“That person has leadership potential.”
We’ve all heard that line. What exactly does it mean? In some quarters, that might mean that a candidate is easy to control and capable of being “molded.” In most cases, a candidate will exhibit that glimmer of promise by being proactive, determined, accountable, or simply engaging. These days, leadership roles aren’t simply awarded for technical aptitudes, lengths of service, or hitting targets. Leaders are the ones who connect. They make an impression that inspires trust and spurs action. They produce results by who they are as much as what they know.
Many times, leadership is learned through a trial-and-error period, one that often coincides with a dip in production and a spike in turnover. That’s because leadership isn’t supposed to be learned on-the-job or in a classroom. It is supposed to be learned in a lab – a supportive space that frees future leaders to explore, experiment, flounder, and rally. That’s exactly what MBA students enjoy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
TORONTO ROTMAN MBA CLASS PROFILE FOR THE CLASS OF 2021
“I’m looking forward to taking part in the Self-Development Lab,” writes Meredith Baade, a Bloomberg relationship manager and member of the MBA Class of 2021. “Aside from the technical knowledge we’ll gain in the classroom, I think the lab will further develop my leadership and interpersonal skills through self-awareness and feedback.”
The Self-Development Lab starts on day one at Rotman, with MBAs completing a series of modules throughout their first year. Conducted in small groups – four students for every faculty facilitator – the labs cover key areas like delivering feedback, conducting presentations, holding difficult conversations, and developing executive presence. Such programming is a means for students to develop self-awareness and self-management, to build the soft skills needed to complement their technical prowess and analytical mindsets.
Here, students enter the spotlight, whether it is watching themselves make videotaped presentations or stepping into emotionally-charged simulations like terminating an employee. In the process, they receive personalized feedback from faculty and peers alike. In other words, students learn how they are seen by others – experiencing for themselves what works and what doesn’t. Think of it as a step-by-step journey, driven by research and compassion. The goal is to uncover students’ tendencies through risks and responses as much as retreats and reflections. In asking why and learning how, Rotman MBAs become leaders who can understand motivations, empathize with emotions, and communicate their vision.
EVOLVING INTO A BETTER VERSION OF YOURSELF
Along with the Self-Development Lab, Rotman also maintains a Leadership-Development Lab for select 2nd-years to further probe their leadership style. In a world where leaders only get one shot to make a lasting impression, Rotman’s programming ensures MBAs are a step ahead of their peers after graduation.
“Rotman’s emphasis on holistic development really helped me solidify my decision of choosing the program,” writes Aishwarya Nikam, a first-year and successful retail marketer from India. “The Self-Development Lab is an incredible program at Rotman that helps students grow beyond just the acquisition of technical skills, by equipping them with the appropriate tools to be a well-rounded leader. I strongly think the SDL, combined with other development opportunities at Rotman, will help me evolve into a better version of myself and make me a valuable contributor to any organization.”
You’ll find the Class of 2021 is packed with leadership talent. Take Rohini Muthuvelan, who helped run Procter & Gamble’s largest manufacturing facility in India. On the surface, she says, her biggest accomplishment has been leading the installation of a production machine in a record 9.5 hours. Behind that, she faced an even more daunting task: She was the only woman on an 18-member team that included technical experts and experienced contractors – some of whom were hesitant about following a female leader.
BRINGING YOUTUBE TO 100 MILLION PEOPLE
“My favourite quote is “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast”, and I decided to address the elephant in the room by solving the cultural issues first,” she explains. “I brought the team together to have a candid and open discussion about the existing problems, brainstormed to jointly come up with solutions, and built a vision that the team believed. This first step was crucial, as it paved the way to stronger bonds among the individuals and resulted in seamless execution of the project. I also chose to lead from the front in shift-work and demonstrated that women are no less than men when it comes to getting their hands dirty on the shop floor. By the end of the project, I not only earned the respect of shop floor employees but also helped set an example for other women to lead with courage and not shy away from such opportunities.”
