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Ike Kaja starts his account of his two years at Rotman School of Management in Toronto
I would describe myself as an accidental MBA. It was my two-month hospital stay after my motorcycle accident in August 2005 that forced me to kick my long-postponed MBA plans into gear and begin the process of researching which business school to attend.
My run-in with mortality put everything into perspective. I realised that I simply did not have forever to pursue my passions.
Now, nearing the end of my first term in the Rotman School of Management’s two-year MBA programme, I know I have done the right thing.
As a 34-year-old batchelor, it was not an issue for me to leave my home in Bowie, Maryland and move to another city, but I was also itching to experience a new country. As a Navy child, I had become used to moving constantly, first from Africa to Europe and then to the US for my undergraduate studies.
By choosing to pursue an MBA degree at a non-US school, I would be fulfilling my professional and educational aspirations while satisfying my wanderlust for a new location. An absolute win-win situation!
Since graduating from Bowie State University in Maryland in 1997 with a degree in Business Administration, I have spent my career in public accounting as a practicing and licensed Certified Public Accountant, gradually progressing to the entrepreneurial side of the profession.
A few years ago, while working on a client’s tax return, I discovered the stock market and I have been hooked on it and its instruments ever since. While my initial foray into the stock market cost me the equivalent of my current two-year MBA programme fees, it provided me with a priceless education in how the stock market worked and how “bulls made money and pigs got slaughtered”.
Nevertheless, while my fascination with the stock market led to my involvement in setting up an asset management fund at my firm, my experience managing this fund over the past year has made me painfully aware that I do not have the in-depth expertise needed to run an asset fund successfully over the long run.
I need to strengthen my ability to correlate financial performance with equities behaviour.
I need a tool that will build on the skills I have gained as a CPA while strengthening my asset management skills.
That tool is the Rotman MBA, concentrating on finance and entrepreneurship.
Once I had done my research and consulted those friends who were either in, or had been through, business school, the feedback was unanimous: business school is an all-consuming endeavour and I had to make sure the MBA programme I chose matched my ambitions, needs and values. Based on this advice, my very long list of schools was quickly whittled down to a more manageable list of three with Rotman, at the University of Toronto, Canada at the top.
My criteria? Reputation, strong alumni network, teaching approach, strong international component, location. Across the board, Rotman met all my criteria. Its MBA programme has a strong reputation as a finance powerhouse not just on Wall Street in New York and Bay Street in Toronto, but internationally too. Rotman’s alumni presence in the finance industry, especially on Bay Street, is significant.
I have always considered myself more collaborative than competitive and I have a strong bias towards working in teams.
Rotman uses the team approach with assigned study groups and it goes even further by implementing its “Integrative Thinking” approach, using a balanced mix of case studies, lectures and group projects to develop the skills necessary for making sound management decisions.
Initially, this sounded suspiciously like a sales pitch to me, but now that I am in the programme and have been exposed to its foundations, I realise it is a little like understanding how each part of the human body works individually, but also knowing that the parts must function together as a whole organism.
With students from more than 32 countries making up more than 40 per cent of Rotman’s student population, I knew my lust for globalisation and all things international would be indulged.
Having grown up in Africa and lived in Europe and North America, this international component was quite simply, a must-have for me.
The final selling point for me was location and Rotman takes that cake easily.
Professionally, Toronto is a leading financial hub and since I wanted to remain in the west, Japan and Hong Kong were ruled out.
Socially, it is the most ethnically diverse city I have come across and that experience in itself is an education in globalisation.
Beyond these needs was another consideration: the financial load.
Unfortunately, the accountant in me simply could not accept graduating with a financial burden that looked like a house mortgage, especially when I was not sure if I would be working for someone else or for myself after graduating. This took a number of schools straight off my list especially the European schools (LBS, Insead and Iese) that had caught my interest.
In hindsight, my overall experiences so far at Rotman have shown me I made a great decision.
I have been impressed by how the lessons I have learnt in one class, such as Managing People in Organisations, have been connected with the lessons I have learnt in Foundations of Integrative Thinking, which is in turn relevant to my personal and professional experiences.
My classmates, like the faculty, are impressive and have definitely added to my motivation to go beyond my perceived limits.
And of course, the icing on the cake: I have the opportunity to live in and explore the beautiful city of Toronto.