticipation and expectation subsides. I am focused; I am present. Indeed, if I allow myself to be distracted by these busy thoughts, the waves pass me by and with it the opportunity to catch them. I want my MBA to be another ocean: a place I can come to collect my thoughts, to learn and grow and be removed from my own expectations and busy subconscious.  I want this MBA, this place and invaluable opportunity for learning to be a space for a kind of focused meditation.

The question and challenge is whether, in this modern climate of which I am so addicted, this will be possible. Can I somehow ignore the vices of modern society and leave the distractions at the door? Well, my friends, I guess only time will tell – so wish me luck! (She says while typing on her laptop in the back seat of a car, all the while trying to mentally prepare for an ocean swim race, contemporaneously keeping an eye on social media activities, listening to a podcast and monitoring work emails).

Hmm, I believe I have some work to do!

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The 3 dirty words in business: Power, Politics and Feminism

My Reflections from Managing People and Organisations (MPO)
By Jenni Taylor, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Jenni TaylorThe concept of ‘dirty words’ was first introduced to me on 24th September, our 3rd MPO lecture. According to R M Kanter*, it is in some cases easier to talk about sex than power. This got me thinking, why is power a subject that is not often discussed? We talk about influence as a source of power, but this word somehow conjures up feelings of having had something ‘done to us’ as opposed to being ’affected by’, with words such as influence.

My thoughts progressed… what other topics are not often discussed in the workplace. I didn’t have to think for long because 10 slides later we were discussing politics. Yes, that was definitely another subject that was associated with foul play at work. But why?

The third dirty word I’d like to include is feminism. I personally had never connected with or assimilated this ideal before. My very naïve and immediate reaction to even the thought had been to assure those around me that I had not been a victim nor (jokingly) ever “burned my bra”.

My observation is that today power is discussed in the context of having a desired impact and the ability to get something done through others. This word may also be used interchangeably with influence. However, reflecting on the learnings from the MBA unit, Leadership Practise and Development (LP&D), to be influential you also need to be influence-able, a less digestible concept when you substitute in the word power. Perhaps power is associated with older management practises where dictatorial or authoritarian power were more commonly used?

Current teachings and practises talk more of motivation, engagement and empowerment. It is now less about giving a directive and more about asking the right question.

That being said, we did learn that there may be a time and place for hard and soft management practices, or tactics. I learnt that influence tactics should be carefully selected. The criteria being level of success and activity required. I realised my go-to affiliative and empowering management style might not always be the most effective use of time or resources. This approach was considered particularly ineffective for tasks such as compliance, or when resistance needed to be quickly removed.

Influence is needed, however, I now know power also has its time and place.

We often talk about the need for relationships, networks and professionalism, so what changes when we roll this up under the word politics? Perhaps this is when these actions seem less sincere? I have always thought being political is simply being business smart, so it has often bewildered me as to why others have considered it so taboo.

We were introduced to a political framework (by Baddeley, S. and James, K. (1987)) that mapped integrity and political awareness on two intersecting axes. The upper right quadrant, being highly politically aware and acting with integrity, otherwise referred to as the ‘wise operator’, detailed an individual that understands power, conducts themselves in accordance with their values and considers others’ viewpoints. This is a great help in explaining to peers why being political does not have to make you feel inauthentic or a “need to play the game”.

You can be business smart and still be true to your values. I want to always remain genuine and act with integrity, but that does not mean I should say the first thing that comes into my mind or be so short-sighted that I do not spend time investing in other stakeholders in the business. If there are people in the business that know how to get things done, what is the price for asking for their help in achieving a company goal? I believe the wise operator mindset makes for a high achieving and productive culture, therefore, definitely one I will endeavour to foster.

I did not know I was a feminist until I watched Emma Watson at the UN Summit (Sept 2014) give her ‘HeForShe’ speech. I found her message captivating and relatable. I realised that I too was a feminist if to be feminist meant I want equal rights for women. I, like Emma, had associated this word with complaining, aggressive or disgruntled women. I had not felt any explicit discrimination myself, so ignorantly felt no need to get involved in such a movement. I now know that gender discrimination means so many different things by country, religion and intent. I know that women may be discriminated by men or women by cultural norms and biases that we may not even be conscious of as its happening. I now have a passion and conscious mindset to get more talented women in the workforce and help remove the barriers that I better understand exist for women.

Throughout this course I have researched, witnessed and experienced self-efficacy being just one of the barriers women face. I am now conscious of this in myself and can take proactive measures to help others. Through just having this awareness I have been able to vicariously experience successes through my team members, helping to improve my own self-efficacy immediately.