She isn’t the only member of the Class of 2021 who isn’t afraid to take the reins. Laura Gomez-Cardona, most recently a corporate finance director at Suramericana, managed the cross-border M&A acquisition of a large Mexican insurance company. Closer to home, Meredith Baade oversaw Bloomberg’s relationships with the Canadian government. In particular, she helped the Bank of Canada automate its financial markets trading workflow along with consulting with the Canadian government on how to better use technology and data on making policy recommendations. In the Philippines, Michelle Molas helped to bring YouTube to the masses through the programs she oversaw as a marketing manager.
“I helped make YouTube mainstream in a country where open access to the internet is a luxury that most cannot afford,” she writes. “This is especially close to my heart, as YouTube has been an incredible learning platform especially in emerging markets. Open access to video content provides people from all walks of life with the opportunity to learn and uplift their lives – from first-time dads learning how to change the diapers to moms in rural areas who started businesses after learning from how-to videos. It took many years and tons of cross-functional and external collaboration to make it happen and I couldn’t be any prouder of what our teams have accomplished together.”
FROM VICTIM TO VICTOR
It was an accomplishment made all the sweeter from being repeatedly rejected by company-after- company after graduation. “This taught me resilience –that while doors close on us, we should always push hard to open better ones. Three years later, I landed my dream job at Google.”
Rohini Muthuvelan faced adversity on her way to a successful career too. After being a victim of a campus assault, she was shocked by the “indifferent attitude” to improving “security measures” for women. Rather than retreat, she ran – as in for student government. Turns out, her peers shared her concerns as she was elected as the first woman to lead the university’s student body in its 50-year history.
“That winning strike at elections truly transformed me as an individual because it helped me recover the self-confidence that I lost on the same premises two years back and made me realize that even I am capable of getting large masses into confidence and building trust by showing genuine care and always doing the right thing irrespective of the consequences. The whole experience gave me a platform to grow into a bold, accountable and resilient woman leader that I am today.”
STARTUP GROWS TO 500K CLIENTS
The men at Rotman certainly hold their own against these impressive women, however. Mykhailo Lyzanets, for one, founded Moneyveo, a Ukrainian online lender, which he grew to over 500,000 clients and 250 employees. At the same time, Luis Diego Ramirez launched two ventures in the consumer goods sector.
“Without any prior experience in the food industry or in retail and wholesale,” he writes, “we were able to grow, adapt, and successfully compete with industry giants through product innovation, personalization, and straight-up hustle and hard work. It was a tough challenge considering we had to bootstrap both businesses. Therefore, we relied only on ourselves (the partners) to manage all of the workload of product innovation, sales, customer service, marketing, operations, supply chain, and basically all of the areas of management.”
That’s not to say the Class of 2021 doesn’t have a life outside work. Aishwarya Nikam calls herself a “massive geek who will try to pepper in casual cosplays and pop-culture references into everyday situations.” Her classmate, Daniel Seet, started tap and swing dancing last year. Maybe he could take some pointers from Rohini Muthuvelan. At 14, she collected a professional arts degree from a top dance institute in India for “clearing all the levels of Bharatanatyam (An Indian Classical dance form).” Speaking of credentials, Meredith Baade earned her Open Water SCUBA certification in February and celebrated with dives in Vietnam and Thailand before starting class. Whatever you do, be sure to pay a visit to the home of Marla Yuan, a senior associate with PwC. Her claim to fame?
“My cat fetches.”
WOMEN COMPRISE 42% OF CLASS
How would the Class of 2021 describe their peers? Emilija Davidovic, an Accenture analytics consultant, calls them “multifaceted.” “I’ve met scientists, engineers, classmates who’ve worked in NGOs around the world. There’s no “traditional” MBA candidate at Rotman. That’s what I love about the program – you can learn from every single one of your peers.”
Mykhailo Lyzanets chooses a different word: “Ambitious.” “My classmates worked on amazing products, received multiple sports awards, held high positions at global companies, or launched their businesses. What they all have in common is that although they achieved impressive results, everyone wants to get to even greater heights.”
Overall, the Class of 2021 features 295 full-time MBA students, including 42% women – up six points over the previous year. By the same token, 58% of the class hails from outside Canada, a 7% jump over the 2020 Class. That said, the class’ average GMAT score slipped five points to 669, though its undergraduate GPA average rose from 3.33 to 3.50. 8% of the class scored from 740-760 on their GMATs.
Go to next page for 12 in-depth profiles of the Class of 2021.