2020 MBAs To Watch: Ysa Cao, McGill University (Desautels)

Ysa Cao

McGill University, Desautels Faculty of Management

“French Chinese-Cambodian lover of food, Latin dance, and travel with an unquenchable thirst for learning.”

Hometown: Senlis, France

Fun fact about yourself: I do a very good impression of Donald Duck.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Concordia University (Montreal, Canada), First Class Bachelor of Arts with Honours (Economics)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? RBC Royal Bank, Branch Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? I interned in the Innovation Division of The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Montreal

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be working at Talsom, a Montreal-based tech consulting firm, as a Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:
– President, Desautels Graduate Women’s Association
– Recipient of Desautels MBA Entrance Award
– Recipient of Alberta Cefis MBA Leadership Award

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As President of the Desautels Graduate Women’s Association, one of my goals was to promote gender parity and an inclusive culture. I, along with other students, have collaborated with the Desautels Faculty to implement a workshop on Building a Culture of Respect during which incoming students have the chance to exchange on topics that can be considered sensitive, in a safe environment. I am also proud to have organized a design thinking workshop to address gender bias; it showed students the power of co-creation to make a difference.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In everything I do, creating a positive impact on the people I work with is what drives me. When I started my previous job as a Branch Manager, employee morale, and engagement of the branch was low. I am proud to lead a complete culture shift and established a space where collaboration and inclusiveness were key values, leading to employees gaining a sense of fulfillment and a drive to succeed. This resulted in an increased employee engagement rate, the highest in my region.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Sujata Madan. She taught the microeconomics module of our core classes. I am choosing Sujata for her kindness, energy, and her dedication and support to all MBA students in and beyond her class.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The MBA International Trip. Last year, our class traveled to Japan for ten days to learn about its culture and traditions. In teams, we worked on comparing a chosen industry in Canada vs. in Japan, and it was one of the most interesting projects I worked on. It was also wonderful to witness how open-minded and curious everyone was about a culture that was new to most of us.

Why did you choose this business school? I wanted to join a school with an international reputation and where the values and the culture resonated with me. McGill has a solid network of alumni and students that are collaborative and supportive of each other. For me, it’s important to be in an environment and a community where this is the case and where we share common values. It is in these types of environments where we can truly feel ourselves, and thus strive authentically toward our aspirations.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I would give two pieces of advice. First, reach out to as many alumni and current students as possible. The McGill community is very open to connect and help prospective students. At the same time, it is the best way to ensure the school is a good fit for you and that you are making the right choice. Second, take the time to reflect. Recruiters will want to know about the pivotal moments in your life, your motivations and purpose, and what you can bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to show what makes you unique.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I had heard a few times that students were so collaborative that they helped each other prepare for the same interview and it turns out to be true; I have witnessed classmates coaching each other for the same job opportunity, and that is a testimony of the school’s culture.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I realized that I am not invincible and that it is so important to take care of our physical and mental health. If I could start the MBA again, I would include some time to exercise and take (real) breaks. With a healthy body and mind, we can achieve so much more!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It is very hard to just pick one! The MBA class is full of inspiring people. If I really have to, I would choose Aakash Gopalakrishnan. Aakash is someone that is fully invested in everything he is doing (and he is involved in so many activities!), sees the positive in every situation, and genuinely cares about people. He is also all about social impact and making a difference.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father always encouraged me to pursue higher education and to keep learning as he understood that knowledge is the most powerful tool one can have.

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

  • Creating my own social enterprise
  • Creating my own line of natural beauty products

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Someone who cares, that people can count on, and who is driven by positive change.

Hobbies? Dance (Salsa, Bachata, Brazilian Zouk), soap making, cooking, discovering new cuisines and restaurants and traveling.

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

“Ysa came to Desautels with a unique background, having been a competitive salsa dancer who worked in financial services—and she’s trilingual. During her MBA, she has been a strong advocate for inclusion, specifically engaging more women in business, through her work leading the Desautels Graduate Women’s Association. Her energy and enthusiasm for making a positive impact are infectious. She has the makings of a great leader!”

Sema Burney
MBA Career Coach
Desautels Faculty of Management


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