Meet Toronto Rotman’s MBA Class Of 2023

In medicine, you’ll hear the axiom that the cure is sometimes worse than the disease. Call it the law of unintended consequences, where a treatment can trigger new issues – or deepen existing ones. The same is true in business problem solving. Sometimes, leaders move too quickly without fleshing out the root causes; they jump to conclusions, relying on fragmented data over methodical observation and analysis. Other times, they roll out patchwork solutions to appease all constituencies, assuming they’ll have the time to clean it up later. Of course, business cases are full of been-there-done-that leaders who adopt a one-size-fits-all framework ill-suited to the times.

That’s where integrative thinking comes into play. It is the hallmark of the MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Pioneered by Roger Martin, the former dean of the Rotman School, integrative thinking is a structured process, a means of pulling out the best parts of the best ideas, creating synergies that result in holistic, long-lasting solutions.

INTEGRATIVE THINKING FOR AN INTEGRATED PROGRAM

“The idea is about harmonizing different or even opposing ideas to create a new concept that can combine all the best elements of the original contradictory ones,” explains Long Cao, an accountant and first-year MBA. “During class discussions and group projects, students came up with many different ideas. Then, through challenging each other, we ended up with a final solution that could accommodate the best ideas of team members.”

Cao’s classmate, Arpitha Krishna Mohan, points out that people tend to “isolate the issue and the solution.” In the process, they often miss the larger picture that is rife with ambiguity and complexity. For her, integrative thinking is a means of slowing down and stepping back and bringing in more voices – ensuring issues are tackled from all angles. similarly, Marcela Castillo Tokumoric views integrative thinking as a means of “framing, structuring, analyzing, and solving” – with a special emphasis on how the components work together. This “multidimensional perspective” – in the words of Duc Trinha – is also integrated across Rotman’s programming.

“Classes at Rotman are blended so well together that sometimes I no longer see the border between them, whether it be management, finance, or marketing,” he writes. “My classmates and I learn to apply what we have learned thus far across all courses in our daily case-based discussions. The best part is I am learning from my classmates as well along the way. Looking back, I realize I no longer rush to solve problems without sufficient planning and designing.”

Rotman MBAs at graduation

WHO YOU ARE IS HOW FAR YOU GO

Alas, the Class of 2023 won’t just be taking a deep dive into the nuts-and-bolts of integrative problem-solving. Students can also participate in Self-Development Labs (SDLs), a module-based, feedback-driven, reflection-oriented course where students answer three key questions:

  • Who do I want to be?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • How do I get there?

Here, four member teams are paired with faculty coaches, who walk through exercises and pose questions designed to help students develop their interpersonal, presentation, and conflict resolution skills. For example, students give videotaped presentations so they can see how potential co-workers, clients, and employers view their stagecraft: verbal choices, tone, body language, and overall executive presence. Such activities provide Rotman MBAs with tools for self-management and an understanding of their underlying motivators, giving them an advantage during projects, interviews, and internships. For Marcela Castillo Tokumori, the Self-Development Lab was a difference-maker during its first year.

“We receive individualized feedback on our behaviour, communication style, and personal presence,” she tells P&Q† “These aspects are crucial to developing ourselves as self-aware people and to enhance our interpersonal skills. They are also key in becoming effective collaborative problem-solvers and being successful Rotman students.”

Kristy McGregor Bales received so much value from the lab that she intends to complete the sequel – the Leadership Development Lab – this fall. “I have learned so much about myself through the Self-Development Lab including how to add polish to my communication skills, leadership qualities, and presentation skills. I am very excited to apply for LDL in my second year and continue my leadership journey.”

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

It was a journey that most recently led to Team Canada, where McGregor-Bales served as team manager for the swimming team at the Youth Olympic Games, the Pan American Games, and the World Junior Championship. Along the way, she may have crossed paths with Marcela Castillo Tokumori. A member of the Taekwondo Peru National Team, she began practicing her discipline when she was just four, eventually placing 2nd in both World Taekwondo Poomsae Championship in 2016 and in the Pan American Games in 2019.

“I started representing my country when I was 14 years old and have led the country to World and Pan American level events throughout my career,” she writes. “Years of hard work and dedication helped me achieve my first world medal in 2016, which earned me the highest national sports recognition. I am humbled to have realized my dream and to inspire others in doing the same. Three years later, I was once again able to take the Peruvian flag to the podium at the Pan American Games after a long season of ups and downs, arduous preparation, and perseverance. It was definitely a long-term commitment that gave me the most valuable experiences and life lessons.”

