2020 Best & Brightest MBA: Jessica Shannon, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Jessica Shannon

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“Someone who loves meeting people, solving difficult problems, and lives life pursuing happiness and meaning.”

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Fun fact about yourself: After my undergraduate studies, I became both a certified sommelier and professional snowboarding coach.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California, Berkeley; B.A. in Anthropology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Front Office Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? DesignWorks, Toronto, ON

Where will you be working after graduation? TD Bank Group, HR Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • UofT Student Leadership Award 2020 Nominee
  • Vice President of Rotman Culinary Club
  • Vice President of Rotman Wine Society
  • Director of Rotman Design Challenge (A case competition with over 150 attendees from 8 business schools around North America and Europe)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? For the past few years, each incoming MBA class has had the opportunity to visit a community center in Toronto and eat a meal together. It is a chance to meet your classmates, learn about the community, and give back. This past August, I was fortunate enough to plan this event for the incoming MBA class of 2021. I partnered with a local community center in downtown Toronto that provides important programming for many underserved community members and at-risk youth. Over the course of this 4-day event, the incoming students learned about the various programs the Scadding Court Community Center provides. These include their restaurant incubators, sewing & tailoring workshops, and even a skateboard factory for high school-aged students to learn how to design, produce, and sell their own skateboards. After meeting the community the students then work together to make a large and delicious meal together.

These meals the MBA students prepare and eat together at the community center is not just a typical catered MBA dinner. Each meal involves 80 students coming together to prepare and cook over 25 dishes that could be found on the menus of any upscale restaurant in the financial district. I organized small groups to be in charge of specific dishes and provided them with a workstation, basic ingredients, and recipe card. Then the groups were encouraged to visit ‘the pantry’ to see if they wanted to put their own spin on the dish they were assigned. From there, everyone brought their dishes to the community center’s dining room and all 80 students ate family style. Each night, the same recipe cards were distributed, but each night’s meal looked and tasted different. Each meal was fantastic but so unique. This experience was not only rewarding for the incoming MBA students who participated but so powerful for the 20 volunteers from the class of 2020 who assisted in facilitating the event. Taking the time to learn about everything the Scadding Court Community Center does for the people of Toronto is not a typical orientation activity for an MBA class, but it is one of my favorite moments of my own orientation to Rotman and I am so proud to have organized that experience for the class of 2021.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I was the Front Desk Manager at the Ritz-Carlton in Lake Tahoe, California, we had been struggling to meet our top-line revenue goals for the previous two quarters. After looking at the numbers, I thought we had the room to make some improvements to our upselling numbers. I restructured the front desk’s incentive scheme for upselling guests on their room reservations. I designed a monthly system with a tiered departmental goal in which the individual payout to each employee would go from 2% to 3% to 5% if the department as a whole hit each month’s goals. From the debut of this program, our hotel went from one of the lowest upselling properties to #2 in the company worldwide in just 8 months. This achievement showed me the power of how proper incentives can have a dramatic impact on not only revenues but also team morale and drive.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Sarah Kaplan and her course on strategic change have been one of my favorite experiences at Rotman. Professor Kaplan has the ability to captivate us all in her lectures while also teaching highly useful frameworks. In particular, she teaches a framework that can be a diagnostic tool in identifying the tradeoffs between various strategic decisions. It is always easy to use hindsight to identify what the correct action was a leader should have taken, but making those decisions in real-time is much more complicated. Using the tools Professor Kaplan taught us in her class, I feel so much more prepared to lead with confidence and understand the tradeoffs I am choosing between every step of the way.

