On the case

By Myrophora Koureas, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

I wanted to get an insight into management consulting as a possible career path, when I first entered my first case competition, last year. I also saw it as the perfect opportunity to get to know some of the other students in the program. It was great to be able to work on a project without the added pressure of assessment requirements because team-work is a large component of the assessments in the MBA and an important part of most roles.

Working on the PwC Case for Change Challenge with Matthew Ting, Liana Porihis, Pete Lead, and Lee Murray, was a rewarding experience which exceeded my expectations. It was really exciting to see our idea evolve into something that met the client’s needs and brief. The process of solving a real business problem by harnessing our idea, within a tight deadline was invaluable.

On the caseWe wanted more and decided to keep working together when opportunities presented themselves.

We jumped at the chance to participate in the Asia-Pacific Challenge in last December 2016. This was the inaugural APC MBA Case Competition coordinated by the AGSM at the University of NSW. For two days Matthew Ting, Liana Porihis, Thommy Arena, our coach, and I were working on the MBA case competition. The time pressure was intense. Understanding the business problem, finding a solution and presenting the pitch in as little as two hours is an effective pressure test. It was competitive with teams from the Asia-Pacific region.

We quickly began to understand the power in applying frameworks to find, and pitch, solutions to clients and judges. Frameworks such as: a business impact analysis (BIA); building a hypothesis that is mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE); or comparing the current and future state of a business using the business model canvas (BMC). In some instances there was no one framework to apply to the case and this is where we could develop our own measures and criteria. It wasn’t enough to just have a good idea, although that helps, especially when the client likes it. The judging panels wanted to see the rigor applied to developing our solutions accompanied by the risk analysis and the implementation plan.  It was easy to forget the client’s needs under intense time pressures but it was imperative to deliver client centric solutions. Frameworks kept us focused.

Managing question time was as critical as formulating the pitch. Judges were quick to identify gaps in a pitch and responding with a ‘less is more’ approach was a good way to avoid magnifying any limitations in the presentation. It was also good to remember to respond rather than react to the questions being asked.  An important thing to remember for any presentation.

On the case imageAs we discovered, case competitions often have a rich social program with drinks! This is the ideal time for networking and to meet students from other Business Schools. It was insightful to speak to other MBA students and to understand their backgrounds. The diversity of the student cohort is by-far what differentiates our MBA program from others.

Although I remain undecided about a career in management consulting I’m still on the case. I think the skills utilised during case competitions are transferable to many roles, personal and professional, and help deliver effective solutions and outcomes.

Don’t let the next case competition go by. The experience is about more than management consulting and winning. It is a platform for accelerated learning.

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The Playground Matrix: a tool to help you determine the extent to which your business is strategy driven

By Professor Marc Jones, Unit Coordinator, Strategies for Growth, The University of Sydney Business School MBA program

marcjones1One of the key findings in a recent major study of Australian leadership was that it was common for senior leaders to not seek strategic advice from qualified parties when making major decisions about the future – therefore ‘baking in’ a lack of insight into their actions and undermining the formation and roll-out of coherent strategies. We often speak in the normative sense that organisations should be ‘strategy driven’, but what exactly do we mean?

Inspired by the Playing to Win strategy framework appearing in a 2013 book by the same name by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin, over the past couple of years I’ve developed what I call the ‘Playground Matrix’ to assist clients to diagnose the extent to which they are – or aren’t – strategy driven.

The Matrix is structured along two dimensions: Market Attractiveness and Ability to Win. The level of Market Attractiveness depends on growth ambition (which defines risk appetite, or vice versa) and profit pool size. Ability to Win fluctuates according to competitor moves, new entrants or exits, and the client firm’s efforts to strengthen its position. In the context of the Matrix, being strategy driven is defined as focusing your time and resources in the Northern Arc region of the Matrix (composed of the Sweet Spot, Ballast and Capability Gaps zones).

When working with clients, the process I use with the Matrix is (1) populate – with businesses, business units, products or geographies; (2) validate; and then (3) redirect resources from the Southern Arc region (composed of the Fool’s Gold, Graveyard and Revenue Trap zones) to close Capability Gaps and grow the Sweet Spot. The Matrix is thus both a diagnostic and decision support tool.

The various zones of the Matrix are defined as follows:

Sweet Spot: you want as much activity here as possible, as this is business you have qualified as being attractive and in which your competitive position is strong.

Capability Gaps: this zone should be sucking in resources (financial, technical, managerial) that are diverted from the Southern Arc (particularly the Revenue Trap zone) as various ‘babies are killed’ (see below)*.

