2019 Best EMBAs: Dr. Angel Arnaout, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Dr. Angel Arnaout

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

“I am a passionate and visionary leader with a relentless desire to excel in my profession and myself.”

Age: 44

Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario

Family Members: I am not married and I don’t have human children but I have 2 adorable cats (Heidi and Lauren) that some may consider to be extremely spoiled…

Fun fact about yourself: I am seen as a serious person by most, but what they don’t know is that I know all the sitcoms of the 70’s – my favorite is Three’s Company as I know all the episodes by heart. Still to this day I love watching them as they remind me of cozy late night family evenings while growing up.

Undergraduate School and Degree:  Bachelor in Science (BSc), Master’s in Science (MSc), Doctor in Medicine (MD), Surgical Fellow in the Royal College of Physician and Surgeons (FRCSC), Fellow of American College of Surgeons (FACS)

Where are you currently working? I currently work at the Ottawa Hospital Cancer Center and Research Institute as an administrator, cancer surgeon and research scientist.  My specialty is in breast cancer surgery and research that brings our patients the latest advances in cancer treatments. As an Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa Department of Surgery, I also train medical students and residents to be the future cancer surgeons of the world.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: My main leadership role is as the Director of Research and Regional Quality Director of Breast Cancer Care of the Ottawa Region, where I oversee the quality of breast cancer care delivery for nine hospitals, focusing on access, efficiency, effectiveness, patient experience, and equity of care. In addition to this, I am also a consultant to several government organizations such as Cancer Care Ontario and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, to help mobilize evidence-based guidelines and best practices in cancer control across Canada, both at the front line and systems and policy level. I am fortunate to be the recipient of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada Enid Johnson MacLeod Award, Cancer Care Ontario Human Touch Award, Order of Ottawa, Ontario Ministry of Health Cancer Care Delivery Award, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Award and several others for my dedication to breast care and women’s health in Canada.  I also frequently give talks at community events on breast cancer, especially if it is fundraising for a good cause.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I have to say…being the only physician in the class, I am proud to have been the class doctor for the students of Omnium 14. It was hard at first, being a surgeon who had been in practice of 15 years, to remember back to my medical school rotations in family medicine. However, with time, I was proud to be a source of comfort for my classmates as we traveled through 10 countries for 18 months, providing antibiotics, antidiarrheals, ear and eye drops, cough and cold medicine, anti-itch creams, dressing changes, and even sutures!  With each trip, I prepared more medications based on the student ailments of the prior trip, to the point where almost half my suitcase was dedicated to medications by the last module! Maybe I should have charged for these services…

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? With the leadership skills I learned, I am proud to say that I founded the first Canadian Association of Breast Surgeons during the EMBA program, bringing together over 1000 breast surgeons across the country to focus on improving access to high-quality care and best cancer outcomes for our breast cancer patients. I have also initiated the first National Oncoplastic Breast Surgical Training Course, where over 250 practicing surgeons have been trained on the latest advanced breast surgical techniques that focus on improving both cancer and esthetic outcomes for breast cancer patients.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?  I would have to say that my favorite course was on Managing Innovation (taught by Hitendra Patel). Specifically, I was very excited about the Global Innovation Challenge, which brought together bright young MBA students from around the world to compete on finding innovative sources of growth for real-world large companies. I am proud to say that my Rotman team won the challenge in Spring of 2018. Our team worked so hard and pushed ourselves to beyond our expectations.  We not only brought bright, “out of this world” innovative ideas, we also executed them with strategy and skill. I learned so much about myself as a person capable of global impact. This course awakened my entrepreneurial spirit and deepened me as a business person.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose this EMBA program specifically because I wanted the global experience. I wanted business and leadership training that allowed me to be globally competitive and relevant, so that I can have scalability and impact on a large scale. I also wanted to have a good understanding of global economics, which I believe I obtained (thanks to Professor Doug Hyatt!).

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? What I enjoyed the most about being in business school is that it seemed to be a place of positive energy, where they teach you tools in life to make things possible. I learned that I can come up with solutions for any problem if I just reframe the problem itself. The MBA program awakened my creativity and innovative problem-solving ability, which, I hadn’t realized had been quite suppressed from years of a “one track” focused education in medicine! All of a sudden, I had senior mentors and colleagues at work come to me with their problems and I was proud to help them reach solutions they had not anticipated or even considered.  To be honest, having the opportunity to spend time with and understand my international classmates that came with different mindsets, biases, perspectives, work habits, behaviors, cultures and values in life over a sustained period of 18 months has changed the way I think, solve problems and see the world.

I often joke that before the EMBA I was like a fish in a small aquarium, where there were only limited types of different fish (medicine types) but most importantly they were all swimming in the same direction…round and round they go around the aquarium (our medical world). Everything in that aquarium was the world I knew. When I joined EMBA, it was like someone dumped the contents of my aquarium into the ocean. All of a sudden, there are huge octopuses, whales, friendly turtles and of course dangerous sharks …all in a vast limitless space. Not only has my world gotten so much bigger, but so has my opportunities in life and the excitement that comes with it from making new acquaintances. My medical world seems so small now!

