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How Business School Became a Family Matter for Two Full-time MBAs

May 17, 2018

parentsMost new parents anticipate a bit of a learning curve with the arrival of their first child, but Tess Cecil-Cockwell (MBA ’18) and Zachary McMahon (MBA ’18) took it a step further when they had their son, Felix. Just a few months after he was born, the pair left their roles in the oil and gas industry, packed up their home in Anchorage, Alaska and relocated to Toronto to pursue the Full-Time MBA at Rotman.

For this family, the past two years have been all about growth. As Felix started to walk and talk and explore the world around him, his parents were on their own learning journey — discovering more and more, each day, about leadership and the business world.

Next month, they will be graduating from the School, armed with new careers, valuable insights — and proof that it is possible to balance family and the Full-Time MBA program.

Choosing Rotman

Cecil-Cockwell and McMahon approached business school with different goals in mind. 

Before Rotman, McMahon had worked on the business side of oil and gas, dabbling in the startup space and casually working with a few early-stage companies. But he quickly realized that if he wanted to make a career out of developing and scaling up growth-stage ventures, he needed a solid foundation in business fundamentals.

“It was time to go after the careers we wanted.”

—Tess Cecil-Cockwell (MBA ’18)

Meanwhile, Cecil-Cockwell, an experienced engineer, was looking to acquire a strong business background to complement her technical knowledge.

“It was time to go after the careers we wanted,” says Cecil-Cockwell, simply. “Having Felix had changed our lives in a big way, already. It motivated us to take some professional risks and make other significant changes.”

They needed a school that would accommodate their individual professional needs, while allowing them to manage a very active family life. Known for its rigorous curriculum and the Creative Destruction Lab — a program that supports promising, early-stage companies in scaling up and offers opportunities for MBA students to be involved with the process —  Rotman was a perfect fit. Being in a thriving city like Toronto also meant that they could work with top firms and emerging companies.

“We’d considered a few other schools, but when we talked with another married couple who had done the Rotman MBA together, we felt like it was the right choice,” McMahon explains. “We felt like we’d have the support and the opportunities we were looking for.”

Making it work

Though they were both committed to pursuing MBA degrees, making it all work was a different matter. Luckily, Cecil-Cockwell has family in the area, and they were able to hire a nanny to look after Felix during the day. To make the most of their time, the couple committed to spending every day, from 9 am to 5 pm, at the School.

“Whether we had classes or not, we were in the building or at the library,” says McMahon. “That way, we could spend our evenings with Felix and had less schoolwork to do after we put him to bed at night.”

They became experts at coordinating schedules and trading off nights, so that while one parent spent the evening at a networking event or working with a School club, the other was at home with Felix. In some cases, when they were both needed at Rotman, Felix came with them.

“One Saturday, Felix spent the morning with me, as I was helping organize a case competition. He spent the afternoon with Zach, who was also in the building, judging another competition,” recalls Cecil-Cockwell. “He’s familiar with the building by now.”

From a more strategic perspective, in terms of getting the most out of business school, the parents looked for ways to customize their MBA experiences.

“When you have a family, time becomes even more valuable to you and every minute becomes important,” explains McMahon. “Now, when I look at the work that I do and the projects I pursue, I think of it in terms of whether it’s worth being away from my family.”

“We felt like we’d have the support and the opportunities we were looking for.”

—Zachary McMahon (MBA ’18) 

In his second year, he scaled back on extracurricular commitments and scheduled most of his electives in the first term so that he could focus his efforts on an emerging startup through the Creative Destruction Lab elective course. For the past few months, he’s worked with a cyber-security venture, helping them develop a business plan and financial model. He even travelled with them to New York to support them with pitching to investors. 

Meanwhile, Cecil-Cockwell, who is headed off to a full-time position at Bain & Co after graduation, focused on strengthening her management and leadership skillset. In her second year of the MBA, she served as Director of Industry Education for the Management Consulting Association at the School — where she’s often coaching, preparing cases and leading events. And Cecil-Cockwell, who is a Forté Fellow, became a VP for the LINKS program — a Rotman program that matches MBA students with a female undergraduate student at the university. As well, her classes on value investing and negotiations and a summer internship with Bain set her up for a career in management consulting.

According to the couple, the best learning experiences came about during the times when they worked on projects together, including competing on same team for the AT Kearney Global Prize, where they earned the title of North American champions, and talking through cases for some of their core MBA classes. They’ll need to harness that collaborative spirit for their next big project: they’re expecting their second child in a few months.

“Because our competencies are so different, we have a natural competitive advantage when we work as a team,” says Cecil-Cockwell. “We like to push each other a bit and sharpen each other’s saws.”

Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »

Tess Cecil-Cockwell

Class year

(Full-time) MBA ’18


Toronto, Ontario

Previous employment

Petroleum Engineer
Anchorage, Alaska

Drilling Engineer
Anchorage, Alaska

Previous education

Bachelor of Science of Engineering
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

Zachary McMahon

Class year

(Full-time) MBA ’18


Salina, Kansas

Previous employment

Various roles (IT Business Partner, Business Analyst)
Anchorage, Alaska

Previous education

Bachelor or Science in Business Administration
Kansas State University,
Manhattan, Kansas

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