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Meet Toronto Rotman’s MBA Class Of 2020



Wednesday 5 December 2018, by Jeff Schmitt

Think New York City is the melting pot? Just wait until you get a load of Toronto!

Dubbed the ‘most multicultural city in North America,’ the Toronto area is home to over 10 million people – with half born outside Canada. It is a city of differences – in nationalities, languages, and religions – held together by a mutual commitment to embrace each other’s identities. It is a welcoming community, a smaller, safer, and cleaner version of New York as some say, a place to blend in and call home.

A TECH EXPLOSION IN TORONTO

“The city had been built by people from innumerable elsewhere,” writes Canadian novelist André Alexis in describing Toronto. “It was a chaos of cultures ordered only by its long streets. It belonged to no one and never would, or maybe it was a million cities in one, unique to each of its inhabitants, belonging to whoever walked its streets.”

Beyond being a multicultural hub, Toronto is a thriving metropolis. Think of it as Canada’s epicenter for finance, technology, arts, fashion, research, media – you name it. Here, there is never a dull moment. That includes arts and music festivals galore, headlined by the Toronto Film Festival – second only to Cannes — and Toronto Pride, a June LGBT event that draws 1.2 million spectators to its downtown parade.

At the same time, business is booming here. In 2017 alone, Toronto added nearly 29,000 tech jobs. Over the past five years, tech positions have doubled to 241,000 in the city, eclipsing the 210,000 professionals in the finance sector. That doesn’t count Microsoft opening a new Canadian headquarters downtown in 2020, adding another 500 jobs to the rolls.

View of Toronto from the Rotman School

It gets better. In September, investors poured $1.4 billion dollars into Toronto firms, In fact, the area is flush with Fortune 500 firms. Legendary companies like Manulife Financial and the Royal Bank of Canada call Toronto home. On top of that, mainstays like Deloitte, EY, PwC, Accenture, Citi, and Honeywell, employ a thousand or more professionals there yet. Best of all, Toronto’s startup scene has arrived, thanks to success stories like Mill Street & Company, an asset management employing 600 people that has grown by over 3,000% in two years.

DIVERSE CLASS BRINGS AN ARRAY OF PERSPECTIVES

Not surprisingly, an electrifying city like Toronto “tick(ed) all the boxes” for aspiring MBAs like Kieran Alford. A London native who previously worked in Saudi Arabia and the UAE as a senior consultant, Alford credits the city’s vibrancy for enrolling at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management’s MBA Class of 2020.

“Toronto is a major finance and tech hub.” he observes. “According to CBRE, in 2017 Toronto created more tech jobs than the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C., combined. This, combined with its already world-class financial sector, is an exciting prospect for any student looking to enter these desirable industries. In addition to the lively job market, being located in the heart of North America’s fourth largest city benefits students greatly. The location and size means that the school attracts exciting guest speakers, all of whom are at the peak of their careers and are able to provide students with unique insights and unparalleled networking opportunities.”

Like many business schools, Rotman takes after the virtues of its home city. In this case, Rotman projects a strong cosmopolitan vibe, one where divergent viewpoints are welcomed as a means to cover all angles and formulate more inclusive solutions. It is an invigorating MBA experience, one where students are constantly absorbing new slants and methods from across the globe.

Rotman MBA Students

“My colleagues come from more than 50 countries and from diverse professional backgrounds, writes Ana Maria Perez Sanchez, who grew up in Costa Rica and worked in Investment banking for Ernst & Young. “[This] fosters an environment where their experiences added to their creative ideas and allowed us to tackle conventional challenges from fresh and innovative perspectives.”

“A CULTURE OF RECIPROCITY”

In a word, Rotman channels “diversity” – the kind that sparks creativity and innovation, says Adesola Oladipupo, an investment analyst from Nigeria. “The Rotman MBA spools from all continents and provides an opportunity to interact with people from all over the world and tap into their wealth of experience and background,” she explains. “To my pleasant surprise, I also noticed the great diversity even amongst the students admitted from my country – there are no two people with the same background and experience.”

