“What got you here won’t take you there.”
That’s the cruel lesson every entrepreneur eventually absorbs. A great idea, coupled with unrelenting service, can take a venture far – and fast. Eventually, entrepreneurs must scale their business. That means installing the right systems to foster consistency; hiring the right people who can solidify the culture; and resisting the temptation to broaden the mission too quickly.
On the surface, Trang Nguyen’s Tipsy Art was a startup smash hit. In her studios, Vietnamese professionals would relax together in social paining workshop. In 15 months, she’d turned a $1,000 investment into a six figure revenue stream. As Tipsy Art grew, Nguyen and her co-founder became stretched thin. At the same time, these pressures increasingly exposed Nguyen’s personal flaws.
LEARNING FOR THE ‘NEXT TIME’
“Ultimately, a company is a reflection of its leaders,” she writes. “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.”
As an undergrad, Nguyen’ sharpened her critical thinking skills by studying public policy, math, and philosophy. However her coursework didn’t prepare her how to calculate her earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. In response, Nguyen joined the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management last fall to prepare for her next run as an entrepreneur.
“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.”
“THE SPIKE FACTOR”
At Rotman, the admissions essay focuses on a candidate’s “spike factor” – a passion that drives their career path. However, Nguyen was also seeking a “spike factor” in a business school – a meaning, a mission, or something at its core that makes it fundamentally different from all other schools.” And Nguyen – like her 274 classmates – found this “spike” at Rotman. For her, the differentiator was the Self-Development Lab – a coaching-centered, feedback-driven curriculum that helps students develop self-awareness, soft skills, and a problem-solving mindset.
“It is literally a high-tech, innovative, and well-researched lab that analyzes and teaches one’s interpersonal and leadership skills,” Nguyen writes. “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.”
That’s not the only Rotman Lab that ‘spiked’ the Class of 2022’s interest. Zolzaya Erdenebileg, who cut her teeth at Nielsen, lauds the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a seed stage program created by Rotman that supports “massively scalable” ventures in science and technology. In a nutshell, CDL connects early stage companies with technical experts, investors, and students to help them perfect their business model and build out their operation.
“The CDL’s goal of finding market innovations to solve societal problems resonates deeply with me and my own personal mission,” Erdenebileg writes. “Additionally, as someone that prefers to learn by doing, the CDL is going to be an invaluable part of my MBA education, and I believe it will be a key part of my future trajectory in tech and entrepreneurship.”
BRINGING HISTORY TO LIFE
In contrast, Carlos Cardenas Baldwin considers Rotman’s spike to be the diversity of his classmates. “More than half consists of international students coming from countries all over the world. For me, this is crucial in today’s business world, as we are more connected that ever, regardless of country, culture, and religion.”
Diversity has been a cornerstone of Cardenas Baldwin’s life. A Peruvian by birth, he has already lived in 15 locations. “I am passionate about living and experiencing new places and cultures. Throughout my life, I have lived in Peru (Talara, Lima), Norway (Stavanger), Scotland (Aberdeen), USA (Austin, Durham, Bakersfield, Minot, Houston, New York City) and Italy (Florence). I cannot wait to add Toronto to my list. On a side note, I have visited 5 of the 7 wonders of the world: Chichen Itza, Rome Coliseum, Machu Pichu, Taj Mahal and Cristo Redentor. I have plans on knocking out the remaining two in the next five years.”
While Cardenas Baldwin relishes diversity, his career is a testament to versatility. After all, he has excelled in leadership roles in both the energy and film industries…at the same time. By day, he worked as an operations, planning, and performance manager at Pluspetrol, the largest oil and gas company in Latin America. While Cardenas Baldwin holds a master’s degree in engineering management from Duke, he fed his poet side by founding a movie production and distribution company. The company, Syn Entertainment, has already notched major cinematic success with Cardenas Baldwin at the helm as the executive producer.
“I came across an up-and-coming film director in Peru who had the idea of depicting a profoundly historical event that marked Peru’s 1990 political scene: the corruption scandal that let to former President Alberto Fujimori’s resignation. I became passionate about the opportunity to educate both the younger and older generations of my country regarding political corruption and its roots in the 1990s. This project was complicated to say the least, but the movie “Caiga quien Caiga” was applauded nationwide, even the current President of Peru, commended our effort in a CNN report and encouraged all Peruvians to see it. This movie success far exceeded my expectations both professionally and personally. What an incredible accomplishment to participate in a project that was applauded by an entire nation and impacted over 390,000 people who watched it in the movie theaters!”
