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

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Why leadership prevails over your WAM

The moment you sit in your first graduation job interview, your potential employer isn’t looking at your WAM or your academic achievements. They’re looking for an entrepreneurial character to help grow their business. That’s why when you see them clicking their pens or not writing anything down, it’s a cue to move on. Tell them explicitly what makes you different.


Leadership. It is the most employable skill, as leadership experiences can’t be solely studied.

So what exactly is WAM?

Weighted Average Mark; a non-experience based numerical assessment of work ethic assigned to all enrolled students.

To an employer, it can tell them how much of a high-achiever you may be. They wouldn’t know if you’ve crammed content the night before. Or how many all nighters you’ve pulled thus far. Let’s be frank: it’s just a number. Like ATAR. It does not encompass you as a character.

So why leadership?

First impressions count. It gets your foot in the door.  How one presents themself as self-aware through communication differentiates them from the rest of the graduate employment market. They’re looking for people who will make the best fit for their workplace. Someone who can communicate their ideas clearly and confidently.

Unless you’re superhuman, you’re probably not going to start off your first graduate job as the perfect worker. Your employer knows that. That’s why initiative is desirable. They will be asking themselves, “Is this candidate willing to challenge themself and learn new things?” When people see you with initiative, they see you as someone who can take charge and be dependable. Only through a self-development mindset can you experience true professional growth. After all, experience cannot be studied.

Regardless of the field, teamwork is the definitive quality of a desirable employee. It doesn’t matter how good you are on paper. Selflessness is good teamwork. A realisation of collective aspirations beyond one’s self and working to common ends is what employers can’t do without. Think of it as nailing the theoretical components. Only achieving on a theoretical level is not as pleasing as an individual with practical experience.

Harnessing opportunities to ascertain your future pathway remains in and out of the connections you foster and maintain. Building bridges with not only professionals, but also students from diverse backgrounds and experiences canvasses a network for future collaboration and impact. Glue yourself to a suite of possibilities with extensive networks. It’ll land you jobs deemed to be out of reach.

AIESEC: Your Gateway to Leadership
AIESEC is the largest student run organisation in the world, facilitating students with volunteering and internship exchanges in over 125 partnered countries since 1948.

From Kofi Annan (Former Secretary General of the UN) to Neil Janin (Global Director, McKinsey and Co.), participants of the Global Leader program have paved new pathways for communities, businesses and lives around the world.

AIESEC spearheads its members into an immersive environment with developmental space to enhance practical skills in areas such as business development, marketing, finance and human resources. 

So why leadership over WAM?
Employers don’t reduce the company's future to a number. They will find value in your capacity to impact as an innovative leader.

Be prepared the next time you head in for an interview. Loosen your grip on the inky CV. An interviewer seeks experience prepared by the opportunities you seize here and now. All the doors close itself eventually. Initiate the start to your future, work with potentially prominent figures of the world and expand your network.

Good luck.

Solenna Fu
Current student at the University of Sydney and Public Relations Officer, AIESEC Sydney

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Our adventures in Paris begin

I write this blog post on the Eurostar as it zooms to London after surviving my first week of the Paris International Placement Program (IPP). Last weekend, twenty undergrads and postgrads from the Business School descended upon Paris, some even managing to squeeze in trips to Lisbon and Barcelona enroute. Travel is an obvious perk of the program and we intended to make the most of it!

Seine River, 9:30pm

But it’s not all play without hard work. The first days were long with work placements from 9am to 5pm and after that, French language classes and European Union studies lectures at Sciences Po until 9pm. Thankfully, summer is Paris means sunset at 10:30pm, so you’d hardly notice that you’ve just survived an intellectually stimulating and physical (walking, hopping on-off the Metro) 12-hour day. After class, we could still go for a wander to take photos, have dinner at a cafe (cheese and wine, if you prefer) and pick up groceries on the way back to our hotel. Unfortunately, shopping the mid-year sales is only possible on weekends. There’s only so much you can fit into a day in Paris!

Sciences Po
The first week of working aboard was eventful. My supervisor turned out be based in Berlin, which although unexpected, is beginning to teach me skills on remote working relationships. All my colleagues are French and speak only French during lunchtimes, which is good incentive to work harder on my French!

Sciences Po Courtyard

I get to walk past the Louvre every day (not many can say this!) enroute to classes at Sciences Po which start at 6pm. French architecture is spectacular and you have to experience the scale of the buildings, boulevards and bridges in person, as photos taken on your iPhone fail to do it justice. The city is steeped in history - my office shares the same laneway as the house where Mozart spent his last days, while famous European treaties were signed merely a few blocks away from our classroom in Sciences Po.


Undoubtedly, the highlight of the week for all of us was the visit to the Australian Embassy where we met with Ambassador Stephen Brady, who graciously hosted us at his residence and was very generous with his time. He shared his insights on the globalisation of the workforce for our generation and candidly took us through his career path and the complexities of his role in the hopes of encouraging us to consider an intellectually rewarding career in international relations. We spent over two hours at the 800m2 residence which overlooked the Tour Eiffel and admired the stunning Aboriginal and modern Australian art and interior design which was truly representative of Australian identity. A special thank you from all of us to Carson for making the meeting with Ambassador Brady possible!

Australian Embassy

Bon weekend as we venture off on our first weekend in Europe - London, Munich, Prague, Rouen and Versailles are just some of the destinations that our group will cover in the next 48 hours. Next week we will be moving from our hotel accommodation to Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris (Cité U for short) to immerse ourselves in Parisian student life. A bientot!

