Monday, March 16, 2015 at 2pm

Niall FitzGerald Wants UCD Smurfit to Fulfill its Potential: MBA News

UCD Smurfit is looking to retain a greater share of its profits

University College Dublin’s Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School (UCD Smurfit) is an ‘under-exploited asset’ according to the chair of its advisory board and former Unilever CEO, Niall FitzGerald.

FitzGerald, in an interview for The Irish Times, said that the UCD Smurfit’s location in the ‘outward-looking’ city of Dublin and the costs of its programs, relative to those on offer in the US or UK, should make the school an attractive proposition.

However, the former head of the consumer goods giant, Unilever, pointed out that the school cannot fulfill its potential if its current financial setup continues – a system whereby much of its annual profits are given over to UCD as a whole.

“The entity today is profitable as a standalone school of business, but much of its surplus goes to the rest of the university. We need to refine the strategy for the next five to 10 years,” Niall FitzGerald said.

Having been brought on board as chair last year by UCD Smurfit’s dean, Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, FitzGerald is likely to stress the need for UCD Smurfit to retain a greater cut of its annual profits when strategic proposals are put together at the end of April. 

UCD Smurfit, together with its undergraduate counterpart, UCD Quinn, retained only €1.3 million from a surplus of almost €9.5 million generated in the academic year 2012/13, with the rest going to the wider university, according to figures in a separate report for The Irish Times. The figure supplied by the business schools is substantial, as UCD’s total surplus to the end of September 2013 is given as €12.2 million, with total income standing at just under €500 million.

Former Unilever CEO has expansion plans

During the interview, Niall FitzGerald outlined his belief that greater investment would be needed just to hold on to UCD Smurfit’s current status, let alone the plans he has in mind for it to realize its potential in the business education world. These plans entail the attraction of high-quality faculty and a more international student body, as well as forming strategic links and partnerships with employers, universities, business schools and related organizations.

UCD Smurfit is one of two MBA programs in Ireland to feature in the regional rankings of the latest Global 200 Business Schools Report, and features among Europe’s top 50. FitzGerald’s aim, however, is to give the school a similar standing on a global level. 

Niall FitzGerald was CEO at Unilever from 1996 to 2004, joining its board while still in his 30s. His strategic role at UCD Smurfit is just one of eight advisory boards that he currently sits on, with roles at Mitsubishi and Munster Rugby among the others. In the past, he has also held board positions with Bank of Ireland, Ericsson and Merck. FitzGerald also chaired the Nelson Mandela Legacy Trust, a social justice charity, at the request of Mandela himself, having establishing an African scholarship scheme during his time at Unilever.

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).