2017 MBAs To Watch: Phil Gazaleh, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Phil Gazaleh, MGA/MBA’17

University of Toronto (Rotman School of Management, Munk School of Global Affairs)

“Community builder, global citizen, diversity advocate, and proud gay Canadian.”

Age: 26

Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario

Fun fact about yourself: Former Alpine mountain guide.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Joint Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in Economics and Political Science, University of Ottawa

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Special Projects, Boyden Global Executive Search (Canada)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? McKinsey, Toronto; interned with World Bank’s Foundations Program in summer of 2015 as part of MGA degree.

Where will you be working after graduation? Associate, McKinsey

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Reaching Out MBA Fellow
  • David Pecault Fellow
  • Rotman OnBoard Fellow
  • Club Executive, Management Consulting Association
  • Club Founder, Master of Global Affairs / MBA Student Association
  • Awards Chair, Out On Bay Street (Start Proud)*
  • 2015 Canadian Federal Election Local All-Candidates Debate (2015)*
  • Compliance Director, G20 Research Group (2015)*

* Community work outside MBA

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My most proud extracurricular achievement was through my work as Awards Chair with Out On Bay Street. In addition to recognizing two outstanding LGBTQ students each year, I organized the Leaders To Be Proud Of awards, which formally recognized LGBTQ executives and emerging leaders from across Canada. The awards recognized leadership from business, government, and the social sector at a gala in front of their peers in the LGBTQ professional community and LGBTQ students. I believe in giving students strong role model and mentors to look up to, and in both years I organized the awards. The winners reflected not only the many professional opportunities open to LGBTQ students in Canada, but also the broad support that the LGBTQ community enjoys in the Canadian professional community. During my tenure, the awards saw more applicants than ever before, more diversity among winner, and greater public exposure through the media. Start Proud, previously known as Out on Bay Street, facilitates the professional development of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Ally (LGBTQA+) students as they transition from school to career in order to build a national network within the LGBTQA+ community.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of my work behind the scenes to launch Boyden Global Executive Search in Canada in 2013. My colleagues and I worked hard to set the firm up for rapid growth and to gain public awareness, and I feel proud whenever I mention my former employer to professionals who instantly recognize the name and the important work that they do. My work on the transition from Boyden’s predecessor firms to its new national structure helped to cement its position as one of the country’s most important search firms.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Economics professor Walid Hejazi was my favourite because he taught me the importance of doing business across cultures and he shared a vision for how Canada can leverage its multiculturalism and diversity to a relatively strong standing in international business. I had the opportunity to work in a team with the rest of my MGA/MBA cohort under the supervision of Professor Hejazi to interview leaders from across Canada to build an economic vision for the national bicentenary in 2067 which made me feel more patriotic and optimistic than I’ve ever been about my country.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Top Manager’s Perspective was my favourite course as it gave me a look inside the minds of prominent executives in times of triumph and crisis. The biggest insight I gained from this class was that while decision-makers certainly rely on clear and concise counsel from trusted advisors, many decisions are made based on values and gut.

Why did you choose this business school? I discovered through volunteer work in my undergraduate degree that I wanted a career where I got to work on complex global issues. My exposure to such work demonstrated two things to me: (1) The awesome power unlocked when people work together with common purpose in a movement; and (2) how poor management can squander that same power within a movement. I sought a Master’s program where I could expand my knowledge of the global system while simultaneously gaining management skills. I chose the Rotman MBA in a joint program with the Munk School of Global Affairs because it set me up to gain all of the skills and knowledge I wanted out of a Master’s in the setting of the University of Toronto, one of Canada’s top universities in one of the best cities in the world to live. While Rotman’s strong academic reputation weighed heavily on my decision, ultimately it was the school’s commitment to diversity and its many learning opportunities beyond the classroom that had me sold.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Business school challenged me to learn and think in a completely different way. While some of this was a result of academics, case studies, and coursework, classmates were who  pushed me the furthest outside my comfort zone. Learning alongside my diverse cohort was undoubtedly the most enjoyable part of business school for me, as it pushed me to defend my own positions while respecting the perspectives and experiences of others, which is all the more important in a world with glaring ideological divides.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? What surprised me most about business school was how athletes in the same race could spend so much time and energy helping each other cross the finish line. I’m not just referring to helping each other with course work, but more importantly supporting each other through big life changes like job hunt, breakups, engagements, pregnancies, and losing loved ones. I feel as though I learned more about myself in business school than at any other point in my life.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The Rotman School gets particularly excited about people who want to contribute to the school’s community. Rotman prides itself on its diversity, so I encourage applicants to spend more time showing admissions what makes them unique rather than what makes them a typical candidate.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Rotman is that it is only for finance and consulting. While is it certainly true that there are many students who pursue these two paths, the school’s alumni pool counts sustainability experts, sport executives, business design professionals, government officials, and entrepreneurs among its expansive network in Canada and around the world.

