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Making global waves

Smurfit Executive Development is now ranked in the world’s Top 50 and continues to grow both in courses offered and student numbers

Niall FitzGerald, chairman, UCD Smurfit School Advisory Board, Helen Brophy, director, Smurfit Executive Development, and Dr Michael WJ Smurfit, founding benefactor, at the opening of the new €5 million Executive Development Centre at UCD Smurfit School in September. Photograph: Shane O’Neill, SON Photographic

Niall FitzGerald, chairman, UCD Smurfit School Advisory Board, Helen Brophy, director, Smurfit Executive Development, and Dr Michael WJ Smurfit, founding benefactor, at the opening of the new €5 million Executive Development Centre at UCD Smurfit School in September. Photograph: Shane O’Neill, SON Photographic

 

Last month saw the opening of the new €5 million Executive Development Centre at UCD Smurfit School. Fittingly opened by Dr Michael Smurfit, the new centre marks the culmination of a five-year investment programme which has seen the creation of a world-class executive development programme.

The investment has allowed for a significant expansion of Smurfit Executive Development’s offering, with both the number of programmes and graduates increasing tenfold in that period. The centre has also built a global reputation for excellence with its open enrolment programmes now ranked in the world’s Top 50, according to the Financial Times.

“Having a world-class Executive Development Centre of excellence is a key part of Ireland’s offering to the multinational and indigenous sectors and a key asset for FDI agencies in seeking inward investment, particularly in a post-Brexit context,” says Smurfit executive development director Helen Brophy.

“With growing complexity, increased uncertainty against a backdrop of greater volatility, demands on Irish business leaders are greater than ever – they need the leadership skills to plan, adapt, react and counteract challenges as they strive to compete in a globalised market. At Smurfit Executive Development, we now have a state-of-the-art executive development facility, which is an exemplar of a world-class learning environment and business school campus, and which matches the reputation of our programmes and faculty.”

Brophy believes the new centre marks a natural evolution for the school. “In its initial years, the focus was on graduate education,” she says. “Executive education was a natural follow on. We started from a small base and now have more than 2,000 executives coming through the doors each year. We are also ranked 48th in the world by the Financial Times. That’s a very significant achievement considering that we had no ranking at all a few years ago.”

The development of the new centre was a response both to increased demand for programmes and to changes in the world of executive education. “We outgrew our capacity,” says Brophy. “The new centre was three years in planning. It has doubled physical capacity. But it’s not brand new. We remodelled an old part of the Smurfit School which dates back to 1901. We built on its character and modernised and benchmarked the facilities against the best in the world. We looked at what is best in class in executive learning.”

The new facilities add to an already strong offering. “We now have best-in-class facilities alongside our excellent faculty and staff.”

Demand for executive education in Ireland is strong and growing, according to Brophy. “In 2012, during the recession, we saw a lot of focus on areas like change management, leadership, strategy development, innovation, and finance. That’s beginning to widen post-recession. We talk a lot about VUCA here – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity. If you look at the pace of change in areas like the geopolitical environment and what’s happened in the past few years, the future is more and more uncertain. Industry 4.0 is challenging leaders as well. We need adaptive leadership. That’s not a new term but it’s increasingly critical for business.”

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning and executive education is increasingly crucial for this new generation of leaders. “The days when you qualified from college and finished learning then are long gone. People need to develop their leadership skills throughout their lives and that’s very much at the forefront of what we do here. In a VUCA world, that is what we need.”

It is not only the skills acquired on Smurfit Executive Development courses which are important to participants. “For many of them, coming here is an opportunity to step back from their daily role and see what’s happening outside their own business and sector. You can get a bit of tunnel vision sometimes. Strategic agility is now a critical factor as well. Good leaders are always willing to learn.”

She believes classroom learning continues to have a critical role to play. “E-learning can complement it but face-to-face and classroom learning is critical. You can learn some things at home alone but if you are trying to change mindsets and learn to think critically and outside the box, it is nearly impossible to do that online. Our students get peer-to-peer engagement as well as access to an excellent faculty. Peers challenging each other is very important, that’s what changes mindsets and creates transformation. It doesn’t happen in front of a computer screen. People aren’t born with skills to be great leaders, the best leaders are the best learners.”