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? What was immediately obvious to those around me at work was that I became a much more proficient communicator- both verbally and with my presentations. The ability to use my skills in leadership and marketing to structure an argument and give clear, memorable, and compelling presentations (taught by Professor David Beatty), has given me significant advantages in pitching what I want for my patients. My meetings became much more effective, efficient, and productive, as I am able to get to the bottom line much quicker.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? There is no question that the last 18 months were filled with a lot of hard work, probably more work than I have ever experienced even in medical school. It was definitely not easy having a full-time job as a surgeon and doing the EMBA. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I had a weekend since I started the program, where I wasn’t preoccupied with some EMBA assignment, team meeting, project or exam. There were many times that I had to join skype meetings with my team members in between operating on cases, teleconference with the hospital in weird time zones, or work on my assignments during a medical conference! With every module, as I was immersed in new subjects my scientific brain had not experienced before, the EMBA experience became so powerfully refreshing for my mind … to the point where I was often tempted to take a sabbatical from my day job and focus my time on the EMBA exclusively. However, I quickly realized that the benefit of this program was in the immediate real-world application of the teachings within my career and organization. For example, I was able to immediately apply frameworks such as the STAR model (taught by Professor Brian Golden) to my work and see an impact. I, therefore, persisted through my work and was able to learn valuable methods on being more productive.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? I think the timing of doing the program has to align with the purpose. I entered the program at a later age than my most of my classmates, because I wanted the EMBA to help me define and scale up my purpose and goals, after already reaching a certain level of success in my career. Some of my younger classmates wanted the EMBA to help them move up the ladder in their organization or specialty, in which case I believe that considering an EMBA program fairly early on in someone’s career would be fundamentally important.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Being an adult and going back to school is definitely not the same as what you may have experienced when you are younger! For me, doing the EMBA was a conscious decision on my part to pursue personal growth and self-learning. This meant that I approached the EMBA with great receptiveness, motivation, joy, and appreciation in having the opportunity to learn. I valued the unique interaction with my business classmates, which was an opportunity that I honestly would not likely have had with a career in medicine. Unlike my other degrees, this degree was for myself…and not just a requirement to get another job, etc.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Don’t have any. I enjoyed every moment of it. My neurons are buzzing with excitement as encounter this whole new world around me. I see this EMBA as a launching pad to a future life where I can create an impact in healthcare globally.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate whom I am constantly amazed by is my friend Zeping Xu, who I believe has the sharpest business acumen of anyone in the class. I learned so much from him in regards to real-world business strategy, global economic politics, and the Chinese business style! I was amazed that he always seemed to have lined up several local business meetings and negotiations on some sort of business opportunity in every one of the 12 cities we visited. I dare say he is truly an opportunistic entrepreneur that comes up with brilliant ideas everywhere he goes!

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized there was a predictable ceiling to my career; when I realized that I was limited options to grow professionally and personally; and when I was at risk of being complacent like my colleagues around me … and how unsatisfying that would be for me.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate goal is to be able to create a lasting impact on healthcare globally.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want my peers to remember me as a dedicated and passionate individual that has committed to learn, grow and reach my best human capacity while doing good in this life.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Be inducted into the Order of Canada; have a villa in the mountains

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

“Angel is a star, not only in her class but in all aspects of her life. She is a leading cancer surgeon in her “day job”, yet brings an energy and spirit of “anything is possible” into the classroom and the program.  Surgeons tend to be stereotyped as hard-hitting, no time for chit-chat, let’s get down to business people. While Angel gets the job the done as effectively as anyone, she does it with incredible emotional intelligence and a warm spirit. She balances the hard skills, as a rigorous data-driven clinician scientist, and the soft skills, as a compelling leader among her peers. This honour certainly won’t be the first to recognize her distinctiveness, but doing so will acknowledge her successes in yet another domain.  Previously she’s been honoured for her patient care and her research including as a two-time winner of the Canadian Association of General Surgeons Research Award, and the Ontario Ministry of Health Cancer Care Award and is a frequent recipient of research grants from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

During her program, Angel’s capstone team worked on a project to create an organization to assist cancer patients and their families as they deal with the disease. It brings together a number of partners including hospitals and insurance companies to connect patients to service providers including taxi companies, food preparation services, and a series of other peripheral services. Angel recognizes that to truly build a great health system and communities, leaders need to find a way to integrate clinical excellence and business acumen. Angel has found a way to embody that and we will be all the better for it.”

Brian Golden

Vice-Dean, MBA Programs

Sandra Rotman Chair in Health Sector Strategy at The University of Toronto & The University Health Network

Professor of Strategic Management

Exec Director, Sandra Rotman Centre for Health Sector Strategy


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