MBA ‘Business Breakfast’ with ebay

As dawn broke without much conviction over the Piazza here at Surrey, a packed Business Insights Lab was already buzzing. MBA students from the full-time programme joined with Exec Ed participants and Surrey Business School staff over bacon rolls and Danish pastries to hear Rafael Orta, ebay’s Vice President for Global Marketing Operations, speak about ‘Leading Companies in the Digital Economy.’ Currently based in Zurich, Orta has been with ebay for nine years. He spoke very frankly and with humility about what he’d learned as a ‘change agent’ in a fast-paced, dynamic business environment.

In a salute to his audience, the subtitle of Orta’s talk was ‘5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My MBA’:

  • Pay attention to your Organisational Behaviour class: it is impossible to effectively drive change without it. It will show you how to define the new state you want for your organisation, how to reposition, and how to choose the team that will get you there;
  • Maintain the human (customer) connection: this is where your insights will grow from. Speak to your clients and customers personally; find out what your company’s impact is on their day to day life; establish a dialogue;
  • High profile failure is not something to be scared of. In fact – it’s a helpful business barometer of how hard you personally are pushing yourself to take risks and stretch boundaries. It’s also a test for your organisation: how does your company react to ‘failure’? Does it deny and shame, or does it learn and change? Orta’s advice: ‘Learn – but don’t dwell’;
  • Teamwork should be about openness and vulnerability: ‘I want to work for a human being – not a superhero!’. Find a way to make sure everyone on your team has a stake in the company’s success; solicit feedback; and most importantly: ‘Disagree, and commit.’ This, Orta emphasised, is incredibly important behaviour – the ability to commit to a course notwithstanding conflict and disagreement within the team – and fosters mutual interdependence that is vital for achieving the company’s goals. Further, he advised: care about your peers and their careers as much as you care about your own. This is a mechanism for long-lasting relationships, complementarity, and an instinctive understanding of how the team ‘thinks’ both as a unit, and as individuals;
  • Quoting Marc Andreessen, Orta reminded us that ‘Software will eat the world.’ Digital companies are going to take over. Disruption is a given. Be ready to throw away everything you know in 2-3 year cycles.

It was a measure of the success and relevance of Orta’s talk that the questions afterward kept coming: How, for example, should a company start their digital journey? ‘It starts,’ replied Orta, ‘with a robust desire for change.’

How many organisations can claim this? Who can make a justifiable case for change? And how many are changing simply for change’s sake?


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About the Author : Kris Henley

Communications and Outreach for Surrey Business School's Centre for the Digital Economy, a newly-founded research centre to explore the implications of the Digital Economy for business, government and society.