2018 Best EMBAs: Don Trynor, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Don Trynor

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“A passionate entrepreneur that loves using technology and innovation to solve everyday problems.”

Age: 46

Hometown: St. George, New Brunswick, Canada

Family Members: Partner

Fun fact about yourself: I am a licensed Amateur Radio operator and I provided radio sound effects that were used in the movie “Against the Sun”.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of New Brunswick – Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)

Where are you currently working? Toronto West Academy – Co-Founder & Managing Director

Toronto West Academy is an education startup company that was created by my classmate Sophia Wu and I. Essentially, Toronto West Academy is a science and technology online secondary school with the aim to provide the best learning opportunities for global students through the delivery of an enriched Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum. We are licensed by the Ontario Ministry of Education and are determined to help youth around the world to achieve their full potential through the delivery of the best possible education using the highest quality teaching professionals that Canada has to offer.

Sophia and I came up with the idea of creating an online school during our Capstone project. With Sophia’s experience as an Education Executive and her vast international education connections and my strong technology background, we were able to launch the school on February 1, 2018 to students both here in Canada and around the world. Since then, we have been able to secure partnerships with several schools located in the top cities in China, including Shenzhen, Shanghai and Guilin.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

One of my hobbies is Amateur Radio, which can provide worldwide communications during times of emergency or natural disaster, so I was President of the Central Toronto Amateur Radio Club in 2013.

I also mentored a number of early stage technology startup companies during the course of the EMBA program to help them to be successful with their business ideas. Having started my career as the co-founder of a startup company, I truly appreciated the advice that I received from others during those times and always hoped that I could do the same for others as well.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

The extracurricular achievement that I am most proud of during business school was the creation of a new the startup company Toronto West Academy. This company is really the brainchild of the collective experience that both Sophia Wu and I have, plus the knowledge that we were able to obtain during the course of the EMBA program.

Another activity that I am proud of during business school was that I was given the opportunity to have articles published in the Globe and Mail about my EMBA experience. I enjoy writing a great deal, so having two articles published in Canada’s top newspaper was a real honour for me.

Also, one of my classmates and I won a karaoke singing award during one of our residential weeks, which always brings back fond memories of the program whenever I see it.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? One achievement that I am most proud of was that I co-founded a successful Internet startup company early in my career. During that time, public access to the Internet was in its early days in my home province of New Brunswick, so some university friends and I decided to drop out of school and capitalize on the opportunity by creating an Internet Service Provider (ISP) called Maritime Internet Services. This company grew to become the second largest ISP in New Brunswick before being acquired in its second year of operation by the local telephone company, NBTel, which through subsequent mergers, became known as Bell Aliant. This is how I started my 16 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, working for some of the top Canadian companies, including Rogers, TELUS and Bell Aliant.

Managing this company was a huge learning experience for me, as I had no background in business or management prior to this. Now that I am a co-founder for Toronto West Academy, I believe that my previous experience with managing my first startup company, plus the leadership experience that I have gained over the course of my career, will help to make Toronto West Academy a success.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?I actually had two favourite courses. The first one was Macroeconomics, which was taught by Professor Doug Hyatt and the other was the Finance 2 course, taught by Professor Craig Doidge. For Macroeconomics, I particularly enjoyed learning about the many factors that impacted the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the Canadian economy, including but not limited to, interest rates, international trade, exchange rates and government spending, to name a few.

With regard to the Finance 2 course, I particularly enjoyed this course since it helped me to learn many important financial concepts, including firm valuation, which I will find invaluable in my work with a new startup company.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose the Rotman Executive MBA program because the University of Toronto has such an amazing reputation across Canada and around the globe, so I felt that I could not go wrong with studying there. I was looking to make a change in my career and decided that this would be the best place to do it. Fortunately, my dream came true, as studying the Rotman EMBA program afforded me the opportunity to embark on yet another startup adventure.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The people. Whether it was my classmates or the faculty, I will always cherish the friendships I made and the great people that I met while taking this program. To exemplify this, I got to meet my friend and trusted business partner, Sophia Wu. Had I not taken the Rotman EMBA program, it is highly unlikely that we would have met her and our current venture would not have happened.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson or insight that I learned during the EMBA program was how to be a better leader. This includes ways to inspire and lead people, how to make better decisions – especially when faced with difficult situations or inherent biases, plus ways to evaluate opportunities from a strategic perspective and to develop and interpret financial models. By having all of this newfound knowledge, I feel more equipped to become a more effective leader and feel that I can put it to practical use for this new venture that I have embarked up on following the EMBA program.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Keeping all of these aspects of one’s life in order while taking the program can be a real challenge. One example for me when I found it a bit challenging was in July 2017. During that time, I had spent one week in Milan, Italy for an international study module and then returned home to Toronto for only one day, before heading off to Vancouver for another week of meetings with folks in the technology industry.

