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Q&A with Andrew Davidson

MBA ’17 and Valedictorian to the Executive MBA Class 36

After 13 intense months of learning and transformation, Andrew is ready for the next adventure. He says it’s just how EMBA students are wired. Read the full story:

What’s it mean to be chosen as the valedictorian for the graduating class of the Executive MBA?

It’s an incredible honour, and it also means I’ll be delivering a speech on the night before Convocation. On June 19, the graduating classes of the EMBA and GEMBA programs will be getting together for a celebration. I’ve been gathering information from my classmates and trying to come up with what feels like a universal message. Because at the end of the day, it’s not my speech. It’s our speech.

What have you learned so far?

One of the initiatives I helped drive during my time as a student were the EMBA diaries, which appeared in the Globe and Mail. These were blog-style articles on a number of topics. A range of common themes emerged from the diaries, including the way each student felt transformed, the kind of changes they went through, and the quality of the people in the room. How we often learn as much from our classmates as from our teachers was another big one.

In the Executive MBA, or at least in my cohort, I find that the weight of competition falls away. It’s more collaborative, with everyone pushing each other, and challenging each other in the right way

What do you think contributes to this spirit of collaboration?

First, you have a pretty diverse group. A lot of thought goes into creating a class that is a healthy mix of industry experience and skills and backgrounds. For that, we have the recruitment and admissions team to thank. They do a terrific job of selecting the right people for the program, and taking care of them as students. They’re ready to listen, and they want everybody to succeed.

That diversity has a big impact on the student experience. A number of people in my cohort were C-suite members, for example, coming into the program with the confidence of having had a successful career already. Their aim, and perhaps everyone’s aim, is to become better and to learn more, rather than to outmuscle the competition. They are coming with the best of intentions.

“Empathy, both cognitive and emotional, is key to being an effective leader.”

How does that affect the learning experience?

There’s a degree of experience that comes with being an EMBA student. You’re likely to be more senior in your life and your career, which means you’re able to take that experience in stride. When you're feeling down for some reason, your classmates are ready to pull you back up. The support is amazing. There are parents with three kids and they’re coming to class, giving up Fridays and Saturdays and putting in 13 hour days. One student travelled from another continent every other week to attend classes.

It’s the dedication of my classmates that is really inspiring. Everybody’s putting everything they have into it. That makes for a terrific experience because you're in it together, giving it your best.

How has the program changed the way you work?

The Executive MBA really does change the way you think. In my job, I’m often on the road, dealing with people from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. Thanks to the program, I can look at a problem from different angles, and find the one that’s most relevant. Whether it’s operations, finance or marketing, I’m in a better position to find solutions of all kinds to various business problems.

Another big emphasis of the program is on soft skills and leadership. At work, we all face different conflicts and challenges with coworkers and staff. You need empathy to understand where they’re coming from. You need to take yourself out of the equation, and try to think the way they do. It helps you manage up and down, and even side to side. Empathy, both cognitive and emotional, is key to being an effective leader.

Any highlights from the program?

In our final week we had a session that was led by Rocca [Morra Hodge, from the career services team], where we shared some of our life experiences. There were some fantastic stories, and certainly some tears in the room. It was also a moment to reflect on what we’ve been through together. The intensity of the program, and of seeing your classmates every week for 13 months, sometimes speaking on the phone nightly. In that final week all the emotions are at the forefront as we looked back.

It all comes together in the last couple of days where you know it’s almost over, and you can take a breath. But before you know it, you wish you were back with these great people, learning and challenging yourself. That’s the way most of the people in the room are wired. You get a minute to relax, and then you think, what’s next?

“You’re not buying an MBA: you’re buying the right to earn your MBA.”

You think you’ll miss the intensity of the program?

I already do. The best part of every two weeks was coming to Rotman and being in class, studying with great professors, and working with my team and my classmates. Whether it was a project or a problem, we’re all learning from each other and challenging each other to do better. That was great. Give me 26 more months of that. I’m happy to do it.

Do you have any words of advice for someone entering a program, or thinking of entering the program?

Remember that you’re earning an MBA and it’s from Canada’s best business school. The fees you pay aren’t because you’re buying an MBA: you’re buying the right to earn your MBA.

You should be prepared for long nights and hard work, just as you would with any master’s program. Like most things, the more effort you put in, the greater the reward. The thirteen months will change you as a person. Everybody changes in some form or another, either their coaching style, or what they know, or how they manage and lead. It’s a lot of hard work and it’s so worth it.

So dive in.

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Convocation 2017
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