2017 Best EMBAs: Lai-Ling Lee Rodriguez, McGill-HEC Montreal

Lai-Ling Lee Rodriguez

McGill-HEC Montreal EMBA

“A woman, mother, wife, and global citizen who believes in the potential of impactful alliances between entrepreneurs and humanitarians.”

Age: 50

Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario Canada

Family Members: Kevin Pottie, husband; Mzia, daughter, Maxim, son

Fun fact about yourself: I love salsa dancing as much as eating a good Chinese dim sum brunch thanks to my dad’s Chinese upbringing and my mom’s family during my childhood years in Venezuela.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Winnipeg, Bachelor degree, French; Concordia University, Graduate Diploma in Management for Not for Profits.

Where are you currently working? Canadian Red Cross, Head of Region, Americas International Operations. I am based in Ottawa, Canada.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I have served as Board member in my local community centre for two years as well as two years on the Canadian board of Doctors Without Borders. For over ten years, I organized our neighbourhood summer street party.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was very happy with my team’s work on a social enterprise linking coffee and education for Haitian school children because it brought together our MBA learnings and each team member’s experience and skills for the collective and challenging goal of having social impact in Haiti.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am very proud to have completed my executive MBA because it is the education I craved for many years both as a manager in NGOs myself, but because I wanted to better understand the business world.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I had many amazing MBA professors, so this is a very tough question. Alain Gosselin is a supremely humble man who taught us about engaging with personnel and also led us to self discovery as leaders in very effective ways.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? The innovation and value creation modules exposed me to truly mind boggling ways of working developing new products and validated for me that the for profit and not-for-profit sector have a lot more to gain from forging true collaborations together.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I loved the fact that it is a bilingual English / French program, which makes it very culturally enriching and forces everyone to think globally.  I also loved the holistic approach to learning through a series of modules called “mindsets.”

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I enjoyed meeting new friends from all walks of life and long time work experience. Team projects helped to make the work tangible and applicable to my real work.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? The monthly train rides from and to Ottawa to Montreal helped me catch up on work reading and team calls, school assignments or school team project skypecalls. Those 4 hours every month felt like 5 minutes, I was always so busy!

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? “You are too old to go back to school.” I had peers in my class who were my age or older and all of us felt we had learned and gained a lot by going back. Learning is a life-long process.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Losing touch with my circle of girl friends.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my classmate Sophie the most because she had superior listening skills. This skill gave her a huge capacity for empathy, a big heart.  Not only that, her notes are so precise and thorough we all want her to publish them and sell them to us!

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I took a multi-sector partnership brokers course and realized I didn’t know the corporate sector.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…biased against the corporate sector.”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? Ikea is challenging the way consumers consume and the way humanitarian organizations approach innovation.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? I would institute a 50/50 quota of students: for-profit managers and not-for-profit managers with a sliding scale fee according to participant salaries or employer contributions to tuition to ensure program viability.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To be the best leader I can be in an organization that creates positive social impact.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I owe my success to employers that placed their trust and confidence in me and offered me amazing professional opportunities.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Lai Ling was an insightful and collaborative classmate.

Favorite book: A Bed for the Night, David Rieff

Favorite movie or television show: The Wire – TV series

Favorite musical performer: Bono

Favorite vacation spot: Algonquin Park, Ontario Canada

Hobbies? Yoga, seeing independent films, biking, kayaking

What made Lai-Ling Lee Rodriguez such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Where to start? With a Chinese father and a Venezuelan mother, immigrating to Canada from Venezuela as a young girl, and having spent her whole career in the humanitarian sector, Lai-Ling was anything but a typical EMBA. And that’s just the kind of participant that can really enrich a class. Diversity of opinion and experience are key to our program, and Lai-Ling broadened and deepened class discussions with her humanitarian perspective, and her questioning of things that many of her classmates took for granted.

Lai-Ling is a bright, energetic, optimistic problem-solver. Her current role as Director, Americas for the Canadian Red Cross had her caught in the crosshairs of natural disasters more than once through the course of the program: earthquakes in Ecuador in April and December, and Hurricane Matthew’s devastation in the Caribbean are two examples. But Lai-Ling managed to take it all in stride. The stress of doing the EMBA program was nothing like the life and death situations her organization was dealing with, and her reality helped the rest of the class keep their challenges in perspective.

Lai-Ling is generous, she’s open, she loves life, and she cares deeply about people, all people.  She’s also a realist, and that combination was a powerful boost to the class. But perhaps most importantly, Lai-Ling is a bridge builder. The business world was entirely unknown to her before she started her EMBA, but it didn’t take her long to understand that both business and the humanitarian sector had a lot to gain by understanding each other better. Her capstone paper for the program was a fascinating study of how to develop strategic alliances between humanitarian organizations and businesses to offer mutual benefit and collective social impact. With her drive and her commitment to making the world a better place, I have no doubt she’ll turn her paper into action, for the good of all.”

Professor Alain Pinsonneault, CQ
Co-Academic Director, EMBA McGill-HEC Montreal Program
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC)
Fellow of the AIS
Imasco Chair of IS
James McGill Professor
Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University