Beyond diversity, the Rotman culture also features an intangible that struck a chord with the Class of 2020. Ximena Bravo, a Nestlé sales executive from Perú, calls it a “culture of reciprocity” among students. It is this ingredient, she says, that sets the program apart.

“I think that there is much more than coming to classes,” she notes. “This is about networking, sharing experiences about ourselves, and paying attention to the experience of others. Also, helping other people from my point of view and receiving advice from others with different backgrounds result in growth as a professional and as a person in both sides. I believe that this integrates people, communities, companies, states and more, in order to improve how we think and accelerate the way we solve problems. I think this is what the world needs urgently.”

GETTING PROJECT SIGN OFF…FROM THE CROWN PRINCE OF UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

If a rich mix of backgrounds is what MBAs seek, they will find it in spades at Rotman. Marwan Hamdan’s mantra is, “I work to fly, fly to dream, dream to design, design to live, live to work!” As a consultant, Hamdan considers his biggest achievement to be developing a five-year strategy for Culture, Arts, Heritage, and Literature for the Emirate of Dubai – a project that was approved by the crown prince himself. Taiwan’s Maggie Yun takes great pride in setting up a business accelerator in Myanmar, one of the world’s poorest nations. Think outsourcing is a dirty word? Not to Akshay A. Baliga, an engineer-turned-consultant who realized an 80% cost reduction for a client by moving non-core manufacturing operations from Minnesota to Mexico. If you see two new condominium towers widening the Toronto skyline, credit Brad Souter. He spearheaded their design and construction.

Those are a lot of responsibilities…with a lot of pressure to go along with them. These high stakes are what Rodrigo Zubian Mercado Vallejo experienced when he was tapped to lead the turnaround of a fledgling chain of cafes and bakeries.

2017 Rotman Design Challenge Winners

“The new CEO invited me to work for at least one year, where I coordinated different departments to generate a strategic plan for next 5 years,” he explains. “I secured a $60 Million USD fund from the parent company and worked on the implementation of a new operating system for the stores that on the pilot with the same labor reduced 39% the store openings and 41% the customer complaints.”

CLASS HAILS FROM 49 COUNTRIES AND SPEAKS 23 LANGUAGES

Like previous years, Rotman declined to supply the number of applicants it received during the 2017-2018 cycle, noting only that applications had increased by 9% year-over-year. By the same token, the number of admits declined by 8% year-over-year – a testament to both the program’s ongoing popularity and exclusivity.

Overall, the Class of 2020 boasts 334 members who bring a 658 average GMAT and a 3.5 undergraduate GPA to campus. Over a third (36%) are women, with another 51% hailing from overseas. In fact, the class speaks 23 languages and hold 39 different passports.

At 27 years on average, the Class of 2020 also possesses 4.6 years of experience per student. The largest bloc of students – 20% — come from the financial services sector. Another 10% worked in consulting. The rest of the class is highly segmented by industry, with the largest sectors including energy (7%), healthcare (7%), consumer goods (6%), technology (6%), and real estate (5%).

Academically, 37 class members are pursuing dual graduate degrees, with majority falling in law and global affairs. As undergraduates, engineering was the most popular degree among the incoming class. They hold 32% of the class seats. Business-related majors trail close behind at 27%, followed by economics (12%), social sciences (11%), and life sciences (9%).

“ROTMAN IS LIKE ME”

While a 658 average GMAT may appear low for a top MBA program, the number stems from a larger philosophy. Rotman tends to seek out undervalued assets in prospective students. Translation: They focus as much on candidate intangibles, uniqueness and potential as much as quant benchmarks. That difference appealed to students like Maggie Yun, an aspiring venture capitalist whose motto is “I always do the opposite of what others tell me to do!”

