UL MBA alumni feature

Colm Cryan

2015 MBA graduate

By developing my soft skills, the MBA heightened my emotional intelligence, enabling me to lead with clarity and confidence throughout the acquisition process.

With a background in physics, I’m a technical person by nature and my career was previously focused in this area. As a Director in a variety of specialist telecommunications companies, most of my time was spent resolving technical issues, but as my role expanded, I realized I needed a better understanding of how businesses operated.

An MBA seemed like the perfect approach to expand my knowledge and I opted to study at UL. The programme offered a fantastic grounding in the essential language and structures of business, plus in-depth expertise in more complex topics such as strategy, leadership, and change management.

These core skills have been indispensable in my subsequent career, not least in leading the effort to establish Acacia Communication’s international hub in Ireland and managing that business as it grew, went through an initial public offering and was acquired by the leading global telecoms giant, Cisco.

The course helped refine my critical thinking, empowering me to take effective decisions to lead and grow the business as it evolved

Having worked hard to establish a successful International office for Acacia, I was thrilled when the company was acquired by Cisco. As Managing Director of Acacia in Ireland, I had laid down a solid foundation for growth, ultimately tripling the size of the operation. This effective leadership, contributed to Acacia’s ability harness the business opportunities arising from the rapid increase in consumer demand for data, and it also helped make Acacia an attractive acquisition prospect for Cisco.

It was great to be part of Acacia as it changed from a privately held start up, to a publicly traded leader in telecommunications. Then the acquisition by Cisco brought possibly an even bigger transformation, due to the extensive organisational and cultural differences between Acacia and Cisco. Consequently, in my current role as Principle of Business Transformation at Acacia, I am spearheading the process of incorporating the Acacia team and its operations into the larger Cisco organisation.

This transition process calls on all my MBA learning. With employees and offices in almost every country, Cisco is on a different scale to Acacia, both structurally and strategically. Fortunately, everything I’m tackling today – from structural integration to managing cultural differences – is underpinned by my MBA learning.
Not only did the UL MBA refine my critical thinking, empowering me to take effective, strategic decisions for growth, it also enabled me to manage the micro and macro changes required along the way.

In effect, the course altered the way I think about change, as well as how I communicate this process to the team, something which has been vital during the transition. My current role involves integrating several teams in disparate functions, bridging gaps, and helping people connect. The frameworks I learnt at UL have been invaluable to shape and manage this process, helping me to anticipate issues, as well as providing vital problem-solving skills to address them.

Develop leadership qualities

The MBA helped me to identify and strengthen my leadership style, to provide clear, consistent and effective leadership in times of change.

Interestingly, although I knew I would rely on the MBA’s structural and process teachings during transitions, the MBA programme also delivered vital insight into how people would process and respond to what was happening. These soft skills have been essential in facilitating the team’s integration.

Coming from a technical background, where solutions are often black or white, right or wrong, the MBA was instrumental in refining my people management skills. By developing my ability to listen actively and communicate clearly, the course helped me to lead with clarity and confidence. It heightened my emotional intelligence, which has been key to effective leadership throughout the acquisition and integration process.

Like most people, I had observed inspiring leaders in business such as Tim Cook and Sheryl Sandberg, but I had never considered how or why these people were successful. The MBA leadership program explored this issue, presenting a variety of leadership styles and thought processes so students could identify the approach that best matched their personality.

The course also highlighted the risks of each approach and, more importantly, provided tools to overcome those risks. This was a key part of the MBA for me as I realized different styles work for different people. I was able to figure out what would work for me and form a clear vision from day one of how I would lead and motivate my teams in the future.

Fast forward to today as Acacia transitions into Cisco, and COVID-19 changes the way we implement our business, the way in which the MBA strengthened my personal approach is clear. It is helping me to leverage my Acacia relationships to provide clear, consistent, and effective leadership - a real advantage.

Build resilience and flexibility

The modules on strategy, analysis and leadership ensure I have a range of interlocking skills that combine to help me take effective decisions

Clearly, the pandemic caused much upheaval, but from a business perspective, it was just the latest in a continuous line of disruption. The telecoms industry, at its heart, is a disruptive business and the last seven years have seen major technological shifts, trade disputes, and constrained supply chains. Fortunately, the MBA has given me the tools I need to navigate through these uncertain times.

The strategy and leadership components of the MBA have been particularly useful in this respect. The decision-making tools I learnt ensure I am flexible in my thinking, utilizing data analysis and statistics to inform the development of an effective strategy, one that is resilient in the face of change.
During the pandemic, this meant being able to seamlessly transition the Irish team from an office centric to remote work model. It also helped me overcome supply chain issues that have been particularly challenging. Thanks to my MBA skillset, I don’t compartmentalize; the modules on strategy, analysis and leadership ensure I have a range of interlocking skills that combine to help me take effective decisions and implement a robust strategy for the whole business.

We live in an ever-changing world. In the telecoms industry, for instance, networks must now be able to supply high bandwidth to homes, while continuing to support corporate business. The challenge is in supplying bandwidth to every remote town and village, and not just cities. While this transition was underway, the pandemic accelerated the process.

From a practical standpoint, the pandemic means that most of the team’s communication is now online. Training and onboarding new staff or negotiating with companies in other countries might feel different from a sofa, but the MBA helps me to connect with people and build relationships so I can resolve conflict and deliver consistent leadership despite differences.

Looking at the bigger picture, Covid is just another change, so your strategy must be adaptable. The MBA gave me the tools to excel in this environment and to make both the business, and staff, more resilient. As a technical person, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that businesses are made up of people. Fibre optics itself is a hard sum topic, but business is a soft skill. The MBA afforded me with the tools to balance these often-competing factors and to be flexible in my strategy.

Thanks to my MBA learning, I enjoy change - it’s reinvigorating - and this is where I want to focus the next stage of my career

As the business expands in the future, I expect change management to continue to play an important role. The acquisition has altered Acacia’s management and business structures, so in the short-term, my goal is to support the team’s adjustment and integration process. Covid has also brought plenty of changes that affect day to day operation, including supply chain issues and remote working, but change is always on the horizon – the only way out is through.

We are only now starting to think where the tragic events unfolding in Ukraine will lead and as part of Cisco think about the role that we must play to help people suffering through them.

By focusing on an effective strategy, I’m confident I keep the team on the right path. No doubt I’ll continue to draw on the MBA frameworks on change management, business continuity and planning that have been so invaluable, along with the soft skills I absorbed on the course. Thanks to my MBA learning, I enjoy change - it’s reinvigorating - and this is where I want to focus the next stage of my career.

  • Undergrad Education: Bachelor's Degree, Applied Physics - Dublin City University
  • Current Role: Managing Director - Acacia Communications Ireland Ltd.

2024 programme brochure

Download the UL MBA brochure to learn more about the programme and modules