Demystifying the Business World One Module at a Time

Rob Hynes is a CEIBS Global EMBA alumnus from the 2014-2016 class. Over the last 13 years, he has worked his way through the ranks of building materials company CRH from Process Manager to VP of Manufacturing for CRH’s cement business Ash Grove in the western United States.

Responsible for five major cement manufacturing facilities in Oregon, Montana, Utah and Washington State, Rob’s role is split into safety and talent, daily operations and performance measurement, and strategic planning.

Rob kindly shares with us some of the memorable moments and lessons that have stayed with him from his time at CEIBS.


Even before joining CEIBS, Rob Hynes had already acquired years of experience working in different regions and business cultures. From the start of his professional career in his home country of Ireland, he went on to hold positions in Australia and various parts of China.

After completing the Global EMBA programme, Rob secured three separate promotions at CRH, each involving a change in position, location and region. The last three moves have taken him to Beijing, the Philippines and, most recently, to Seattle. He says he believes that experiencing different locales is invaluable when working for a company with global interests, particularly in terms of understanding and overcoming problems on the ground.

“Working across multiple geographies gives you the breadth of experience, not just in terms of operations, but also in how any given market works,” he says. “This keeps you flexible and that is essential today, as you need to be comfortable adapting to the different challenges. A variety of experience gives you a much wider repository of useful knowledge to bring to your role.”

Rob also points to the benefits of making and maintaining professional relations with people across the world. On many occasions, having friends and colleagues just a phone/Zoom call away with whom he can consult has proven essential in solving challenges – both local and global – particularly during the uniquely difficult times of 2020. He says that his access to diversity of opinion, expertise, background and experience is something that he grew to appreciate much more during his CEIBS studies.




An unplanned journey

Rob fully admits that back in 2014, returning to school was not a priority until his employer gave him the nudge.

“If I’m being totally honest, I was a bit sceptical of the whole idea, and really didn’t think that it would be for me,” he says. “My employer saw potential in me, along with some rough edges business-wise that needed smoothing out and an EMBA was touted as part of my career development plan. The feeling of mutual commitment between the company and I convinced me to park my reservations and explore what was on offer.”

After searching for appropriate programmes, Rob narrowed it down to CEIBS and several Hong Kong options. In his words, CEIBS won out due to its solid and steadily rising global ranking, the travel experiences offered as part of the global elective modules, and its emphasis on practicality in and out of the classroom.




Settling into CEIBS

With his family in Changchun in China’s Jilin province and the demands of his job as real as ever, the prospect of adding a substantial academic undertaking did come with a slight sense of trepidation. The initial modules and early travel experiences, however, quickly allayed any concerns and showed Rob how the course structure and design would fit with working life.

“I remember thinking very early on that it really didn’t feel too much like work! There was plenty of new content to digest which I found interesting and relevant,” he recalls. “This made me willing, eager even, to fit the studies into my life. The value of what the Global EMBA programme offered quickly became apparent, too. For me, there wasn’t a ‘Big Bang’ moment, just a growing appreciation of what the fundamentals of business look like, and what can be achieved when the various functions fit together properly.”

Citing both his peers and professors as major factors in making his Global EMBA experience fun as well as beneficial, Rob speaks enthusiastically about his class’ travels to Barcelona, Tokyo and New York. For Rob, these various hands-on learning experiences were intelligently linked to the wider lessons that the Global EMBA programme was teaching him, in a way that kept things interesting while always remaining relevant.

“Ultimately, the key thing the Global EMBA did for me was to demystify so many aspects of business. There were topics during meetings at work that I may have found hard to follow, but post-Global EMBA I found I could be part of the discussion in a meaningful way,” he says. “It helped me become more comfortable in the corporate environment by simplifying it and showing me the lay of the land. This has been essential as I’ve moved up the ladder and pivoted from technical roles to lead increasingly larger teams and being responsible for more aspects of the business. I may not be an expert in HR, commercial, etc., but now I can flip through their reports and right away I’ll have a fairly clear idea of what they are looking to achieve. The Global EMBA programme gave me the necessary language and ability to tap into all these areas and contribute my perspective in a more intelligent, strategic way.”




Exploring the value of the Global EMBA programme during the pandemic

While 2021 has certainly started with more hope, the global pandemic in 2020 has created major disruption and difficulty for practically every global business. For Rob and his company, the unfolding crisis is proving to be a driver for change, but also a reminder of what has already been working well.

“For us, the fundamental issue right away was protecting our people. That’s always been our approach, and thankfully the nature of our industry prepared us well for utilising PPE (personal protective equipment) effectively and keeping people safe,” he says. “This whole year has been an eye-opener for showing what works and what doesn’t, particularly with technology which in many ways has brought me closer to the business and to work smarter wherever we are. Saying that, technology will never fully replace the need and benefit of face-to-face meetings and on the ground engagement.”

Rob also points out that his global network is now there for him to share ideas and explore best practice, with plenty of inspiration coming for friends outside of his industry. Similarly, the lessons from his time at CEIBS have proved valuable, too.

“I would say that the Global EMBA helps you think your way through a crisis. You’re less likely to overreact because you understand the fundamentals in a more logical way,” he says. “Also, the fact that you’re getting a lot of different stuff thrown at you during the course does help prepare you for dealing with complex and challenging situations.”




Hoping for a blended business approach in 2021

Even though the pandemic still looms large over much of the world, the beginning of a new year is a natural place for everyone to consider the past while hoping for a better future. For Rob, a return to more ‘normal’ business conditions will see the amalgamation of tried and tested pre-pandemic approaches with the hard-won lessons learned in times of national and international lockdown.

“Businesses that have gone through what was hopefully the worst of the pandemic and survived are undoubtedly stronger for it; in some ways it has been the ultimate test of adaptability,” Rob says. “As things get better and easier this year, I’m hoping that we can successfully blend this learning into our existing approach. There is no substitute for physically seeing conditions at a site and talking through issues face-to-face though – that’s what I’m looking forward to getting back to most.”

Along with more business travels to see his sites in the US, Rob is also hoping to visit family back in Ireland and the UK sometime this year, while taking a well-deserved vacation to Hawaii … if circumstances permit.