“I am a free spirit,” she admits. “I have been working in economic development in emerging markets for so long and I am set to continuing doing so. It’s just a unique career that I don’t find many MBA graduates doing. From the first conversation I had with the recruitment and admissions team, I knew Rotman was willing to look beyond test scores and spend time getting to know my career aspiration. Instead of following traditional MBA recruitment indicators, Rotman found out the key traits that lead to success of their students (and it did not match with traditional indicators). The moment I found that the school didn’t get swayed by the mainstream opinion, but instead does what is right after rationally analyzing the case, this is when I decided I wanted to be with them because I like Rotman’s attitude. Rotman is like me.”

That isn’t the school’s only appeal. Brad Souter, for one, attributes the program’s success to momentum – a never-satisfied mindset where students are placed at the center and excellence is defined as the ultimate objective.

“From the faculty generating thought leadership to the ever-expanding labs and institutes, it seems like the Rotman MBA program is constantly improving, and outpacing the competition,” he writes. “I am really excited to engage with faculty members whose work I’ve already read, and to get involved in some of the seemingly infinite extracurricular activities.”

2018 First-Year MBA Orientation

NEW ORIENTATION FOCUSES ON POVERTY REDUCTION

One change that awaited the Class of 2020 was a re-designed first year program. “It is now divided into four core terms that are designed to introduce and reinforce our unique approach to problem solving and decision-making,” writes Joseph Milner, academic director for the full-time MBA program, in a statement to Poets&Quants. “It is focused on building our candidate’s MBA toolkit in the major functional areas of business. The new final term beginning in March is also supported by three elective courses of the candidate’s choice, which they may wish to use to specialize and prepare further for their internship placement and the second year.”

Another change involved orientation. Thanks to a partnership between Rotman, the City of Toronto, and McKinsey & Company, this fall’s first-year programming kicked off with COMPASS. A five day consulting project, students are broken into teams to tackle issues related to the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy. As part of the program, they partner with clients like the Toronto Shelter and the Scadding Court Community Centre to address poverty reduction in areas like transit services and income equity. To close the week, students present their findings and strategies to their clients, receiving valuable feedback from McKinsey partners in the process.

The COMPASS program represents a departure from traditional orientation fare, which often rely on case competitions to introduce first-years to MBA-caliber thinking. “The case competition model is incredible in many ways, but it doesn’t bring out the behaviors we want to cultivate,” notes Neel Joshi, the school’s director of student life and international experience. “We wanted to do self-development, not competition…Everyone wins as a result.”

SELF-DEVELOPMENT LAB PREPARES STUDENTS FOR LEADERSHIP

For next year, the school is working to expand access to their most popular offerings. “We want to ensure the second year of the program allows students to fully experience the wealth of opportunities we are providing in both the elective courses and experiential courses,” Milner adds. “These include CityLab, where students help with firms in neighbourhood BIA’s, and OnBoard, where students sit on local non-profit boards, as well as take part in our Leadership Development Lab or Creative Destruction Lab. As students plan their unique paths through the MBA, we need to better coordinate all of our activities so that more students are able to achieve their educational aims.”

Indeed, one of Rotman’s trademarks is a rich selection of forward-thinking courses that simply aren’t available at larger programs. Such courses are an offshoot of the larger university’s ranking among the world’s most prestigious research institutions. They include the legendary “Getting It Done” – a tour de force on building coalitions and aligning teams. Another favorite is “Innovation, Foresight and Business Design,” a course devoted to the subtle signs that an industry or organization is ripe for destruction.

Rotman students preparing for class.

Another popular offering the Self-Development Lab, a research-driven, module-based practicum open to select second-year MBA students. An intensive mix of workshops, reflection, coaching, and activities, the Self-Development Lab is designed to enhance their communication style and sharpen their decision-making. Notably, the modules cover areas such as self-management, business writing, leadership presence, and problem framing.

Daphne Hemily, a 2018 Poets&Quants MBA To Watch, called the lab “transformative” for both herself and many of her peers. “This class both challenged us to be better leaders, and taught us how. For example, your best insights or strategy won’t achieve their potential if others don’t believe in your leadership. This class has given me the opportunity to reflect on my behaviours and assumptions. It then explores self-determination and other core leadership qualities, increasing my capacity to navigate the challenges that I will face going forwards.”