Negar Jeyranic joined the Class of 2022 from Deloitte, where she climbed the ranks to senior consultant. By the same token, Keta Pavlenishvilic became the youngest country manager in the history of Willis Towers Watson – a financial services firm spanning 140 countries and employing over 10,000 people. Before starting at Rotman, she had become a managing partner. Surprisingly, her business acumen was honed in a rather unexpected place.

“I used to work as a professional makeup artist and started my own business at 19, which sparked my interest in entrepreneurship and client services. That experience was the foundation of my career and helped me identify many of my strengths which still serve me tremendously today.”

Students talking outside Rotman

ENJOYING THE SPOTLIGHT

in Japan, Yuta Takeuchic earned a major honor. He was selected to lead the renovation of Tokyo railway stations in anticipation of the 2020 Olympics. It was a high-profile role, particularly considering that public transportation is the “gateway to the city for customers, especially the commerce area development project” in Takeuchi’s words.

“With a limited timeframe for the Olympics, I coordinated with internal and external stakeholders to reduce costs and shorten the construction period, working hard to open the buildings on the target schedule,” he adds. “I also contributed to the development of original products and installations to provide visitors with special experiences, and created spaces and services that had never been seen before. Unfortunately, the Olympics were postponed due to the coronavirus, and we were not able to welcome overseas visitors in 2021. Still, it was a very good experience for me to improve my project management skills.”

Renad Elshaer started out as a psychologist before joining PwC. Over six years, she was “fast-tracked” from a consultant to a senior manager. In contrast, Funmi Orunmuyic, a well engineer at ExxonMobil, operated one of the firm’s oil fields and “significantly” beat out its production target despite unexpected disruptions. That’s a hard achievement to top…unless you are Tiffany Leung. She made history.

“As the only Aviation Finance Associate at Citi in Asia Pacific, I facilitated the origination of $128M aircraft secured term loan for Juneyao Airlines,” she tells P&Q† “This transaction won the Aviation 100 Asia-Pacific Debt Deal of the Year and it is also the first non-Export Credit Agency syndicated financing in China. Not only did I partner with in-country bankers, product specialists, and risk managers across Citi’s global footprint, but I also managed the financial modeling to support deal structuring and internal approvals. This cross-border transaction uniquely capitalized the airline’s international operation and the bank syndicate’s global network.”

FROM BEING AN IMPOSTER TO MAKING AN IMPACT

And that momentum continued into Rotman, where Leung’s team took home 1st place in the TD Client Competition, developing an IPO for a Canadian transportation software firm. And Leung wasn’t alone in claiming top prize in case competitions among the Class of 2023. Negar Jeyrani achieved this feat on her first try.

Working with an awesome team, we were able to design a unique go-to-market marketing strategy for a Canadian digital healthcare company. This was a great opportunity for me to work very closely with a new team and flex my creativity and team-building skills. In fact, our team is now exploring an opportunity to work directly with the sponsoring company to help them bring our proposed strategy to life.”

Still, the public recognition doesn’t always compare to the personal satisfaction that comes from moving from “imposter” to contributor. That has been the best part of Kristy McGregor-Bales’ journey…so far† “After several years away from university, it was an initial shock to the system to relocate cities and hit the books again. I am very proud of shifting my mindset from initial feelings of “Wow my classmates are so smart, I don’t belong here” to embracing this incredible environment and now experiencing feelings of “Wow my classmates are so smart, I want to learn everything I can from them, and also share my unique experiences”. I have really embraced being pushed out of my comfort zone. I have met so many wonderful people and learned a lot so far, and I am honestly loving every minute.”

POETS, BAKERS, AND SURFERS

The same could be said for Keta Pavlenishvili, who cites the Rotman Women in Management (WIMA) Club as one of the highlights of her first year at Rotman. “The club focuses on women development through education and seminars. It has already hosted several incredible events with Google and other companies. Moreover, we have an opportunity to become mentors through a mentoring program LINKS, which connects UofT students across faculties. We get a chance to mentor female undergrad students, get training about how to be a good mentor, and gain real life experience on how to motivate and encourage a totally unknown person to us. I really enjoy this process as it supports our personal development and broadens horizons.”

Outside Rotman, you’ll find Jose Pablo Pecho-Chaves engaging in two of his favorite activities: skateboarding and surfing. Renad Elshaer is an amateur poet, while Long Cao is a history buff. And Funmi Orunmuyi has become a legend in her native Nigeria.

“I am known within my circle as “Baker Fumz” because I make really good desserts. I initially underestimated how good they were until two of my recipes, currently on the menu of two restaurants in Lagos, were mooted as “the best *insert dessert name* in Lagos” in certain circles.”

Next Page: Interview with Joseph Milner, Rotman Vice-Dean of MBA Programs

Page 3: Profiles of 12 Toronto Rotman First-Years

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