The MBA experience can change you, not only as a professional, but as a person.
That was true for Mitch Legare (Morning MBA ’21) and seven of his classmates in the Morning and Evening MBA program, who started a group at Rotman to support each other on a personal level – not limited to issues relating to their courses or careers.
Mitch Legare (Morning MBA ’21)
Called the True North Group, Legare and his peers say they wouldn’t be where they are now without it.
Every month since September 2020, the group has met virtually to share their experiences and goals, offer advice and reflect on challenges. They practice compassionate leadership by taking turns hosting the meeting, which are often deeply personal. With confidentiality at the core, no topic is out of bounds for members to bring to the group for feedback, from difficult situations at work to daily obstacles.
“The vision of the group is to help every member to become the best version of themselves,” says Legare, who works in the mortgage lending industry.
“It has become a place where you can share confidential information and personal objectives without worrying about conflict of interest or confidentiality – an environment where you can learn, grow and support each other without competition.”
—Mitch Legare (Morning MBA ’21)
The True North method – made popular by Prof. Bill George from Harvard Business School – is designed for leaders to develop self-awareness, compassion, emotional intelligence and authenticity.
"The core idea is you create an environment where you're able to get perspectives from people that you know, respect and trust, on your most important issues. It's not easy today to find an environment like that,” says Prof. Dan Richards, who has been part of a True North Group at points in his career.
In 2020, when his students looked for a way to keep the momentum going after his One to One Marketing class – which has a strong focus on personal development – Richards brought forward the idea for the students to start a True North Group at Rotman.
They continue to keep in touch months after graduating.
As group members Legare, Tim Miao, Jackie Hwang, James Hitchcock, Rain Zuo, Sonia Sugumar, Owen Zhou and Wendy Lu reflect on their MBA experience, they affirm that the group was the catalyst for their personal and professional growth during the program.
A trusted sounding board for ideas
For Sonia Sugumar (Morning MBA ’21), her group mates helped her to think clearly leading up to a career switch.
With a background in neuroscience and experience leading a team at the Ontario Brain Institute, she pursued her MBA to develop skills in business development and stakeholder relations. It’s a step towards her goal to lead a non-for-profit.
"There were many ambiguous ideas floating around in my head, and this group was the voice outside of my head that crystalized certain key ideas for me. Things clicked in a way that I'm not sure writing in a journal or debating with myself would have achieved,” says Sugumar, who now works in corporate partnerships at U of T. In that role, she connects external companies with researchers and entrepreneurs from across the university.
Sugumar is one of six True North group members who switched roles in their final year of the MBA program.
“Watching everybody grow and experience that clarity at different points was amazing,” she says.
Finding confidence and compassion
Rain Zuo (Morning MBA ’21) works in capital markets and considers herself to be reserved. She says she deals with problems by herself, rarely sharing them with even her close friends.
“This group has really encouraged me to self-reflect. As I got to know everyone on a deeper level, I opened up and got to listen to different perspectives,” she says.
In addition to group chats where members bring forward issues they want feedback on, different pairs also meet one-on-one throughout the month to forge deeper connections.
“If we know more about the things that drive us – personal, family or career circumstances – then we’re better able to help the person because we better understand what they’re going through,” Zuo says.
“We try to structure the one-on-one chats to enable more vulnerability as we progress together. Confidentiality is key here to create a safe place to discuss these personal topics.”
“It has made me a better person.”
—Rain Zuo (Morning MBA ’21)
Keeping the momentum going
The True North Group is among many ways MBA students at the Rotman School are encouraged by faculty and staff to explore creative opportunities that benefit them. Over the years, students have started industry-specific clubs and mentorship groups that have continued long after they graduate.
James Hitchcock (Morning MBA ’21)
“Just get started. The biggest initial challenge is scheduling, having your first meeting and just keeping it open and figuring it out as you go,” says Legare, noting that their meetings have looked different each month as each member took turns leading and going outside of their comfort zone.
Richards says he welcomes students interested in starting their own True North Group to approach him for guidance.
“All of us are ambitious to be ‘leaders of leaders’ in the future, and that's all about helping people reach their full potential. For me, that's where a lot of the value from the group comes,” says James Hitchcock (Morning MBA ’21), who leads operations in the cannabis industry.
“I loved having a support network where I can chew through problems and turn to for support, but it was also great to be there and help others along that journey.”
—James Hitchcock (Morning MBA ’21)
Written by Jessie Park | More Student Stories »