Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The local Industry Placement Program – not as local as I thought

Heading out of the assessment centre, I wasn’t sure if I had made it into the program. I had heard so many stories about each of my friend’s experiences with the Industry Placement Program (IPP), but it didn’t mean I was sure that I had received a place.

Now, I'm two weeks into the placement, working in a professional services role for the very first time with one of the big four and I’ve learnt so much. From email etiquette to shared expectations in procurement, this is only the start of something big. To give you a brief insight, I’m working in general operations in management consulting.

The aim of this blog post is to pass down some advice I’ve attained thus far from networking with associates, directors and even partners. This is how to start off on the right foot:

Feedback is key
What do your superiors look for in aspiring talent? Feedback. They want you to ask for feedback because it shows that you’re actively engaged in delivering a quality piece of work. So make sure to submit work for feedback a couple of times before the deadline

Make connections
In an ultimately hierarchically structured organisation like the one of the Big 4, it’s important not only to talk to associates who are working around you, but to also engage with managers, directors and possibly partners. Don’t go around trying to make friends with everyone though; as 5-6 strong relationships (held face-to-face, not via email or LinkedIn) will stand well in to the future. Get to know directors from industries you’re interested in and show them that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to pursue your career goal

Managing the exit
What didn’t really occur to me, especially at a junior level, is that you’re going to be pulled from one job to another as a consultant, and it’s up to you, not your new manager, to talk to your existing team about ‘rolling off’ onto a new project smoothly.

Expectation setting
Assurance, consulting and private clients. 3 different service lines a Big 4 would cover, but oh man are they different. So, as you know, I don’t work in assurance or private clients, but I was shocked when I came to consulting. The nature of consulting means you get placed on a project like that. It’s 12am in the morning, you’re about to start with a new client tomorrow, but then boom! Partner emails you and lets you know you’re no longer needed. Or, similarly, you finished with a client on Friday after months of work, Monday morning you come in and again boom! You’ve got a new client you need to start working for in less than two hours. The key here is to understand what is and what isn’t required from you in your role as soon as possible.

Personal Brand
I’m sure you’ve heard, or I hope you’ve heard of the elevator pitch. When you step into that partner’s office and they ask you, “So tell me a bit about yourself”, you’ve got to sell yourself without making it seem to desperate. Personal branding in consulting is extremely important because the work that you’re allocated to is based upon the people you know, and whether those people know that you have the right specialisation to get it done. Making sure that people know what you’re good at was something I absolutely underestimated.

Workplace politics
I only have a short note on this. Don’t get caught up in it. You may not even realise it’s happening to you. It kind of goes like this… you need to find a way to please everyone. Yes, at the end of the day, not everyone is going to like you, but you better make sure you don’t accidentally say yes to one person, without realising you may upset another.

Overall, my experience with the firm has been great, and the challenge of completing full time university at the same time is definitely starting to get to me. My firm loves the term ‘work-life balance’, and I guess I’m going to have to find a way to make that happen with everything happening around me. 

Thanks for reading!

Mark Jeyaraj
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School

Monday, 24 August 2015

Adventures in India

This past July I have had the opportunity to work with the social enterprise, Pollinate Energy, through the Business School's Community Placement Program. Pollinate Energy aims to improve the lives of India’s Urban poor. Every year, thousands of Indians are migrating from their rural villages to these urban slums. These people are seeking employment and these harsh living conditions, often without electricity, act as a gateway to the city. Pollinate Energy helps these people by employing locals to sell them solar lights and fuel efficient cookstoves.

I was placed in Hyderabad, the first city for Pollinate to expand their working model to in Bangalore. The program ran for four weeks where we worked on different aspects of the organisation in a group made up of ten kiwis and aussies, and six local Indians. The international students were all living together in an apartment called the ‘Hive’ which doubled as our work space.

We were split into three different working groups, each with a mix of international and Indian students. I was lucky enough to be in the team that was coaching the new ‘Pollinators’ – local’s who want to help, and are looking for a job. By targeting this demographic, those in the slum communities are more likely to relate and can more easily communicate with the Pollinators. At the same time it’s giving someone a job, skills and an international network which is quite rare for these people in a place like Hyderabad!