Fool’s Gold: you can see the bags of gold on the horizon which is very exciting, but your current ability to field a competitive offer is weak or nonexistent. Perhaps consider an acquisition; otherwise cool your jets and focus on closing Capability Gaps.

Graveyard: you really don’t want to be active here, except for two potential situations. First, there are synergistic linkages between activities here and those in the Northern Arc. Second, if you are expecting business conditions to improve markedly in the future and are willing to make additional investments to improve your competitive position now – I call this strategic optionality.

Ballast: these are existing activities that fall below the attractiveness hurdle (e.g. because margins are too low or profit pools too small) but in which you are highly competitive. Particularly for businesses that are capital/infrastructure intensive and cyclical, retaining a degree of ballast can be strategically justified as it can keep factories running, workers employed and their skills up to date, and cash-flow ticking along. Beyond a certain point, however, Ballast transforms into the Revenue Trap.

Revenue Trap: the key concept here is opportunity cost. As you pursue or persist with activities deeper and deeper in this zone, you forego options in or proximate to the Capability Gaps zone. The prescription is to ‘kill babies’* that cannot justify themselves in terms of either synergistic linkages with Northern Arc activities or with respect to strategic optionality. As a rule of thumb, the denser the Capability Gaps zone is populated with promising activities, the narrower your Ballast band should be. But here’s the rub: eliminating existing income streams in the hope that future, more attractive income streams will eventuate is easier said than done, particularly when time horizons are short.

*Before closing, I should explain the use of the rather harsh phrase ‘killing babies’. Decisions to exit markets, close sales offices, and terminate relationships with existing partners and customers can manifest highly charged emotional impacts on executives, managers and employees. Each item appearing on the Matrix is, quite literally, somebody’s ‘baby’ in the sense that careers, reputations, and livings rely on the continuation of existing activities. Pretty much every conversation between the corporate or BU centre and activity managers in the Southern Arc will play to the same script, with managers pleading that they need more time or resources to deliver on commitments – or they will invoke claims of synergistic linkage or strategic optionality. In my experience, more often than not the centre lacks the clarity and courage to make the tough decisions that are necessary to cull Southern Arc activities and become more strategy driven.

So then – how strategy driven is your business?

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An afternoon with Andrew Liveris

By Alison Husain, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and Business Leader Postgraduate Scholarship recipient

One of the benefits of undertaking the MBA at the University of Sydney Business School is the program’s designated Careers Services, and the numerous opportunities to attend a variety of events such as talks, case studies and workshops. These add immense value to the program and present unique insights into diverse areas, opening up opportunities for additional engagement and the chance to meet interesting people from around the world, which otherwise would not be possible.

Most recently I was fortunate to attend a talk by home-grown Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical and author of ‘Make it in America: The Case for Re-Inventing the Economy’. Andrew was also recently tapped by U.S. President Donald Trump to head up the American Manufacturing Council.

The event was sponsored by the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre and held in the stylish historic surrounds of the Westin Hotel in Martin Place Sydney. Whilst enjoying a sumptuous mid-week silver service luncheon, Liveris delivered an American view to a packed audience on how Australia needed to respond to the current evolving trends in globalisation.

Liveris’ speech met my expectations in that it was delivered from an American Corporate perspective. Liveris touched on areas ranging from Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi ‘Vision 2030’ reforms to China’s New Silk Road and One Belt One Road policies, emphatically denying an American retreat from globalisation. Liveris advocated the view that Australia needs to adopt an inclusive capitalist approach via multiple-stakeholders across energy, manufacturing, training and innovation, to pivot away from the commodity cycle and lift the blanket ban on natural gas pipe systems encouraging land owners to be part of the reward system – an interesting viewpoint which appeared to have a few people shaking their heads.

Many of the issues raised aligned with my MBA studies and were experienced first-hand whilst undertaking the MBA International Business Project unit in Shanghai. It was overall very thought-provoking and a good opportunity for discussion with people from varying sides of the debate.

Other benefits in attending such events are the opportunities to socialise. I am always amazed at the range of people I am fortunate to meet; as a result my network has grown to include heads of industry and people with unique backgrounds and experiences which have enhanced my professional and personal development. At the Liveris event I was able to chat with Professor Bruce McKern, Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, who also accompanied my cohort to Shanghai; one of Australia’s wealthiest women; an expert in nano-technologies; a member of the NSW Business Chamber; and Director of the Australia-Taiwan Business Council.

The great thing about the variety of events the Career Services have on offer is they allow for a deeper absorption of lessons acquired through the MBA journey, which when mixed with work and life experiences, create additional value and greater depths of understanding which may then be applied in real time.

