2020 MBAs To Watch: Rosemary Williamson, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Rosemary Williamson

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“Energetic force of nature. Authentic. Committed to enduring friendships.”

Hometown: Summit, New Jersey

Fun fact about yourself: I am a trumpet player and was a member of the Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band from 2008 – 2011. While marching in the band, I had the honor of performing in four bowl games and at the inaugural B1G Ten Championship Game.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Michigan State University, Bachelor of Arts, Residential College in the Arts and Humanities

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, Incentive Communications Manager for the Denver Business Center

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? CIBC – Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Summer Associate for the Marketing Solutions & Client Offers team

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President, Women in Management Association (WIMA)
  • VP of Ally Engagement, The Letters (LGBTQ+ & Allies)
  • Mentor for Undergraduate Women of the University of Toronto, LINKS Mentorship Program
  • Ambassador, Rotman Marketing Association (RMA)
  • Forté Foundation Fellow & Scholarship Recipient
  • Joe Weider Foundation Leadership Development Lab (LDL), 1 of 50 students selected for over 100hrs of leadership training

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of two extracurricular achievements at Rotman: being President of the Women in Management Association (WIMA) and the VP of Ally Engagement for The Letters (LGBTQ2+ & Allies).

As President of WIMA, I lead an executive team of 10 VPs and 7 First-Year Section Reps; our team serves a community of over 225 female and male members across various Masters level programs within Rotman. As VP of Ally Engagement for The Letters, I serve alongside five VPs and 1 First-Year Section Rep. Our commitment to confidentiality limits me from revealing the size of our community, however, our largest events around Pride Month and Day of Pink attract and engage a school-wide audience. I am very proud to have been elected by my peers into both of these roles and for the opportunity to do this work with some of the most dedicated, thoughtful, and enthusiastic leaders within Rotman.

What I appreciate most about being a leader of these clubs is the balance we maintain between being proactive and patient. Both executive teams recognize that to truly reach maximum inclusivity for all peoples, our systems and default settings need to be redesigned and recalibrated. WIMA and The Letters keep this in mind, as we strategically determine what kinds of events to offer students and when to host them within the academic calendar. This year, we’ve been proactive in establishing new collaborative relationships with a variety of industry and culture clubs and have worked hard to impact the conversation by broadening the narrative and leading with inclusivity and belonging.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Managing and directing the largest vehicle drive-away for Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which celebrated the launch of the all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Minivan. The Pacifica represented a multi-billion-dollar investment for FCA, and as the Chrysler Brand Marketing Manager for the Great Lakes Business Center, I led the orchestration of a “drive-away” – a large scale event where automotive dealers are educated on a new product and at the end of the event, drive off in their first piece of inventory.

While leading this initiative, I managed a cross-functional team within FCA comprised of colleagues from marketing, sales, supply chain, media relations, plant operations and our partners at Universal McCann. I collaborated with senior-level executives from the Chrysler Brand and supervised the relationship with our host, Palace Sports Entertainment. Over 230 early-production Pacifica Minivans were used in this event, creating my most difficult challenge: adhering to a tight timeframe to move, place, and catalog every car. I recruited over 60 volunteers to move vehicles between our dealership partner, Al Deeby Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and the Palace of Auburn Hills; I even enlisted the support of the local police force to ensure the safety and security of the drivers and the new vehicles.

I approached this event as if I was a director or producer of a musical theater production. Everyone knew the vision, played a critical role, was an integral part of the team, and directly impacted the success of this event. Overall, we welcomed over 600 people and received nearly 6 million online media impressions. The smash success of the drive away exceeded the expectations of my colleagues and dealers across the Midwest.

I’m proud of this achievement because I grew leading this initiative: I embraced my managerial and leadership skill sets to energize large groups and developed a better understanding of budgeting, long-term planning, and building teams. Ultimately my managers recognized this growth, and I believe I was specifically sought after for an opportunity in Denver’s regional sales office as a result.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor at Rotman is Professor Nouman Ashraf. He once told my Leading Social Innovation class, “When we walk past behavior we don’t agree with, we set a new standard for the kind of behavior we tolerate.” This wake-up call is among many that Professor Ashraf weaves into his lectures and conversations. He is continuously pushing those around him to reflect on the leadership they demonstrate while at the same time demanding improvement.

