2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Andrea Poile, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Andrea Poile

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“I believe in leaving places and people better than I found them.”

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve been a meditator for over a decade. I sat a month-long silent meditation retreat shortly before starting business school.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

McGill University, BA – English Literature, Psychology

Harvard Graduate School of Education, EdM – Educational Neuroscience, Instructional Design & Research

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Toronto Program Director, Inward Bound Mindfulness Education

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Rotman’s Business Design Initiative, where I partnered with a Big Five Bank’s digital accessibility team on an inclusive design engagement.

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  1. Recipient of University of Toronto Student Leadership Award 2021: The University of Toronto Student Leadership Awards (UTSLA) recognize outstanding students for outstanding leadership; sustained and/or high-impact volunteer contributions; and exemplary volunteer service to the University of Toronto.
  2. MBA Student Representative, Advisory Committee for the Dean of the Rotman School of Management: 1 of 2 student representatives (one undergraduate, one graduate) nominated by Rotman community and appointed by University Provost Cheryl Regehr to oversee the selection process for Rotman’s next Dean.
  3. Co-Founder, Students Against anti-Black Racism (SABR): Leader of white allyship and accountability group; formalized SABR as an official club to ensure sustainable funding; co-author of SABR’s anti-racism strategic goals which gained widespread community support, including from Interim Dean Kenneth Corts.
  4. VP Academics, Rotman Graduate Business Council 2020-21: Led a comprehensive year-long research study of Rotman’s school culture. I developed coaching program and materials to support Rotman Scholars (peer tutors) in adapting pedagogy to virtual learning. I also served as an Instructional Design liason to support faculty in fostering inclusive classrooms.
  5. Student Representative, Health and Wellness Task Force, 2019-21: Advocate for student mental wellness; pushed for more community-building and peer mentorship in Rotman clubs; served as peer mentor and helped connect students with mental health resources and referrals. Developed mental health first aid kit in 2020, co-founded Rotman Peer Mentorship program in 2021.
  6. VP Mental Wellness, Rotman Active Association, 2019-20: Facilitated a weekly mindfulness and peer-led support group with a focus on mental wellness and relationship-building. Regular attendance of 15-20 students. Only FT-MBA ‘21 to hold a VP position on a club executive.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I ran for student government and co-founded our school’s antiracism collective because I badly wanted to shape the conditions for a more resilient, collaborative, and equitable culture at Rotman. Much of traditional MBA pedagogy perpetuates a hyper-individualistic culture that promotes a narrow-minded focus on personal achievement at the expense of authentic learning, creative risk-taking, and inclusive community-building. This is particularly true during the MBA’s intense first year. Too often our learning environment encourages behaviours at odds with the qualities necessary for wise, transformative leadership.

To be clear, this phenomenon is in no way unique to Rotman. I believe every business school is in the midst of a pedagogical, even existential, crisis — what is the future of an MBA education? If our vision is to empower future leaders to take on our world’s challenges with courage, creativity, and compassion, then how well are we “walking our talk?” And how might we redesign our culture of teaching and learning to better align with those goals? To address these questions, my student council peers and I led a research study into the implications of Rotman’s grade disclosure policies on our school culture. I’m grateful our school empowers us to be agents of change. We don’t wait around for someone else to fix things or ask challenging questions. We dive in.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At Inward Bound Mindfulness Education, we used a radical sliding scale for teen retreat fees, almost like a pay-what-you-can model linked to annual family income. Under this model, we kept our promise that no teen who wanted to come on retreat would be turned away for lack of funds.

As leader of the Toronto program, it took some creative fundraising and lots of hard work to pull this off, but it was always worth it. The cost of most mindfulness-based mental health programming makes them inaccessible to youth and families who could use the support most. I will always be proud of taking a more challenging strategic path, in order to make our programming accessible and inclusive to young people of all identities and backgrounds.

Why did you choose this business school? If there’s one thing Rotman does really well (and the University of Toronto more broadly) it’s research. The number of research initiatives is incredible — Gender and the Economy (GATE), the Creative Destruction Lab, and Rotman’s Business Design Initiative come to mind.

I wanted to be surrounded by the innovative thinkers and to be immersed in the most cutting-edge research. I wanted to be in a community that didn’t shy away from those messy, interdisciplinary questions that will help us reimagine the future of business and society. I’m a huge nerd, and after six years in the workforce grind I craved being in the classroom again. Two whole years to be a kid in an intellectual candy store? How lucky could I get?! Even when parts of the MBA got stressful, I tried to retain that sense of joy and gratitude.