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How footy builds an inclusive Team Australia

By Peter Giurissevich, Senior Legal Counsel – NRL, BOSS Emerging Leaders Scholarship recipient and current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA program.

_SYD0230The importance of grassroots participation to rugby league cannot be understated.

Without it, the next generation of stars and fans will not emerge and the elite level game will not survive. Without it, rugby league will not benefit the community and provide a platform for social inclusion, change and opportunity. Which is why grassroots programs should receive a bigger slice of the $1.8 billion broadcasting rights fee.

Consider the wonderful story of the under-14s Guildford Owls in Sydney’s western suburbs, whose rugby league team is comprised of boys of Australian, African, Middle Eastern, New Zealand, Samoan, Tongan and Turkish heritage. Their motto is “Brotherhood. Effort. Discipline.”

Before each game they form a circle and say an Islamic prayer and a Christian prayer. The prayers ask for the same thing: that they all play well and that their “brothers” play safely.

Rugby league is their common language and by participating in the game these kids break down the racial, ethnic and religious barriers that would otherwise divide them.

The inspiring stories don’t stop at the playing of the game. This year, the National Rugby League’s School to Work Indigenous mentoring program helped a young woman become the first Indigenous captain of her school (in Sydney’s south-west). It has also helped a young man, in foster care since the age of five, pursue his dream of becoming a cabinetmaker.

This is the power of rugby league. These are the types of stories that make the sport great.

Big business
These stories also demonstrate how rugby league creates hope and opportunities, unifies people and the extraordinary reach it has into diverse communities.

The numbers don’t lie: there are 725,000 registered participants (born in 115 countries) playing the traditional form of the game across Australia. Of those, about 3000 are elite-level players in the NRL Premiership and top flights in the state leagues. Add in modified forms of the game, including touch football, tag and school competitions, and the total number of participants jumps to nearly 1.4 million. There are also 400,000 women playing the game, a figure that has grown 27 per cent year on year.

Modern sport is very big business. The State of Origin series has consistently attracted the highest ratings on free-to-air television over the past few years: game one in 2016 had nearly 4 million viewers and an average 4 million viewers watched each round of the 2016 NRL Premiership regular season.

That many eyeballs allowed the NRL to pen a $1.8 billion deal in late 2016 with Fox Sports and the Nine Network for the rights to broadcast the State of Origin and NRL Premiership matches in the 2018 to 2022 seasons. It’s one of the richest television deals in Australian sports history.

These vast coffers of gold create challenges. The recent negotiations between the sport’s peak governing body, the Australian Rugby League Commission, state leagues and the NRL clubs on how to carve up the broadcast fees illustrates the difficulties faced when deciding funding levels between grassroots programs and the elite level. The NRL clubs and state leagues ultimately received a record level of funding, which impacts on the amount of money that finds its way to the grassroots.

Avid fans
There can be no denying that the elite level allows the NRL to grow the funding pie; after all, the fans want to see Johnathan Thurston magically put someone through a gap with deft hands, or James Tedesco’s almost alien-like fleet-footedness, or the gladiatorial battles between Matt Scott and Aaron Woods.

However, the high profile of the elite game has a limited future without the people who watch or participate at a grassroots level.

So, while the participation metrics are encouraging, it’s imperative that the NRL, state leagues and NRL clubs strive to encourage more participation and not lose focus on the grassroots as the epicentre of this great game. That is only possible by ensuring grassroots funding continues to grow.

This article was originally published in the Financial Review BOSS Magazine, February 2017.

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Know Thyself

By Myrophora Koureas, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program


I had the opportunity to work on a gender diversity project with Andy Almenara, Lilla Kelemen-Toroczkai, and Evan Zhang in the core unit of study, Managing People and Organisations (MPO, semester 2, 2016). My interest in virtual teams was piqued by our group composition. We were the ideal team in the context of MPO. It was apt that we were working on the ‘future of work’ issue of global mobility addressing a gender diversity issue. Our team was physically dispersed and diverse in terms of gender, culture, and experience. With each of us based in a different location meant connecting via online technologies. I had previously experienced the odd conference call in the workplace but had never worked remotely with a high performing team. Working in a virtual team increased our effectiveness because we made sure we prepared for meetings and kept track of follow-up actions. Previously I had not prepared so diligently for other face-to-face team project meetings. I utilised my knowledge of the higher education sector and together we conducted the MBA Future Leaders Survey and developed a set of recommendations for our client who was pleased with the outcome.

After submitting our final report, I wanted to explore further research potential for our work. I knew our work had business relevance and wanted to gauge the interest in an academic context. In late November I submitted an abstract to attend the 10th Annual International Conference on Global Studies: Business, Economic, Political, Social and Cultural Aspects in December 2016 in Greece. I made a proposal titled “Gender Diversity, Global Mobility, and the business bottom line: the case for change”. It was accepted.