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

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Shared Value: a step towards doing well by doing good

By Thomas Wylob, Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) 
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School
After nearly two decades of globalization, privatization and free trade, the global economy has been left with mixed results. An economy still feeling the aftershocks of a global financial crisis, recession, poverty, increasing inequality, climate change and loss in biodiversity, has exemplified the interdependency of business and society, and the need to avoid returning to ‘business as usual’.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum, proclaimed in the New York Times, “What we are currently experiencing with the financial crisis and its consequences is the birth of a new era - a wake-up call to overhaul our institutions, our systems and, above all, our thinking”.

In response to this political, social and corporate upheaval in systems thinking, corporations have shifted towards a more inclusive conceptualisation of value creation. Whereby sustainability has become the new source of competitive advantage, and the phrase ‘Doing Well by Doing Good’, historically perceived as beyond the scope of business, is now being investigated as a potential avenue forward for businesses moving into the 21st Century.

This shift towards a more sustainable mindset has been in part initiated by new programs and courses at top educational institutions. As the leaders of today challenge traditional perceptions of good business practice, they are helping to equip the business leaders of tomorrow with new skill sets to make a difference in the world.

The often quoted Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, which has heavily resonated with me, and I believe it can be quite representative of the outlook for many millennials.

Top graduates are beginning to look beyond just work-life balance, comparing and selecting companies based on the positive impact they are having on the world. The mission of companies, likewise, is increasingly becoming of great importance in attracting the top graduates from around the world, as the desire to make a difference and leave a legacy has become a key driver in directing the decisions of young millennials.

Even at the bachelor level, a greater emphasis is being placed on being a force of good. Increased research and resources have been directed at uncovering new and sustainable forms of value creation. Currently being researched in my honours thesis, shared value is one new concept that integrates this new way of thinking.
Adopted by big multinational corporations such as Nestlé, GE, IBM and Unilever, shared value looks to adopt the capitalist model in addressing and solving social needs and challenges.

What we look to contribute to is creating a theoretical baseline to this concept. By providing a more comprehensive and succinct definition, academic and businesses alike will be able to more effectively isolate it’s applicability to their organisations, eventually progressing research in the future to include the question – How can it be implemented? And how can shared value add value to my business? These are the key questions industry leaders and business managers seek to understand.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Think Big with Big Data

By Xiaofei Wang and Bohan Huang, current students at the University of Sydney Business School, and participants in the Big Data Competition. The Competition, run by the Business School in partnership with Woolworths, challenged students to use real time data about the sales of some of their most popular product lines to predict weekly sales. 

The Big Data Competition was a great opportunity to apply our business knowledge to predict product sales at different Woolworths stores. It offered us a taste of data analysis, and helped us to focus on what we really want by allowing us to apply our knowledge in real business practice.

As members of one of the winning teams (out of a total of 271 teams and 696 participants), we'd would like to share some of our reflections:

Team work
Our team members came from diverse backgrounds and areas of specialisation. We used our complementary academic knowledge to generate different ideas, as well as support different views. In our team, Xiaofei Wang was responsible for summarising our viewpoints, data testing and model application. Bohan Huang was good at finding patterns and building the models. Donghua Han focused on correlation coefficiency analysis and hypothetical testing. We let each member do their part and learned from each other. We carefully considered whether each idea was effective. Our team combined different options, gradually improved them and finally made them feasible.

We also kept a reasonable level of competition in the team. For example, we shared and discussed our views, debating over each carefully. We often first established different models, then we compared them. To choose the most appropriate model, we discussed not only the test results, but also the advantages of the models. Through these processes, we remained efficient and a competitive position.

Application of business knowledge
There were two accounting students and one commerce student in our team. However, no one in our team had a data mining and analysis background, or experience before this competition. Compared to business analysis or quantitative business students, our advantages were our understanding of business from the financial perspective, as well as our Excel skills. For example, analysing financial statements and calculating financial ratios helped us to explore the most appropriate models. Our weakness was a lack of quantitative business knowledge. So we gradually built a series of models that were simple and easy to integrate with each other, and most importantly, suitable for us to use. In the end, the models proved accurate and effective.

In the first round, we tried a variety of models, but none of them were satisfactory and we were lagging behind another team. But our team never gave up. We set a goal for ourselves and built quantitative knowledge as we went. We looked for appropriate models and improved the results. We fully used the submission opportunities and successfully achieved the top position in the first week on the public board. This moment largely encouraged us and helped us to keep trying to achieve the best performance we could, ultimately leading to our overall success.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Big Data Competition

By Hao Fu, current student at the University of Sydney Business School, and participant in the Big Data Competition. The Competition, run by the Business School in partnership with Woolworths, challenged students to use real time data about the sales of some of their most popular product lines to predict weekly sales.

The Big Data Competition was a great experience, and one which I found very meaningful.

One of the most valuable aspects of the competition was the opportunity to work in a team. As the old saying goes, “two heads are better than one” - more brain power brings more success. I would not have been able to achieve the same result on my own. Working with my teammates, Tori and Christopher, determined our success.

Tolerance and understanding are keys to successful group dynamics. As English is not my first language, it can be hard to express my ideas clearly in this type of setting. The patience and kindness my group members showed was so helpful.

The first week was a challenge, and we didn’t get back great results. But as each week passed, we were able to improve. The competition wasn’t just about the results, but also the process. We used many methods to predict the sales, and also did some online research about promotion and sales. I found myself growing obsessed with the statistics – as they weeks went on, they weren’t boring and rigid anymore.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I learned that teamwork, working hard and making the most of opportunities is the key to success.

I also really appreciate my group members, and thank the Big Data Competition for giving me two good friends.