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Q&A with Cole Lepine

MBA ’17 and Valedictorian to the Morning and Evening MBA Classes of 2017

Cole came to the Morning MBA program looking to brush up on his business fundamentals. He left the program feeling transformed. Read the full story:

Convocation is coming soon. What does the day mean to you?

Convocation is a culmination. It’s a point in time to recognize, hey, I just went through three years of toil and effort and hard thinking. And some stress. Now I’ve made it out the other end and I’m better off than ever before. It’s a moment to demarcate that tremendous accomplishment.

You were chosen as the valedictorian for both the Morning and Evening MBA classes. Tell us about that.

As a valedictorian, you’re elected by the student body. It’s different than an academic award in that it’s your peers who are selecting you.

I’m a Morning student and I have a lot of contacts in the Morning cohort. But I’ve also had contacts with Evening students and they chose me. So it means a lot. It’s an amazing honour.

What did you say in your speech to the class?

In the speech I gave at Grad Ball, I talked about the three main lessons I took away from my Rotman experience. I summarized them as the EPS, and that’s not earnings per share. It’s empathy, people and self.

The first is empathy, in that you need to understand people. You build better connections by understanding their feelings, being open with your own emotions, and trying to build a better world view that way.

People, in that you don’t do things alone. Everybody here has to work on a lot of group projects. In our business lives we work on teams. And there are reasons for that. Because you can achieve a lot more with people than you can without.

The last part is self. Through Rotman, I learned more about myself and the kind of person I want to be in the world. I think going to Rotman gives everybody the opportunity to make a decision on the kind of person you want to be as you go out into the broader business community.

“Through Rotman, I learned more about myself and the kind of person I want to be in the world.”

How do the people in your personal life fit into the picture?

In the 'people' element of my message I spoke about my wife because she was my support network. She’s incredibly important to me and to my success as a student. Everyone who goes through the program has their own network. It could be your friends, or your parents, or your children. But that support is a very empowering part of the Rotman journey.

As a working professional, you’re balancing school and work and some kind of social life. You’re also trying to also take on extracurricular activities like clubs and case competitions. That takes a lot of effort. You can only do it with a lot of help from the people in your life.

What drew you to the Morning MBA?

For me, the MBA was something that I needed to get to the next level in my career. My background was in math and physics. I didn’t have any formal business experience or expertise. My network in the business world was limited to the job that I had. I knew that the MBA would be a way to form the network, get the learnings, and prepare for that next job that I would have.

The part-time program was particularly important for us because I’m married, and my wife and I have a life together. We are building a family. And giving up full-time income was not on the table. Especially appealing to me was the Morning MBA program because I could build that into my life, and still do well at work. It helped me strike the right balance in my life, while getting ready for the next phase.

What advice would you have to somebody considering the program?

For those entering the program, I'd say, “Congratulations. You’re on a wonderful path and it’s going to be excellent.” The advice I’d provide is that you should be very tactical and strategic with your time. There are many different things that you can do in the program, and forces pushing you to do everything. Even if you could have the time to do everything, you would exhaust yourself trying. It’s important to make strategic choices with your time in order to get the most out of the Rotman experience.

“The most important thing I've learned in the program is how to think differently.”

Tell us about your work.

I work in corporate strategy at one of the major banks. I work with executives to help them articulate their strategies, and build a vision for the future. And then take those strategies and make them ready for execution.

Every day I learn, not as a student, but as a professional. The bank is involved in very cutting edge technology, so it's an interesting time to be there. It’s cool to see all that stuff on the inside. And I'm fortunate in that I get to work with interesting people every day. I get to see big moves being made.

Did you find yourself doing things differently based on what you had learned in class?

The most important thing I've learned in the program is how to think differently. In the past, I was more linear in my approach to solving a problem. During my time at Rotman, I've learned how to critically evaluate arguments, and constructively create strategy and ideas to make them presentable, meaningful and actionable.

So it was a worthwhile 32 months.

Definitely. I’ve said to my wife and to my friends that it was the best degree decision in my life. I don’t regret the time I’ve spent here, at all. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.

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