Author Archive

Although I do try to stay fit I never thought I would describe myself as a triple jumper. It sounds like something a diver or figure skater would attempt in order to win Olympic gold. But in the world of post-MBA careers, a triple jumper is someone who successfully lands a job in a different industry, function, and geography to the one they had before the MBA. I’ve managed to pull it off and here is a bit about how it happened.

I pursued the MBA because I knew I wanted a change. I had spent six years working in politics in Canada, helping to organize election campaigns, use technology to reach voters, and promote a political leader and party that I believed in. I found the work extremely rewarding, primarily because it had a real impact on moving society forward and correcting the many injustices we see around us every day. Despite these rewards I wanted to try something else and learn new things. I didn’t know precisely what would come next, but I had an interest in understanding business and management and was excited about where the MBA could lead.

Throughout my first year I explored the full spectrum of career opportunities. I slowly but methodically built up a network in London by reaching out to LBS alumni, friends, former colleagues, and contacts I met at events. I asked lots of questions and did a lot of thinking about what I was good at, and ultimately what sort of work gave me fulfilment. I found the staff in Career Services to be a great resource, often challenging me to think about things differently. Second-year students were also a major source of advice and support.

My professional soul-searching consistently led me to roles related to marketing. I began to understand how much of my work in politics was similar to marketing and how my skills as a project manager and communications strategist could be leveraged in a commercial context. I was starting to have an idea, albeit vague, of what I might do after the MBA. But to be safe, and to continue learning what was out there, I cut a wide swath through the myriad internships on offer and applied to several consulting firms and almost all of the industry and technology roles.

But applying for summer internships proved to be a frustrating experience as no matter how I reworded my CV and cover letter, no matter how I tried to position myself, I just could not break through. I submitted more than 30 applications and was invited for just one interview. Towards the end of March of last year, I started getting very nervous about my summer internship prospects – and if I’m totally honest – my future career in general.

Just as things were looking dire, all of the networking I had done finally began to bear fruit. One person introduced me to another, and they introduced me to someone else, and before I knew it, I had been offered an internship that ultimately would come to define my MBA.

For my internship, I joined the global Dove team at Unilever to support a senior brand manager working on Dove’s corporate social responsibility program. It was an ideal role because it leveraged my experience in politics and social issues while also exposing me to the inner workings of a world-class marketing machine. I took advantage of being in the Unilever head office to learn as much as I could about the business and make new connections. I poured over the company intranet and read everything I could get my hands on. And I asked almost everyone I met if they would spend 30 minutes telling me about their job and their background – they all said yes.

At the end of my internship I was asked to stay on part-time and have remained on the Dove team since then, taking on progressively more important projects. It’s been an incredible opportunity to work with smart people on a great brand, and continue learning about marketing and fast-moving consumer goods.

My extended internship at Unilever positioned me well for full-time recruitment. Come next September, I’ll be joining the MBA Leadership Program at Marks & Spencer in London. But perhaps the biggest benefit of my time at Unilever is that it helped to clarify what I want to do in the next stage of my career.

If you had asked me two years ago if I wanted to work with consumer products such as soap or shampoo, or work in retail, I would have laughed out loud. But the more time I spent at Unilever, the more I understood the complex strategic questions that underpin a brand and the intense creative work that goes into a successful marketing campaign. Working with products and brands also satisfies my intense curiosity about people’s needs and wants and how they live their lives.

Moreover, consumer products are used by almost everyone, almost everywhere in the world, providing truly global reach and a tangible opportunity to make a difference when products are developed and sold in a sustainable manner. My commitment to progressive politics has not waned, but I have found a new avenue to pursue it, at least for a little while.

Read the rest of this entry »

Just over two weeks have passed since TEDxLondonBusinessSchool took place. An initiative of the Marketing Club, this year marked the second installment of what has become a flagship event for the school. A team of students from across the MBA, MiM, and MiF programs worked together for nearly eight months to organize a full day of engaging talks and presentations.