My training partner was Shanti – she might look cute but she was tough coach. She also acted as a translator between Vinay (our Pollinator) and I, translating both Telagu (the local language) and body language. I learnt that the Indian head wobble meant anything along the lines of yes, no, maybe, I’m listening to you but hurry up and finish and I’m telling you yes but I’m not going to hold my promise – something I found quite frustrating not understanding!

In the mornings we three would get together and discuss the what had gone well the day before, and where there was room for improvement in Vinays sales techniques. A big challenge we faced was developing trust between us, and those we were trying to help, as they had never had any kind of interaction with Pollinate before. In the afternoons we would head out to a selection of his designated slum communities, which were randomly scattered amongst the high rise buildings in the city or near new construction sites. The contrast was incredible.

The approach to business is completely different in India and it definitely took awhile to adjust. For example, what’s considered rude and what isn’t. Apparently it isn’t considered rude to answer your phone mid-way through a sale of a product? Calling your employer the day you are heading to your village for a week long festival is not uncommon. And as for the stretchable nature of ‘Indian Standard Time’ the difference between 5 minutes, three hours, two days late or a day early to an interview is minimal – oh and your welcome to bring a mate. All these things become less surprising when you start operating in the same environment.

People in the communities were extremely welcoming, pulling out chairs for us to sit on and offering us food. They take such pride in their huts, it’s difficult to not feel guilty for being treated so well, when the average wage is less than $2 a day, but it actually means more to them if you accept their offers. This cute woman even did Henna for me! She saw me watching her pluck leaves from the tree and grinding them into a paste for her daughters, so invited me over to have it done.

I would highly recommend this program to anyone considering a career path in renewable energy engineering, an interest in social enterprise, or even just for personal development. The $2,000 Pollinate Energy Community Placement Scholarship from the University of Sydney was a huge help in getting me to India. It was such a challenging but rewarding experience where I directly saw the impact Pollinate is making. Although it was sad saying good bye to the Pollinators we still keep in touch on whatsapp, see who has sold the most lights and make sure the ‘Hive’ is still buzzing!

Esther McArthur
Current student at the University of Sydney

Applications are now open for Pollinate Energy's fellowship programs in December and February. Grow your skills as a leader, an innovator and a social change-maker while bringing renewable energy solutions to urban poor communities in India. Hurry – applications close 4 September! Learn more: http://bit.ly/1I6Qyxa

Monday, 17 August 2015

Master of Management students visit China - part 2

A trip to China is not complete without visiting the impressive factories and facilities the country has to offer.

On our recent trip to the south-east provinces of China, twenty Master of Management students and I had the privilege of being hosted by the China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection (CECEP) Group. CECEP is China’s largest state-owned renewable energy enterprise and is leading China into a new era of solar panelled, clean energy in an attempt to mitigate previous damage done by other businesses, often foreign.

Whilst in Nanjing, CECEP were extremely generous and hospitable, welcoming us at their impressive Training Centre and Resort in Jurong, Jiangsu. At the resort, we enjoyed banquets, fishing, karaoke, laser tag, fruit picking and everyone’s favourite – the lakeside barbeque. We had the pleasure of being looked after by one of CECEP’s managers, Fan Liang, a representative, who showed us the in’s and out’s of China. CECEP’s Vice General Manager, Mr Zhu, flew in from Beijing to welcome us and answer our questions about CECEP.

As a part of our learning about CECEP and their business conduct, we were taken on a special, one-of-a-kind tour of their solar energy technology plant in Jurong. The buildings were grand and modern, and we were able to observe how an innovative factory operates in China. Some of us were surprised by the high level of automation of the factory (which is contrary to a lot of media reports about Chinese factories!), but were pleased to see that the employees working there were greatly cared for and looked after by CECEP – they had clean and modern working conditions, excellent food provisions and were commonly given accommodation for themselves and their families.

Whilst in China, we also took a day trip to Shanghai to visit Henkel’s Chinese head office and one of their newest production facilities.

Most of us (especially the girls!) knew Henkel as a leading producer of hair care products, owning brands such as Schwarzkopf. What many of us did not realise, however, is that Henkel is responsible for leading the world in adhesive technologies, creating adhesive products for customers producing products such as automobiles.

