2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Taya Cook, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Taya Cook         

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Corporate on the outside, hippy on the inside.”

Age: 39

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Family Members: Husband and 4-year-old son

Fun fact about yourself: At the age of 20 (and having only been on 3 trips), I set a life goal to travel to 100 countries. In March I was to go to my 50th, but we had to cancel the night before due to COVID. I’m very much looking forward to reaching my halfway point soon!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Toronto, Honours Bachelor of Science

Where are you currently working? Urban Capital, Director of Development

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: I have held a weekly volunteer position for most of my adult life. From assisting with the afterschool program at an emergency refugee centre, to being a big sister to an at-risk youth, to teaching a grandmother how to read through shelter by United Way, giving back to the community is of key importance in my life. I also have a Little Free Library for my community and enjoy fundraising and sharing the act of giving with my 4-year-old son.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Being voted by my peers to receive Rotman’s Social Impact Award. It was one of three awards given to the graduating class and is given to the student who challenges the cohort in the areas of equality, diversity, and raising awareness around social issues that impact us all. I can’t think of a better award!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Speaking out and actively championing women in the male-dominated field of real estate development. This has been an important part of my career since taking my EMBA and has significantly shaped the course of my career.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Hands down Dragan Stojanovic (Accounting 1 & 2). You can really tell that he cares about his position and takes the opportunity to teach very seriously. He put significant effort into making the lectures current, fun, and relevant and was able to communicate in a way that got our attention, respect and made the class very enjoyable. He is a true superstar of a professor.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Rotman has a strong reputation not only in Canada but globally. Their focus on diversity of thought and inclusion was very appealing to me.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The classmates. We made life long bonds and they expanded my way of thinking more than any formal curriculum could have.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Time is there, and it’s incredible how much you can accomplish when you fill it. I am more aware of the value of using my time wisely now and I try to make sure that it’s not wasted on pointless tasks at work.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? The year I started my MBA, my husband opened a new restaurant and my son started kindergarten. There was a lot going on and we sacrificed a lot of family time (and money) to pursue our goals. It was a time of growth for both of us and we committed strongly in advance to support each other through it. We came to really appreciate our Sunday dinners together and to make sure that when we were together, we used the time well and really focused on each other. It’s easy in a relationship to live together but not really connect. Having such precious and limited time was actually good for us in many ways.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Just do it. The program flies by and it’s a sacrifice but it passes.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not having more time to socialize outside of class due to family circumstances. I can’t say I regret it, but it would have been nice to never miss a night out.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Madeleine Cohen. We sat beside each other and despite an incredibly hectic career she always was calm, prepared and most importantly, always remembered to bring snacks.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized I was almost 40 and it was now, or likely, never.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To always be learning something, always be helping someone, and always have the flexibility to never forget what really matters in life.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As their friend who truly loves them, which I do.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? #1. Visit 100 countries. #2. Visit more.

What made Taya such an invaluable addition to the class of 2020?

“Taya Cook is a principled leader who follows a strong moral compass. In her time in our EMBA program, Taya could always be relied upon for thoughtful comments, reminders about concepts missed, and even some comic relief. She thinks deeply before speaking and provides suggestions that invite further input. Taya also considers minority viewpoints as valuable sources of ideas that can move plans and discussions from satisfactory to excellent. She is a thoughtful leader who exhibits compassion and an admirable adherence to a code based on fairness, opportunity, and an honest voice.”

John Oesch, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream
Academic Director, Morning & Evening and Executive MBA Programs
Rotman School of Management 
University of Toronto


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