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Rest assured, students: this is the ideal time to pursue an MBA

August 28, 2020

Anxious about starting the Full-Time MBA program this fall? Don’t be.

According to senior leaders, you’re in the right place. Organizations are hungry for skilled talent, and the skills you’ll acquire over the next two years will set you up for amazing opportunities.

Maria Jimena Rivera, managing director of the Full-Time MBA program at Rotman, recently spoke with three experienced executives: Ismat Aziz, the chief advocacy officer for U.S. Bancorp, Kerrie MacPherson (Morning/Evening MBA '91), who, after a 32 year career, retired as a partner with Ernst & Young in 2018 and now serves as an independent director for various corporate boards, and Jenny Poulos, senior vice-president of workforce strategy and employee experience at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

These three leaders have amassed years of experience working in retail, sales, finance, consulting, strategy, and talent management and led teams through recessions. Together, in a recorded webinar on the value of the MBA, they reflected on the future of work (in terms of how we’ll get work done and which talent needs will be most in demand going forward) and why it makes sense to pursue an MBA now.

Here’s what we learned.

Poulos: The way we get work done is changing. Foundational management skills will be important.

When the global pandemic is resolved, we won’t be returning to business as usual. Poulos has seen, first-hand, how the global pandemic has transformed how we approach work.

When RBC moved 90 percent of its workforce to a remote setup, the organization saw productivity spike in some areas.

Now, because organizations are seeing the value of remote work, they are more open to accommodating different work arrangements. In the future, we can expect to see work teams dispersed and relying more and more on virtual platforms to connect.

“Learning to collaborate across devices and platforms and adapting to different working arrangements will be a common practice going forward,” says Poulos.

In many ways, students pursuing their MBA during the global pandemic are in an ideal situation. Right now, as they complete their learning online, they have the opportunity to work out all the complexities of collaborating with others virtually.

Poulos adds that many banks, including RBC, will be looking for grads that have a strong grasp of foundational management and leadership skills.

"To build and re-imagine a digitally-enabled, relationship-focused bank, we need collaboration, critical thinking, decision-making, strategic thinking, and an ability to understand and use data," says Poulos. “The skills that you are going to be building through your MBA are the skills that will be in demand in the future.”

Aziz: Expect major shifts in the digital space, analytics and AI.

The global pandemic has inspired significant long-term changes in how organizations will operate going forward. Aziz predicts that firms will continue to leapfrog and expand their organizations, with a focus on data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Organizations will also need to consider expanding their definition of flexibility by testing jobs that can be shared by (human) talent and machines.

“The pandemic has opened our eyes to the potential benefits of new and emerging technologies and has allowed us to move at a pace that we would previously have found difficult to implement and sustain,” she explains.

Aziz is no stranger to navigating change, having led organizations across seven industries — including retail, telecommunications and banking — through major disruptions, such as the last economic crisis and past recessions.

For those anxious about navigating this current crisis, Aziz’s advice is to keep abreast of the changes in all industries and look for opportunities to contribute, learn and grow.

“Organizations are always looking for people who are adaptable and open to change,” she says. “A great way to differentiate yourself during the recruitment process, especially during a time of crisis, is to show that you are resilient, courageous, and passionate about learning. Embrace disruption and turn it into a competitive advantage by learning as you are navigating it.”

MacPherson: Don't put off the MBA.

Though a few incoming students might be concerned about completing parts of the program online because of social distancing restrictions, MacPherson believes that this is the best time to pursue an MBA.

She encourages incoming students to think about the competitive advantage they’ll have when they graduate.

“Having done your MBA with a significant digital element, you will have figured out how you're going to work in teams and how you're going to be effective even though you can't be in the same room as your teammates,” she says.

“In two years, we'll be looking forward to those fresh faces coming in with different ways of looking at things, because your experience will be unique.”

Additionally, current and incoming MBA students will also have the chance to study the massive disruptions in real-time, not as a case study years from now.

“I think that two years from now, with the Rotman MBA, with all that you've learned, and all the experimentation that you've done, you’ll be part of this trailblazing cohort of MBAs who've figured it out. It is going to be hugely advantageous,” says MacPherson. “I honestly don't think there's any advantage to postponing.”

Quotes edited for length and clarity.

Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »

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