We were able to see Henkel’s production of adhesives in action, visiting their world-class factory named “Dragon Plant” in Shanghai’s Chemical Industrial Park. Whilst there, we also met with Jason Wang, Henkel’s Chief Financial Officer, who explained to us the importance of having a Chinese CFO in China, especially for foreign companies with offices in China.

Our visit to Henkel was integral to building on our understanding of conducting business in China. With the rate of company internationalisation increasing exponentially, this experience highlighted to us that a global experience, as well as knowing your potential, is essential for success in the Chinese environment.

Our trip to China was one that truly makes our Master of Management degree complete in developing ourselves as future world managers and leaders. Anyone considering completing the Master of Management degree should definitely take the trip to China. Our hosts, CECEP and Henkel, as well as our amazing guides and teachers, Associate Professor Philip Seltsikas, Dr Li Wei, Global Executive MBA alumnus Christine Bishop and Professor Hans Hendrischke, made this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us.

Sibylla Dammann
Current student in the Master of Management program at the University of Sydney Business School

Monday, 10 August 2015

Master of Management students visit China

After many delays due to monsoons in Southern China, our group of students in the University of Sydney Business School's Master of Management program finally made it to the Habour View Resort and Training centre in Jurong, a town not far from Nanjing in the Jiangsu province. We were the guests of CECEP - the China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Group - a Chinese state-owned company that is a leader in its field and presents exciting potential to help China and the world reduce their carbon footprint and move towards renewable energy sources.

On our first day after arriving, we were treated to a VIP tour of the beautiful city of Changzhou, a growing metropolis just an hour by bullet train from Shanghai. We met with the officials of the City Government who were eager to tell us all about the growth and prospects of their city. They also wanted to encourage us to consider the potential employment opportunities available in Changzhou, and the chance it affords us to bring our foreign knowledge and insights. The Changzhou Government even treated our whole group to a visit to the Dinosaur Park, a giant dinosaur theme park, where we got to ride the largest rollercoaster.

After attending a lecture at a local administrative school on the reform of the Chinese state, we were hosted there for dinner by the Vice Chancellor. Chatting and eating gourmet local cuisine with our hosts was a surreal evening and something that few Westerners have the privilege of experiencing.

It was also wonderful to meet so many University of Sydney alumni who are now working in China in important roles in industry and government. It goes to show how valuable an Australian education is and how highly it is viewed in China. This has also helped us to understand Chinese business activities in Australia, and the opportunities that interactions between Australia and China can provide both countries.

This has been a life changing experience to say the least. We saw so much in such a short time and gained a great understanding of China and Chinese business culture. I’m sure my cohort would agree with me in saying that this is a very valuable trip!

Will Lyall
Current student in the Master of Management program at the University of Sydney Business School

Friday, 7 August 2015

Think Big Data

In Semester 1, Woolworths teamed up with the Discipline of Business Analytics at the Business School to run a competition using real time data about the sales of some of their most popular product lines. At the end of the six week challenge, top students were giving the opportunity to interview for an internship with Woolworths. John Brann shares his experience on our blog this week.

The unique experience provided by the Big Data Competition was incomparable to anything I had previously experienced. From the beginning, there were a multitude of challenges, including ensuring that our group was on the same wavelength, as well as the simultaneous test of evaluating which techniques, of which we had learnt, would be most beneficial in gaining the best results. Thankfully, my group got along extremely well and we decided to split the workload and allow time for confirmation of our respective results to increase our chances of working out the correct predictions for the varying products.

Once our group was identified as one of the top groups, the next challenge of preparing for interviews with Woolworths arose. Fortunately, the Business School's Careers and Employability Office offered an interview workshop, which answered all the crucial aspects of how to impress and create a favourable first impression. Throughout this whole experience, I have gained valuable and unique skills that are definitely going to help me in the short term during university, as well as in the long term. Most importantly, it highlighted the clear benefits of teamwork and working as a coherent team. This will be especially important, as it will allow for more efficient and proactive group work in both an educational and workforce environment.

From a business perspective, by preparing for the interviews and researching Woolworths Limited, it exemplified how all aspects of any business boils down to the consumer. For example, I learned that when analysing the data, and ultimately it’s trends, the data analyst must recognise firstly, why the consumers behaved in a certain way, and secondly, how to change the consumers’ behaviour and perceptions to manipulate future data. Not only has this competition helped me gain many skills, but it has also supported and enhanced my business studies.

