Q&A with Tyla Flexman
MBA ’17 and Valedictorian to the Full-Time MBA Graduating Class
Tyla has been on an interesting journey from playing high performance sports to joining the global partnerships team of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. Bringing Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors, to the Rotman School was just one highlight of her MBA experience.
How does it feel to be done?
It is exciting, but also I’m going to miss it. It’s a double-edged sword. I’m excited for the next chapter, but will definitely look back fondly on the last two years.
What will you miss?
I’ll miss the environment and the people. It’s not every day you get to dedicate two years of your life to learning and being challenged by a room full of diverse people and backgrounds and experiences. I’m going to miss those opportunities.
How was the two-year duration of the program of value to you?
The first year is theoretically intense. You’re learning a lot of fundamentals and business basics, followed by an internship where you can apply what you’ve learned.
In second year, the school really gives you opportunities to lead. You join clubs, run events, and make a difference on the experience of the student body, especially on the students in the year below you. You need two years to absorb the lessons and then apply them in a way that develops your leadership skills.
“A quote I used when playing field hockey was, ‘Don’t let success go to your head or failure go to your heart.’”
What kind of club activities were you involved in?
I ran the Rotman Sports Business Association. Along with my executive committee, we organized a number of events, including a sports industry conference that drew successful alumni, thought leaders and people of influence in the industry.
We had Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors, here in March. Obviously he brings a cool factor, but he also spoke so deeply about what leadership means to him in terms of giving back. He runs a charity called Giants of Africa, and spoke a lot about his work in Africa.
We partnered with the African and Caribbean Business Association to host the event and had about 500 people attend. We raised $4,000 for his charity. He then in turn donated the money to Toronto Community Housing because we had hosted two groups from TCH to come join us.
I don’t know if I’m ever going to get an opportunity like that again – and I work for the Raptors! You have this special time where you can reach out to these amazing thought leaders and invite them to the school to share their thoughts with the Rotman community.
We also hosted the Sports Industry Conference for the sixth year. We partnered with the undergraduate Sports Business Association, and had over 20 industry professionals come and speak to students about their career paths and what’s going on in the industry. Definitely groundbreaking topics that connected our students to the sports industry.
What do you know now about leadership that you didn’t know two years ago?
What I understand better now is that you have to be able to lead yourself in order to lead others. Participating in the Leadership Development Lab was a fantastic opportunity to understand myself and the intangibles of leadership. Knowing who I am, and my strengths and weaknesses will allow me to create a vision and better understand how to bring that vision to life with others.
It is called a lab for a reason. Throughout the year, they give you an array of concepts and encourage you to test them on yourself through a series of mini-experiments. For me, that meant drawing on my experience of being on a team and playing high performance sport, combined with looking ahead to what I see myself accomplishing in the future. I’m hoping to draw on that to become a leader in my career.
What was it like to transition from sports to business?
When I retired from field hockey I wasn’t sure which direction I was going to pursue. I ended up in a startup sport and health facility that worked with professional teams, where I realized I needed a stronger business acumen to propel my career forward.
Rotman was my first choice since it’s located in a hub not just for sports but for all business activity in Canada. The School seemed open to creating a very diverse class from different backgrounds and experiences. That definitely appealed to be because I’m not a typical business student.
“Only by pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone do we achieve impactful things in the world.”
How do you think your sports background prepared you for the roles you’re entering now?
My undergrad was in kinesiology, and I was your quintessential jock, playing varsity field hockey at university and later on the Canadian national team. My path to Rotman was influenced by family, managers, and mentors along the way that helped me realize a MBA would complement my skillset.
My experience in sport has taught me how to deal with adversity and failure, to stay disciplined and focused, and to manage my time to achieve my goals. My peers and teammates would agree that I’m a determined person when I want to go after something. High performance sport teaches you to push yourself to be better, to be a team player and ultimately, to win.
Sport also teaches you how to be part of a team, and get the help you need to achieve the goals you set out to achieve. That’s been a huge advantage at Rotman. Whether it’s the professors, your fellow students or the administration, everybody’s there to help you succeed. It’s helped me get to where I am today.
It's been said that failure can be more useful than the success because you grow from it. How do you rebound from failure?
A quote I used to rely on when playing field hockey was, "Don’t let success go to your head or failure go to your heart.” Failing means you’re trying and it’s rare to succeed on the first try. If you’re failing and readapting and growing, if you have a learning mindset, then you’re really achieving something. It takes courage to get back up again and try to lead and change things. Only by pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone do we achieve impactful things in the world.
What did you talk about in your valedictorian speech?
The first thing I talked about was failure and learning, and that we don’t need to fear failure, since we learn from our mistakes. The second was about people and understanding that we’re part of something bigger now for the rest of our lives: it’s a special bond we share.
The last message was about thinking beyond ourselves. We’re a group of privileged people who were fortunate to come to this school and earn an MBA. We’re highly educated and as a group we have a sense of responsibility to give back in our own ways. We can always help and raise up others, and make a difference in the world.
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