2019 Best EMBAs: Catherine Bornbaum, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Catherine Bornbaum

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

“An impactful leader building a meaningful career while living a full and happy life.”

Age: 33

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Family Members: Brandon (Husband), Holden (3-year-old son), and Magnus (4-month-old son). (Plus a huge, loving extended family!)

Fun fact about yourself: I was the captain of my cheerleading team in high school

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc), Western University
  • Master of Health Sciences (MSc), Western University
  • Doctor of Philosophy, Health Sciences (Ph.D.), Western University

Where are you currently working? I am Managing Director and Research Associate at the Population Health Analytics Laboratory, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. Together with the Scientific Director, I lead an outstanding team of researchers and analysts as we tackle some of the most complex challenges facing our health system.

An especially enjoyable and important aspect is the opportunity to work directly with health system decision-makers who are responsible for guiding the future of our health system. Our goal within the lab is to support meaningful health system change through an innovative analytically-driven approach that combines impact, sustainability, and equity.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Within Rotman, I was an MBA Student Participant, Creative Destruction Lab. Outside of Rotman, some of my activities include: Grant Reviewer, The Netherlands Organisation of Health, Research and Development and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research; Member, Knowledge Translation & Exchange Expert Team, The Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium; and Member, Ontario Population Trends in Improved Mortality: Informing Sustainability & Equity of the health care system (OPTIMISE) research program.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The extracurricular activity that I’m most proud of during business school is having had the opportunity to work with Kheiron Medical Technologies, a health tech startup that I connected with through the Creative Destruction Lab. Kheiron is a UK-based company focused on supporting the work of radiologists with machine learning software.

I have been fortunate to be able to apply both my business and technical skills towards some key strategic projects in support of the company’s international expansion efforts. Importantly, the company’s executive team is mission-driven and focused on applying deep learning to detect breast cancer earlier, so patients live longer. It has been a profoundly rewarding experience for me to contribute to a company that is so focused on health system improvement. I have no doubt that Kheiron’s future is bright and I look forward to seeing them continue to shape the future of deep learning diagnostics.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In 2018, our Population Health Analytics Lab hosted an international symposium focused on identifying what opportunities exist for artificial intelligence (AI) to improve population health – a world first, to our knowledge. We brought together thought-leading experts from industry, academia, and policy settings to discuss opportunities and challenges for AI in population health and to identify strategies to enhance Canada’s capacity to be an international leader in this area. Recommendations from this event have been taken up by national organizations here in Canada and are helping to shape future training opportunities for students. Even in this small way, I am proud to be contributing to Canada’s role as a leader in health AI.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favourite MBA professor was Dr. John Oesch who taught us Business Problem Solving and Organizational Leadership. Dr. Oesch pushed us to think critically about our roles and responsibilities as leaders. Importantly, he gave us the tools to make better decisions as leaders.

The thing I loved most about his classes was that I was able to put the things I learned from him immediately into action in my own workplace – the return on investment was instant. On a personal note, I’d love for Dr. Oesch to write a book someday; I have no doubt that it would be thoughtful, measured, and brilliant.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favourite MBA course was the International Entrepreneurship Capstone class taught by Dr. Tomas Casas. It was the final course delivered in the MBA and it provided an opportunity for us to bring together everything we’d learned throughout the program and apply it towards creating a scalable company.

As someone who is interested in an entrepreneurial career path, the most significant insight I gained through that experience was of how critically important the team is to the success of the company as a whole. I had the opportunity to lead a truly exceptional team as we worked to build out our company from initial idea to a minimally viable product. Through the process, I observed first-hand how important it is to have the right mix of healthy conflict among an engaged team. We pushed each other to respectfully consider key risks and opportunities related to our ideas; we pivoted when necessary and we supported each other throughout the process. In the end, I was proud of not only our company, but of the process we had undertaken and of the relationships we had formed with one another.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Rotman was an easy choice for me. In addition to its award-winning faculty and status as a top business school in Canada, Rotman came very highly recommended by friends and colleagues whom I trust and who had completed their MBAs here previously. I was able to see first-hand how their post-MBA career trajectories had changed dramatically following their time at Rotman. They became more thoughtful and strategic in their decision-making; I wanted to understand what had caused that shift and to unlock my own potential.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? What I enjoyed most about business school was the classroom discussion. Being able to sit in a room with so many diverse perspectives from different industries, countries of origin, and life experiences were such a humbling and rich experiences. I learned so much from my colleagues and professors during those class hours – it’s the thing I miss most now that the program is complete.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? One of the biggest lessons I gained during the EMBA program was how to enhance team decision-making processes. For instance, simple actions such as starting by defining evaluation criteria, avoiding positionality, sharing information openly, separating brainstorming from evaluation, identifying and evaluating alternatives against the stated criteria, and taking the appropriate amount of time required are useful tools to structure the decision-making process. Learning to focus on the process of how a decision is made, rather than just the outcome, has enabled me to facilitate richer discussions in practice and to ultimately arrive at more thoughtful and robust decisions.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? My experience as an executive MBA student was made possible by a carefully orchestrated series of tradeoffs and compromises. This experience was shared by my husband who was enrolled in one of Rotman’s MBA programs at the same time.

