Keeping perspective


Guðmundur Ingi Þorvaldsson is the MBA student of the year. He graduated last spring with an MBA from RU. The award was granted at a ceremony in London on October 30th, where Guðmundur was present along with Kristján Vigfússon, chairman for MBA studies at RU. AMBA (Association of MBA's) presents the award annually, aiming to encourage graduate studies in business in Europe.

Guðmundur recently became the CEO of Tjarnarbíó. “I basically am responsible for choosing projects and running the company”, he explains. He is completely at home in the lakeside theatre, being an experienced theatre-man and wishes to see the stage arts successful.

He has a clear vision for the operation of Tjarnarbíó. “I graduated with a Master's in performance arts from London in 2008. One of my teachers was a member of theatre troupe called Shunt. That group has had incredible success, and in my mind the perfect setup. It's a ten person group that stages a production every other year or so. When they aren't performing, they arrange art shows in a large area under the London Bridge station, where 30 artists and groups gather to show their work weekly so there's always something fresh and new to see. The area also has a bar that converts to a nightclub after midnight so they can finance shows and research. It was always full, completely packed. It was a bit like being in Wonderland. I participated in two shows and was something of a house cat there and could put on my own shows. I felt I just had to start something similar back in Iceland.”

Not much of an Excel person

To realize the dream, Guðmundur quickly realized that he had to learn operations and management. He had complete faith in the idea but lacked resources. “In the end I signed up for an MBA at RU, thankfully. Now I consider it a gift from God that did so. Everything I learned is directly related to my work now, all facets of operations. This is democratic; the books are open and I emphasize transparency. My vote counts for 25% on what is produced.”

Before starting his studies, Guðmundur was not all that familiar with Excel or Powerpoint. “The first courses were in economics and book-keeping. That was a challenge. At the same time I was offered a chance to join with a Vesturport (independent Icelandic theatre company) production in Copenhagen and I got a leave of absence. My Copenhagen days were spent studying until late afternoon and then putting on a show. I succeeded by sticking to routine. I was also pleasently surprised to discover that I wasn't the maths-imbecile I thought I was, but once I saw that we were studying real cases in running companies it was clear what would and would not work. Maybe it was a different perspective, but still clear. It was a real confidence builder.”

Managers shouldn't know it all

Guðmundur says he immediately was aware of the emphasis on cooperation in MBA studies. “You have to be conscious of the group and that applies throughout, a manager shouldn't know it all. Today, I have a group of 30 people supporting me and I can always look to, which were my classmates. That group has engineers, bankers, members of the media, accountants and self-employed people.” He considers this invaluable, not least mentally. “Managers are responsible and it can get tough, for example laying people off. You must a have clear view and mine is the future of Icelandic stage arts. Having a vision is very empowering.”

Believe in dialogue

The emphasis on cooperation in MBA studies fits well with Guðmundur. “Theatre production, which I intend to Spuni í Tjarnarbíóigrow, isn't always a good fit with the grant system since you have to state the goals of the product. Does that benefit the arts? This theatre revolves around cooperation, innovation and variety. The more we work together, the better we and our productions are and we can export our product. We have a great role model in Icelandic musicians and dancers. They have had incredible success in exporting their work.” For these reasons, Guðmundur wants to operate a variety group and café to support income. There have already been several successful productions by Vinnslan, a group of Icelandic stage performers. Their latest work is Strengir, which premiered on October 23rd. “We work and improvise together. I have faith in that kind of dialogue.”

AMBA aims to empower both the availability and quality of MBA studies in Europe. The organization validated the quality of RU's MBA studies with a special proclamation in 2011.