Most people picture Canada as the land of Mounties, moose, and maple. The home of hockey, Canada is a vast mix of dazzling coastlines, bustling cities, and rugged mountain ranges. Here, the loons sing, the cold bites, and the Northern Lights flare. The nation is far more than beavers, poutine, and healthcare, however. Canadians are welcoming and diverse – whose “Live and let live” reading of freedom that contrasts sharply with the “Don’t tread on me” bluster of their southern neighbors.
To the east, you’ll find Montreal, sometimes described as the cultural capital of Canada. It is a city of festivals, restaurants, graffiti, and craft beers, the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil with an improvisational vibe that takes after its jazz roots. Built on a mountain and connected underground – with four distinct seasons to boot – Montreal is also a Canadian educational center, housing nearly a quarter million college students.
CANADA’S HIGHEST-RANKED MBA PROGRAM
It is here that you’ll find McGill University. Founded nearly 200 years ago, the school has produced nearly 150 Rhodes Scholars and a dozen Nobel Prize recipients – not to mention an alumni roll that includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Captain Kirk (aka William Shatner). It is also home to the The Desautels Faculty of Management, which ranks as Canada’s top MBA program according to The Financial Times. It is also a business school with a distinctly international flair, with three-of-every-four MBA candidates hailing from overseas. This backdrop gives the Desautels MBA a decided advantage, says Dean Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou.
“Whether it is in the city of Montreal, the campus of McGill or the classroom in Desautels, students and professors at McGill come from 150 different countries. We have become one of the most international MBA student and professor bodies in the world and it shapes the experience of our students. Our students learn from each other’s different perspectives and benefit from those global connections after graduation.”
INTERNATIONAL STUDY TRIP EXPOSES MBAS TO INDUSTRY ROCK STARS
That’s also one reason why Mandy Wang came back. A Quebec native, Wang earned her undergraduate degree in finance at McGill before working for TD Asset Management, where she racked up a mountain of awards. For her, it was Desautels’ ability to attract international talent and imbue a global sensibility that led her to leave a lucrative career track to join the school’s full-time MBA Class of 2020.
“The international study trip and exchange programs are wonderfully designed for us to gain international exposure to cultures around the world,” she explains. “I want to understand these cultures, open myself to new ideas and principles, and learn about different standards and social norms. The adaption process will be both challenging and enlightening and is something I look forward to.”
The International Study Trip is one of the hallmarks of the Desautels experience. A 10-day excursion, the trip enables MBA candidates to take a deep dive into a city’s social and business fabric. While the trips feature the requisite sight-seeing, they also include a variety of tours and guest speakers. For example, Tegan Boaler, a 2018 graduate whose trip took her to Tokyo, notes that her whirlwind 10 days featured 30 companies. Along with touring a Nissan plant and meeting with McGill MBA alumni, Boaler’s group also met with the heads of L’Oreal Japan and McDonald’s Japan – not to mention the Coca-Cola team spearheading Coca-Cola sponsorship for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
This trek, among other things, is what brought Ly Thi Tuan Dinh to Montreal this fall. “I can’t wait to participate in the International Study Trip, in which I can gain international perspective through a practical lens by immersing in a specific country’s business environment,” she says. “I also hope to form a McGill MBA music band and perform in local music clubs.”
A STREET MUSICIAN AND BRAND MANAGER
This combination of business savvy and eclectic interests is one quality that makes the 63 member Class of 2020 so special. Tuan Dinh – a lover of street music – sometimes joins in with her guitar to jam. In Malaysia, for example, she connected with Chinese tourists by performing “Tian mi mi”, singing in Mandarin without knowing the meaning behind the words. This ability to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ also came in handy for her at Eli Lilly, where she was promoted to head up branding for a diabetes unit…with little knowledge of the disease (or marketing for that matter).
“I had to switch from “direct supervisor” mode, in which I was comfortable after two years as a sales manager with seven subordinates, to “leading without authority” mode with 30 colleagues in cross functional team, most of whom were older and had more experience with Diabetes products,” she recalls. “Under my management, we successfully launched the Humalog portfolio of analog insulins, achieving 27% market share within two years and reaching more than 3,000 patients suffering with diabetes.”