To balance our responsibilities as students with our roles as parents, partners, and employees, we established a routine. We prioritized spending time fully engaged with our toddler while he was awake. Between this and our careers, it only left late nights and weekends for schoolwork. Instead of watching TV, going out for dinner, or sleeping nearly as much as we would have liked, we sat together and learned. Despite the demands on our time and energy, it was fun to debate and discuss the things we were both learning – from cash flow analysis to growth strategies.

As for the day to day tasks, we outsourced non-essential activities such as meal prep and we enlisted the help of our family members to assist when needed. We also set realistic expectations for ourselves and created firm boundaries for our time and energy. This meant saying “no” more than we would have liked to social events we wouldn’t have second-guessed previously.

In the end, we both agree that the sacrifices were absolutely worth it. Through this experience, I have become a stronger, more thoughtful leader and I have learned just how full my capacity really is.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? My advice to others considering pursuing an executive MBA is to remember that there really is no ideal time to undertake this type of professional development. Instead, I’d encourage them to have the courage and embrace it all without regret. Undertaking an executive MBA is a transformative experience worth having.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? (and how was it the same or different than what you experienced) The biggest myth about going back to school that I encountered was the advice that I could learn everything I needed to know on the job and that the MBA program wouldn’t add much value. As someone with a more technical background and minimal formal business training, I couldn’t disagree more with that advice. While I’ve learned many valuable business lessons throughout my career, the dedicated focus on business fundamentals, sound judgment, and leadership development in the EMBA program has been invaluable to me.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret was not getting to know each person in the class as deeply as I would have liked. Balancing a young family, busy career, and my husband’s own MBA program requirements (he was enrolled in Rotman’s part-time MBA program at the same time) often meant declining some of the social activities of the program. I would have loved to spend more time outside of the classroom connecting with others. Fortunately, our class has been quite good about staying connected during post-MBA life and so I’ve enjoyed getting to spend time with my colleagues without the pressure of looming deadlines and exams.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Two exceptional classmates stood out for me: Utilia Amaral and Deanna Burger. Utilia Amaral manages her own consulting firm with a number of globally-recognized clients. She is also a wife and mother to two young girls. Throughout the EMBA program, Utilia experienced a number of significant personal challenges, including the tragic loss of a close family member. Despite her personal circumstances, Utilia remained a pillar of strength for her family, her company, and her EMBA colleagues. She brought a thoughtful perspective and a profound sense of empathy to our classroom, which only deepened as she navigated the challenges posed to her throughout the year. She also remained an active and engaged classmate throughout it all. I am in awe of her grit.

Deanna Burger is an accomplished leader with experience in both the corporate and tech sectors. During the month before the EMBA program was set to begin, Deanna accepted a new job in a new sector and also found out that she was pregnant. This meant that Deanna would be navigating single parenthood, a new job, and her Master’s degree all at once. To compound an already challenging year, Deanna was hospitalized for more than a month during the program. Despite this, she effectively transformed her hospital room into a remote office from which she managed her health, her professional team, and her MBA deliverables successfully.

For me, Utilia and Deanna embody strength, resilience, and tenacity – they are outstanding examples of courageous leaders.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that I was feeling restless in my career and ready for a new challenge that would stretch me beyond my comfort zone. The EMBA program was the catalyst I needed to start the next phase of my career.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To leverage my experiences to start and scale a successful company that improves the health and well-being of our society.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope to be remembered as a leader with integrity, a trusted colleague, and a good friend.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Starting and scaling a successful health tech company
  2. Exploring the sights in New Zealand with my family

What made Catherine such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“Catherine is the epitome of the thoughtful leader. She observes, considers, engages, and emerges as a leader in the ways that we at Rotman espouse. In her time in our Executive MBA, she earned the respect and esteem of her classmates by asking thoughtful questions, encouraging them without being directive, and providing a conversational environment that reinforced her open-minded approach. Her scientific approach to problem-solving, combined with her polished communication skills, make Catherine the type of colleague and leader that all of us want and all can appreciate.”

John Oesch, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream

Academic Director, Morning & Evening and Executive MBA Programs

“Quite simply, Catherine is a leader who cares about her team, business results and for making an impact on the world. She is a natural leader who understands how to engage, motivate and develop people in the pursuit of innovation. With great instinct, Catherine knows how to read the room and utilize her strong EQ skills to move the team forward. In the class, people gravitated towards her positive and gracious energy. Words to describe her include collaborative, practical, highly intelligent and hardworking. She is confident, competent and socially intelligent. Someone you can count on for a balanced perspective, innovative solutions and the leadership capability to deliver.”

Rocca Morra Hodge

Director Career Services, Executive MBA Programs


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