2022 MBA To Watch: Ronke Akinsola, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Ronke Akinsola

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“I am ambitious, adaptable, fun-loving, and somewhat adventurous, just to mention a few!”

Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria

Fun fact about yourself: I explored writing (songs and poems), acting, event hosting, baking, and sports in my high school and undergrad years. In recent years, I have mainly focused on writing and exploring new places through travel or outdoor activities, and I remain open to always trying new things and discovering hidden skills, strengths, or talents.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Science, Economics – University of Lagos, Nigeria

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Chapel Hill Denham, Head Financial Services Research

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? CIBC Capital Markets, Toronto, Ontario

Where will you be working after graduation? CIBC Capital Markets

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Rotman Entrance Award
  • Forte Fellowship
  • Recipient, Heather. L. Main Women in Capital Markets Scholarship
  • Recipient, CIBC Women in Financial Services Scholarship
  • Co-President, Rotman African & Caribbean Business Club
  • Vice President (Special Events), Rotman Asset Management Association
  • Vice President (Events), LINKS Mentorship Program
  • Director (Diversity and Inclusion), Rotman Finance Association
  • Rotman Graduate Ambassador

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Winning two major scholarships for Women in Finance and being told I was the first to win both was my proudest moment. The Rotman MBA program has impressive female students with strong backgrounds in Finance who are similarly ambitious and had been involved in or led initiatives for Women. More so, I was proud of the technical and extracurricular skills or experiences I had built prior to the MBA, which were reflected in my applications and articulated in one-on-one sessions. Although the timing aligned and played a key role in my selection as a recipient for both awards, I felt honored that my efforts were seen and eventually rewarded. I am grateful for the time I invested in building myself in different aspects of what has made my career story what it is today. I am extremely pleased to have this seamless opportunity to pay it forward and support other students looking to win these awards. I was even prouder that the few students I directly mentored also won at least one of the awards. Lastly, I am honored to be a role model for black students who are seeking similar recognitions and awards during the MBA program.

I am also extremely proud that I was able to initiate a women-focused event for the Rotman Asset Management Association, the Women in Investment Management Seminar, which was organized in collaboration with Women in Capital Markets. The event was panel-based, where experienced women in the Canadian asset/wealth management industry shared insights from their experiences with female members of the club across Rotman graduate programs. It is an initiative aimed at driving engagement with our female members and providing a safe platform to network and learn. With increased interest and access, I look to see a future with more female leaders in the asset management industry.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I recall sharing the success of my first research report in the Class of 2022 Poets and Quants publication. Between then and now, the short time I spent working on a Sustainable Finance Commitment revision is now the most rewarding experience in my professional career so far. Working on this review, I leveraged my research and analytical skills, but the wealth of knowledge I gained in the process has shaped my interests and values today. This project also gave me exposure to senior management and how decisions relating to strategy and market positioning evolve and are finalized. I was extremely proud to know that the inputs that went into the analysis for the bank were useful in making the decision to double their Sustainable Finance target to $300billion from $150billion. More importantly is the impact this decision will have on the transition to a lower carbon economy across different regions and sectors and the opportunity to have contributed to this was truly worthwhile.

Why did you choose this business school? I also recall highlighting that diversity, one of Rotman’s core values, resonated well with me and was a factor that influenced my preference for Rotman. The Rotman MBA program has a diverse range of international students and alumni, and I wanted an experience where I would have the opportunity to learn from these diverse backgrounds and experiences, whether through academic, club, career, or social engagements. Also, given my background and experience was in Nigeria, I wanted a program that saw the value in having a female African with African experience. I believe broad perspectives enrich the quality of discussions and decisions. Diversity is also reflected in Rotman’s course offerings, and I valued that flexibility to focus on a specific area, particularly within Finance.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? This is a difficult question for me as I honestly cannot choose one professor. However, I appreciate the quality of Rotman’s Finance Faculty given the exposure I had to some of the finance professors through my choice of electives. Although my pre-MBA experience was in Finance, I learned from the cases, projects, and practical experiences of speakers we had. I believe these have made me a better finance professional and look forward to applying this knowledge in my post-MBA career.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The Future Black Business Leaders’ Conference is an awesome initiative from the Recruitment and Admissions office at Rotman. The annual conference is held in February, which coincides with Black History Month and speaks to Rotman’s core value of diversity by focusing on racial diversity through this event. The conference exposes incoming students to how the Rotman MBA program provides a diverse and an inclusive environment for black students through recruitment and admissions, financing, course offerings, experiential learning, student life, and career events. Also, community building through club activities facilitated by the Rotman African & Caribbean Business Club and Students Against Anti-Black Racism supported these efforts. Participants can also learn from the successes of black business leaders and Rotman Alumni as well as learn about the diversity and inclusion initiatives of leading Canadian employers. The conference is very informative and gives students the opportunity to see what the Rotman program offers while also hearing from the experiences of those who have launched professional or entrepreneurial careers in Canada post-MBA.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have taken more strategy or non-finance courses and less finance courses. Going into the MBA, I also wanted to build my knowledge in strategy and consulting, but my course selection largely reflected an interest in deepening my understanding of finance. I only realized this and partly corrected for it in my final term. I believe the learnings from strategy courses would also be relevant in a management role. This would have broadened my knowledge base and given me more exposure to and interaction with other students in my cohort who are either from the non-finance backgrounds or targeting non-finance careers after the MBA.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One thing that was clearly communicated by Rotman students and alumni was that there would be more free time in the second year of the program due to less academic intensity compared to the first year. However, I found this to be different in my case as extracurricular responsibilities made up for less academic pressure. Also, my course load in the fall term was quite heavy so my time was fully allocated to course work, club events, and other responsibilities. While my course load was relatively reduced in the second winter/spring term so I could have more free time, I had other activities that took up some of that time. However, this was a personal decision to get involved in other things that will improve my overall MBA experience. This may have been peculiar to me mainly due to the executive positions I held in 4 clubs. For some other students, part-time jobs and full-time recruitment (among other things) took up their free time. So, I would say that having more free time in the second year is relative. Although you may have less pressure from academics, the extent of involvement in other activities will largely determine how much free time you eventually get to keep to yourself.