TEDxLondonBusinessSchool 1 TEDxLondonBusinessSchool 2
TEDxLondonBusinessSchool 11

The theme of the conference was Regenerate with each presentation tackling this concept in a slightly different way. The opening session of the day focused on Regenerating Engagement. Among the highlights was a conversation between host Sean Phelan and 16-year old entrepreneur Nick D’Aloissio, who has invented a new technique for summarizing information. A review of developments in the online finance world by LBS alum and venture capitalist Nadeem Shaikh also got people talking.

In the second session of the day, speakers explored the concept of Regenerating Communities, including a talk on how genomic research will impact our lives, and a discussion of the London riots last year. After a lively lunch break where participants were free to mingle and network over tasty food, the focus was on Regenerating Business. Goldman-Sachs-trader-turned-leftwing-economist Lydia Prieg spoke about the need to regenerate capitalism while CEO of the British Banking Association Angela Knight offered her take on the fallout from the financial crisis the path going forward.

The last session of the day featured a series of talks on Regenerating Culture. One highlight was a charming exploration of Bharatanatyam dance by LBS student Pancham Gajjar, and another was a presentation and live painting by American artist Alexa Meade.

Our venue for the event, the Bloomberg Auditorium on Finsbury Square, was bursting at the seems with a capacity crowd of 300 people. Tickets sold out in just three days with the audience made up of business leaders from a wide range of industries including advertising and PR, consulting, finance, FMCG, energy, and the non-profit sector, as well as current and former LBS students and faculty.

The TED movement was founded in 1984 in California as a platform for sharing ideas related to Technology, Education and Design. Since then it has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon with several major TED events each year and hundreds of TEDx events around the world. Staying true to the original concept of “Ideas Worth Spreading,” the TED philosophy is all about short, engaging, and compelling presentations designed to get the audience thinking. With TEDx conferences, like the one hosted by LBS, the x means it is an independently organized event but follows strict TED guidelines.

Plans are already underway for the 2013 edition of TEDxLondonBusinessSchool including a bigger venue to accommodate the increased demand. Stay tuned for more info and get in touch if you’re interested in being involved!

Ira Dubinsky (MBA2013) was a member of the organising committee for this year’s TEDx and has been named Chair of the event for 2013.

Read the rest of this entry »

Given my interest in both business and social issues, I have been exploring the varying definitions of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship.

Antonio Meloto, the founder of Philippines-based NGO Gawad Kalinga, recently spoke to a group of students at London Business School and discussed some social enterprise success stories his organization has helped create. For Gawad Kalinga, social enterprise means fostering businesses that are socially and environmentally responsible, as well as profitable. Meloto spoke about how companies should seek optimal profit as opposed to maximum profit. He put forward a vision of business where the primary purpose is the common good. No doubt this vision will be compelling for many people, and it’s great that Meloto and his team have been able to recruit and train a large number of young entrepreneurs that share such a vision; the impact on the Philippines has clearly been very positive.

But I’m left questioning whether this vision of a more caring form of capitalism – one that aims for broad societal welfare as much as it does shareholder profits – is realistic. Is this approach really sustainable in the big, bad world of business? Is it scalable beyond a micro level? I worry that social enterprise is being heralded as a panacea for economic, social and environmental problems when in reality it only works in some very specific cases. These sorts of questions have also been floated in a core MBA class I’m taking this term called Business, Government, and Society. As we examine topics such as competition, regulation, and corporate responsibility, we are struggling to square the circle that results when you combine unbridled capitalism with a genuine desire to do good.

There is another meaning of social enterprise that I find a bit more troubling. Much of the commentary that lauds social entrepreneurship seems resigned to the fact that governments can no longer afford to administer programs. Social enterprise is presented as an alternative way to deliver programs and solve societal challenges such as homelessness, a lack of healthcare, or environmental disaster. This approach posits that private-sector entities can use their entrepreneurial spirit to do more good than government can. I worry about social enterprise, sustainable business, and corporate philanthropy supplanting the role of the state. In my opinion, this is a dangerous path for two reasons.