At Rotman, there’s a compelling balance between academic rigor, entrepreneurial hustle, and creative play that aligns well with my own personality and values. We love challenging ideas and systems thinking here. Part of this comes from being surrounded by diverse faculty who are deeply passionate about what they do and have the autonomy to do their best work. I’m grateful to be part of a community that values innovation at every level – that understands the creative process can be unpredictable but is always worth the investment.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? This is extremely tough, because I admire and care about so many of our faculty. But I’d like to give special recognition to Professor Will Mitchell. Professor Mitchell is the Anthony S. Fell Chair in New Technologies and Commercialization, a Professor of Strategic Management, and is the co-Academic Director for the Full-Time MBA and the new Executive MBA in Healthcare and Life Sciences. (I get tired just reading that — a true powerhouse!)

In addition to being a brilliant scholar, Will is a gifted educator. I was fortunate enough to take his International Strategy class, where I was impressed with his thoughtful and engaging pedagogy. Will is at the forefront of emerging healthcare technologies, and as the pandemic took hold he shared his insider expertise about everything from rapid-testing to vaccine development. You know when someone is so smart, you’d hear them talk about pretty much anything in the hopes you soak up an iota of their genius? That’s Will.

Under his leadership, he’s steered our MBA cohort through the unchartered waters of remote learning. He’s not only a strategic visionary, he is deeply compassionate. He fiercely advocates for students’ learning and well-being at every step. He is the brains and more importantly, the heart of our program.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That we’re cold, unfeeling finance types. Yes, Rotman has an excellent finance program, but there’s nothing cold about us. (Aside from our Canadian winters, maybe.). I am continually blown away by my peers’ kindness and generosity.

As an example, let me tell the story of the worst presentation I gave at Rotman, and maybe my whole life. I was in my first year marketing course, taught by Avi Goldfarb — a brilliant professor, a CDL co-founder, and another favourite of mine. Part of our final project involved a 4 minute pitch, and Avi is notoriously strict about timing. Once his buzzer went off, our pitch was done. It wasn’t to be harsh; pitching concisely is a vital skill. Public speaking generally doesn’t phase me, so I offered to lead the pitch on my team’s behalf.

To say I bombed would be an understatement. It was one of those days — exams and recruitment were happening, I had barely slept, the PowerPoint froze twice — everything that could go wrong did. I still had 3 of the 4 P’s to go when time ran out. Tanking your own mark is bad enough; I’d let my teammates down. I wanted to crawl into a hole.

But amazingly, my classmates came to my rescue. After each pitch, there were a few minutes allocated for Q&A. Totally unprompted, my peers asked about content I hadn’t been able to cover  — “I’m curious about your pricing strategy. “Tell me more about your distribution channels. We wound up doing fine in the end, but even so, the sense of support and belonging was better than any A+. Ultimately, that story became part of our section identity. Yes, we know how to work hard, yes, we’re ambitious — but not at the expense of leaving anyone behind. It re-energized my sense of purpose at a time when cynicism was threatening to creep in. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

What surprised you the most about business school? I came into business school a little bit wary, a little defensive. In the circles I ran in, business school was truly not a thing. There were plenty of degrees in my network of educators and activists, but barely any MBAs. There were a lot of “jokes” about me going to the dark side — which fortunately hasn’t been my experience at all.

There are more people than I ever imagined who have sincere desires to create a more resilient and sustainable world. That doesn’t mean spending years in the Peace Corps, it can be getting your biotech startup off the ground with the CDL or doing a research practicum at GATE. It seems all of us have a deeper passion or problem keeping us up at night — those are the kinds of people I get along with best, and our school is full of them.

At Rotman we’re having those conversations about stakeholder vs shareholder capitalism, the ethical implications of AI, and holding antiracism town halls. Whatever our backgrounds, we came to business school to get more strategic tools for our problem-solving toolboxes, so we can better translate our values into impact. I worried business school would make me more cynical. If anything, I’m more optimistic about the potential to reimagine business and society for the better.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I was authentic. I was up front with admissions about who I was, my values, and what my unique background in education could bring to the table. It took me a long time to come around to the idea of business school. If I went back, I wanted to know Rotman picked me for me, that it was a genuinely good fit on both sides. It also helped that this wasn’t my first grad school rodeo. I’ll be 31 when I’m done my MBA, versus 24 when I graduated from Harvard. That maturity and experience meant I was more self-aware of my strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.

