2020 First Generation MBAs: Chris Vettese, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Chris Vettese

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Class: 2020

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Fun Fact About Yourself: I took an introductory ice climbing course in Jasper National Park, where I climbed a frozen waterfall. Its surprisingly easier to do than rock climbing!

Undergraduate School and Major: Queen’s University, Chemical Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

Before the MBA:

SUEZ Water Technologies & Solutions, Area Manager


Accenture, Senior Strategy Summer Consultant

What did your parents do for a living? My father was a carpenter, mainly working in the construction industry on home renovations. My mother was a stay-at-home mom.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? My father attended high school for a couple of years before moving into the workforce. My mother has a 2-year college diploma.

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? I would say that my grandparents are the biggest inspiration to me. They were born and raised in a small town in Italy (Cassino) that was occupied by both the Axis and Allies during World War II. After surviving tremendous hardships throughout the war, they were able to immigrate to Canada with no money and no knowledge of the English language. My grandfather began working as a manual laborer in the construction industry, digging trenches for piping along roads. He eventually saved up enough money to buy an excavator, renting out his services to construction companies, and was able to buy a house and provide a great life for his family. Their perseverance to succeed through incredible challenges has always been something that keeps me inspired and motivated.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? I don’t think there was a specific moment when I decided to attend a university. My parents always emphasized the importance and value of education. Throughout elementary and high school, I always had a strong interest in math and science and I knew that I wanted to learn more. My brother and I used to work with my father in construction over the summers when we were in school. It would’ve been easy to continue down a similar career path, but my parents encouraged me to follow my interests and helped me to get accepted into an engineering undergraduate program.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? Before entering the engineering program, I had a bit of impostor syndrome. I had performed well academically in high school, but I wasn’t sure how difficult university level courses would be. I had read statistics that the first year of the program had a certain dropout rate, and I hoped that I wouldn’t be in that number. The program was expensive to attend and I didn’t want to leave empty-handed with a pile of debt. I was much more comfortable after successfully completing the first semester and I felt like I belonged in the program moving forward.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? The financial burden of getting my undergraduate degree was definitely a challenge. I was fortunate to get an entrance scholarship that helped to ease the cost of tuition. However, I attended a university outside of my hometown so I needed government loans and income from working over the summers to help cover the remaining tuition payments and living expenses. With the scholarship, loans, and summer income, I was able to cover my costs throughout the year and didn’t have to work part time during the school year, allowing me to focus on my education.

Are there any aspects of the higher education experience that your family didn’t understand? And if so, what have been your most successful ways of sharing these experiences with them? I think it would be insincere to claim that there weren’t aspects of the higher education experience that my family did not understand. Still, I believe these aspects centered around my absence from home for the first time, a common issue families face. Regular communication solved that.

Although my parents did not have the university experience, they were very supportive during my time away from home. Whether it was sending care packages with food or driving up my hockey equipment before a season, they made it very clear that they were only a phone call away and they didn’t hesitate to make the three-hour drive if I needed something. I imagine that calling them frequently to update them on how school and life away from home was going would now be replaced with zoom chats or facetime in today’s environment. Regardless of the mode of communication, staying in touch was important.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I always knew that I wanted to go back to school at some point after working to further my personal and professional growth. If you asked me six years ago, I would’ve said that I’d be looking to get a Masters or Ph.D. in engineering. After working in a technical sales role, and then eventually leading a sales team, I grew an interest in learning more about business. As I strived to become a better manager, I looked up to the leaders in my organization and could clearly see the importance of strong leadership skills and business acumen. I began researching MBA programs and talking to alumni. It became clear that with an MBA, I could accelerate my career to become the leader that I wanted to be to make a bigger impact on the world.

How did you choose your MBA program? The MBA program choice was quite easy for me. Shortly after obtaining my undergraduate degree, I moved across the country to Western Canada to work in the oil and gas industry. Most of my family still lived in Toronto, and it was always a goal of mine to move back there one day. The Rotman School of Management is consistently ranked as the top business school in Canada, and is in my hometown of Toronto. Rotman is also strong in Finance and Consulting, which is where my career interests were prior to entering the program. The decision was a no-brainer for me.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? Like many people considering an MBA, a concern of mine was the cost of the program. Not only was the program very expensive but also required that I forego two years of salary and potential upward progression with my employer. I alleviated this concern by diligently researching the program, checking employment reports, and interfacing with alumni. While the financial burden and benefits of the program are important to consider, it’s also important to consider the intangible benefits – such as the strong network you can develop and the change in career path to something you are very passionate about. After weighing the financial and intangible factors of the program and consulting with my family, I decided that an MBA was the right decision for me.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first-generation student? I was able to cover my tuition and living costs through a combination of savings from my career prior to the MBA, student loans, and support from my spouse, Caitlin.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? My biggest piece of advice to first generation college students would be to recognize that you don’t know what you don’t know. Be curious and ask questions to anyone and everyone. There really are no dumb questions, and most people that you talk to will be more than willing to help you out. There are pieces of information that other people might take for granted that you are not aware of, and the only way to uncover that is to keep a high level of curiosity to learn as much as you can from everyone that you meet.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? After developing my network and honing my skills at Rotman, I am excited to pursue a career in management consulting. I have accepted a position with Accenture’s Strategy team based out of the Toronto office.