STARTUP LAB CREATES $1.2 BILLION IN EQUITYL…IN 6 YEARS!

Among the Class of 2020, the Creative Destructive Lab (CDL) ranked among the most anticipated offerings. A seed stage startup program, the CDL is a space (and programming) for building scalable, tech-based ventures in areas like artificial technology. Boasting five locations across Canada – and a soon-to-be-opened franchise in partnership with New York University – CDL has created $1.2 billion (American) dollars worth of equity value since 2012. Here, student entrepreneurs, who are mostly MBAs, complete workshops, receive support resources, and network with faculty and area entrepreneurs and investors.

For Cayman Heng, a “hobbyist ecommerce entrepreneur,” the CDL is the perfect place to learn how to turn his passion into a career. “I have been privileged to be awarded the CDL Fellowship which puts me at the heart of action of technology ventures,” he explains. “As part of the program, I will have the opportunity to work with venture founders and learn how to manage a technology business. Being a strong believer of experiential learning, the program is a perfect fit for me to explore my interest in technology.”

Not surprisingly, Rotman is regaled as one of the world’s most innovative business schools, even adopting “A new way to think” as its moniker. Some of this can be credited to former Dean Roger Martin. A pioneer in integrative thinking, Martin worked to imbue every corner of the curriculum with this philosophy. What is integrative thinking? In a 2008 interview with Management.Issues, Martin described it as a way forward between seemingly-clashing solutions.

“If you are faced with opposed models, integrative thinking is where you have the capacity to create a better model, superior to both and incorporating aspects of each model, rather than choosing one model at the expense of the other… There is a sense that there is an opportunity to create something different.”

APPLYING INTEGRATIVE THINKING TO INTERNSHIPS

Rotman students celebrating another success.

This philosophy is exemplified by the school’s Flexible Internship program, where students can complete internships in the summer, fall, or spring terms. When the idea was broached four years ago, it received plenty of pushback, with faculty worried that year-round internships could take away from necessary classroom programming. At the same time, faculty also realized that such options could help students gain additional experience – the kind that increased their appeal to employers…and their odds of being hired.

The solution? Rotman incorporated ideas from all sides, ultimately launching a class called “Applied Management: Placement.” Here, internships supplemented coursework, which was geared towards helping students increase their value with employers.

“This structure allows Rotman to compete with schools that have a coop experience for MBA roles,” says Niki da Silva, the former head of Rotman’s full-time MBA program. “Choice will be expanded because employers who didn’t recruit will now offer internships to students in the last four months of school. More mature students will go from internships to full-time jobs—a just-in-time strategy for MBA talent as companies hire for everything from a new project to coverage for maternity leaves.”

ROOM ENOUGH TO BE YOURSELF

It is an integrative strategy that has been a game-changer for the school, with placement for the 2018 Class rising by 5% alone. Prospective students can also expect Rotman to continue pushing boundaries and igniting innovation. This month, Tiff Macklem earned another five year term as dean of the school

– a stamp of approval for the school’s vision of being a diverse community where differing backgrounds and ideas collide and applied research is turned into enterprises. Such inclusiveness and ingenuity has made Rotman – and the University of Toronto itself – a convening point for Canadian business…and beyond.

“Our events team at Rotman does a great job of bringing in thinkers, authors, politicians and business leaders for public talks and events,” says Joseph Milner. “While students may make time for a high profile event with the Prime Minister of Canada or with reporters from The New York Times, there are lots of other events held which I think they would benefit from attending, both in hearing from these leading thinkers and in meeting the Toronto business and community leaders that attend the talks.”

For Akshay Baliga, the school’s real appeal for the Class of 2020 isn’t its scope, but its intimacy. “Rotman’s curriculum spoke to me, and the career paths (both full time and internship opportunities) allowed me to understand the freedom and possibilities of what lies next. In terms the class, having a class size of 350 (with five sections of 70 students) makes me feel like I will be in a room that is large enough to expand my horizons, but not so large that I might lose myself in the crowd.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates.