I didn’t go nuts trying to frame my accomplishments in business-speak or, worse, jargon. I wanted to sound polished, but not if it meant sanding away the most compelling parts of myself. Sometimes “non-traditional candidates” suffer from impostor syndrome, as if our accomplishments won’t be taken seriously if they don’t translate neatly into quantifiable terms. It’s not true! Your experiences are valid and valuable. Diversity of thought makes for a vibrant, dynamic community.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Laura Chavira Razo, for her compassion, integrity, and her ruthless commitment to being of service. My favourite MBA people are the ones who aren’t just here to get good job or bigger pay check, but to be of service. As a doctor and public health expert, Laura values people just as much, if not more, than profits. She has the smarts, grit, and creativity to design systems — in healthcare and beyond — that create shared value for all stakeholders. As a prominent accessibility and inclusion advocate at Rotman, Laura puts her values into action by making sure our learning environment is accessible and safe for everyone. When I think of the future of the MBA, I think of people like Laura. I have no doubt her future is a bright one.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? At the time it felt surreal. I was moving apartments right before lockdown hit, so that period is a bit of a blur. We really thought we’d be back to normal in a few months, September at the latest. When we let go of the attachment or expectation that we’d be back by a certain time, we didn’t have to navigate that mismatch in expectation, that pervasive dissatisfaction and frustration that comes from wishing things could be other than they are. Once I let go of that tension and accepted we’d be virtual, I was able to assess our response more objectively.

On the whole, I’ve been very impressed by Rotman’s ability to pivot quickly amidst such uncertainty. Our faculty and administration put in countless hours to redesign their courses, shore up their virtual instruction skills, and make sure our learning experience stayed world-class. Of course there were hiccups, but we navigated those bumps well.

Who/what most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I came back to business school because I want to be of service. After spending my 20s in the education, nonprofit, and contemplative/spiritual spheres, I got a crash course in all the ways idealistic entrepreneurs will drive their projects into the ground when they lack the managerial acumen to run an organization. I saw too many well-intentioned folks (myself included) cause too much undue suffering for themselves and others. Good intentions don’t cut it when people’s livelihoods are at stake.

My hope is that the MBA will help me fill those crucial knowledge gaps so I can be a truly effective “tri-sector leader” capable of solving our world’s messiest problems — those gnarly, systemic issues that blur the public, private, and social divides. COVID-19 stress-tested our current iteration of capitalism, and the cracks showed big time. Stereotyping each other as “corporate shills” or “pie-in-the-sky idealists” is not only unproductive, it’s simply not true. And it’s not going to help us co-create the systems and solutions we’ll need to survive the unfolding climate crisis.

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

  1. Start my own school — or be in a prominent leadership role at a post-secondary
  2. Go into politics. My dream is to help shape education policy that will re-professionalize the teaching career pathway to ensure educators get the autonomy, respect, and compensation they deserve.

What made Andie such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Compassion, empathy, and a willingness to always see the best in others, the Rotman Community has benefited enormously from Andie’s many contributions – in fact, every MBA program in the world would benefit from having an “Andie P” in their class. With a strong understanding of self and a unique background as a mindfulness practitioner who studied educational neuroscience and worked with at-risk youth to develop wellness strategies, Andie has generously shared this expertise with her classmates. She has supported several unique initiatives to help move us more towards a culture that places health wellness at the centre of our student experience.

Andie’s concerns for her classmates’ well-being became apparent when she flagged concerns to senior leaders about the impacts of stress, grading and the overall student experience during this global  COVID-19 pandemic. As the VP Academics for our Graduate Business Council, she quickly mobilized a group of her peers to get behind a study that would look more critically at the impact of course work and grades in a virtual learning environment. This working group designed and implemented various wellness initiatives and she personally led a series of evening meditation sessions and launched “Real Talk Fridays” with one of her classmates (where they fostered a space of trust and vulnerability and encouraged open and safe discourse on topics such as stress, anxiety, and student wellness).

Recently Andie also helped formalize a new peer mentorship program where students discuss their academics, careers and health & wellness concerns in an integrated format with peers. She has devoted her time to issues around Equity, Diversity & Inclusion via her support for Students Against Anti-Black Racism and often serves as an example of someone who routinely lends her privilege and speaks to other nonblack identifying students about their important role to support equity deserving communities (without taking up vital space). Andie inspires trust, cultivates collaboration and is always willing to do the invisible work that often impacts real systemic change. She is an incredible leader and will be missed dearly by all of us, fortunately her work at Rotman will continue to benefit students long after she graduates.”

Neel Joshi
Director, Student Life & International Experience



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