When Dr. Alana Flexman graduated from the Global Executive MBA for Healthcare and the Life Sciences (GEMBA-HLS) program in June, her sisters experienced a bit of déjà vu.
In 2015, Jen Flexman — Alana’s identical twin — walked the stage after completing the Morning MBA program, and in 2017, youngest sibling Tyla Flexman donned the cap and gown after completing the Full-Time MBA program in 2017. “We’ve always genuinely enjoyed school and learning,” says Tyla, who pursued her studies at Rotman following an undergraduate degree in kinesiology. “When each of us considered pursuing an MBA in Canada, Rotman stood out as the place you wanted to be.”
As they continue to grow in their fields — Alana is an anesthesiologist and clinical researcher in Vancouver; Jen is building a U.S.-based virtual healthcare startup; while Tyla makes her mark at Lyft while based in Toronto — they say it’s no coincidence that an MBA from Rotman is the common factor in their career enrichment.
“It just so happened that Rotman offered the diversity of programs that attracted the three of us, even with our different career paths and goals,” says Tyla.
For Jen, the first of her sisters to study at Rotman, the Morning MBA program was the perfect opportunity to navigate a career transition while working full-time. With a PhD in bioengineering from the University of Washington in Seattle, Jen moved to Toronto in 2011 to explore new career paths in the health technology sector.
“It was such an engaging time in my life dedicated to expanding my horizons, and I’ve probably never been busier than during those years," Jen says. “I was surrounded by ambitious and curious people who came from very different fields — including many people with a strong entrepreneurial drive.” "Being part of the first MBA class to work with the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) gave me a front row seat to the startup journey, and I’ve been lucky to remain a part of the vibrant CDL community ever since,” she says.
Today, Jen is the chief operating officer at elovee, a startup backed by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan that offers virtual cognitive rehabilitation therapy to help seniors manage cognitive decline and reduce their risk of dementia.
Previously, she spent several years building and leading the partnerships and innovation team at LifeLabs, Canada’s largest medical laboratory, before heading up business development and operations at several Canadian digital health companies.
“At Rotman, you meet the best of the best from different areas — your peers, faculty members and visiting speakers — and it was a great place to integrate into the Canadian business community in preparation for a career transition,” Jen says.
That’s why when her younger sister Tyla was ready to pursue an MBA herself, Rotman was the only business school she applied to in Canada.
Following nearly six years in the sports industry — including a role managing global partnerships at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment — Tyla shifted over to the technology sector in 2019.
Two years after graduating from the MBA program, she joined Lyft’s Toronto office to lead partnerships in Canada as a senior business development manager. Now as a director of city partnerships for North America, Tyla leads a fully remote team based in the U.S.
Looking back, she says her MBA experience equipped her to deal with the fast-paced and dynamic environment of a growing tech company.
“Thinking about what to prioritize in the business, how to build and retain teams and bring a long-term strategy to life are hyper relevant to what I learned during my MBA,” Tyla says.
What’s also top of mind is adapting her leadership style during periods of crises and uncertainty, she says.
“I’m thinking about all the leadership classes we took — how to build trust, a vision and gain alignment with people across your team,” she says. “And building off that, I'm rethinking how we work in remote environments in this new world.”
Leadership and change management are also high on Alana’s priority list.
As an anesthesiologist and director of anesthesia research at St. Paul’s Hospital/Providence Health Care in Vancouver, Alana’s work has always involved high stakes and collaboration with other physicians, nurses and allied health professionals.
Now, they’re tasked with working through a backlog of postponed surgeries from the COVID-19 pandemic, just as burnout and staffing shortages continue to strain healthcare workers across provinces.
“Nothing is straight-forward in healthcare, but through the GEMBA-HLS program I began to understand how to identify effective strategies and where changes could be made in a meaningful way,” says Alana, who completed the program entirely during the pandemic. Already a U of T alumna, she completed her MD at the University of Toronto in 2004 before her residency and fellowship in British Columbia and San Francisco, Calif., respectively.
“The pandemic showed us the importance of adapting and applying new ideas during a crisis. Now is the perfect time to gain new perspectives as a healthcare professional,” she says.
Entering the GEMBA-HLS program, Alana’s goal was to explore what more she could do as a physician beyond her clinical and research roles, potentially moving into a leadership role in the health system at large. Now, she’s taking the insights gained in health sector strategy, health policy, change management and leadership to do her part in supporting the system.
“We’re picking up the pieces and trying to find a way forward, and the skills and ideas we learned from experts in health systems and business management are invaluable,” Alana says. With a third of her class being physicians, the rest were professionals from other areas related to healthcare, including the pharmaceuticals industry, health administration and digital health technology.
“I learned so much from my classmates, and this entire journey has helped me to see the healthcare system in a totally different way,” she says. “It opened my eyes to parts of the system I hadn’t encountered before as an anesthesiologist, and to a greater understanding of how things are interrelated and structured.”
And when Alana, Tyla or Jen need a sounding board for ideas, they count on each other.
“We certainly look to each other for advice or a different perspective,” says Tyla. “Our roles are very different, so it’s helpful to learn from how we each approach leadership.”
“It’s fun seeing each other grow and continuing to learn over the years,” says Alana. “The MBA gives me credibility and confidence as I look to what’s next for my career.”
Written by Jessie Park | More Student Stories »