The problem we addressed, in summary, is that it is accepted in industry that future leaders are required to have international experience in order to progress in organisations and careers. Currently, females are not given equal consideration and opportunity to gain this experience. The unintended impact is that female career progression is being limited which is shrinking the talent pool required to grow diverse leadership teams. Gender Diversity in organisations has a direct correlation with better decision-making and financial performance, as well as adverse implications on the leadership talent pool if not done well. This is generating an increased motivation for organisations, particularly multinationals, to appoint and promote more female executives.

Leading up to the conference I expended energy worrying about the presentation. I was extremely nervous. Arriving at the conference I realised that most of my time would be spent listening to the other presenters, most of whom were academics from institutions from across the globe.  I had become consumed by the prospect of speaking, forgetting that listening is an important skill. The highlight, aside from presenting, was question time. Other conference attendees, some leading academics in their fields, were interested in my team’s survey results and research. Speaking to these academics, I began to understand how research can begin to influence changes in industry.

Aside from meeting the conference attendees and being exposed to other research, it was also an opportunity to participate in the conference cultural program. The most transformative experience, for me, was the visit to the site of the Oracle of Delphi. In ancient times it was consulted on important decisions throughout the ancient classical world.  When visiting the Oracle of Delphi, at the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo people were greeted with the maxim “Know Thyself”.

Visitors to the Oracle were often seeking direction, guidance, and answers prior to making significant decisions. The inscription sought to remind them of the importance of self-awareness. You may remember seeing the maxim, “Know Thyself”, above the Oracle’s door in the Matrix trilogy – some truths stand the test of time.  This maxim, “Know Thyself” resonated with me on a personal and professional level, and in the context of my presentation.   With introspection, we can have a better understanding of our capabilities and areas for development. Having just completed the first core unit, Leadership, Practice and Development (LP&D, semester 1) this sounded all too familiar. With greater self-awareness, we achieve a deeper appreciation of our strength and a better understanding of our weakness and how we can develop. I knew all of this already but at the site of the Oracle of Delphi I felt empowered.  I realised that I have everything I need to find answers and creative business solutions, including an amazing network of people, like my MPO team and the dedicated academic staff teaching in the program.

Industry can learn from academia and modern thought leaders can learn from ancient civilizations. These relationships are not Mutually Exclusive (or Collectively Exhaustive, for those playing the management consulting home game). Instead, self-awareness is a dynamic process of introspection which brings a heightened sense of self. Just as Gender Diversity in organisations has directly been correlated to better decision-making and financial performance; self-awareness has been linked to leadership effectiveness. To “Know Thyself” is the real case for change.

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Be Bold for Change – Striving for parity in the disability sector

Sydney Business Connect Magazine photo shootBy Emma Brown, Finance Manager at Cerebral Palsy Alliance, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in the University of Sydney Business School MBA program.

It appears widely accepted that diversity and inclusion in the workplace improve economic performance. Numerous studies confirm this with results ranging from 15% improvement in profitability for organisations with women in senior leadership roles1 to a predicted 20% increase in economic activity in Australia as a whole as a result of a gender diverse workforce2. The textbook business case for diversity seems intuitive: “Teams of mixed gender, ethnicity, physical ability, age and sexual orientation are more representative of clients and customers. They offer a variety of viewpoints and a wider range of experiences which improves decision making and problem solving”3. Moving beyond the numbers the business case is even more compelling: Diversity and acceptance in the workplace are reported to increase happiness amongst employees which is not only beneficial from a humanitarian perspective but in turn leads to further gains in productivity4. To date every senior business person I have met claims to agree.

It is a wonder that despite widespread appreciation of the economic benefits, diversity and equality still elude many organisations. I was lucky enough to recently attend a Discussion Forum on gender equality as part of the application process for the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship. The forum highlighted interesting ideas as to why achieving parity remains problematic across all sectors, particularly around the silos of expectation that start in education and flow through to influence our choices throughout our lives. It alerted me to my own ingrained and unconscious biases around the roles and ambitions of women that are likely holding me and countless others back.

In the disability sector women form the majority of the workforce. In terms of headcount we are extremely well represented both across the sector and in the organisation I work for. However, many of the roles are on the “sticky floor”5 .These amazing women are passionate about their work with our clients but often do not see themselves going down the path into management which, until recently, was the only route to a promotion. Due to a lack of choice over career progression we fail to recognise and reward important talents resulting in disengagement and the loss of some of the most valuable client-facing staff to competitors or, worse still, they exit the workforce altogether.