STEPPING UP TO LEAD
Cardenas Baldwin wasn’t the only member of the Class of 2022 living a double life. Fabiola Diaz Mier, for one, helped re-launch a Danone Dairy brand as a brand manager. Outside work, she was a flamenco dancer – a discipline she attributes to her poise and ability to think on her feet. Sarah Rickaby is another dancer. She trained with both Canada’s National Ballet School and Montreal’s Cirque du Soliel at L’École Nationale de Cirque. However, Rickaby also maintained a backup plan. The Mississauga native studied civil and environmental engineering at the University of Western Ontario – where she also captained the school’s award-winning “Heat” dance team. This combination of technical skill and leadership prowess enabled Rickaby to be selected for Dillon Consulting’s President’s Crew Program.
“The Crew is a prestigious career development program for five new graduates in engineering, planning, environmental science, and management consulting,” Rickaby writes. “I had the opportunity to work in various Canadian offices on diverse projects within the civil engineering industry. As a Crew member, I was most proud of co-founding the Indigenous Community Initiative (ICI); a group society project intended to educate staff about the truth and reconciliation process and to improve business relationships will our Indigenous clients. This initiative helped raise awareness across our organization.”
Takura Chinodya jokes that he was able to complete his CFA “whilst working the notorious Investment Banking M&A hours at Goldman Sachs.” At the same time, Michaela Eckel took on a “stretch assignment” at Johnson & Johnson. Her assignment: produce an internal platform to support Johnson’s WiSTEM2D (Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design) initiative.
“I worked alongside a handful of other volunteers to design, develop, launch, and promote a tool that allows employees to map out their career and personal goals, supporting success in many aspects of their lives. I developed requirements and wrote user stories for the site and led User Acceptance Testing before launch…Overall, the launch has been a success, having close to 3,000 visitors to the site from more than 50 countries around the world!”
A CLASS PROFILE
Overall, the 275-member Class of 2022 arrived in the Queen City with a 670 GMAT, with 80% of scores ranging from 580-730. On average, the class’ undergraduate GPA was 3.5. There are currently 38 class members pursuing dual graduate degrees, with 30 being JD-MBAs. Another 22 students are Forte Fellows.
The class is unquestionably diverse. Women make up 44% of the Class of 2022. Another 51% are international students, a number that rises to 72% when you factor in students who were born outside Canada. Looking at it another way, there are 38 passports represented in the class, which speaks 32 different languages. The class ranges in age from 22-36, with work experience topping out at 13 years.
Academically, the largest segments of the class majored in Business (33%) and Engineering (29%) as undergraduates. The remainder of the class includes students who studied Economics, Social Sciences, Life and Physical Sciences, Math and Computer Sciences, Humanities, and Law. In terms of industry backgrounds, Financial Services professionals make up 33% of the class – nearly three times the number of the next largest segment (Technology and Consulting at 12% and 11% respectively). The remainder of the class is represented by students who worked in Consumer Products, Education, Energy, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Government, Real Estate, Logistics, Hospitality, and Retail.
LOVING THE LABS
According to Rotman’s most recent employment report, 38.6% of 2019 Class entered Finance after graduation, far ahead of the 21.7% of graduates who chose Consulting. Indeed, Rotman is regarded as one of North America’s top Finance programs. That’s hardly surprising considering Toronto’s reputation for being a banking hub. However, it would be a myth to say Finance is Rotman’s only attraction explains Pablo Naze, a 2020 grad.
“Rotman offers many perspectives to its students, either by leading start-up strategy thinking with the Creative Destruction Lab, leveraging behavioral economics, or shedding light in gender inequality. As a non-finance professional, I also benefited from the school’s strong financial curriculum. It was a glimpse of the financial world, making it easier for me to understand and dialogue with bankers, controllers, and accountants, who I will always find going forward in my career.”
Beyond Finance, Rotman is best-known for its ground-breaking labs, which are designed to help MBAs take deep dives that expose them to their limits before coaching them to make the most of their potential. “I love [getting] involved in these programs to immerse myself in the start- up ecosystem, engage in real-world business challenges, learn from industry pioneers, develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and strengthen my interpersonal and leadership skills,” notes Zihan Li, who was previously an academic advisor at New York University.
Next Page: 12 in-depth profiles of Rotman first-year MBAs