What I admire about Professor Ashraf is that he’s not judging where you are in the development process; in fact, he’s cheering you on. He routinely offers support, advice, and his time to not only to his students but everyone within the Rotman family. Since completing his class, I’ve had more internal conversations regarding leadership blind spots and have felt more confident taking action in managing them. Now when I’m facing a situation out of my depth, I know I can rely on his advice to help me work through finding a solution.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite tradition is the Annual Women in Management Conference hosted by Rotman’s Women in Management Association (WIMA). The conference amplifies voices of prestigious female and male leaders from Toronto, presents workshops spanning a range of industries and skillsets, and offers ample opportunities for attendees to network. This tradition is only four years strong, so I have been able to assist in the planning and execution of this event twice during my time as a student leader of WIMA, helping it grow into one of Rotman’s marquee events during the year.

What I love most about the conference is the opportunity for our executive team to collectively collaborate on what we believe will deliver the most impact to attendees and how to seamlessly provide guests with a great experience. Each year, we have faced unique obstacles hosting the conference and our team has found a way to overcome and exceed expectations. The commitment to the success of this event reflects the caliber of talent at Rotman and, in particular, those who serve on the executive team. This important event highlights Rotman’s commitment to amplifying the businesswomen perspective and reaching gender parity both in the classroom and in the workplace.

Why did you choose this business school? I have been visiting and considering Rotman since 2014. Initially, it was the elective curriculum, courses in Design Thinking and Behavioral Economics that piqued my interest in attending Rotman. However, the more I interacted with the school and its alumni network, it was the opportunity to live, study and work in another country, alongside people from all over the world that ultimately helped me choose Rotman over other programs where I was offered admission.

My cohort is comprised of roughly 350 students, hailing from over 40 different birth countries, speaking over 45 different first languages. Over half of the fulltime class of 2020, including myself, are international students. Nowhere else I was looking to pursue an MBA could expose me to the world in the same way.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? To future Rotman applicants, especially to those who identify as female, apply early! Research shows that earlier applicants have more opportunity for entrance awards and scholarships. No matter where you go, grad school is expensive. By applying in Round 1, you are truly giving yourself the best opportunity to be considered for prestigious entrance awards and scholarship funding. Every school is eager to accept, welcome, and recognize exceptional talent – so project confidence and introduce yourself early.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Rotman is that students pick this school specifically to pursue careers in consulting or finance. Although a large portion of my classmates is preparing to enter those two fields, in my experience, I believe Rotman admissions has worked very hard to diversify the student body regarding their post-grad professional aspirations. I entered Rotman with an unconventional academic and professional background. While I did come here to learn finance, accounting, and strategy fundamentals, I have found ample opportunities to expand my marketing expertise thanks to events organized by the Rotman Marketing Association (RMA) and Business Design Club (BDC).

In my opinion, one of Rotman’s greatest assets is the club ecosystem, as they are primarily involved in connecting MBA talent outside of consulting and finance with corporate partners in addition to providing industry-specific development opportunities. Two prime examples at Rotman include the Rotman Sales Club (RSC) and the Rotman Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Association (REVCA). The recent founding of the RSC has been instrumental in generating new resources and networks for sales-focused students. At the same time, REVCA is known for hosting a wide range of tailored skills development workshops, competitions, and industry treks aimed at exposing students to Toronto’s vibrant startup ecosystem.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Looking back on my MBA experience, I wish I had prioritized registering with Accessibility Services as soon as I realized I needed academic help. Unfortunately, learning challenges I’d experienced in the classroom as a young-adult were resurfacing. I faced significant obstacles in procuring the necessary testing because the resources I needed were not available on campus and I was terrified of the consequences of missing class and potentially falling further behind. Ultimately, I sacrificed much more by delaying support. When I did finally complete the adult learning evaluations, I was granted academic assistance on exams, assignments, note-taking, and tutoring. To be honest, by the time I obtained those designations, it was the end of my first year and all of my foundational coursework had been completed.