First, this approach ignores the democratic benefits of governments and civil society. I’m the first to admit the public sector and civil society could benefit form a little private sector thinking. Many government bureaucracies and most NGOs are bloated, inefficient, and have failed to adopt some of the improvements in management practice that the private sector has benefited from over the last 50 years. But injecting a little business efficiency into government is not the same as replacing government with business when it comes to administering services. Governments are elected and accountable to the public and civil society organisations are governed by their membership; both are open to all but the same cannot be said about corporations.

Second, and more importantly, resolutely concluding that governments can no longer afford to administer the services we expect of them means accepting that existing taxation policy cannot be changed and that the unbelievable disparity between rich and poor is here to stay. The truth is that the state’s ability to build affordable housing, fund healthcare services, take care of an ageing population, or regulate environmental law relies on public policy decisions we make collectively. Rather than throw our hands up and turn to business to solve the problems we’ve created, why not sit down and see if it still might be possible to do it ourselves, together?

Read the rest of this entry »

Scaling Sustainably

Posted by: Ira

I am sometimes skeptical when CEOs claim to be pursuing a just cause. I think companies often portend to be progressive simply for publicity’s sake, and because they know it is what their customers want to hear. But I recently learned about efforts by two corporations to put a social and environmental twist on their operations that seemed to go beyond lip service to corporate social responsibility. The companies are UK retail giant Marks & Spencer, and Unilever, the British-Dutch multinational that makes consumer goods such as Hellmans mayonnaise, Dove soap, and dozens of other well-known brands.

M&S CEO Marc Bolland gave a talk at London Business School and (among many other topics) relayed his experience of chairing a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos for the CEOs of major consumer goods companies. Coke, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestlé… they were all there. Rather than debate the best way to cut costs, or prophesize about the next big trend in shampoos or snack foods, the CEOs spent the session talking about sustainability.

This was Bolland’s pitch to the CEOs: He said the old way of doing things, in which the goal was simply to sell as much as possible with no regard for the scarcity of resources, wasn’t going to work anymore. He said it was particularly problematic given the birth of a massive middle class in China, estimated by some to be as large as 1.4 billion people within 10 years. He said the western tendency to accumulate possessions as a mark of success was unsustainable, and he said that our children had become fixated on role models who had “stuff” rather than who had accomplished anything. Coming from the CEO of a company that exists to sell “stuff,” it was striking.

The solution to this conundrum, said Boland, was manufacturing goods in more sustainable ways and also getting customers to consume in smarter ways. For their own part, M&S has one of the most respected sustainability plans on the books, called Plan A.

Unilever’s ambitious goal is to double its sales while at the same time cutting its environmental impact in half. What’s so interesting about both Bolland’s comments and Unilever’s commitment is that they go well beyond the environmental footprint of these firms’ own products: both companies are actually trying to change the behavior of their customers when it comes to energy use, water use, waste disposal, and more. With more than 2 billion customers, Unilever recognizes both its vast reach into people’s homes and that its products are inextricably tied to a wide range of environmental issues. For example, Unilever makes shampoo and washing detergent, products that are linked to water consumption. What has long been the purview of government and civil society, namely shaping how individuals use resources, is now central to the corporate agenda.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living plan received a lot of attention when it was first announced. Since then, the company has been working to follow up the hype with concrete action. Key to its success will be a fresh approach to marketing, one that recognizes increasing sales isn’t the sole imperative. Last week Unilever Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed spoke about this new paradigm for marketing at the Advertising Association Lead 2012 Summit. Here is a video from Unilever outlining how it might go about convincing customers to change their behavior.

There is no doubt that both M&S and Unilever’s efforts are small compared to the scale of the challenges posed by pollution, climate change, and over-consumption, and  compared to the important work being done by numerous civil society organisations. But at the same time, it is important to recognize that it is only when the biggest players step up to take action that we will see any real progress. Companies like M&S and Unilever are big enough (and have deep enough pockets) that if they follow through on their commitments, it will create a domino effect across the industry and the end result could benefit us all.

Read the rest of this entry »