Why did you choose this business school? Rotman has the perfect balance in all the things I was looking for in an MBA program. The class size is large enough to be diverse and provide a deep network, but the sections we are broken into give a sense of family and safety. The courses offered are a mix of quantitative skills with other disciplines such as organizational behavior and business design. Plus, Rotman’s location right in the center of downtown Toronto gives students access to a multitude of companies in a city that is rapidly growing and has the energy a financial center provides. There is something for everyone at Rotman and gave me the ability to discover what direction I wanted to go in post MBA.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be your authentic self. The Rotman community loves people from all types of backgrounds and there is no ‘specific type’ they are looking for. Rotman values authenticity the most, so talk about how you are not sure exactly what direction you want to pivot in or exactly how you are going to be the next unicorn tech start-up CEO from Toronto! Show what makes you unique and why the time is right for you to get an MBA from Rotman.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Rotman is a ‘finance only’ school. Yes, we do have incredible faculty and staff in the finance department, but Rotman also has so many other powerhouse departments.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have taken ALL the extra courses offered in Excel skills. Now that I am more comfortable in data analytics, I truly see the power of making data-based decisions. It took me a while to get comfortable with large data sets, but now that I am close to graduating I wish I had taken more classes in big data.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Alex Cyr from the Class of 2020 for his humility despite always being one of the smartest people in every room. Alex is always willing to help fellow students study topics they need a little extra time on, and he has the ability to explain concepts in multiple ways till you fully understand them. He also drives the conversation in lectures to interesting areas that force us to look at things in a little more depth and apply concepts to multiple areas. However, what makes Alex truly special is his sense of humor, and the smile he brings to every situation. He truly wants the people around him to be confident and enjoy what they are working on. Alex reminds us that we are here to learn new things, accept the challenge, and have enjoyed doing it.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mother inspired me to pursue an MBA. She was a pioneer for women in her field and had an extremely successful career by simply being herself and showing her intelligence and leadership. Growing up I knew my mom was a powerful business leader, but it was not until I started my own career that I began to appreciate how exceptional she truly is. She taught me what it means to be a good leader, mother, and partner. She encourages to pursue what I want in life and to never hold myself back. She has supported me throughout my MBA journey knowing I will use my MBA differently than she did, but it will provide me a great foundation for whatever I pursue later on in my career.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. To create a new performance review and compensation system that blends modern-day working values with business goals
  2. To someday open a winery with friends

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A strong and joyful woman who demonstrated leadership skills, intelligence, and genuine care for those around me.

Hobbies? Skiing, drinking red wine with friends, and traveling.

What made Jessica such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“From planning ski trips to culinary experiences for her classmates, there isn’t anything that Jessica won’t do to build a stronger Rotman community. This summer, she volunteered to help chair our annual section dinner experience at a local community centre. These dinners require a lot of sweat equity, take months of careful planning, and are completely voluntary (it’s one of the most difficult and thankless leadership roles we have at Rotman). It requires a leader who has the ability to build a strategy in the clouds, get a team of peers excited about it, and then execute on every detail including making sure the kitchen (and every dish in it) is spotless for over 300 participants. Jessica executed this experience flawlessly but what’s even more impressive is she did so while trying to support a group of peers who were all dealing with a difficult health crisis. Jessica’s efforts to support her peers during this challenging time may have helped us save a few lives. She handled this situation with a lot of empathy and helped boost the spirit of her classmates by advocating for them to be better supported by the school. She used her own personal experience as a way to better inform and educate others about the need to support those in distress and won the admiration of her peers and the school’s administration.

Jessica has at times risked her own health and well-being to be of support to her classmates; she has created more transparency and dialogue around health and wellness in the b-school community. She is someone who we have relied on heavily to serve as an example for first-year students, whether it’s to speak on a panel, online discussion, or even to help students one-on-one. No matter how busy she is, Jessica has always been there to help. In addition to her many contributions as noted above, she has also found the time to serve in executive roles for several clubs and is currently hard at work putting together one of the school’s largest case competitions (i.e. the Rotman Design Challenge) that welcomes over 150 students from top business and design schools from around the world. She is a remarkable (and selfless) leader who is known for creating a safe and inclusive space that allows others to bring their best selves to any project or team. Her unique skills as a wine sommelier and snowboarding coach have benefited our community enormously and she will be missed dearly by all of us at Rotman.”

Neel Joshi
Director of Student & International Experience, Rotman School of Management



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