I’ve learnt being a women is going to be advantageous in my career – companies are putting out women only mandates with greater focus on team dynamics and diversity. This is perhaps controversial, but it’s the reality and I want to better myself and my experiences so that I’m worthy of such a position in the near future. I have learnt about my intent versus impact through psychometric testing (LSI: Life Style Inventory), creating a greater self-awareness. The way we see the world and others is grounded in thousands of unique experiences and others’ perception is their reality. There are unconscious biases at play, which means women need to be aware of their impact and how they fit with the social stereotypes that precede them.

So there, I have aired my dirty laundry.

*Rossabeth Moss Kanter “Powerful Failure in Management Circuits” HBR (referenced in MPO, Sydney Uni lecture notes)
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MBA Time: A Year in Review

By Robyn Evans, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Robyn EvansWhat a year it has been. From  the first unit, Leadership Practice & Development (LP&D), I have journeyed through a number of subjects (with many others), including a unit undertake in China, and am now ending with Managing People & Organisations.  So many buzz words and phrases run through my mind such as “creating glue”, “personality type”, “strength based performance”, “the business model canvas”, “net present value”,  “cultural competence”, “Ni hao” and many more (too many for a blog).

The year has gone very quickly, and Associate Professor Mike Jenner was right about what he said to us in LP&D – this experience is in some sense in its own world. We call it MBA time. The rate at which we learn and apply these concepts is fast paced and requires much energy and facilitation. Even though this can be challenging, it is certainly a great way to learn and gives us the ability to practice our new found concepts in the workplace.

There have been friendships formed, many late nights, much stress, a few clashes, the anxious wait for marks and the excitement of the annual MBA Ball to end the year. Many have changed jobs, some even careers; one went to war and others had babies. Who would have thought all that would happen in a year. Yet it does. (If you feel tired, you know why now).

However, the excitement doesn’t end here.I In some ways, the MBA is a new season, a season where we all cross paths (some more than others) and then journey into the next season with one another. Whether we are right there cheering each other on, or just following on social media, the MBA has enabled us to cross paths, develop relationships and connect professionally.

Very importantly, this program has enabled personal and professional growth to new heights and prompted me to think even further about my career potential. The investment into women has been a great asset of this program, and something I hope continues to grow.

So while my MBA journey has a little more time to go, I look forward to the new students adding colour to the already established MBA masterpiece next year. We have all in some way contributed to the colour and texture of this masterpiece called the MBA, and I look forward to seeing this artwork develop as we journey and build into the future.

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Step 1: Commence MBA. Step 2: Change jobs.

By Carla Harris, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

C_HarrisSound familiar? Call it a coincidence, but there seems to me a positive correlation between starting your MBA and shortly after getting a new job. Sure this makes complete sense –  we’re meeting new people and making new connections. Combined with being in a point in our lives where we’re clearly after a change in our careers in some way, it’s a bit of a no brainer. As Hugh discussed in his recent blog, the MBA provides you with a suite of skills that manifest their benefits prior to your MBA’s completion. Still, I find it amusing.

People are often fascinated by my career. Let me re-phrase; they’re not so much interested in my actual jobs (I’ve seen many a pair of eyes glaze over when explaining what I do, or did, for a living) but more when they find out my career path that there’s always further intrigue. I’m what you might call a ‘branding challenge’. I started my career as a scientist – I have a “PhD in weeds” – and in one foul swoop ended up an Executive Manager for the Federal Government at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. There’s often immense interest as to how I went from chopping down trees to talking to triple j about the gender pay gap.

Admittedly, there is a considerable disconnect between plants and gender, so making the jump was very considered and required a lot of soul searching. Given that changing jobs seems to be such a feature of the MBA experience, here’s how it happened:

  1. Get real with where you’re at: First, I had to recognise that I needed to make a change, and a big one. Not just moving to another research lab within the university, or another university elsewhere, but something BIG. This was one of the most challenging parts because so much of my identity was wrapped up in what I did, and walking away from a decade of research made me feel I had failed.
  2. Work out what you don’t want: Next, I figured out what it was that I didn’t like about my job. Once I realised that these things wouldn’t be remedied by moving to another organization, but actually a seismic shift in job type was required, I could then focus on the next step.
  3. Work out what you do want: I then identified what it was that I did like about my job – what do I want to use from the skills I currently have? This was a great help in narrowing the kinds of jobs and industries that might be a better fit.
  4. Think laterally: Often we have a narrow field of vision about what we can do with our skills. So I had to be a bit out of the box with how could transfer my skills to a new area.

And the result? I’ve never looked back, my work is engaging, tangible and a perfect match for me. It was a scary thing to do, but the benefits have well have been well and truly realised.

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