Meet The HEC Montréal MBA Class Of 2019

Zack Spencer

HEC Montréal

“I seek to be kind, to be present, and to be nobody else but me.”

Hometown: Harbor Springs, Michigan, USA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I was likely the only person in Puerto Rico in 2009 to have Malaria (I contracted it trekking n Northern Thailand).

Undergraduate School and Major:

University of Michigan – B.A. in Social Science & Spanish

Georgetown University Law Center – Juris Doctor

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, Manila, Philippines – Legal Specialist

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I am most proud of my pro bono work successfully representing a number of refugees in their applications for asylum before the United States immigration authorities.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Willing. I mean this in two senses. First, my classmates are eager to learn, to participate, and to engage, both inside and outside the classroom. A great example that comes to mind is from the first session I led to introduce principles of improvisational theater to a group of my classmates. I introduced a game where the students would be challenged to observe a group creating a scene or image, then quickly take a piece of that image and create a new scene. I expected that for new improvisors, there would be hesitation in reframing the image, a pause before stepping in front to create a story in an uncertain atmosphere. But I was blown away by the enthusiasm everyone showed to step in to help their peers, to let go, and to take chances.  In another sense of “willing,” my classmates are professionals with intention – the hope and the desire to use this experience to challenge and improve themselves, and to examine and propel their careers in unique directions. It is inspiring to see.

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? The one-year program (as opposed to two) was key for me. I graduated from law school nine years ago, and at this point in my career, I wanted to be efficient in building a new skillset. Though intense, the one-year program provide the sort of career development I am seeking at this point, without being out of the workforce for too long.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? As I described above, along with another international student, I am leading a series of improv workshops for other members of the cohort. We have a lot of fun practicing the principles of improvisation – improv comedy – particularly in light of their application in the business context and in life in general. I’m also looking forward to the John Molson School of Business international case competition.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Two things. First, I hoped to practice in a deliberate way the conceptual skills that become more important at higher levels of management, or that are key in entrepreneurship. I have reached a point in my legal career where I have the technical skill and varied experience in the public and private sectors to make my next career move. The MBA provides important practice in managerial training and big-picture strategic thinking to take the next step. Second, I was looking for a complement to my legal background that would provide new perspectives and added international versatility. Currently, my family expects to make international moves fairly often due to my wife’s profession; pursuing the MBA now will better position me to find and maintain fulfilling work in that context.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Ultimately, as for every student, it is a question of opportunity cost. In my view, the MBA—particularly a one-year MBA—provides a unique opportunity to rapidly develop new skills, a new network, and new perspectives on leadership, and to truly evaluate one’s own personal and professional priorities. To pursue the MBA, I would forgo other professional opportunities and forgo income I might otherwise make. In the long view, those sacrifices are outweighed by the MBA’s focus on long-term professional advancement and personal fulfillment.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I only applied to HEC Montreal.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I went to an MBA fair and listened to presentations from the admissions personnel. I also did research online. I was looking for a one-year program, almost certainly in Montreal. But ultimately, I felt like I had found a good fit when I actually visited HEC Montreal, and Anik Low gave me and my four year old daughter a tour of the facilities and told me personally about the program. Her attention and enthusiasm for the program sold it for me. The program structure itself, the international makeup of the cohort, and the large number of alumni globally were important factors for me.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? The birth of my daughter. Being a dad is constant practice in patience, in simplifying, and the value of play. It has shaped my own sense of strength and of vulnerability – in observing how both of these are so present in a small child, and evaluating how important these parallel concepts are as a “grown up.” I think being a dad also helps me to be more consciously present for the people around me, and to manage my time and relationships with more care. And finally, it offers a wholly different perspective – if I did before, I do not sweat the small stuff as much. Being a parent is challenging and there is no single right way to do it – that’s a lesson that I try to carry to other aspects of my life; what’s important is to be authentic, and to approach any challenge with the care and attention that it merits.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? After graduation, the specific path I take will depend largely on my family’s priorities (I have a professional spouse, a young daughter, and another on the way). But I intend to leverage the MBA to pivot from my legal background, seeking a position either in a legal department where I can apply my new skills, or, alternatively, in a business setting where my legal background would serve as the complement. I’m excited about the opportunities that will be available.

Where do you see yourself in five years? It is still a moving target—but one I feel more confident I can hit because of the MBA.  Broadly, I see myself doing intellectually challenging work with colleagues I respect and admire.