2017 Best EMBAs: Rachel Huckle, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Rachel Huckle

Rotman School of Management (University of Toronto) / OMNIUM

“I am a conscientious leader that believes accomplishment and compassion can go hand in hand.”

Age: 42

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Family Members: I have a 22-year-old son who is a student at the University of Toronto. He is the light of my life, and is someone that I truly admire and respect.

My mother is a Registered Nurse at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto. At 70+ years old, she continues to work with compassion and care for her patients every day.

Fun fact about yourself: I was a fitness competitor and a coach for several competitors many years ago, and I owned and operated my own fitness club.

Undergraduate School and Degree: I studied nursing at Humber College. My nursing background is what helped me to gain employment at Shoppers Drug Mart 20 years ago as a Pharmacy Technician. It’s been a wonderful journey ever since!

Where are you currently working? I am currently working at Loblaw Companies Ltd. as the Vice President of Enterprise Loyalty, and Customer Management. This is an interim role for a maternity leave coverage.

Previous to this, I was the Vice President, Operations at Shoppers Drug Mart, for a region of 125 locations with annual revenues of $1.5 Billion.

Upon completion of my Interim Enterprise Loyalty role in April 2017, I will be moving on to become Vice President, Category Management at Shoppers Drug Mart.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Director – Ontario Shores Mental Health Centre Foundation Board.

Shoppers Love You Champion – Shoppers Drug Mart’s Annual fundraising event where 100% of the proceeds benefit Women’s Health initiatives in local communities where we operate.

Co-Chair Women in Leadership Committee – Shoppers Drug Mart.

Omnium Global Executive Fellowship Award for Excellence in Leadership Recipient.

The Judy Project participant – The Judy Project is one of Canada’s leading executive forums, uniquely designed to support and prepare women who are ascending into executive leadership and C-suite positions. Employing a variety of learning approaches, the Program integrates leading academic research by Rotman Faculty with expertise from an impressive roster of distinguished CEO and Executive guest speakers from Canadian and global organizations.

Shoppers Drug Mart – President nomination – Accelerated Leadership Program.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of being selected by the nomination committee to receive the fellowship award for Excellence in Leadership at Rotman. Being selected to receive this award, amongst such an accomplished cohort of classmates was truly humbling.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Midway through the MBA program, I was asked to take on a new role in the organization, a role that was outside my level of comfort, and something that was completely outside of my current professional experience. I am the business strategy lead for a $100 million project that includes teams that span multiple campuses across the city. The role encompasses Marketing, Digital, Loyalty, Finance, Consumer Insights, Innovation, Customer Research, Organizational Change Management and it spans the entire Loblaw enterprise – which has forced me to learn to work with multiple stakeholders with competing priorities. In addition, frequent opportunities to present and report to the Management Board has given me further insight and learning from the highest levels of the business. This was a wonderful opportunity to leverage the content and experience from my MBA program immediately, and lean in to expanding my level of comfort with respect to thriving in ambiguity and a very fluid project with constant change.

In addition, I have always strived to be a conscientious leader, one who is inclusive, with high standards of excellence, that is committed to supporting others in achieving their best self and being their most productive. This new role, during a very busy time of my life enabled me to build upon my leadership skills, challenge my thinking around influencing, and expand my communication skills by adapting to a very different audience.

Who was your favourite MBA professor? This is a difficult question to answer, as I enjoyed many of the professors that I worked with and respect each of them for very different reasons. With that said, there are a few that stood out to me during my MBA journey.

Beatrix Dart is an inspirational leader who presents Strategy through an academic lens, but also a practical lens that challenges you to think about how to critically apply the different strategy frameworks available.

Nouman Ashraf, is the professor for Emancipatory Leadership; which was a brilliantly taught program, which has influenced how I think about leadership. It has challenged me to think about my own implicit biases, mental models, and situational blind spots.

Finally, I have to mention Doug Hyatt. His method of teaching Economics — both Micro and Macro — is engaging, practical, and has made a very complex subject matter digestible. He has sparked an interest and curiosity in Economics for me, which I intend to pursue further.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Rotman is a well-renowned, and respected academic institution. The faculty is world-class. What really sealed the deal for me was two-fold. First, it was the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the Associate Dean (Beatrix Dart) when I was making my decision. She was supportive, and showed confidence in my ability to be a successful candidate. This inspired me to want to be a part of a university where it was evident that there was a culture of inclusion, and the faculty truly believed in their students. The second thing that influenced my decision was the ability to audit a class prior to making my decision, Specifically, I audited Nouman’s Emancipatory Leadership course. The material being taught, the method in which it was being taught, and the passion and conviction of the professor made me excited about being a part of this institution, and learning from the very best.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? It was the opportunity to work with a diverse cohort of classmates, and an exceptionally talented group of professors who challenged me throughout the course, and allowed me to expand my thinking. It was also the ability to travel the world and experience first-hand different cultural norms and nuances, all while receiving a world class education.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? There are several examples of this. One of the most memorable was during a much needed trip away with my son. I’d been stretched thin, and thought it would be great to have some one-on-one time alone with him. We managed to get away to the Dominican for a full week. During this time, I had 2 MBA group Skype calls and we submitted an Economics assignment and a Capstone assignment. As well, I held 2 conference calls with work for things that were time-sensitive and required my attention. Some might think that this isn’t ideal, as I wasn’t able to truly unplug for my holiday. However, this is an example of some of the tradeoffs that you make. I still managed to relax, and enjoy some time with my son. He understood, and I managed to get everything else completed that I needed to.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s executive MBA program? Rotman values candidates who are well-rounded, have experienced leadership, and show an aptitude for learning the academics. One of the things that I was most impressed with at Rotman is the emphasis that they have in the program on leadership excellence — both organizational and personal. Executives today benefit greatly from understanding the core MBA courses, but there is no substitute for great leadership in the corporate world. Rotman spends a considerable amount of time focused on this in the program, and they recognize candidates that bring forward these skill sets.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? There were two myths that surfaced early on when I first expressed my interest in pursuing an EMBA.

