2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Naila Kassam, Western University (Ivey)

Naila Kassam

Western University, Ivey Business School

“Efficiency loving physician leader with a passion for improving women’s health using technology and advocacy.”

Hometown: Vancouver, BC

Fun fact about yourself: I was once an extra in a Bollywood film!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

McGill University – Bachelor of Science, 2006

University of British Columbia – Medical Degree, 2012

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Prior to starting my MBA, I practiced as a primary care physician and served as the Medical Director at the Middlesex London Public Health Unit. I also held the appointment of adjunct professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine. In this capacity, I was responsible for teaching physician trainees while also managing a staff of nine physicians, ensuring that evidenced-based guidelines were introduced and followed.

I continued working in these capacities during the majority of the MBA program and found the balance of work and studying invigorating. It was a great way to take learning from the program and apply it directly in real-time.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? One-year program – no internship

Where will you be working after graduation? After graduation, I will be working at KPMG in Toronto as a Senior Consultant in their Operations division. I will also continue to practice as a primary care physician with the ultimate goal of improving health systems delivery in Canada and abroad.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School

  • Board Member, ANOVA – A women’s shelter and crisis organization
  • Board Member, thehealthline.ca – A digital healthcare organization in Ontario
  • Allyn Taylor Scholarship for Leadership in Education and in the Community
  • Forté Fellowship MBA Scholarship
  • Claude Lamoureux MBA Health Sector Award
  • London World Partnership Golf Committee – The event raised $50,000 to fight global poverty
  • Social Impact Senator – Partnering with local non-profit organizations to encourage MBAs to give back to their communities
  • Therapy Dog Team Member, St John’s Ambulance
  • Western’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women & Children (CREVAWC) Volunteer

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My proudest extracurricular achievement has been discovering my personal and professional voice. I began to write about healthcare through a business lens, including several articles on the application of Artificial Intelligence and Medicine, which were published in both the Globe and Mail and Hospital News.

These pieces gained traction in the media, including the invitation to contribute to CTV’s Your Morning as a medical expert. Despite having no experience in this area, I applied the philosophy of Eleanor Roosevelt’s “Doing something that scares you every day,” in order to improve upon my skill set. And being on live television was definitely a little scary.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As part of my work on the intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Medicine, I was invited to the global conference of Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare in Low- and Middle-Income countries hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the United Kingdom.

As the sole Canadian invitee, I contributed to conversations about the potential breakthroughs of AI on global health. This enriching multinational event allowed me to better understand how my business degree, coupled with my background in healthcare, has the potential to improve access to care in some of the most marginalized societies while focusing on the sustainability of program designs.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was Fraser Johnson, an operations professor in the core component of our program. I found his combination of expertise and dry humor to be incredibly effective within the classroom setting. He promoted critical thinking throughout the class and ensured that more reserved students were engaged. There were also some entertaining and memorable moments when my classmates acted out or sang about a chapter in The Goal.

Personally, it was the defining course of my MBA where I continuously had light bulb moments and understood the importance of designing systems that could handle the unexpected.

What was your favorite MBA Course See above.

Why did you choose this business school? The Richard Ivey School of Business has an important family connection for me: my father is a proud Ivey Graduate (’73).

Born in Uganda, he completed his undergraduate education in Kenya before enrolling at Ivey. What was significant about his experience, was that midway through business school, Idi Amin, the president of Uganda at the time, issued an edict expelling South Asians from the country.

As a result, my father’s family was forced to leave their home and came to Canada as refugees during the second year of his MBA. I remember my father’s stories about how supportive his classmates were during this difficult time, and how generous the faculty was when finances were precarious. To attend the same business school that helped my father through a pivotal and challenging time and allowed him to succeed in Canada is an honor.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? It is clear that diversity of experience is a quality that the Ivey faculty and admissions committee place in high regard. This is manifested by the careful thought placed in class selection every year. This lends itself to attracting a dynamic group of young professionals from whom I have learned a tremendous amount. As a non-traditional MBA student, I would encourage students who may not be on the typical MBA path to apply with confidence.

What is the biggest myth about your school?  It is a myth that students at Ivey keep to themselves without fully immersing in the university and London communities. There are plenty of opportunities for students to be engaged outside of the business school if they desire. These include the social impact days where we volunteer in the local community, university sports leagues, and opportunities to work on projects across various faculties.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Having worked as a primary care physician for four years before my MBA, I had the privilege of working in a career where I felt positive about my career impact. However, all my interactions were individual; I cared for the patients sitting in my clinic room. What became clear is that I lacked the right tools to implement system-wide changes that are still desperately needed. While I mused on ways to have a bigger impact, it wasn’t until business school where I learned how to broaden the lens through which to view healthcare challenges.

This reflection created a desire to become involved in women’s health issues – an area I am deeply passionate about. In order to usefully apply my energy, I joined two non-profit boards, volunteered with Western’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women & Children, and worked with a women’s health technology start-up on a grant to enhance the delivery of care to rural communities.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The MBA classmate I most admire is Lin Watt. Early on in the program, Lin stood up when she felt quieter students were not being given the space to speak in our classroom environment. She reminded the class that leadership was about creating space for others to succeed. Lin emulated a powerful mix of confidence and warmth, strength and understanding and is a personal role model of mine for her natural ability to exude these characteristics. In an environment where there are not enough female leaders, I believe in Lin’s ability to both succeed and mentor women along the way.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My husband was the one who influenced me to pursue a business degree. He is someone who is not only wonderfully supportive but also encourages me to think outside the box. In an atmosphere where most healthcare practitioners get a masters in science or public health, he encouraged me to take a path less chosen and one that has opened numerous doors.

What is your favorite movie about business? My favorite movie about business was Moneyball, which is about the business of baseball. One of the biggest takeaways from that movie is this mismatch of how the game has been traditionally played and how the game could be won. I love the idea of using analytics to determine strategy and viewing situations with a new lens.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? The class I am currently in has the acronym of HIP (High Impact Presenting). Due to our multiple group presentations, I have a number of HIP Whatsapp groups on the go and I can’t help but feel like I am back on an orthopedic rotation.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…living somewhere much warmer, (perhaps overlooking a vineyard), surrounded by adorable dogs, and definitely getting way more sleep. That being said, it was still worth it!”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? It’s challenging to put a dollar value on experience and education! Ivey’s one-year tuition was 88,000 (CAD) for domestic students, though many scholarships were available. It was certainly worth what I paid for considering the number of amazing professors, small class size, variety of experiences, and most importantly, the study abroad trip to South America!

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Adopt four more dogs (one is not enough – see @TheGoldenRatio4 for inspiration)
  2. Visit Uganda with my parents to better understand how they grew up

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Someone who they can count on in the future no matter what challenges they may be navigating.

Hobbies? I am a voracious reader and a fairly awful golfer, who enjoys volunteering, traveling, and admits to watching The Bachelor.

What made Naila Kassam such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Naila is one of those exceptional students that you meet only once every few years.  She is incredibly bright, has a fantastic background as a physician, and yet she has enough humility to learn from others in her class.  Naila’s classmates hold her in high regard.  They too recognize that her intellect and experience greatly enhance their learning, but it is Naila’s involved in activities beyond that classroom that have impressed her colleagues the most.

Naila has been a leader with the Social Impact Club. She and her fellow executives have organized the semi-annual Ivey Impact Day. This past year, students spent a day working with local charities building affordable housing, repurposing furniture for the disadvantaged and planting trees.

I am delighted to see that Naila’s has put forward her name to Poets & Quants as she is truly one of the brightest MBA’s that I have met in many years.”

David Wood

MBA Faculty Director


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