You’ll find that same balance with Hanqing Zhao. At the Beijing office of Ogilvy & Mather, where she served as the director of strategic communications, she led the firm to a 200% increase in scale and a 300% increase in revenue. That’s only one side to who she is. “I am simultaneously extroverted and introverted,” she explains. “While I am fascinated by the glamour and pace of the business world, I am also deeply attracted to spiritual fields such as religious studies and ancient art.”
FROM SUNNY CABO TO THE FRIGID RUSSIAN EAST
Look for a diverse and accomplished crew? Start with Jiefu Liu, who managed a 14-person risk analyst team at the Alibaba Group and earned a “Best Employee” award during his first year on the job. Not to be outdone, Kevin Wijaya, a finance manager at General Electric, was selected by the Institute of Management Accountants for one of its Young Professional Leaders awards. How is this for a unique path to business school? Sean Coleman served as a radio and television sports personality. His claim to fame? He was the youngest sports anchor in the 60-year history of CTV Montreal. “Not only was I achieving a childhood dream of presenting sports highlights on television,” he says, “but I was doing so for one of Canada’s most storied newscasts and an institution of English Montreal.”
Those were pretty cushy gigs compared to what Anastasia Budaeva faced. When she worked as a geologist in the Russian Far East, she often doubled as the field manager during shift turnover, which meant managing a 40 member international team and overseeing logistics and vehicle maintenance. That was the easy part for Budaeva, whose drilling fieldwork often occurred during the winter. “I had to hold someone’s hand if I wanted to go outside during the snowstorms; I was too light to walk by myself in the howling winds.”
You can bet that she would’ve been happy to trade places with Salvador Sanchez Jimenez, who ran a swimwear boutique in Cabo before joining the Class of 2020. Then again, the life of Brazil’s Laura Botelho de Carvalho would’ve been pretty appealing to Budaeva too. “I used to live in a patch of tropical forest and had tamarin monkeys coming over every day looking for food,” she reminisces. “One year, I baked a pineapple pie for Christmas and caught one of them trying to steal it while it was cooling down on the kitchen table.”
“FRIENDS INSTEAD OF COMPETITORS”
Diverse isn’t the only quality that differentiates the new class. Mandy Wang uses terms like “driven” and “open-minded” to describe her peers. “Everyone I’ve met so far has been very open to sharing their thoughts and suggestions,” she observes. “I received great advice on how to be better prepared, how to tackle the job search process and what timeline should be followed to stay organized. I love the team spirit demonstrated by McGill students and how we all see each other as friends instead of competitors.”
This dynamic began long before the class stepped onto campus, Sean Coleman adds. “After being admitted to the program, I was added to a WhatsApp group comprised of all my classmates. My phone hasn’t stopped buzzing since. Whether it’s discussing upcoming classes, bitcoin technology, art history, international politics, the proper way to eat ice cream or setting up nightly excursions, the conversation flows relentlessly.”
Such free-flowing discussions are, no doubt, also stem from a broad range of academic backgrounds. In terms of undergraduate education, STEM majors account for the largest proportion of the 2020 Class at 41%, with engineers making up a fourth of the class. Business majors take up 35% of the seats, followed by economics (11%) and social science (10%).
63 CLASS MEMBERS FROM 21 COUNTRIES
The class is more evenly segmented with their professional experience. Covering 17% of the class, banking and finance represent the largest bloc of the class. Marketing, consulting, and technology each constitute a 13% share, followed by engineering (9%), and healthcare (5%). A generic “business” label is also attached to a fifth of the incoming students.
This diversity of experience creates a dynamic learning environment for MBAs. “At McGill, with people coming from various backgrounds such as finance, consulting, entrepreneurship, history and social entrepreneurship among others, students have tremendous opportunities to learn from each other’s experience,” says Mohit Mehta, an M&A advisory executive with Ernst & Young.
Overall, women make up 35% of the class, which includes students from 21 countries. The class’ average GMAT is 660, two points higher than rival Rotman. At the same time, the class brings a 3.3 undergraduate GPA to the class.