What was your biggest regret in business school? The Rotman School has excellent professors and instructors, but I decided to pursue more project-based courses rather than learn from the faculty in the classroom. While I believe that these project-based courses taught me a great deal, my biggest regret in business school is not auditing more of the school’s excellent courses alongside the courses I selected.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Nicola Deery in my cohort. Besides being a role model with an impressive background, unrivalled ambition, and certain success on the horizon, Nic more than anyone else made me believe in myself. She has proven time and time again to be the most selfless and positive classmate in the Rotman class of 2017. She introduced me to my mentor, challenged me to shoot for the stars, and stood by my side since we first met. I know I speak for everyone in my class when I say I can’t wait to see how far she’ll go.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized you bring MBA management skills to the social sector and make a huge, positive impact.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…working my way up a global non-profit/NGO, making change from the inside.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I am a big fan of self-reflection after periods of intensity or after big projects. I would love to see this formally structured into the MBA as reading what I wrote about myself at different points of my two masters degrees has helped to elucidate parts of myself I didn’t know well before embarking on this journey.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Ultimately, I would like to make strategic decisions within a global non-profit or NGO because I value the impact that these organizations have on issues I care deeply about. While I’m not shooting for a specific role, I will ideally end up as a strategic advisor or executive one such organization.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? Laila Jaunkalns, Steven Lampert, and Becky Patrick, three of my MGA/MBA classmates. These three kept me sane through two master’s degrees with their invaluable friendship. They always knew which GIF from The Office to send in a group chat and how best to blow off some steam.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Someone who got things done, supported his peers, and always flew the Rotman flag high.

Favorite book: Chasing the Flame by Samantha Power

Favorite movie or television show: Life is Beautiful / Archer

Favorite musical performer: Metric

Favorite vacation spot: Algonquin Park

Hobbies? Volleyball, curling, cello, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, adventure travel, and writing.

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

“An image of a directional sign to the restrooms from one of our conferences appears in my inbox. With it a list of simple suggestions on how to create “all gendered” bathrooms at Rotman appears in the text. Since the day Phil arrived at Rotman he’s always been a “roll up my sleeves and help build the solution” type of student leader. When referencing the type of culture and student community we want at Rotman, I often refer to incidents that directly involve Phil.

For example, while recently in Dubai with a group of students on an international study tour, at 2 a.m. Phil noticed a few typos on a report that his classmates would be presenting to a client the next morning. Without a flinch (even though he wasn’t on this project team), Phil jumped in a cab found a 24/7 printing facility and arrived back in hand with a fresh set of printed copies for the client which allowed the team to present a clean presentation to the client in the morning. I’ve watched him support his classmates numerous times at Rotman and never once with any accolades or fanfare in mind.

Phil became one of the Rotman School’s first two ROMBA fellows in recognition for his many years of service in advancing the rights of LGBTQ professionals. He was recently selected to participate as a Rotman OnBoard Fellow where he supports the work on a non-profit board. While Phil originally joined the program with the intention of supporting a large non-profit organization, he was matched with a smaller grassroots organization called “The Black Daddies Club” and has used this as an opportunity to challenge his own bias and learn more about participatory decision making models and alternative governance. He’s taken it upon himself to participate and get more familiar with the systemic challenges that black fathers encounter in Canada and has become an incredible ally and resource for this organization. As both a joint Masters of Global Affairs (MGA) and MBA student, Phil also took it upon himself to ensure that his peers (while small in numbers) would have a stronger presence at the school. He successfully founded the MGA/MBA student Association this year and has already increased opportunities for his peers across both programs. Phil is a community builder, diversity champion and someone that has that rare ability to bring out the best in others. Rotman has benefitted enormously from his many contributions and we are very lucky to have him as a student and soon-to-be alum.”

Neel Joshi

Director, Student Life & International Experience

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto



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