Student Hometown Alma Mater Employer
Kieran P. Alford London, UK University College London Consolum
Akshay A. Baliga Bangalore, India University of Michigan Ernst & Young
Ximena Bravo Lima, Peru Universidad ESAN Nestlé Perú
Sophia Duncan Newton, MA Wesleyan University Milton Community Youth Coalition
Marwan Hamdan Beirut, Lebanon American University of Beirut Peppers & Rogers Group
Cayman Heng Singapore Nanyang Business School Royal Dutch Shell
Adesola Oladipupo Ogun State, Nigeria Babcock University Sigma Pensions
Ana Maria Perez Sanchez Escazu, Costa Rica Universidad de Costa Rica Ernst & Young
Mimi Shih Vancouver, British Columbia University of Southern California CIBC Wood Gundy
Brad Souter Grimsby, Ontario University of Waterloo Entuitive Engineering
Maggie Yun Changhua, Taiwan Fu-Jen University Taiwan Micro Empire Myanmar
Rodrigo Zubian Mercado Vallejo Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey Auric Consulting

Kieran P. Alford

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“I like spending time with people smarter than I am. Life is about learning.”

Hometown: London, UK

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’ve lived in five countries, visited over 40 and hold three passports.

Undergraduate School and Major: University College London (B.A. Russian Politics), KU Leuven (M.A. European Politics).

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Consulum, Senior Consultant (Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates)

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I’m a bit of a political nerd, so working closely with senior politicians during the 2015 UK general election was a dream come true, particularly as a recent politics graduate! Although I cannot in any way claim that my involvement had any significant effect on the final result, I like to think I had a minor impact on the direction of the country.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Rotman’s class diversity is one of its strongest assets, so it is hard to identify a single quality that characterises its 350-strong cohort. I have, however, been extremely impressed by how well the class works together, helping one other with challenging issues, whether personal, academic or otherwise. While the MBA fosters a healthy amount of competition, the overwhelming attitude is one of collaboration and cooperation.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? In addition to being a top-ranked business school and boasting exceptional faculty and students, the primary reason for choosing Rotman was the location. I knew that I wanted to be in a bustling, young and vibrant city with great career prospects and Toronto ticks all of those boxes. Toronto is a major finance and tech hub. According to the CBRE, in 2017 Toronto created more tech jobs than the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C., combined. This, combined with its already world-class financial sector, is an exciting prospect for any student looking to enter these desirable industries. In addition to the lively job market, being located in the heart of North America’s fourth largest city benefits students greatly. The location and size means that the school attracts exciting guest speakers, all of whom are at the peak of their careers and are able to provide students with unique insights and unparalleled networking opportunities.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I’ve spent a lot of time living and working in the Middle East and was involved in a range of exciting countrywide projects. For this reason, I most look forward learning from other members of Rotman’s Middle East Business Association and sharing my experiences with them. The Middle East is one of the world’s most exciting regions and, aside from its rich culture and history, it boasts some of the fastest growing economies and most visionary leaders; I look forward to discussing these trends with other members of the association.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Given my positive career trajectory, the decision to pursue an MBA was not an easy one to make, particularly when factoring in the cost of the course and lost earnings. An MBA however, when chosen for the right reasons, is one of the most effective tools to accelerate a career and will benefit the student for his or her entire life as it teaches students how to be successful business leaders. For this reason, it was imperative that I choose an MBA that boasts a faculty which is on the cutting edge of business research. I can safely say that Rotman has exceeded my expectations in this regard.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Given aspiring MBA applicants will be some of the most talented and gifted individuals, it is not always an easy decision to give up (or put on hold) a flourishing career whilst pursuing a degree that more often than not costs as much as a house (or a very fast car). One should view an MBA as an investment, however, and recognise the unique networking opportunities and skills it will provide. Though I did not take the decision to pursue a business education lightly, I was at a stage in my career where an MBA was the logical next step to help me achieve my career ambitions.

What other MBA programs did you apply to?