1) You won’t be able to juggle work, family, and school: I won’t lie…it wasn’t easy, but it was doable. As executives, we are innately resourceful and determined individuals. Gaining my families support up front was veryimportant. They cheered me on every step of the way, and were understanding when I couldn’t participate in every family outing. My employer was also exceptionally supportive. This helped me as I needed time away for the global travel. Finally, it was incumbent upon me to take ownership of juggling my priorities, and ensuring that I met the competing demands, and ultimately make trade-offs that I knew were short term, but necessary so that I could be successful.

2) Its too expensive: An EMBA is not cheap! However, I viewed it as an investment in me and my future; I am already seeing returns on my investment, and I am confident that the time and money invested will generate ongoing returns for me in the future —emotionally, intellectually, and financially.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I don’t have any regrets in business school.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I moved in to more senior roles, and realized that I wanted to learn more, and expand my business acumen. While I understood a great deal about the business, there were many more complex conversations happening that I wanted to be a part of.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still the VP, Operations with a much more limited view of the world, and lacking the knowledge and perspective that I have gained over the last 18 months.”

What is your favourite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? Shoppers Drug Mart is my favourite company. What makes them so special is their Senior Management team and their commitment to a great organizational culture. The entire Senior Management team features a group of leaders who are knowledgeable, humble, and exceptionally approachable. This makes for a very inclusive workplace that fosters an environment that everyone wants to be a part of, and is able to realize their full potential.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? Our Academic Director – Doug Hyatt takes a very inclusive approach, and actually takes the time to ask us what we think of the program, and what we would do to change it. I think this is the best approach possible – leveraging insights from the students directly

If I had to recommend one thing specifically, it would be to provide the option of elective courses for those that would like to focus on a specialty or drill down deeper in to a particular subject matter.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have always been a dreamer with deadlines…I aspire to be the President of Shoppers Drug Mart. I want to lead and continue to be a part of an organization that has such a tremendously positive impact on the lives of Canadians every single day.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? There are several people that I would like to thank for my success.

My son (Elliot) first and foremost. When the going got tough, my son was always there with a hug, a bouquet of flowers, or a little note to say “You can do it! And I’m proud of you mom!”

There are several executives at Loblaw and Shoppers that have supported me every step of the way: Sharla Paraskevopoulos, Nick Caprio, Jim Noteboom, Garry Senical, and Mike Motz.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Rachel works hard, works smart, and is a caring, and compassionate leader.

Favorite book: There are several incredible books that I have read recently, so I can’t pick just one…

The Thoughtful Leader: A Model of integrative Leadership – Jim Fisher

The Art of the Longview – Peter Schwartz

Bet on Me – Annette Verschuren

Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader: Herminia Ibarra

Favourite movie or television show: Favourite television show right now…Suits.

Favorite musical performer: Prince

Favorite vacation spot: Florida

But…some new found loves : Mumbai, Delhi, Budapest, Milan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, San Francisco, Santiago, Johannesburg, and Dubai.

Hobbies? Reading, Travel, Orange Theory Fitness classes..and, My newest hobby – photography

What made Rachel such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

I came to know Rachel through the Emancipatory Leadership course within the OMNIUM Global Executive MBA program within the Rotman School of Management in which she was one of the top performers in the fall of 2015. My course bridges across the domains of personal leadership as well organizational practice. In both regards her contributions in class were outstanding. In particular, her final deliverable for the course was a strategy for greater employee engagement and inclusion of historically marginalized groups is one of the most thorough submissions I have received to date. Her ability to translate ideas, frames, models and approaches into organizational initiatives makes her an exemplar of what effective executive management education strives to produce: leaders who possess both self-awareness and a commitment to bettering the organizational experience of others.

I have had the opportunity to observe first hand Rachel’s interactions with her peers both in the classroom and socially, consistently experiencing her as thoughtful, considerate and analytical yet respectful. She is interested in the perspective of others, particularly those who may be reticent to contribute to the discussion. She is routinely able to draw out ideas in a way that engenders both inclusiveness and critical rigour. In terms of intellectual ability and integrity, I would rank Rachel in the top five percent of students I have dealt with in my 17 years at the University of Toronto.

Since taking my course, Rachel has stayed in touch with me, sharing the numerous initiatives where she has applied key concepts from the course for which she has received recognition both within her organization and nationally. Her myriad contributions are truly a joy to witness and I believe she will be tremendous asset to future leaders as a natural mentor and coach.”

Nouman Ashraf
Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream
Rotman School of Management
University of Toronto