I vividly remember the moment when I realized how much of a toll this had taken on my health. The saying, “Put your mask on first before helping others” is key to success in business school. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals, making time for your family, exercising, blowing off steam – basically doing anything you need to do to be your best self, do it. Preserve your foundation and prioritize your health. When it comes to the classroom, if you need academic support, don’t wait for the “right time” or for your schedule to calm down – because nothing is more important than receiving the support you need to reach your full potential.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate I most admire is Negin Mahaboob. She is a first-year student within the full-time class of 2021, an elected Section Representative for the Women in Management Association (WIMA), and a new mom. Her openness about motherhood as she simultaneously conquers a rigorous curriculum is what I most admire about her.

I remember when I first met her daughter. At roughly four-months-old, she was next to Negin, quietly observing Rotman from her car seat as her mom studied; together, they were forging through accounting. Negin is an exceptionally hard worker, curious student, and an inspiration for any parent or partner wondering whether they too can earn their MBA while they raise their children.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My journey to business school has been a long and winding road, but I would never have thought to explore it had it not been for Shelley Danner.

In 2014, I completed a year-long fellowship program with Challenge Detroit – an urban revitalization initiative for the City of Detroit. Fellows work together to focus on critical socioeconomic issues facing local non-profits and work on consulting teams addressing various projects called “challenges”; all challenge projects utilized design thinking models. During my final review, Shelley Danner, the Founding Program Director of Challenge Detroit, told me I had a keen understanding of design thinking and that my business acumen had grown significantly during my time as a fellow. She then proceeded to ask me whether I had ever considered going to business school.

Her question left me speechless but piqued my curiosity. Shelley explained the basics of applying and attending business school, helped generate a list of people I should speak to about their experience, and initially introduced me to Rotman and its emerging design thinking curriculum.

Had it not been for Shelley, I may never have even pursued a graduate degree. Her simple question carried a significant amount of encouragement and confidence in my abilities as a young businesswoman. It also generated the momentum I needed to pursue, apply, accept, endure, and complete my MBA. Today, when I meet emerging talent – especially young female talent – I ask them, “Have you considered going to business school?” hoping that by paying it forward, their abilities are both recognized and emboldened.

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

  • Become the Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer of a global corporation
  • Earn my spin/cycling instructor certification and join the teaching staff at Peloton

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope my peers remember me as being motivated, resourceful, and a dependable team player, in addition to being an advocate for equality.

Hobbies? Music is my jam – so whether I’m at a Broadway show, opera performance, classical music concert, or seeing Bruce Springsteen – I’m in my element!

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

“Only a few weeks ago, a colleague in our communications area had flagged a growing concern about a trend they had observed about the number of all-male panels present in student club activity. The first person several of us thought we needed to gather input from was Rosemary. After a quick hallway conversation with her, within minutes of arriving back to my office, I had a calendar invite from her to discuss the matter in greater detail. Described by her fellow classmates (and our Graduate Business Council) as someone with a reputation for getting things done, I witnessed this first hand. Rosemary has the unique ability to meet people where they are at, she reserves judgment, actively listens, and then follows up with ideas and solutions that come from a genuine place of trying to be helpful. Rosemary took this issue back to her executive team and instead of proposing a list of recommendations, she volunteered to lead a discussion at our Clubs Council (a space where club executives come together) to include other executives in the process. She clearly articulated that this couldn’t be solved by our Women in Management Association (where she serves as President) alone, that she wanted to gather input and recommendations from her peers across organizations so that they all felt a sense of shared responsibility.

Her emphasis on collaboration has pushed WIMA to new heights, under her leadership, where she works with a team of 10 executives and 7 first-year representatives she has empowered them to create many “firsts” including several new collaborations with non-traditional partners such as the Business Technology Association, WIMA this year has collaborated with more than 5 student organizations to amplify their impact. In addition to leading WIMA however, Rosemary has also found time to mentor undergraduate female students through our LINKS program and has also served as the VP of Ally Engagement with The Letters (Rotman’s LGBTQ+ Allies Club), where she has been instrumental in widening the clubs membership. Rosemary has been an incredible advocate for diversity and inclusion at Rotman, she is someone who not only recognizes her privilege, she is often willing to lend it and is someone with a high degree of self-awareness, our community has benefitted greatly from her many contributions.”

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


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