  • Duke, Fuqua
  • SMU, Cox
  • WashU, Olin

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I’ve always been fascinated by other cultures and this interest has driven me to travel all over the world. For this reason, it was important that my chosen MBA featured a diverse cohort and, ideally, be located in a multicultural and vibrant city. Rotman’s class, with its over 35 represented nationalities, really stood out and, along with the fact that it is located in the center of one of the world’s most multicultural cities made it an obvious choice!

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? I spent a period of my professional life working in the Middle East for a range of institutional clients. The hours were long and spending weeks at a time being ferried from a corporate hotel in Riyadh to the client’s office and then to the airport was sometimes isolating (although I did rack up a lot of air miles!). Though challenging, I was exposed to the ideas, institutions, and leaders shaping the Middle East and regularly found myself in unique situations that belied my experience and age. It not only built my confidence and vastly improved my understanding of the region, but, ultimately, made me a more effective business leader.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I’ve always been attracted to the big Canadian institutions, all of which demonstrated supreme levels of competence during the tumultuous recession years, in part, due to their size, financial responsibility and diversification. Fortunately, the majority offer MBA rotational programs, which, for someone such as myself who comes from a non-financial background, will provide an opportunity to learn the intricacies of the financial system and benefit from a structured and learning-driven scheme.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Ultimately, I’d like to be the proud founder of an innovative fintech company (watch this space!), but in five years I plan to be working for my post-MBA employer and learning everything there is to know about the financial sector.

Akshay A. Baliga

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“Untiring yet witty analytics geek who loves bringing people together to get the job done.”

Hometown: Bangalore, India

Fun Fact About Yourself: I fly drones as part of being a photographer because aerial photography is fun!

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Michigan, Industrial and Operations Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Senior Consultant, EY

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Outsourcing an entire non-core manufacturing operation from Minnesota to parts of Mexico and realizing over 80% in labor and efficiency savings. I managed the project from start-to-finish and worked from identifying the potential opportunity and stayed until we figured out how much we were saving when the trucks arrived from Mexico. An amazing couple of months spent travelling between the US and many Mexican cities, in search of perfect partners.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? My classmates are vivid and dedicated. They all come from different walks of life and are eager to meet someone who is completely different from them so that they can enhance themselves

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? The flexibility of a program and the size of the class are important to me. I am looking to define my niche in the area of Operations & Strategy. Rotman’s curriculum spoke to me, and the career paths (both full time and internship opportunities) allowed me to understand the freedom and possibilities of what lies next. In terms the class, having a class size of 350 (with five sections of 70 students) makes me feel like I will be in a room that is large enough to expand my horizons, but not so large that I might lose myself in the crowd.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Tough choice between the Rotman Operations Management Association (ROMA) and the Management Consulting Association MCA).

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After having been a management consultant for six years and in two major and opposite economies, I felt that it was time for me to further my education and really define my niche. I had spent a chunk of my professional life working with people much like myself. I realized if I need to start thinking outside the ever so cliched ‘box’, I needed to collaborate, live, and breathe with people who come from different walks of life and different cultures but yet work towards one common goal.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? I figured that this was the best time in my life, personally and professionally, to take the leap of faith and be able to maximize the years of service I would have left to make a meaningful contribution to ever changing corporate landscapes and innovation while hoping to climb the ladder professionally and financially.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Kellogg, IE, LBS, Anderson, Foster, McCombs

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Flexibility of curriculum was important along with the cross section of a typical class (age, industries, backgrounds, etc.). While I wasn’t necessarily targeting a school reputed for a particular occupation, I did make sure that there was a future career in the market the school was situated in. Lastly, I also networked with alumni to get a sense of their typical day at these school because it’s not only important to have time for classwork and team meetings but also to have a life outside school as well.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? The choice I made to move from the United States to India in order to gain experience in a developing economy. I believe that helped me round out my experience and it taught me business in from a very different economy – with a very different sets of practices, opportunities and problems. Moving to India allowed me to bring in practices from the West and experiences that could help my clients, but it also taught me very hard lessons in a constantly changing business landscape where business and politics are so tightly related.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I hope to pursue a career in Strategy Consulting or in Internal Corporate Strategy

Where do you see yourself in five years? Hopefully in a leadership position within my consulting firm’s practice aiming to lead next generation solutions for my clients, building huge solutions for a more efficient tomorrow. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to partner with large clients to plan and execute these projects.

