UL MBA alumni feature

Finula Crowe

MBA graduate

Ideas come easy to me, but ideas don’t execute themselves. Thankfully, the MBA gave me the entrepreneurial skills to accomplish my goals and launch my own fashion company.

I’ve always had a strong drive to run with fresh ideas; to take a risk and put those ideas into action. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I decided to apply for the MBA back in 2010 when I returned to work in my family’s golfing and hospitality business after 16 years in Australia.

At that time, many hotels were going into receivership with the introduction of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA). It was a tough time after the 2008 financial crash and my parents were in a challenging situation. Consequently, when I joined the business with my background in marketing and sales, I felt that a fresh, entrepreneurial perspective would be a definite advantage.

When I began looking at how to realize this by returning to academic study, I discovered the UL MBA. The entrepreneurship modules promised to bring a different level of thinking to the table and during the admissions process, I was interviewed by a lecturer with a focus on entrepreneurship; a real specialist in family business.

Thanks to her passion, I knew the course would provide the skills I needed. I think the lecturer was also pleased to have someone with a small business mindset as part of the cohort because that’s what makes the MBA such a unique experience.

With a mix of MBA students from diverse industries, everyone brings their own expertise, and you learn from one another.

Out in Australia, I had already spent several years working in a corporate environment, at blue chip companies and big tech firms, so I had plenty of experience to bring to the course, but there’s always more to learn. I had often thought colleagues with an MBA had more of a 360-degree view on things, and I could see the benefits that brought to problem-solving. It seemed the perfect time to expand my knowledge.

Not only that, I saw it as an opportunity to meet like-minded people. Having spent most of my adult life travelling, first in Paris, then Australia, I felt culturally distant from other Irish people. With its block release format, the UL MBA offered a way to re-establish those connections and learn new concepts while still working in my family business just a short commute away in Tipperary. Unlike full time courses, such as the Smurfit MBA, it offered the perfect balance.

Unfortunately, funding the course was not as straightforward. Unlike many of my fellow students, I didn’t have any form of sponsorship. My parents were kind enough to lend me some of the fees and my partner was very supportive, but I had to make sacrifices to complete the course, both financially and in terms of the time spent working and studying.

For those, like me, that have to dig deep, I would say: don’t be afraid of the commitment. The course really does pay back tenfold.

For me, the takeaways around strategy and entrepreneurship were worth it alone. They have stood the test of time and I still draw on them in my latest venture, launching my own sustainable clothing company, New Day Originals. It takes determination, but I have been able to call on my MBA learning because the skills you develop become as automatic as breathing.

The entrepreneurship modules at UL were particularly enlightening. We were lucky enough to team up with Product Development students, so we ran an end-to-end case study for a start-up business, looking at market research, funding, and launching to market. Our project was an innovative hospital bedside table. Thinking through the viability of this product taught me so much, and it was rewarding to learn that the invention did in fact go on to land funding.

Leadership was another stand out element of the UL course. My thesis was on cross-cultural leadership, which is still relevant in my current role managing suppliers in disparate regions. Overall, however, the course delivered those key frameworks for successful leadership with an emphasis on soft skills.

Since the MBA I have put those skills into practice on many occasions. Taking a strategic approach and having the confidence to communicate my ideas has been invaluable. With strong foundation knowledge I can question others in areas which aren’t necessarily my specialism, such as Finance.

The MBA gave me the language to investigate the figures, which is imperative as a small business owner and essential to my business today.

But I haven’t always been a small business owner. After graduating from UL with an MBA in 2012, I spent a lot of time in senior corporate marketing roles where I quickly progressed to head up marketing for global firms with regional and global responsibility. By 2019, however, I was ready for a change; I felt like I had reached a turning point in my life, and I wanted to pursue my own business ideas around sustainable fashion.

My thirst for fresh challenges had already seen me launch an online fashion business in 2016, with a boutique importing glamorous occasion wear from Australia which I ran alongside my corporate job.

Making the switch from an employee to a business owner was exciting, but the MBA gave me the confidence to pursue my own ideas and ride the ‘entrepreneurial roller coaster’. Consequently, when Covid gave me time to think, I was bubbling with enthusiasm again and ready to pursue new opportunities. This time, although still keen to focus on fashion, I began to think seriously about sustainability – as an ethos and as a business driver.

Using tools from my UL studies, I began to focus on my products’ impact on the planet. I saw a trend towards sustainable living, and I decided to focus on creating clothing for middle-aged women like me that want more than a single-wear item; they want to be stylish but comfortable without damaging the environment.

It’s now two years since I designed my first dress, aptly called ‘Hope’, which is still a best seller. In that time, I have worked hard to create a community around the sustainable clothing concept. MBA frameworks have helped me all the way. They enabled me to harness this opportunity and now, with an imminent move back to Ireland, I’m looking forward to launching New Day Originals in Europe in the Spring.

Managing growth is exciting but as a solo-preneur, it can be draining. Fortunately, the strategic MBA mindset gave me the practical tools I needed to succeed.

At present, I have no direct staff, but I manage a virtual team that spans the globe. I work with a couple of ethical family run factories in India, I’ve a wholesales platform, a fulfilment centre in the UK, an email marketing agency, a VA, and now, as I move towards my next phase of growth, a production agency in Turkey.

It’s great because I enlist the expertise I need, but managing such diverse people requires an understanding of cultural differences and careful attention to language. I wouldn’t be without the cross-cultural leadership skills I learnt at UL.

Moreover, outsourcing to others allows me to employ the best people for the job without adding to my payroll, which is essential when you’re running your own small business. Being able to formulate and execute a strategy that’s right for your business – that’s down to the MBA, which enables you to see the world in 360 degrees.

When faced with a problem, MBA learning stops you from being myopic and allows you to see the issue from all sides. In the corporate environment, for example, the MBA ensures you have empathy for other departments, whether that is HR, finance, or the leadership team. It gives you the language to understand all facets of a problem and you are less inclined to fall back on your own personal area of expertise.

Scanning the environment actually becomes second nature because the MBA accelerates your ability to view the world in 3D.

In the current economic environment, that’s a must-have because the world is a very complex place right now. Uncertainty, the greatest of which we have ever seen through the COVID pandemic, is inevitable. Identifying how to respond and then taking action is what predicates success in this environment, and that’s where the MBA really stands out. It engenders resilience and provides the strategic thinking to manage long term instability.

Looking back over the past few years, it hasn’t been an easy ride, but it has certainly been satisfying. I thrive on new experiences, and I’m excited about the next chapter for my clothing business, but also for myself. Study is a passion for me, and I want to pursue a fashion qualification as well as developing my understanding around sustainability.

If there’s one thing the MBA taught me, it’s that moving beyond your comfort zone and learning from others is invigorating and I’m certainly not ready to stop learning new things yet.

2024 programme brochure

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