Neil Johnson, journalist

Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles, the Wright Brothers, and ice cream makers Ben and Jerry are all creative and innovative collaborations that had a certain je ne sais quoi, the X factor, a spark.

To create such a spark requires certain conditions, such as a good fit, a shared sense of purpose and a two-way flow of qualities and ideas.

A little closer to home, ACCA Ireland’s partnership with Trinity Business School’s MBA programme shares such a blueprint. This allows ACCA Fellows to get a unique entry pathway (see box) to a top-ranked MBA programme at one of the best business schools in the world.

The part-time Trinity Executive MBA is ranked first in Ireland, fourth in the UK and Ireland, 11th in Europe and 38th worldwide, according to the Economist Executive MBA Ranking 2020.

The school has also invested heavily in the programme, recently opening a new building in the heart of Dublin’s business district.

High-quality students

‘We’re delighted with the partnership, and the standard and quality of the ACCA candidates,’ says MBA admissions manager Eoghan O’Sullivan, pointing out that the rigorous process of obtaining the ACCA Qualification, combined with the experience inferred in having achieved FCCA status, makes for very strong students on the Trinity MBA.

Siobhan Blackwell FCCA is, says O’Sullivan, a perfect example of ‘a very accomplished and experienced professional in her own right, with a very strong academic and work experience background’.

Blackwell is in the final year of the Executive MBA. On top of this, she’s a vice president in trading business management at TD Securities in Dublin, as well as a mother to two young children, and a member of ACCA Ireland’s Leinster panel .

Major commitment

‘It’s an intense programme, with peaks and troughs,’ Blackwell admits.

‘Life moves on in the background, so you need to consider how it will all work,’ she says. ‘The MBA commitments need to be met, regardless of what’s going on in your personal and professional life.’

‘How’s the Married But Alone going?’ a colleague would jokingly ask Trinity MBA 2016 graduate David Woodward FCCA.

The only drawback he would point to is ‘time lost with family and friends, and leaning heavily on family for support; you’re dedicating two years to your education and not being as fully committed or present to your personal and professional life as you would like.’

But it’s doable. In her time on the course, Blackwell has seen been births and marriages among MBA colleagues – and, in her case, a career change and house move. What marks the Trinity MBA as different is the strong community among the students; they lean on one another and support each others’ successes throughout the programme.

Networking in a very real way, presenting, writing, getting noticed, discussing our research findings with high-profile people – these are all huge confidence boosters

Know your goals and drivers

So what are the motivators?

While many are motivated by the potential for a ‘fast-track’ to C-suite or salary increases that inevitably arise from an MBA, others are driven by other factors, such as becoming strategic decision-makers, building a network of like-minded professionals and, for some, completely re-orienting their career.

For instance, Blackwell didn’t know exactly what she wanted at the end of the MBA, but she knew she was seeking a transformative experience.

Prior to starting the course, her entire career was in accounting, working for the same finance department for 13 years. Now her trajectory has changed dramatically.

‘You have the opportunity to work on complex projects with people from diverse professional backgrounds,’ she says. ‘You are writing and presenting your work, you meet these industry experts and the profile of your network grows exponentially – these are all huge confidence boosters.

‘I wouldn’t have had the nerve to approach these people two years ago.’

Professor Amanda Shantz, director of the Trinity Executive MBA, agrees. ‘I’ve seen many ACCA students who joined the MBA to step outside of their expertise to develop the strategic and leadership capabilities that are required to move to the next level,’ she says.

Diversity and collaboration

A major attraction is the diversity of its cohort, with students not only coming from all over the world but from across sectors and industries.

‘The common misconception is that an MBA is full of business people but it’s actually the opposite,’ says O’Sullivan.

‘The majority of people on the Trinity programme have no formal business education. They come from science, engineering, the medical profession and so on.’

This fosters a collaborative and encouraging environment where finance knowledge is highly valued.

Woodward notes that being an FCCA had several benefits when undertaking the MBA. While making the finance modules easier, it has also freed him up to concentrate on the areas he is less versed in. Additionally, it has given him the skills and confidence to take the finance lead on live company projects and to share his ACCA knowledge and skills.

The Trinity MBA is a blend of lectures, guest speakers, workshops, live-action learning, assignments and company projects

‘There are three consulting projects on the MBA; students work with a major multinational or large Irish player, a social enterprise and an SME,’ Professor Shantz explains.

‘These opportunities provide students with an opportunity to get under the hood of three very different companies, flexing their strategic thinking, communication, finance, and change management skills.’

For Blackwell, this approach is particularly valuable.

‘There’s no textbook to refer to,’ she says. ‘You work directly with organisations, you get under their skin, you get to know the ins and outs of how they operate, the problems they’re facing. You’re even meeting their competitors and clients.’

‘I might never work for these organisations in the real world, but I know and understand exactly what’s going on with them. That’s an enormous wealth of knowledge gained across industries, which for me was a big selling point.

‘I’m really proud to be part of the school’s success, because they’re part of my own personal journey and I’m part of theirs, too.’