Ximena Bravo

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Positive, smiley and determined woman. Passionate traveler, dancer and seeker of new experiences.”

Hometown: Lima, Peru

Fun Fact About Yourself: I had one month of vacations before coming to Rotman, so I decided to took up tennis after 15 years of haven’t played at all. I was a disaster in the courts, but I couldn’t have enjoyed it more! I loved it!

Undergraduate School and Major: Universidad ESAN, Industrial and Commercial Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

BP / Castrol del Perú – Brand Activation Coordinator

Nestlé Perú – Consumer Marketing Manager

Nestle Perú – Marketing Specialist

Nestlé Perú – Sales Executive

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Convincing consumers to believe that a packaged product is 100% natural instead of artificial is a big challenge. This happened with a beverage brand called Ecco, so I worked to relaunch it with a different approach so consumers can adopt new ideas about it.

Thanks to the new image, new communication idea and new ways of preparation, Ecco was one of the few brands selected for the Innovation Day of Nestlé, competing against all brands from the Americas, and was presented in Switzerland in front of many Country Managers and Marketing Directors.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? They are very sharing. Everyone is willing to help you and tell their own experiences so you can have a better base line in terms of studies or the new city.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? When I was doing some research about top MBA schools, there was a phrase at Rotman that caught my attention immediately: Culture of reciprocity. I think that there is much more than coming to classes. This is about networking, sharing experiences about ourselves, and paying attention to the experience of others. Also, helping other people from my point of view and receiving advice from others with different backgrounds result in growth as a professional and as a person in both sides. I believe that this integrates people, communities, companies, states and more, in order to improve how we think and accelerate the way we solve problems. I think this is what the world needs urgently.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I would love to be part of Negotiation Club and Business Design Club. Also, I am looking forward to do some trekking in the beautiful trails that the city has to offer.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? There was a point in my career in which I realized that I was in a comfortable position. I had a good job and had achieved many of the goals I had some years ago. So I started to plan about the future and studying for an MBA was the perfect choice in order to improve my career and personal experience. The fact of going to a new country, meeting new people, and start learning new things really made me excited.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Part of the research I did was calculating the expected income graduates receive after the program. Also, I spoke to some acquaintances who had already finished a MBA. In both cases, I could see that the return on the investment was what I was looking for.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I also applied to McGill.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? First of all, I prioritized language. I wanted to be in an English or French speaking country. Although I love my mother tongue (Spanish), I wanted to challenge myself a little bit more.

Then I prioritized schools that were present in top MBA rankings. Of course, Rotman appeared in those lists. After that, I was looking for a school in a city that had good internship opportunities without having to move, that offered an open space for women and that embraced multiculturalism.

Finally, I looked at the websites or blogs of many schools and asked for opinions of different people including family, friends, peers and professionals who were in my field. This was a key to better understanding the culture of each school and helped me decide if I could fit in the program.

I knew that Rotman would fit in my career goals, because it has overseas prestige, is actively looking for more women to be in the program and embraces diversity.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? When you are a teenager, your greatest desire is to be free, be able to go out with your friends and make your own decisions. However, you are not fully aware of what is going on in the world that surrounds you. When I was 16, my parents started to be more careful about where I went, with who and what I was going to do. After some time, they told my sister and I that our family was receiving threats and that we could be kidnapped. Suddenly, everything changed. We could not go out to public places; we had to move to a much smaller place (that no-one knew about); and during summer vacations we went to another country for more than a month. Fortunately, the situation ended. We were fine but the experience changed my perspective of life.

Because of this event, I learnt that bad things can happen any time to anyone. I was more aware of things that a regular teen did not care about, especially if you are a woman in my country. You do not choose to be threatened, get some illness, or be in a natural disaster. But you can choose to work and be prepared if these situations arrive. You have to stay positive and see that there are worse things in the world and you should be grateful for what you have in the moment.

