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MBA grads on making an impact with Business Design

August 15, 2019

Photo of Jennifer NachshenWhen organizations find themselves faced with complex problems, they know to call someone like Jennifer Nachshen (MBA ’17) for help.

Every day, as a manager with Doblin, the human-centred strategy and innovation arm of Deloitte, Nachshen applies design concepts and principles to tackle some of today’s most challenging business problems. She’s previously found ways to enhance digital services for a major bank, helped retailers customize their offerings for time-stretched parents, and worked with public sector groups on making educational programs more accessible to at-risk students.

“It’s exciting work because every project requires a mix of design skills, behavioural economics knowledge and strategy,” explains Nachshen. “Ultimately, we’re pushing leaders and organizations to think differently about how they do business and how they relate to customers. We’re driving some pretty important changes.”

Nachshen isn’t alone in her work. She’s among dozens of talented grads who have found successful careers in Business Design after Rotman. By providing students with a solid foundation in design principles and how they can be applied to different scenarios, the Rotman School is giving students the skills and knowledge to take on the most complex business problems.

Business Design at Rotman

With increasing pressures to anticipate customer needs faster and develop customized products and services to stay competitive, a design mindset has never been more important in business. Business designers are known for their ability to dive deep on wicked problems. On any given day, they might be interviewing customers to get at their needs and issues, storyboarding ideas on whiteboards, running design sprints, or developing new solutions to bring to market and improve upon further.

The Rotman School is the ideal training ground for the aspiring business designer. The School encourages keen students to pursue an emphasis in Business Design and offers a number of elective courses that explore design fundamentals in depth. The School’s in-house Business Design studioprovides applied learning opportunities (real-world innovation projects) for students and organizations. And they are invited to participate in bootcamps, workshops and design challenges, held throughout the school year.

“Ultimately, we’re pushing leaders and organizations to think differently about how they do business and how they relate to customers.”

-Jennifer Nachshen, MBA ’17

It was at a bootcamp led by the Business Design Initiative where Nachshen discovered her new career path.

Before enrolling in the MBA program, Nachshen, who has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and had previously found success as a practicing psychologist, writer-editor for the Montreal Gazette and social media entrepreneur, wasn’t sure about her next career move. She saw Business Design as a way to blend her varied interests and skills.

“There was definitely a moment where I realized ‘Aha! This is where all my experiences and interests come together’,” she explains. “I was excited about finding a space where I could blend my curiosity of human behaviour with my love for telling people’s stories and my knowledge of quantitative methodologies.”

From there, Nachshen focused her MBA experience on immersing herself in classes and extracurricular opportunities where she could get a stronger handle on design. While at Rotman, she completed design electives, competed in the annual Rotman Design Challenge twice and completed her internship with BEWorks, a management consulting firm which specializes in behavioural economics approaches to problem solving.

“Design is present everywhere at Rotman,” she explains. “Even if Business Design wasn’t an explicit objective of a course, the design principles of being innovative, thoughtful and adventurous in solving problems are embedded in every class and every project.”

Learning about Business Design in a hands-on way

Photo of Piyush GaurBecause design is relevant to all business areas today, it makes sense that business designers can establish careers in any industry and pursue many different types of work, depending on their interests, previous experience and philosophies around design.

Piyush Gaur (MBA ’17) brings a design perspective to his work at Telus where he is a group product manager for AI Products & Services. He always knew that he wanted to build a career focused on people and technology.

Before coming to Rotman, Gaur worked in audio systems design for Blackberry and Sony Ericsson. Though his academic training had been primarily grounded in mechanical and mechatronics engineering, he understood the importance of looking beyond the technical aspects of the job and staying engaged with people.

When he learned more about the Business Design Initiative at Rotman, something clicked.

“When I really thought about it, I had always been incorporating Business Design concepts in my work, in one form or another. My job had really been driven by what customers wanted and needed from the devices I was developing,” explains Gaur.

“When I really thought about it, I had always been incorporating Business Design concepts in my work, in one form or another.”

-Piyush Gaur, MBA ’17

As Gaur began to contemplate his own future in the tech space, he realized that a Business Design skillset was crucial.

“If you look at all the tech companies and platforms that have really taken off — Apple, Google, Uber, Facebook — you can see that they’ve done something truly different,” he explains. “These companies understand their customers so well, they can anticipate their needs early and make their services and products that much more intuitive and accessible.”

To get a stronger grasp of design thinking in business, Gaur completed three independent study projects while at Rotman. Working with a range of businesses, he was able to offer concrete ideas, using design frameworks and models. With the Rotman start-up PetBot, Gaur looked at how to make the pet monitoring technology more seamless in the home, and easier to use. For his project with Purolator, he examined their delivery system and offered advice on how to make shipping and receiving services easier for the household consumer. And his work with Telus — looking at how privacy and parental control functions could be improved — eventually caught the attention of senior managers and landed him a job offer.

“The real value of these experiences came from understanding which design framework to use for which business scenario,” explains Gaur. “Even as the competitive landscape changes with new technological advancements, the challenge for businesses will always centre on connecting with the customer.”

Getting involved, spreading the word about Business Design

Photo of Pheobe LukFor Phoebe Luk (MBA ’18) the most exciting aspect of her work in Business Design is around emotion and making people feel at ease.

“For me, the key is being open-minded about what design could be,” explains Luk. “My underlying philosophy boils down to ‘how can we make things better for people?’”

At Myplanet, where she’s a product strategist, Luk acts as a conduit between clients and the company’s technical teams. Today, she runs design sessions with clients, crafts strategies for the development of new products and meets with the design team to discuss ideas for potential software features.

“My underlying philosophy boils down to ‘how can we make things better for people?'"

-Phoebe Luk, MBA ’18

Luk, who has a background in media studies, came to Rotman interested in pursuing marketing, innovation and consulting. Business Design was where all these interests came together.

“What I enjoy about Business Design is that it’s about acting fast and establishing relationships quickly, so that you can be productive and bring value to the customer and the company,” she says.

In her second year of the MBA, she was elected president of the Business Design Club. With her teammates, she was able to bring in practitioners and experts in Business Design to speak at the School, including Ingo Rauth.

Like Gaur, she also pursued independent study projects at Rotman, helping companies reshape their practices to better serve their customers. Notably, with Scotiabank, she developed strategies to help the organization reach unbanked or underbanked populations. And for a project with the mobile devices branch of Samsung, she helped develop a strategy to reach millennial women.

“The most rewarding aspect is knowing that you were able to get at the heart of the problem using out-of-the box approaches and design ideas,” she says. “At the end of the day, we’re providing companies with insights they couldn’t have found anywhere else.”

Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »

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