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This year’s Rotman Alumni Award winners show us what it means to be a leader

September 9, 2021

Whether they are solving a major environmental crisis, mentoring the next generation of leaders or making room for women in finance, it’s clear that this year’s Rotman Alumni Award recipients have a way of making things happen.

On September 29, in a virtual awards ceremony officially kicking off at Reunite at Rotman 2021, the School will take a closer look at how three exceptional alumni are actively working to build a better future for us all.

Their stories show us why it’s up to all of us at Rotman — students, alumni and faculty — to leverage our unique skills and strengths to make a positive change in our communities.

Here’s how this year’s Rotman Alumni Award winners did just that.

Leader to Watch: Nuha Siddiqui (BCom ’18) takes on plastic pollution

Nuha Siddiqui (BCom ’18), this year’s Rotman Leader to Watch, is unstoppable.

While working towards her Rotman Commerce degree, Siddiqui came across a UN report on the troubling issue of plastics pollution. Immediately inspired, she didn’t see the point in waiting until she graduated to get started. In between classes and exams, she began brainstorming solutions with fellow classmates — eventually founding her first startup, now known as Erthos, which strives to make plant-powered plastics the new normal.

“As a student entrepreneur, I maintained a double identity. By day, I was in class, learning to balance spreadsheets and core business concepts. By night, I was developing a science-driven business.”

While working on her startup, she actively contributed to the growth of the student entrepreneurship community at the University. Under her leadership, Enactus at U of T, a student-run social entrepreneurship organization, grew from seven to 70 members. (Her work with Enactus earned her the HSBC Woman Leader of Tomorrow Award.)

Nuha Siddiqui

“You don’t need permission to think big. Never wait to make an impact.”

—  Nuha Siddiqui, BCom ’18
2021 Rotman Leader to Watch

When her peers headed off to full-time jobs after graduation, Siddiqui decided to go full-speed with Erthos, completing the Next 36 accelerator program and the CDL Program at Rotman. Within a year, the startup raised over $7.3 million and kicked off a global manufacturing pilot.

Today, she often comes back to Rotman to speak to students about the potential impact they can make.

“I think young people should know that being a student is not a restriction,” she says. “You don’t need permission to think big. Never wait to make an impact.”

With Erthos products set to hit shelves next year, all eyes will be on Siddiqui as she inevitably succeeds in transforming single-use plastics and creating a new standard for sustainable materials.

Volunteer Excellence: Cornell Wright (JD/MBA ’00) never stops thinking about community

It would have been understandable for someone as busy as Cornell Wright (JD/MBA ’00), this year’s Rotman Volunteer Excellence Award recipient, to decline requests to speak at events or serve on committees. However, he has consistently jumped at opportunities to give back to his community and support Rotman and U of T students and alumni.

It’s hard to know where he finds the time. After all, he has been managing a demanding workload since graduating from the Rotman and Faculty of Law JD/MBA program. After 20 years with Torys LLP, where he was a senior lawyer who took the lead on complex deals, Wright recently joined Wittington Investments, where he will become president at year’s end.

Cornell Wright

“Find the time. Leverage your skills and knowledge. You have the power to drive change in your community.”

—   Cornell Wright, JD/MBA ’00
2021 Rotman Volunteer Excellence Award recipient

Throughout his illustrious career, he’s never lost sight of his responsibilities to his community. He’s put his knowledge and experience in compliance, crisis management, governance and securities to good use while serving on boards of directors for charities and non-profits, including the National Ballet of Canada, and the University Health Network, where he serves as a trustee.

He’s also carved out time to contribute specifically to Rotman. While a senior lawyer at Torys, he took the lead on hosting the firm’s annual JD-MBA reception to support students and alumni, and he has received much acclaim (and a U of T Arbor Award) for his work on the Law In Action Project, a Faculty of Law initiative which supports high school students in achieving success. As well, he continues to host leadership and career development sessions for Black students and alumni and serve as a law mentor to students. He recently accepted an executive-in-residence position at the Rotman School, which is focused on supporting the development of mentorship programs for Black students and enhancing representation at the School.

What motivates this year’s Volunteer Excellence Award winner to continually give back?

“I’ve found that there have always been avenues to incorporate the community while developing my interests and fulfilling my passions and goals,” he says. “People often underestimate how much they have to offer, but I tell them to find the time. Leverage your skills and knowledge. You have the power to drive change in your community.”

Lifetime Achievement: Kim Shannon (MBA ’93) has no plans of slowing down

Value investing is not for the faint of heart — it takes courage to go against the mainstream, ignore the noise and trust your instincts on certain long-term investments. Not only has Kim Shannon (MBA ’93), this year’s Rotman Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, forged an impressive career in value investing, but she has made a point of bringing other women with her on her ascent.

Her focus on people over profits started early, during her undergraduate days at U of T, when she became heavily involved in student clubs and activities.

“I knew I loved working with other people to make things happen. It took me a while to realize that this is what business is essentially about,” says Shannon.

After earning her (Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science) degrees, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work.

Kim Shannon

“There’s still a lot of work to be done. There’s no point in slowing down now.”

—   Kim Shannon, MBA ’93
2021 Rotman Lifetime Achievement Award recipient

She started out in equities, rising up through the ranks and eventually serving as chief investment officer and senior vice president at Merrill Lynch Canada. In 2002, she made the leap and founded her own firm, Sionna Investment Managers, now one of Canada’s leading value investment firms, where she currently serves as co-chief investment officer.

Concerned by the lack of women in the space, Shannon became involved with Variant Perspectives, and helped organize the group’s first value investing conference in 2019, aimed at breaking down barriers for women in finance.

“One of the keys to retaining women and growing their talent is hiring them in the first place,” says Shannon, who makes a point of hiring and mentoring women at Sionna.

She has also returned to the Rotman School — where she earned her MBA —numerous times as a speaker, mentor and Reunite Fireside Chat host to help young professionals find their way in the industry.

Among her many achievements, Shannon has previously been named a Morningstar Fund Manager of the Year, received the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Award and won the Women’s Executive Network’s Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award.

Though she can soon add this year’s Rotman Lifetime Achievement Award to her list of accolades, her work is far from finished.

“I’ve seen remarkable change in my 40-year career, and I know there’s still a lot of progress to be made and work to be done,” she says. “There’s no point in slowing down now. I’m going to continue to work on projects that are challenging, interesting and where I can continue to grow.”

Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »

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