“The Comeback Cohort.”
That’s what the Class of 2021 has dubbed itself at the Ivey Business School. Their MBA experience was certainly turned on its head in Ontario. Most business students learn about adversity in safe classrooms. Here, they are free to experiment, reflect, and build community. Four days into classes, Ivey students found themselves living a case study, as COVID-19 sent the program into lockdown.
A ROCKY START
Many classmates went into shock. And then came the transition to online. Let’s say it started out a little rocky. After all, the program leans heavily on give-and-take case learning. On Zoom, the class initially struggled with “rebuttals and easy flowing conversations” – hallmarks of the case method – according to Ifeoma Okonkwo, a UK sustainability manager. Add to that, the class was still searching for solid footing after returning to school after an absence.
“There were mountains of work covering areas I’d never studied and the countless deadlines that seemed impossible to meet – all while taking place during the dead of winter in a brand-new city – amounted to an exhausting situation, writes Jay Deverett, a Toronto software developer.
It was ‘adapt or perish’ time for the Class of 2021 this spring. Collectively, they made a choice. They decided to tackle the challenge and embrace the opportunity. It wasn’t easy. Simant Goyal, an investment banker from India, clicks off obstacles like recruiting preparations and club elections – along with the traditional Ivey demands to “perform and relentlessly push the boundaries.” Rather than wallow in ‘what ifs,’ the class grabbed the reins – and bonded in the process.
DELIBERATELY SEEKING EACH OTHER OUT
“I saw my classmates rise to the occasion like true leaders,” Okonkwo observes. “We did our best to simulate an in-person class as much as possible. We agreed to turn off our phones, not to use the Zoom Chat, and ensure that everyone can contribute to the in-class discussion. Outside of class, I saw my classmates try to stay active and social with the new reality, by hosting virtual yoga, virtual wine nights, even virtual mental health check sessions. Besides being some of the brightest and diverse individuals I have ever met, their willingness to support each other is comforting, especially, for an international student like me.”
In the absence of face-to-face interaction, the class relied on activities to build relationships. Alanna La Rose, an architect from Edmonton, participated in socially-distant hikes and scavenger hunts. There were Zoom Talent Shows. On Thursdays, virtual Wine Nights often ended in Karaoke, says Carl Hageraats, an amateur guitarist and piano player. Even alumni jumped into the mix with “Teachable Moments” sessions where they’d share their advice from the c-suite.
“Friendships and connections have become more purposeful and directed,” La Rose explains. “Instead of relying on spontaneous chats at the campus Starbucks, we have deliberately sought out classmates for zoom coffees before class. We have also had to develop a fearlessness when reaching out to peers we did not get the chance to connect with organically. There has been a generosity established in our cohort of simply reaching out over messages to say, ‘I know we did not get the chance to hang out prior to lockdown but I have heard that you are one of the funniest people, or have the best recipe for strawberry shortcake cookies.’”
A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION
Such efforts laid the groundwork for an Ivey MBA class that may be more connected and prepared than others before them. “Now that some of the restrictions are being lifted, we can meet in smaller groups,” Okonkwo explains. “Being isolated from each other these past few months makes meeting in person so emotional; it’s like the lockdown never happened. I do believe that after overcoming adversity together, we will only become stronger as a cohort. We are Ivey class of COVID-19.”
“I am inspired every day by our response as a cohort,” adds Olumide Olawale, a PwC senior associate in Qatar. “While the pandemic impacted in-person interactions, we have rallied together as a class, maintaining close connections through initiatives like online yoga classes, virtual wine nights, and e-learning team meetings.”
Ultimately, the pandemic enriched the MBA experience for students like Santos Marquez, a sales manager from Venezuela, who listed Ivey as his top choice to pursue his MBA. “Not only because it is well-known as the #1 Canada MBA, but also because its case based learning method, its large and valuable alumni network, its strong career services and the opportunity to complete the program in one year make it the perfect bundle for me to reach my career goals sooner. I could not find another program that offered me similar benefits.”
A LOOK AT THE CLASS OF 2021
This year’s 154-member class hails from 25 countries. Their most recent employers include Procter & Gamble, Twitter, PwC, and Ernst & Young. The class includes Carl Hageraats, who last served as a senior advisor in the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Before that, he spent two years as a special advisor to the office of Canada’s Deputy Minister of National Defence.
“In this role, I supported senior decision-making across a range of files including investments in military equipment and infrastructure, innovation, research and development, and international security policy,” he tells P&Q. “What struck me the most was navigating the sheer size and scope of Canada’s largest federal department and observing the capacity and professionalism of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). This experience gave me the privilege of working alongside and learning from some of Canada’s best leaders, CAF officers, and dedicated public servants.”
At one time, Ifeoma Okonkwo would breed and sell catfish from her pond – which was stocked with 300,000 fish. Since then, she has moved onto various environmental and social governance roles, including a stint with the United Nations. “Whilst working at the UN, I delivered a program that provided training and micro-finance to 200,000 young farmers in East and West Africa. The project provides these young farmers with skills for breeding rabbits for meat (and tilapia as well_, which helped reduce the rate of malnutrition significantly in the communities.”
The class also includes its share of entrepreneurs. Olumide Olawale is among them. He co-founded Sam&Wright, what he describes as a “virtual consulting firm focused on business and financial model development for startups.” Despite his steady climb up the ranks at PwC, Olawale considers this startup to be his biggest achievement.
“In my role as a Principal Consultant, I have led the firm’s multi-disciplinary team of 12 in the development of business and financial solutions for over 40 SMEs, aiding reported debt and equity financing of $3M+.”
Looking for a man for all seasons? Check out Jay Deverett. When he wasn’t crunching code for the BMO Financial Group, he has been a film producer…with three features on Netflix to his credit. But that pales in comparison, he says, to seeing his name on a movie poster alongside Nancy Cartwright – the voice of Bart Simpson.
“I produced a film for Disney’s Freeform TV Network that her production company came on board with to produce and co-finance. I still find it surreal every time I look at the poster and see that I have the same credit as her.”
* Go to Page 2 for an in-depth interview with MBA Director Larry Menor.
* Go to Page 3 to read a dozen in-depth profiles of Class of 2021 MBA candidates.