MBA Iceland Blog
Full-time MBA student Serena Mehta shares her experiences of MBA consultancy week.
Cass Business School held its full-time MBA consultancy week in Iceland for the first time. More than 100 students spent a week solving real-world management dilemmas faced by some of the country's leading firms. Here we follow Cass MBA student, Serena Mehta, from the US, who was part of a six-strong team tasked with developing an investment strategy for Thoran, a whisky distillery start-up in Reykjavik. Read her blog below.
Sunday 6 April
"I awoke to the sound of my alarm clock at 3:30am. Sixteen of us caught the shuttle bus to the airport, chatting about our itinerary, companies and imminent adventures. Iceland's economy is once again on the up after a colossal banking collapse in 2008, making this an exciting time for Icelandic businesses, and for us to be working with some of them. After taking a power nap on the flight and rereading the short brief on Thorn, the start-up whiskey distillery my group is consulting for, we had landed...in Reykjavik. While some students had flown in early, using the time to go whale-watching or to see the Northern Lights, we arrived in time for a welcome dinner at The Pearl, a restaurant located in the top of a rotating glass dome overlooking the capital."
Monday 7 April
"Birgir was exactly as I imagined him to be. Tall with Scandinavian features and a cool goatee, the owner and founder of Thoran is just as easy going as he is passionate about whisky. We listened intently as he described the whisky making process and introduced the rest of his team. We learned which team member is the brains behind the operations, who is the token nerd and who is nicknamed "The Rainman". We toured the distillery lab which didn't take long. As a start-up, it isn't a surprise that Birgir and his team work in some pretty close quarters -one room around 25x30 feet to be exact.
"After feeling overwhelmed by all the new information, we left Birgir to his day job, and ventured out in the rain in search of a café to digest the information. Cold, wet and admittedly cranky, we found a cozy bookstore café to hash out our plan. While going through Thoran's financial forecasts and marketing plans, we chatted about past cases we could use for comparison purposes. Glancing down at the clock, I was surprised to see it was nearly 6pm. Satisfied by our progress, we agreed to develop short and long-term market strategies, analyse and develop a pricing strategy, and discuss the potential benefits of crowdsourcing tomorrow.
"The day wasn't over yet though. The Iglo & Indi team, who are working on digital marketing strategy for a children's clothing brand, had a recommendation for dinner-a charming pizza shop with a nondescript door-and 18 of us chattered away about our experiences over pizza (with non-conventional toppings) and beers. Most of us had the same feeling-how are we going to put together a valuable presentation for Friday?! With diverse backgrounds and distinct skillsets, I am optimistic that things will begin to come together tomorrow."
Tuesday 8 April
"The team and I met Birgir, the owner and founder of Thoran, and the company's CEO, Bergthoran, at Kex Hostel, a 1920s Las Vegas-style hostel that appeals to locals just as much as tourists. Housed in an old biscuit factory, the hostel has a fantastic bar area with sweeping views of Reykjavik's harbour.
"We had conducted research all day on short and long-term market strategies for the company, found comparable distilleries, used them as case studies and brainstormed several possibilities. We fired questions at Birgir for a couple of hours. One option we're looking at is the possibility of the Thoran team opening a bar near the old harbour in Reykjavik and we spent a great deal of time discussing its viability.
"I found myself inspired by our meeting with the Thoran team. Our first question to Birgir had been on his motivation behind the distillery, the real reason he is investing in the company. "I've wanted to make whiskey my whole life," he said. Already I have learnt of the passion you need to start a business. Even though they don't have a final product yet, Birgir and his team have the determination to overcome their barriers. And there will be many."
Wednesday 9 April
"Sipping strawberry sparkling wine in a steaming pool of milky blue water, I couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else. After a half day with our companies, we were at the Blue Lagoon. Rare sunbeams beat down on us as we bathed in the middle of a lava field in mineral-rich warm waters. Even though my face was touching the brisk seven degree air, my cheeks were flushed from the soothing waters and laughter.
"My eyes quickly scanned the breath-taking Icelandic scenery and I couldn't make out one person that I didn't recognise. No other day in Iceland could compare to this. Gradually, our concerns about company presentations and upcoming exams lifted off of our shoulders and the buzz of the minerals (and the swim-up bar) revitalised us as we bonded over mud masks and juvenile splash contests."
Thursday 10 April
"Ahhhh crunch time!! Team is working hard on our presentation for tomorrow morning. We can do this."
Friday 11 April
"Let's rewind to Friday's early morning presentation. The morning was a surprisingly smooth one; the team has great synergy and it showed during the presentation (especially since we didn't have any time to practice). It went well and we gave ourselves a 7 out of 10.
"In the evening, Cass organised dinner at Harpa, a concert hall housed in an architecturally impressive building made of geometric glass panels of different colors. Even more impressive though, was that Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the Icelandic President, joined us for dinner. It was hard to not feel like a big deal! After thanking us for our hard work and dedication that week, he summarised the world we are going to work in. He made the following three points.
1. The importance of interrelated creativity, which he called "the melting pot approach to the modern day economy".
2. The importance of a clean energy economy. He proudly told us how Iceland was transformed in less than one generation.
3. The nearby Arctic's untapped resources, and potential to offer shorter transport routes (the President referred to the Arctic as the "new global Suez Canal") could fuel the future growth of economies.
He answered several stimulating questions from classmates, and finished his question and answer session by reminding us how important it is to believe in ourselves.
"The rest of the night consisted of fun, laughter and a lot of dancing. In fact, the next morning, half our class sat in the hotel lobby giggling over ridiculous stories from the night before. In an attempt to protect privacy, that's all I have to say about Friday night... But wow, massive celebration."
Saturday 12 April
"The weekend was a non-stop, jammed-packed, something-going-on-every-minute-of-the-day blur of excitement. Saturday was spent mostly recovering, but we somehow managed to find ourselves back in Reykjavik's clubs. Sunday, we rented two seven seater 4x4s and road tripped around Iceland to see the Golden Circle, the snowy, mountainous countryside, and some cute beach towns. We are proud to boast that we only managed to get the car stuck in snow once.
"It's terrifying to think about how quickly this week flew by! Don't worry, Iceland, I will be back. And when I am, I hope to be trying some of that Thoran whisky while watching the sky lit up by the Northern Lights."