Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Trang Nguyen, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Trang Nguyen

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“A dreamer with deep capacity to stay focused & connected to the rational processes of business.”

Hometown: Hanoi, Vietnam

Fun Fact About Yourself: I can eat a lot and really fast. You’d think talking to me while I eat would slow me down, but no.

Undergraduate School and Major: Hamilton College. I had a major in Public Policy and double minors in Math and Philosophy.

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Tipsy Art – Co-founder/ CEO

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Self-Development Lab – it is literally a high-tech, innovative, and well-researched lab that analyzes and teaches one’s interpersonal and leadership skills. The mission of Self-Development Lab really goes to show that Rotman cares about developing one as a well-rounded, wholesome, and kind human being, not just as an effective leader, and that was deeply inspiring to me. Moreover, after participating in the Self-Development Lab, students still also get a chance to participate in Leadership Development Lab in their second years to further develop their skills as future business leaders, but that only comes after the Self Development Lab during their first year.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? Creative Destruction Lab (a seed-stage program for technology startups)

I have a very strong imagination. My dreamy side always helps me dream up some new reality, and my practical, competitive nature helps me find ways to bring that imagination to life. Therefore, the fact that Rotman is the birthplace of Creative Destruction Lab was both thrilling and fitting for me. In addition to participating in activities that CDL offers its fellows – startup founders and investors/advisors/mentors – at its central hub in Toronto, I get to be paired up with one of these startups to provide strategic insights and help develop these deep-tech companies turn their research innovations into (hopefully) massive, scalable ventures.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My biggest achievement is to create a whole new type of business in Vietnam: social painting workshops. Its value proposition and storytelling were distinct and were designed in a way that resonated well specifically with the Vietnamese market. It made me genuinely happy to see quite a number of competitors sprouting up and to see that they were using my word-for-word storytelling to sell their services. That means I did something right, doesn’t it?

At this moment, Tipsy Art, the company that I co-founded, is still doing well and fulfilling its mission of creating an art space for people to not only do some soul searching for themselves, but also to connect with one another on a deep, meaningful, artistic level.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? As someone with a non-business background, I have always relied on my own analysis, intuition, creativity, and endless number of self-study nights to make business decisions. My business gained some initial success – what began as a $1,000 investment turned into a company with six-figure revenue after just 15 months. Yet, as it grew, I also had to manage the basic challenges and realities of business. For instance, recognizing we – my co-founder and I – were stretched too thin, we had to hire new people. However, no matter what creative ways I came up with to interview applicants, I still somehow lacked the acumen to fully understand the applicants for who they truly are. What I quickly realized was that having good systems is important, but ultimately a company is a reflection of its leaders. My spontaneity, and oftentimes messiness, in my daily life were translated into a disorganized company. My terrible time management skills and inability to prioritize were translated into unfinished projects, although most of them started out strong with great results.

I had always been self-aware enough to recognize these problems in myself and to create a scaffolding that allowed me to do well despite them, but as the leader of a company, this was not enough. I want to have strong, formal business foundation (my background in Public Policy, Math, and Philosophy equipped me with critical thinking skills and strong logical sense, but it could not tell me exactly why EBITDA is so important). I want to know what it is like to work in a well-organized, innovative, fast-paced, data-driven environment and how I can apply these ideas to my own future company. With the move from Vietnam to east coast Canada with my spouse, I figured that earning an MBA was a necessary next step for my career development.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I did not apply to any other MBA program. However, I was looking at Schulich (York University), Ivey (Western University), and Smith (Queen’s University).

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be?” I said my three wishes, which were three things that I had been having on my mind for some time. The third wish that I shared was “Getting into Rotman!”. I later told my husband and he said, “That sounded desperate!!” Lucky the admission office did not seem to think so!

How did you determine your fit at various schools? First, I was looking for a 2-year MBA program since as a newcomer to Canada, I believe that a summer internship would be valuable in terms of earning my credibility as a capable, competent worker. Second, I wanted to be in Toronto, where all exciting things happen. I’m a strong believer in serendipities and designing your environment to create your own luck. I think Toronto – as busy, as vibrant and as innovative as it is – is a perfect place for collecting interesting encounters and incubating new ideas. Third, I was also looking at ranking and the strength of alumni network in Toronto, and Rotman was an obvious choice. Finally, I was looking for a school with the “spike factor” – a meaning, a mission, or something at its core that makes it fundamentally different from all other schools, and I found that “spike factor” in Rotman through their 2 most differentiating projects: Creative Destruction Lab (that satisfies my entrepreneurial drive) and Self – Development Lab/ Leadership Development Lab (that satisfies my longing for constantly growing and reinventing myself).

Evidently, Rotman was also looking for students with their own “spike factor” and it turns out that we are a perfect match. I ended up applying only to Rotman (and thankfully I got admitted!).

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? My most recent defining moment was when I realized that, “it’s not all about me” – especially with the recent and ongoing social movements. They humbled me and made me realize how much I did not know, how much I needed to learn, and how much responsibility I have within me to make a real difference – if only I put my mind to it. Now more than ever before, I am determined to make these 2 years of MBA as transformational as possible, not just for me but also for my peers.

What is the most important attribute that you are seeking in an MBA employer and why is that so important? The most important attribute that I’m seeking in an MBA employer is a company with a powerful mission – at the end of the day, what does it try to do? What difference does it make? How is the world a better place now that this company is here? A company’s mission can then define its culture to its employees, shape its attitude towards its customers or whomever it serves, make meaningful difference in the community, and inspire/ lead younger generations to carry on its legacy.


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