2017 Best MBAs: David St. Bernard, University of Toronto (Rotman)

David St. Bernard, JD/MBA’17

University of Toronto – Rotman School of Management

“A positive person that believes every problem has a solution if you look creatively.”

Age: 31

Hometown: Scarborough, Ontario

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve been a national champion in three different disciplines, one of which led me to compete for Team Canada in the decathlon as a junior.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Hons. BA Kinesiology 2008, York University

BA Psychology 2013, York University

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Physiomed, (Exercise Physiologist/Medical Products Specialist), Toronto, Ontario

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? I split my internship between Bennett Jones LLP and the Bank of Montreal.

Where will you be working after graduation? Bennett Jones LLP, Articling Student (Toronto, Ontario)

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Co-Founder, non-profit organization “Summit Leaders” (mentorship program that connects Rotman MBAs with high school students through weekly workshops to build a business pitch for a case competition. Currently piloting Summit Leaders at two other Canadian MBA programs with further plans of expansion)
  • VP Communications, Rotman African Caribbean Business Association
  • President, Black Law Students Association
  • Rotman School of Management Entrance Award
  • David Pecaut Fellow (Selects innovative, socially-minded students to contribute to Canada’s non-profit community and develop their own network and skill set in an effort to catalyze social impact)
  • Joe Weider Leadership Development Lab
  • Co-founder, Students for Social Change, which organized the “Within Reach: An End to Gender Based Violence” fundraiser for The Barbra Schlifer Clinic and White Ribbon Campaign

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of founding a non-profit mentorship program called Summit Leaders (summitleaders.ca). The Summit Leaders program runs a series of workshops for high school students and culminates in a business pitch competition. By connecting MBAs, entrepreneurs and business professionals with high school students, Summit Leaders provides the students with mentorship relationships and real role models. My goal is to inspire high potential students from low-income backgrounds to become the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs, thereby improving diversity in boardrooms and executive positions. I know that without numerous mentors and sponsors, I would not have been as successful as I have been. I want to provide this same assistance to students that may not be as fortunate to have this support.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Organizing and moderating the “Work with Me: Women, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Boardroom” panel on gender and cultural diversity in professional industries. Recognizing the need for a deeper conversation on the lack diversity in my own profession, I recruited the CEO of Tennis Canada, partners from Bay Street Law firms, and a senior director at the Royal Bank of Canada. These diverse panelists really helped advance the conversation and personally helped me come up with tangible ways in which I can make a difference in my profession. I believe that the panel really helped emphasize how better professional representation from all diverse background benefits all stakeholders.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Laura Doering in Entrepreneurship for Social Ventures because she melded the theoretical and practical aspects of such a broad subject matter and distilled it down to its most granular parts. This enabled us to engage with the material on a deeper level while building up a toolkit most beneficial to our own ventures.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose to study at Rotman for three reasons. I wanted to simultaneously earn both a business and legal education in a city with a wealth of opportunity. The start-up market in Toronto was gaining momentum and I knew courses like the CDL would give me unprecedented access to some of the best and most accomplished entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, bestowing a competitive advantage upon me.  Secondly, my family is in Toronto and I wanted to be close to that support system and furthermore get to watch my nieces grow. And finally, I wanted to remain in Toronto because the diversity of the population is unparalleled in my experience, and because I love engaging with people from all walks of life.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Unquestionably the variety of people I met. While studying at Rotman, I was surrounded by some of the most intelligent, accomplished and diverse group of individuals. For me, being in this environment was not intimidating but inspiring, as I always felt that I owed it to my class to bring my very best at every opportunity.

One of my most cherished memories was traveling to Dubai to represent Rotman at the International Hult Prize Competition in 2016, with people who were becoming my best friends rather than just accomplished colleagues. After having such a great experience, we decided to found the social enterprise Vicis Labs Inc. (vicislabs.com), which has since created Sprout, a start-up savings platform that works as a personal finance coach.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? The most surprising thing about business school was how much learning I would do in such a short time. I assumed my classmates would have typical business backgrounds and my experience would be fairly standard. What I did not anticipate is how much I would absorb from my classmates and how transformative the program would be. Learning from my classmates that were either concert pianists, international athletes, successful CEOs and so forth, really gave me access to perspectives that I may not have gained on my own. This, combined with the focus that Rotman places on developing its students into leaders, has really given me an unprecedentedly rich experience which a greatly treasure.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Know why you want to pursue the MBA, and what you are willing to sacrifice for it. Then, go for it. The MBA is a tool, and it can be very rewarding when used properly for a desired goal, which may shift once classes begin. However, in my opinion, the degree is most effective when you have a clear direction. Additionally, the MBA is an intense process full of learning and self-discovery. In order to get the most out of the experience, you will face challenges and need to make certain sacrifices in order to succeed. However, with a positive outlook and great support system, it is a journey very much worth taking.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest misconception about Rotman is that its chief focus is on its finance and consulting students. Though these careers may be among the most coveted, the school gave those of us interested in the start-up space a glut of resources and practical experience that I greatly myself benefited from when founding my own start-up and non-profit organization.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire one of my classmates who established a new LGBTQA+ student club to support the diversity of students and faculty at Rotman. His leadership led to a club that has truly made the school a more inclusive space.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my personal training business failed to be successful and I couldn’t figure out why, regardless of training results.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still training to become a track and field athlete.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would love to continue being an entrepreneur. I get the most energy when applying myself to ambiguous challenges and when I have the opportunity to explore creative solution to complex problems.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would like thank my family for their support in all of my endeavours. I have always been the one to march to the beat of my own drum and they have never questioned me, but instead simply asked what I needed to keep marching. Without them, I would not have had the ability to take the risks I have taken, and recover from the ones that did not quite pan out. When I am stuck in my own world and need come up for air, they were always there to help me breath, and for that I am grateful.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as a person who always took the time to assist others whenever I could.

Favorite book: Good to Great by James C. Collins – a great read that started my lifelong journey of self-improvement.

Favorite movie or television show: Shawshank Redemption

Favorite musical performer: Michael Jackson

Favorite vacation spot: Home with family

Hobbies? I love baking cheesecake, travel, and competing in athletics.

What made David such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“I first met David three years ago when he had volunteered to assist the law school in organizing a conference to encourage marginalized youth to pursue legal studies. David was the first volunteer to arrive that morning and the last to depart. With no one in sight, I witnessed him stay back to help a team of exhausted custodial staff stack huge piles of chairs, long after the conference had ended. David is a servant-leader; he shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. What is even more remarkable about him is that he does this all while managing a very rigorous schedule as both a student leader and a joint JD/MBA student.

David’s prior experience as a Canadian National decathlon athlete has prepared him well for juggling multiple tasks. David currently serves as the President of the Black Law Student Association, VP Communications for the Rotman African Caribbean Business Club and is the Co-Founder of a non-profit organization “Summit Leaders” that connects MBA students with high school students for mentorship opportunities in entrepreneurship. His last endeavour has been so successful that he is currently in the process of taking this organization national.  David leads by example and has been a huge advocate for advancing the schools diversity and inclusion mandate. He recently organized a panel discussion with several industry leaders titled “Work with Me: Women, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Boardroom” which explored gender and cultural diversity in professional industries. David has served his community well and will depart Rotman knowing that he left it a better place than when he first arrived. We look forward to reading more about David and his many successes in the near future.”

Neel Joshi
Director, Student Life & International Experience
Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

DON’T MISS: THE COMPLETE HONOR ROLL: BEST & BRIGHTEST MBAS OF 2017