What surprised you the most about business school? It’s interesting that I am going to say it’s the depth of academic intensity at Rotman. Although I was aware about how intense the Rotman MBA program is, I probably did not adequately prepare for the level of intensity that I experienced. It was also different for me as I had worked for several years before the MBA and completed the intense CFA exams more than 2 years prior to commencing the MBA program. I wanted my experience to be a balance of academics, networking, and engaging in club or career-related activities that I believed would be beneficial to improving my overall knowledge in a more advanced market relative to my pre-MBA experience. However, I found myself tilting more towards meeting academic deliverables. Nonetheless, I am pleased with the level of involvement I was still able to achieve despite the intensity of course work at Rotman.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I believe highlighting a well-balanced story greatly improved the quality of my application and set me up as candidate that would add value to the Rotman MBA program. Beyond my academic, technical, and professional strengths and experiences, I also shared my story on mentorship, starting a women-focused financial education initiative and other volunteer engagements. I believe the authenticity in sharing the underlying driving forces and passion I had in finance, diversity, and women’s empowerment further enhanced my story. As expected, my MBA experience has been about giving back and paying it forward through my extracurricular commitments in similar areas.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Samuel Babarinde. My initial experience working with Samuel was when we partnered for the National Bank Stock Pitch Competition in the first few weeks of the MBA program. Samuel was a resourceful and reliable partner and his A game largely contributed to us getting to the finals. Although we were in different sections and didn’t take classes together in the first year, our shared nationality, interests, and club affiliations kept us in similar circles. Samuel is not only diligent and tenacious, but he is also quite sociable and a good company to have. His versatility and ability to achieve excellence with different things is what I admire most about him. Samuel has this willingness to learn that keeps him involved and engaged in discussions and activities in both academic and extracurricular settings, but the perspectives he brought to these interactions also made a valuable classmate and teammate.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? It is difficult for me to choose a particular person who influenced my decision to enroll in a business school, but I believe specific experiences I had drove down that decision. I always wanted to have a Master’s degree but after my undergrad, my first exposure to books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, The Richest Man in Babylon, and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People raised my interest in learning more about business and finance from a broad perspective. In my first job, I regularly read the Harvard Business Review and the knowledge from HBR articles further solidified my interest in going beyond building finance and investment skills, but also learning more about the leadership, strategy, and entrepreneurial skills required to be a valued employee and run a successful business or company. At that point, I knew it would have to be an MBA and no other specialization-based master’s program will cut it for me.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Launching a fund and getting involved in public policy

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? One of the things I strongly believe the pandemic has brought to light is that flexible work arrangement is possible and does not inhibit productivity. Also, the resources that I will require in my chosen career should be adaptable to a changing business environment. This implies that the successful application of my skills should not be limited to a particular physical or economic environment. Therefore, I see a career that cannot be replaced and will remain relevant, mainly due to internalized and transferable technical knowledge or experience and soft skills, irrespective of conditions in the external environment.

What made Ronke such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Ronke has proved to be a role model and leader by example during her time as a Rotman student. Joining the program in the summer of 2020 was a particularly challenging time for all our incoming students, but this was compounded further for our international community. Ronke began her MBA experience at home in Nigeria as she waited for a delayed study permit. She was able to over come the challenges of working remotely in a different time zone and often-unreliable internet connections. Before finally making the journey to Canada in December 2020, Ronke had already demonstrated her great resilience and commitment to secure two $25,000 scholarships. Despite the six-hour time difference and technical issues, she collaborated with her career coach in Toronto to prepare for these two demanding but ultimately successful interviews.

In addition to her own achievements, Ronke has shown dedication in her engagement with our current and prospective students. As one of program Ambassadors, she speaks to candidates in helping them understand the program structure, extracurricular activities and shares her own experiences. Furthermore, Ronke participated in numerous events for MBA candidates including the Open House, admissions webinars for African Students and our very successful Future Black Business Leaders Conference. For the conference, Ronke was a valued partner, acting as a student advisor to ensure the agenda and guest speakers aligned with the goals of our black student community.

On the careers front, Ronke contributed to an incredibly successful year for our students seeking careers in Finance. Having secured a full-time job with CIBC Capital Markets she took on a number of activities to help further career opportunities for our female students in finance, particularly as the head of Diversity and Inclusion for the Rotman Finance Association and Co-President of the Rotman African and Caribbean Business Club. One of those activities was a diversity and inclusion event, organized primarily for international students, connected those students with Rotman Alumni and industry professionals shared their stories and provided insights on building a career in the Canadian business and corporate environment. She also collaborated with Forte Foundation and the Rotman Women in Management Association (WIMA) to host the first International Women’s Day event themed “Growing in Your Mentorship Relationship”.

Ronke’s willingness to champion the Rotman MBA and act as an inspiration to our incoming African students has had a significant impact. As she progresses into the next stage of her career I have no doubt she will remain a valued and committed partner to our community.”

Chris Jones
Assistant Director
Rotman Full Time MBA Program


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