Meet Jennifer Lee (EMBA '06) One of our Fireside Chat Hosts at Reunite
Jennifer Lee (EMBA ’06) talks to us about the importance of mentoring, creating a life plan to ensure balance in her personal life, and being bold enough to say “I can do it” when faced with a new challenge. You can meet Jennifer at our upcoming Reunite@Rotman where she will host a Fireside chat on Friday, October 21.
What are you looking forward to in hosting a Fireside chat? What else are you most looking forward to at this year’s Reunite@Rotman homecoming?
I am so interested in meeting and learning about people’s life stories. I think that connecting with people is critical to not only your career but overall personal growth. Consulting requires us to constantly being connected to people – and I am intensely curious about people’s lives and the challenges they face. I volunteer for these events because I think, if I can even give one or two thoughts to help with their challenge, then I’ve made the world a better place.
What are 3 things that you did upon graduation that helped you develop your career?
Paying it forward
I realized that I needed to start making an impact on the world. I was always “taking” from others as I was building my career and felt the need to “pay it forward”. This led me to volunteering to speak at Rotman whenever I could so I could inspire other Rotman students that having a career in professional services and blazing your own way was possible. I made partner at Deloitte when I was 34, which is quite young. Rotman admitted me into the Executive MBA program at 25 years old. There were so many people who helped me along the way, I owed it to Rotman students to share my story and help the next generation of students as much as I could.
Volunteerism became increasingly important to me, particularly after I had children (two boys, Noah and Julian, 7 and 4.5 years old). After my EMBA, I got a call from one of my classmates who was living in Central Asia, and he asked if I could volunteer to write the strategy for 26 microfinance banks in Azerbaijan. I wrote a proposal and then was interviewed by a large aid organization, and the next thing I knew I was moving to Azerbaijan and taking a paid leave of absence from my job – Bell Internet - where I was leading the marketing strategy and product development. This began my volunteerism career. I have been volunteering in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, and am off to Cambodia next year. Microfinance gave me perspective – it showed me that no matter how hard I think my life is here in Canada, someone in the world is facing deeper challenges. A deeply impoverished woman searching for a business loan so she can start a small business, leveraging her talents to feed her family, makes my problems seem like nothing.
I started putting up my hand for leadership roles. When Deloitte was contemplating a new retail leader, I put my hand up and said “I can do it”. There had never been a young, female leader in this role before. Last year, when Deloitte was contemplating building a consumer analytics practice, I put my hand up and said “I can do it”. In reality, I had no idea what I was doing! I just believed that being a person who loved to build practices and who had a strong imagination to rethink the way we service our clients utilizing advanced analytics was enough.
Did you have a mentor that supported you in your career development?
Yes, there was a senior partner who was retiring who took me under his wing. He helped me understand how to focus my energy and enthusiasm into building a practice. He taught me so much about myself – about how to help a client solve a problem, to connect and empathize with clients while they are struggling with a challenge, and most of all to be myself in a male-dominated environment.
I should add that my mentor was the complete opposite of me: he was a 58 year old, white male, accountant, who was on the board and leadership team at Deloitte. He is a patient and deliberate man who could read a profit and loss statement in a few seconds - he was and is brilliant. So that tells you that the best mentors do not need to be like yourself. He has since retired, and so I have sought out new mentors at the firm.
How do you create work/life balance?
Work life balance is an overused and tricky term. I have thought a lot about this over the years because I was striving for this esoteric term called “work life balance”. I am a busy working mom, and my husband is also a professional. We have two young kids. I think balance is very personal and that sometimes women in particular feel like they are never doing enough. Rather than putting all this pressure on myself to achieve balance, I have tried to reframe it as achieve me and my family’s “life plan”. I am trying to make decisions in my personal and work life that will position us to be a strong family in the future. This means that I block off 6-8pm every day to ensure I have dinner with my husband and kids, when I am in town. This means I set a culture on our team of “no face time required” so me and my team can work at home and be with our families or attend their kids’ events when needed. The “no face time required” model demonstrates trust within our team that people can serve our clients and get our work done while we work virtually. When we do need to see each other, the team makes an effort to come into the office to collaborate or drive out a deliverable. Creating flexibility for myself and my team gives everyone the ability to define their own balance.
I think creating my “life plan” has led to me strengthening my desire to volunteer in microfinance and make an impact. Next year will be the first time I take my husband and children with me to Cambodia. I am trying to ensure they are integrated in all that I do. When we host client events, I invite their families and I invite my family. My clients are also struggling with balance, so if I am searching for ways to make touchpoints with our clients achieve both their goals and my goals of spending time with my husband and kids.