Looking back at my first semester at university, I have been most appreciative of the fact that I have already been given a wonderful opportunity to experience real world applications of business studies. This will not only add practical value to my next three and a half years, which I can use to my benefit when working on theoretical aspects, but also, it solidifies my interest in my studies and the opportunities it can manufacture.

In the long term, this competition and ultimately the internship in which I have been awarded with Woolworths will be extremely beneficial to my career goals. I will be able to work on real life situations consisting of at least a terabyte of data daily. This will be of great pragmatic value in a team environment, and will undoubtedly arm me with the skills for the future, which will fuel my potential. I am also grateful for being awarded this internship as it puts a foot in the door for future employment, which will assist my aspirations to a great extent.

John Brann
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School 

Applications for the 2015 Woolworths Limited Summer Internship Program are open now. Dare to Lead and apply today www.wowgrads.com.au.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Summer in Paris

Summer in Paris hits the city hard and swift. Our move to Cite U at the start of July coincided with the first heatwave of summer, so the air-conditioned luxury of our former hotel was sorely missed. It was a challenge to dress presentably for work in 36-degree heat, but as some coworkers showed up in shorts on these days, that was our cue to follow suit! Unfortunately the typical, century-old Haussmannian buildings that house most offices in the central districts are not equipped with modern conveniences like air-conditioning.

One of our favourite Sciences Po lectures to-date has been one on ‘The History of France through Paris landmarks’. Here we learnt how the city was first founded over 2,000 years ago in an area presently known as the Latin Quarter, the significance of the Louvre, Tuileries and Versailles as palaces, the relationship between the taxation system and socio-economic situation of its various residents, and present day renewal plans to expand beyond its borders in the ‘Le Grand Paris’ urban project.

Equally as interesting were a series of lectures on European identity issues, both past and present. Topics such as migration, security, solidarity and leadership opened our eyes to the multilayered complexities of the evolving European identity and its implications for existing and future member states.

So after all of this cultural education, some of us decided to kick off the weekend by watching a show at the Moulin Rouge. It was a spectacular performance filled with breathtaking acrobatics and the compact, big-top setting made the experience all the more intimate as we sat around dinner tables and mingled with people from all over the world. It reminded me of our lecture on identity issues and what it means to the French people, since this show clearly capitalised on its unique place in Parisian history. Photos were not allowed during the show for copyright reasons, but I can tell you there was a huge pool of water, python snakes and rollerskates!

Last weekend saw our entire class being treated to a day off work to attend a study trip to Brussels to learn about the EU Parliament. Coincidentally, Friday marked the start of the Bastille Day long weekend, so excitement levels were high as we would head off to other destinations (Amsterdam, Bruges and Aix-en-Provence) following the class trip. The EU institution buildings were quiet that day as EU officials and heads of state were scheduled to meet in Strasbourg instead - we were devastated about our missed opportunity to see Merkel, Tsipras, Hollande etc.! The parliamentarian role play game was interesting as was Brussels as a tourist destination. Thinking it would be a ‘European’ Canberra, the city surprised us with its fair share of tourist drawcards, from its official buildings, historic architecture, public parks, to a bustling town square serving up the must-try diet of Belgian fries, waffles and beer (though not all at once).

Finally, Bastille Day arrived. Being the conscientious students that we are, the morning was spent completing as much of our upcoming assessments as possible before heading to the supermarket to shop for our picnic on the Champ des Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. We successfully secured a prime spot and spent almost 7 hours entertaining ourselves before the fireworks started at 11pm. Surprisingly, the crowds were not as severe as those during New Year’s Eve in Sydney, but perhaps it was an indication of how much larger Paris is as a city.

With just over two more weeks of the IPP left, it's time to power through all the touristy things on our to-do list!

Farah Tan
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the International Placement Program in Paris, France 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Green to the core: sustainability based strategy

People from all backgrounds, from end consumers to business strategists, are driving – and grappling with – changing expectations about sustainability in business. Organisations are facing pressure to serve today’s conscious consumer, while achieving more ambitious business outcomes. At the recent “Green at the core” sustainability panel discussion hosted by the Master of Management Society, panellists from the areas of consumer goods, sustainability leadership, strategy and ethical consumption discussed whether both of these goals could be pursued concurrently in a meaningful way.

