Meet Toronto Rotman’s MBA Class Of 2020

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.