In working to address this we have introduced the idea of “specialists” in each field, moving away from a hierarchical management structure to one which celebrates a diverse range of capabilities and experience. A talented therapist can now not only be paid the same as a manager, but can also see a clear career ladder to climb should they wish. By providing a structured path of progression and self-improvement more workers, male and female, will be attracted into this rewarding industry resulting in greater gender parity at every level.

Insights gained from the discussion forum also confirmed the need for me as a manger to be mindful and emotionally intelligent when speaking with women about their ambitions, as well as when working with the senior leadership and executives teams to address any real or perceived barriers to women taking leaderships positions, given the entrenched internal and social constructs that may be stopping them from putting their hand up.

The disability sector is currently undergoing a significant change with the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) which gives increased power and choice to those living with a disability and, in turn, creates competition in the sector. To support clients through this transition and incorporate the new commercial demands placed upon organisations, it is critical that we are adaptable, innovative and receptive to change. The forum has reiterated the need for me, as Finance manager, to draw upon the wonderful diversity of perspectives within my own team and the wider organisation to empower staff, through authentic, effective communication and recognition of their individual value, to not only take ownership of their relevant tasks but to come up with innovative ways of working.

My position affords me a unique opportunity at a time of change both within the sector and within my organisation to make a tangible impact on women and those with a disability. It is for this reason that I have chosen to undertake the University of Sydney MBA, which I believe will provide me with the negotiation, influencing and technical skills to make the absolute most of this opportunity. Through the scholarship and involvement with the UN Women National Committee Australia I will be able to draw upon a deep pool of knowledge and experience to ensure that I have the resources to make the greatest impact I can at a critical and sector-defining time, breaking through the glass walls of the industry for future generations of workers.

I was absolutely thrilled (if not a little surprised!) to be awarded the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship. I would encourage anyone who is passionate about diversity, equality and positive social change to set self-doubt aside and apply for this scholarship. Regardless of the outcome, both the people you meet as part of the application process and involvement in the discussion forum will be truly invaluable in expanding your horizons and contributing to personal and professional growth.

Semester 2 scholarship applications opens 9 March. Find out more.

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Be Bold for Change – Reframing Leadership

Sydney Business Connect Magazine photo shootBy Kerryn Richardson, UN Women NC Australia Global Executive MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in the University of Sydney Business School Global Executive MBA.

I recently completed my first module of the Global Executive MBA, ‘Reframing Leadership’ – exploring forms of leadership through philosophy, art, music, military, political and ethical perspectives. The experience was a fascinating and creative journey and reminded me of the need to step outside the boxes we live in and explore different approaches to get the most out of diversity and inclusion.

Why is diversity and inclusion important?

Equality is a fundamental human right; diversity and inclusion in practice is manifestation of full human potential.

There is clear evidence to show that diversity and inclusion creates positive outcomes:

  • increased economic growth and productivity
  • improved business and organisational excellence
  • increased capacity for innovation, creativity and problem solving
  • cohesive cultures able to tackle issues and wicked problems
  • sustainable organisations marked by agility, resilience and prosperity.

These outcomes are benefits forward thinking, contemporary organisations and businesses strive for, to achieve success. Recognising that diversity and inclusion significantly enhances these benefits tells us it is a central driver for innovation and growth.

People are the greatest asset in any business. People enable delivery of outcomes through skills, thinking and creativity, connection and relatedness, to name a few important traits. It follows that business growth is linked to diversity of people. Inclusiveness enables teams to produce the best outcomes. Or to turn a phrase, ‘to serve the market one must employ the market’.

Foremost, I am committed to developing myself as a person and a leader. It is my vision to utilise my career to help people and the planet. The UN Women NC Australia Global Executive MBA Scholarship accelerates my ability to serve better outcomes.

I will be exposed to a new learning environment, people and experiences to fully drive diversity and inclusion in practice as well as other efforts in designing action to create benefits in my workplace, using a full spectrum of as many tools as I can acquire.

I will use the experience to:

  • gain insight into my current leadership style
  • improve my presence in the moment to be available to others
  • link this learning to innovative business outcomes via a collaborative approach
  • learn to drive a business model based on diversity and inclusion, collaboration, facilitating positive and productive organisational cultures
  • assist other women in the workplace to unlock their own potential.

I believe it’s an exciting time to be a female leader. The 2017 International Women’s Day theme, ‘Be bold for change’, couldn’t be more appropriate. As leaders, we must be committed to development of new organisational styles that create the space for evolution to occur, and equity across roles and positions of leadership to become the norm.

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