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Going global post-pandemic: a GEMBA grad makes an international pivot

January 18, 2024

“My client base has extended far beyond Toronto.” 

From his home office in North York, Justin Cheung (GEMBA ’22) doesn’t work far from the Rotman School of Management’s downtown campus. And yet, for the most part, the companies that hire him are based outside of Canada.

Justin Cheung (GEMBA ’22)

Cheung is a marketing strategist, with years of experience working for leading multi-national organizations. But his real expertise lies in providing marketing for tech startups and growth-stage firms. Currently, he leads the technology and marketing strategy practice at a small consultancy firm called Pack Consulting & Advisory, which he founded with a few partners.

“I help companies tell their story effectively,” he explains.

Cheung graduated in 2022 with a Rotman-SDA Bocconi Global Executive MBA (GEMBA). Marketing for tech firms was always his ‘thing.’ With years spent honing his craft across different product, brand and digital marketing roles at Dell and Samsung, he leveraged his background to help the growing startup scene in Toronto with their go-to-market strategies and marketing needs. Then the pandemic hit, and as Cheung describes, everything slowed down in his home market.

But then a funny thing happened. “Companies all over the world were suddenly looking beyond their borders in an effort to make up for their regional challenges,” Cheung says. Suddenly, firms everywhere from China to Ecuador came calling. “I began to have clients find me through my network. With the pandemic, nobody could travel, so firms were actively looking for someone who could work remotely yet still help them navigate global challenges.”

This triggered Cheung to pivot from an exclusively domestic base to a diverse international client roster: “As I was in the middle of the GEMBA program, I was uniquely positioned to leverage what I’ve been learning to capitalize on the opportunity.”

“Startups are like the wild west. Everyone’s focused on innovation and are trying to think outside the box. But that same nature of the industry often means there aren’t many people who are particularly experienced in niche fields, so there’s a heavy emphasis on transferable skills,” Cheung says. He adds that as a result, when it comes to bringing in a consultant such as himself to help accelerate their plans, the organization needs to feel comfortable in knowing that the consultant is well-equipped to be able to navigate an unstructured environment.

“An MBA prepares you to see the bigger picture clearly, elevating strategic thinking to understand the gaps and how to address them better. It also certainly helps my credibility with my clients.”

While Cheung found that an MBA was key to thriving in leadership roles within tech-startups, he also understood that a global perspective could only further help him on this path. After comparing several MBA options, Cheung chose Rotman’s GEMBA program.

The program is a partnership between two leading international business schools: Rotman, and Italy’s top business school, SDA Bocconi. In 18 months, students study in seven of the world’s most dynamic cities, across four different continents, where they gain exposure to local business practices. There are a total of 10 study modules, which consist of several courses and extracurriculars.

“The experiential modules that really emphasize global learning are key,” Cheung says. He gives an example where he and his classmates visited Jones Lang LaSalle, a multinational commercial property management company, while attending the study module in India. The class learned how the US-headquartered organization adapted to the Indian market and how they tailored their operations to the country. “Through exposure to the different ways of doing things around the world, and gaining strategies in how to adapt to globalization, I was able to immediately apply what I learned to earn the trust of my clients.”

"An MBA that's global in nature made my profile very appealing to international clients."

—Justin Cheung (GEMBA ’22)

To show this network growth, Cheung describes a client in China, a tech firm that was looking to expand their operations internationally. He says that despite not being overly familiar with China, and not speaking the language, the startup’s management were drawn to the fact that he understood things on a global level.

“They were looking for somebody that could help them enter new markets and build partnerships with different companies around the world,” he says. “My existing experience was relevant but not enough. It was the fact that I was in the middle of getting an MBA that was global in nature which made my profile very appealing to them.”

During his time in Rotman’s GEMBA program, Cheung was elected class representative, and advocated for the needs of his classmates to the school at large. He also gained great networking contacts throughout the program, from a cohort of dynamic, diverse professionals. One of Cheung’s biggest clients is Montran, a company that offers solutions to payment management systems. That connection came from a classmate who is on the organization’s executive board.

Cheung says that he underestimated how many doors the Rotman-SDA Bocconi joint degree would open for him globally. 

“I always thought that I would make use of the Rotman network and experience much more than the Bocconi experience. I didn’t realize just how big the Bocconi name is over on that side of the pond. I’ve had clients in Europe and Asia that have brought me on board because of that reputation.”

“Don’t underestimate the power of this global partnership.”

Written by Meaghan MacSween | More Student Stories »

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