2019 Best EMBAs: Isabel Dansereau: McGill – HEC Montréal

Isabel Dansereau

McGill-HEC Montréal

“I am a driven leader who believes in collaboration, openness, excellence and fun.”

Hometown: Originally Vancouver (BC) but I am a true Montrealer (QC) at heart

Family Members: The best mom ever (Hélène) and a proud nephew (Julien)

Fun fact about yourself: I am currently in a year of YES. For a period of 12 months, I am challenging myself to accept every opportunity, especially those that terrify me. Who knows where that will get me!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Bachelor’s degree in Arts (Major in Political Science, Minor in Economics and Minor in Russian Studies) from McGill University

Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Business School of the Université du Québec à Montréal (ESGUQAM)

Where are you currently working? I am the Executive Director of the Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc. – a division of Canada Lands Company Limited.

As part of the crown corporation, our mandate is to manage an iconic 2.5 km site along the St. Lawrence River that greets an average of 7 million visitors per year. On-site, we manage 75 concessions (attractions, restaurants, boutiques, cruises and a spa) and host various cultural and sporting events – including Cirque du Soleil and Igloofest.

We also operate the main attraction of the Old Port: the Montréal Science Centre and its IMAX®TELUS theater. We operate 3 000 m2 of exhibitions – most of which we develop and build ourselves – and a variety of educational programs targeted at school groups or families. Since its inception in 2000, as the second largest science center in Canada, the MSC has greeted more than 12 million visitors.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

General Manager of the Montreal Science Centre Foundation

Vice-President of the Montréal Museums Society

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I consider myself very lucky to have successfully transitioned to a new leadership role in my organization while I was enrolled in the EMBA program. While it meant extra pressure in an already-full schedule, I benefitted from the experience, knowledge, and support of my 40 fellow students.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am the proudest of having assembled a team of fierce, diverse, and talented leaders who are relentless in their desire to change for the better the face of the Old Port and of the Science Centre. To me, true leadership is helping members of your team shine as brightly as they can for the benefit of the organization.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? During the Collaboration Module, we had the privilege to welcome Mr. Jacques Neatby as a guest speaker. He not only put words to the political games that are constantly played at the executive level, but he encouraged us to see them as potentially beneficial tools to position yourself and gain influence in the organization. They should not be viewed as detrimental to the organization, but rather as opportunities to push it forward. “Embrace the game” is a phrase that stayed with me from that surprisingly refreshing session.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? This was my big 40th birthday gift to myself. After 13 years at the Old Port, I needed to be challenged and to step out of my comfort zone. The EMBA program was to allow me to learn from the best practices in other industries and to allow me to meet other ambitious, curious and dynamic leaders – with added benefits of a bilingual environment and two prestigious academic institutions. To me, the choice was an easy one!

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? No hesitation on this one: the fantastic, generous, wise and bright men and woman – all great leaders – that I had the great privilege to study with over the 18-month period of the program. I learned from every single one of them.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? I take care of my ailing mother. She is slowly slipping away due to Alzheimer’s. While she has always been proud of my achievements, it was hard for her to understand and remember that I was back in school. During some of the more intense periods of the program, I found myself visiting her less than usual. Every time I would see her, I would apologetically tell her about school and how I felt overwhelmed. Every time, she would be surprised to hear that I was back to being a student. And so I started talking to her about my classmates: their jobs, their families, our times together. When I finally told her that I was graduating – done with school – she asked me if it meant that I would no longer be telling her stories about all my new friends. That moment of fleeting lucidity is something that I will cherish forever. 

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Do it!!! It truly is a great gift to give yourself. You will enroll for the knowledge, but you will leave with so much more.  And yes, you should read all of those required readings…

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I expected to find myself surrounded by very serious, overly competitive and self-confident individuals. I was not expecting to have much fun. I thought it was going to be all business. I was wrong, wrong, and wrong. From the start, I had the incredibly lucky experience of being paired with a peer-group of 4 wonderfully open, diverse and like-minded classmates that put all those preconceived ideas to rest. All the way through graduation and beyond, we share a bond that goes much deeper than business. Amine, Florent, Laurent and Romeo: for me, they were definitely the best surprise of the program.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not sure that I have many regrets. I sometimes wish that I could have invested more of my time and my mind to some assignments but in the end, it was all a balancing act and I am quite proud of the way I handled it all.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Though I have great admiration and love for all of my classmates, I must say that I have particularly found myself surrounded by a group of five incredible lady-bosses that have defined to me what being a leader is: Anne-Marie (humility and strong will), Louise (wisdom and curiosity), Julie (integrity and gratitude), Cynthia (hard work and generosity) and Marie-Pier (perseverance and self-confidence).

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that I could take the time to take a step back and rethink my organization during each of the modules of the program. Who has the chance to do that in their day-to-day life?”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Tough question. All I know is that I want to continue to learn and grow while feeling that I have the necessary leeway and tools to be impactful and help grow an organization and its leaders. I want to develop talent and the business in an organization that I believe in and that I am proud of. For me, it is not about the title, it is about feeling that I contribute to something meaningful.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would love to be remembered as having made a real contribution to the class and to the journey that we were in together. And to many of them, I hope to be remembered as a life-long friend.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Someday, I would love to hold elected office. Being able to participate in policy-making decisions that impact society as a whole is a privilege that I hope to achieve.

And on a lighter note, Bora Bora is waiting for me. I can feel it! And an epic trip that will be. Sipping champagne, watching the sunset on the beautiful Indian Ocean with an HBR article on my lap…

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

“Isabel Dansereau’s humility, love of developing people, gentle nature and openness to new ideas, packaged with incredible tenacity, made her a wonderful classmate, a great learner, and an even better contributor to the learning of others. She seems to get at least as much pleasure out of seeing others succeed as succeeding herself, and for her, the sweetest successes are those she achieves with others. Our program’s “artefact evening” sees everyone share something of significance from their organization, and explain what it means to them. Isabel’s artifact was part of an exhibit from the Montreal Science Centre’s Indigenous Ingenuity project. Her recounting of how humbling and fulfilling it was for her and her teams to develop the exhibit together with the Indigenous community was incredibly moving.

Isabel always takes that extra step to understand where someone is coming from, which leads to great relationships. She’s willing to take chances and to make herself vulnerable, all in the interest of learning more about herself and her potential, which that has led to some wonderful insights that have served her well as she navigated the transition to a more senior role during the program. In sharing her journey, she helps others towards their own growth and discovery. The icing on the cake? Isabel knows the importance of fun. Her smile and her sense of humour are always at the ready. She believes life is for enjoying!  If you’d like to explore Isabel’s impact further, it’s simple: come and visit the Old Port of Montreal.”

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


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