The audience, mostly Master of Management and Master of Management (CEMS) students, represented another part of the fray: a young, ambitious workforce, more empowered than ever, and seeking strategies to affect change within their workplaces and the world more broadly.
The four distinguished panellists provided insights into current sustainability business trends and gave the audience direction and tips on how to affect change within their own workplaces. The panellists included:

  • Scott Matyus-Flynn, Head of Strategy,  Republic of Everyone, an award-winning sustainability consultancy and PR agency 
  • Gordon Renouf, CEO, Good on You, an ethical fashion destination bringing transparency and empowerment to the consumer and letting you shop your values, and Co-Founder, Ethical Consumers Australia, a social NFP which makes it easier for people to make consumer choices that match their values
  • Kate Harris, CEO, Centre for Sustainability Leadership, a NFP which offers leadership development to educate clients on conducting business in a sustainable way
  • Paul Connell, Business Unit Leader (Homecare), Unilever, the world’s third largest consumer goods company
The success of any CSR or sustainability strategy, Paul argued, requires serious commitment from top leadership. The public commitment of Unilever’s global CEO (Paul Polman) to the company’s sustainability-centred business model, which pledges a 50% reduction in environmental footprint by 2020, is a fundamental reason for its successful adoption across the company globally. “When you tell people to double revenue and halve environmental impact, it forces massive innovation…We’ve seen significant drops in can size and increases in detergent concentration, for example.”

The idea of ‘greenwashing’ was raised, a phenomenon whereby companies market their products as ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable’, sometimes spending more money on communicating their sustainability achievements than actually reducing their environmental footprint. Paul highlighted that this trend was under fire from increasing consumer awareness and knowledge. Companies like RoE were at the front lines of this movement, guiding companies in building transformative sustainability strategies but also in communicating them in an appropriate way, both internally and externally.

Nevertheless, as Kate suggested, too many companies are overlooking sustainability because they have done their ‘bit’, perhaps in the belief that embedding a degree of sustainability exempts them from striving for bigger goals.

Ultimately, the panel agreed, it is far more effective for companies to ‘clean up their act’ than to invest in rebranding to greenwash their image to the public. If for no other reason, the internet’s democratisation of information simply makes the alternative too risky.

That is what Gordon’s startup, Good on You, aims to achieve. Having recently launched an app and crowd funding campaign to make ‘on the go’ ethical shopping easier, Good on You rates fashion and beauty brands for their ethical and environmental soundness. While consumers are complex and varied, a major barrier to ethical consumption behaviour is poor or misleading information, which Good on You hopes to address. Another challenge is the existence of a “green gap” between consumers’ intentions and their decision. Panellists believed this gap could be bridged by improving consumer education, having values-based conversations and presenting clearer business cases for investing in sustainability.

Resonating with Kate, she added that there is now a move towards engaging with stakeholders and not just shareholders. A practical example was in the issue of waste, where reducing waste not only had a net positive environmental benefit, but also reduced costs which could be passed down to the consumer. Providing a business case for sustainability, and being able to articulate it to the relevant stakeholders, was seen as just as essential a skill for new graduates as knowing the key principles of sustainability.

Kate’s work at the Centre for Sustainability Leadership was bridging the knowledge divide in the workplace by “getting people who care into positions of power”. Similarly, Gordon’s work at Ethical Consumers Australia involves empowering end consumers to make more sustainable decisions. The panel agreed that the onus was not only on consumers to make more sustainable decisions, but also on corporations to make that choice easier for us.

The question of Australia’s sustainability sector and attitudes towards sustainable consumption compared to the rest of the world drew impassioned responses from the panel, who mostly agreed that Australia’s political and economic orientation was lagging behind that of Europe and Asia, regions that are largely “getting on with” sustainability. Nonetheless, Australia’s green building industry and grassroots movements were highlighted as definitive strengths.

The panellists, as industry leaders, did an exceptional job at breaking down a complex issue and making it relevant to future business leaders in the audience.

Patrick Nguyen
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School