While I was in Vancouver, I needed to catch-up on some classes that I missed during my time in Italy, plus I also had to complete several personal and group deliverables for the EMBA program – all while fighting the effects of jetlag. Through the use of video conferencing tools and proper time management, I was able to complete all of my deliverables, meet with my EMBA team for group calls and attend all of my planned business meetings. In addition, my partner was even able to come to Vancouver for a visit on the weekend, allowing us to tour around Vancouver and see Seattle for the first time.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? My advice would be to take advantage of all of the benefits that the program has to offer – not just the academics. Your classmates will become life-long friends, so take the time to get to know them. Also, taking the program can really be a huge learning and transformational opportunity for most people. I recommend that anyone considering such a program to fully embrace the opportunity for change, including taking full advantage of all the support services and benefits offered by the faculty to help students get the most out of the program.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I think the biggest myth is that one is too old go back to school. I finished my Bachelors degree in 2002, so it was 14 years since I last studied. Aside from needing glasses for the first time, I found that you’re never too old to go back to school and have committed myself to lifelong learning.

Another comment that I had heard from others in the past was that taking an MBA would not be of much benefit if you already have a Bachelor of Business degree. For me, I found taking the EMBA program to be a life changing experience, which was nowhere near the case when I competed my BBA. The knowledge and experiences that I gained, plus the people that I met and the opportunities that completing an MBA afforded me, made it well worth the effort.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Hands down, the biggest regret for me is that I did not complete the program 10 years earlier. I had considered applying then, but was under the impression that it would be of little or no value to me, since I already had a Business degree. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20.

Secondly, I wish I had gotten to know all of my classmates better. After the program begins, you can get into a bit of a routine, so I wish I could have gotten to know all of my classmates as well as those in some of my teams.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? That would have to be Rupinder Dhillon. Rupinder was one of my EMBA teammates and she was on maternity leave from her work with Bell Canada during the first part of the program while she looked after her baby. Part way through the program, she went back to work and had to manage the needs of family, her work, and the program all at the same time – and she was even able to get promoted before the program ended. To me, she is a real superwoman and I admire her for being able to manage all of these so well.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that I needed more skills and knowledge to become a better leader, so that I could continue to move forward in my career. I felt that I was not learning new skills or being challenged in a way that would allow me to grow professionally, so I needed to initiate a change that would help me acquire new knowledge and skills that would keep me moving forward.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…likely still doing the same type of work in Product Management. Given this, it would have been very unlikely that I would have had the opportunity to be a part of Toronto West Academy and pursuing a career in a completely new industry on an international scale. For this reason, I am very thankful that I chose to pursue the Rotman EMBA program.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to make a difference in the world and contribute to society as a whole. Education is one way that we can improve the lives of others and to that end, I hope that our school, Toronto West Academy, can serve this purpose by delivering a high-quality education to students all over the world.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A passionate and innovative entrepreneur that is able to get things done.

Favorite book: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.

Favorite movie or television show: I love Sci-Fi movies, so it would definitely have to be the movie Interstellar.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Travel to Australia. Since I was a kid, I have wanted to travel to Australia. Given the distance and number of things that I want to see there, I would require at least a month to travel around the country, so I have not been able to do this as of yet.
  2. Create a Scholarship Fund. I would love one day to create a scholarship fund for university students that demonstrate academic excellence and are also a licensed Amateur Radio operator.

What made Don such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Don Trynor was clearly on a mission when he entered our EMBA program. Between the time Don was accepted into the program and the start date, Don’s employer was acquired, and a restructuring ended a previously undisrupted 22-year career.

From the first day, Don was the type of EMBA student that we have in mind when we design Executive MBA programs. While Don arrived, as most do, wanting to develop the technical and leadership skills that would make him a better manager, he challenged himself wanted to achieve those things with an open mind, truly learning from the experiences of his classmates and finding out about their lives and careers, and being open to opportunities that made him feel uncomfortable and excited at the same time. Don discovered that a Product Manager can be transformed into an education-sector entrepreneur.  With one of the other members of his class, Sophia Wu, in the context of their entrepreneurship Capstone course, Don founded an online educational platform that allows foreign secondary students of science and technology to achieve North American standards of education, thereby preparing them for post-secondary opportunities anywhere in the world.

I think that what Don discovered in the EMBA program is that he thrives in disruption! And, he has inspired us all to try to be more like him.”

Doug Hyatt
Academic Director, Professional MBA Programs, and Professor of Business Economics
Rotman School of Management

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