Meet Toronto Rotman’s MBA Class Of 2020


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


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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