All of this has taught me to be always getting better, to look for new opportunities that will benefit yourself and your beloved ones, and to be independent. Also, I learnt that it is important to stay positive in bad situations and to smile to life every day.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I have been in Toronto three times and I can say that it is one of the greatest cities in the world. I would be grateful if after my graduation I can stay to work in a multinational company. I am passionate about building brands, so I plan to stay in Marketing or Strategic areas that are related.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In five years, I see myself in a senior position in Marketing or Strategy in a multinational company where I can have an active role in adapting teams, visions and strategies towards new trends. I also see a better version of myself with the soft skills learned at Rotman and with the network I plan to build.

Sophia Duncan

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Quirky, curious, softhearted nerd obsessed with food, the outdoors, and social justice.”

Hometown: Newton, MA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I love to go on long canoe trips. For our honeymoon, my partner and I went on an amazing 25 day canoe trip in Wabakimi Provincial Park in Northern Ontario and brought all our own dehydrated food.

Undergraduate School and Major: Wesleyan University, History

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Milton Community Youth Coalition, Youth Programs and Food Access Coordinator

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: While managing a farmers market in rural Vermont, we more than doubled our vendors’ total sales from the previous season, and increased federal food benefit redemption by low-income community members by 172%.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Approachable. The classmates I’ve met so far have such impressive accomplishments and backgrounds but are still so approachable, friendly, and interesting to talk to.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? Class diversity was a huge factor for me. Coming from three years living in Vermont, which is certainly not known for its diversity, working with and learning from diverse peers was a big priority. When I visited Rotman and sat in on a class, I was particularly struck by students’ diverse backgrounds not just in country of origin but also in work experience and career goals.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I’m looking forward to joining Rotman Net Impact and also getting back on the soccer field.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I felt I was learning a lot in my day-to-day work, but needed a serious skill boost to move forward in my career. I considered Planning and Public Policy programs but decided that an MBA would be the best fit and would provide essential leadership and financial skills as well as a greater degree of career flexibility.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Primarily, I spoke with mentors, family friends, and acquaintances in fields that I’m interested in. I also looked at school salary reports.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Yale School Of Management

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I wanted to find both academic rigor and a supportive community. I knew I wanted to get a strong foundation in classic MBA skills like finance, accounting, management, etc., but also wanted some flexibility to learn about my specific career priorities. I looked at Poets and Quants, spoke with admissions and with current students, visited a class at Rotman, and did a lot of online research to determine which schools would be a good fit. Finally, I put a lot of thought into school location and how that fit with my partner’s and my plans for the future.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? I spent 2013-2014 in Morocco on a Fulbright Research grant. My focus was on traditional food and ideas about authenticity, and I traveled around the country learning from farmers, rural cooperatives, home cooks, chefs and restaurateurs. I loved speaking Moroccan Arabic, and spent most of my time asking taxi drivers, elderly ladies, and anyone else who would listen endless questions about food. That year really shaped my world view, solidified my interest in working with rural communities, and strengthened my ability to adapt to a different environment, to work independently, and to forge a network in another language (and often with shaky phone reception).

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I plan to work in a non-profit or social enterprise focused on social and economic justice.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I hope to start my own non-profit or consulting organization in Ontario. I plan to work with community members and farmers to facilitate equal access to food and land while building strong, just rural communities.

Marwan Hamdan

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“I am a management consultant with a passion for music, art and design.”

Hometown: Beirut, Lebanon

Fun Fact About Yourself: I work to fly, fly to dream, dream to design, design to live, live to work!

Undergraduate School and Major: Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the American University of Beirut

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

  • Senior Manager, Peppers & Rogers Group
  • Senior Consultant, Ernst & Young

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I consider the work my team and I did for a key government institution in Dubai during 2016-2018 timeframe to be the biggest accomplishment in my career so far. Over the course of 1.5 years, we grew the business with this account from 1 pr


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