2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Hugh C. Martin, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Hugh C. Martin

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Age: 37

Former actor and recovering lawyer now at the helm of the family truck manufacturing business.”

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Family Members: Spouse: Alexia Mane; Children: none, yet; Parents: Roger and Virginia Martin; Siblings and Spouses: Ida Martin and Vince Mazzi, Britain and Linda Martin, and Luke Martin and Natalie Berfeld; Nieces and Nephews: Maya, Theo and Ada, and Nina and Sam.

Fun fact about yourself: At the age of twenty-one, I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Newfoundland to Ireland in a forty-foot sailboat as part of a crew of six.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

The University of Virginia School of Law, J.D. (2013)

Ecole de Droit, SciencesPo – Paris, L.L.M. in Global Governance (2013)

Queen’s University, B.Sc. in Mathematics (2005)

Where are you currently working? President of Unicell Limited (Toronto, ON) and Unicell Body Company (Buffalo, NY)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

* Co-winner of the You Speak, We Listen award for greatest contribution to in-class discussion as voted on by my fellow EMBA classmates

* Board Member and former Treasurer of the Leaside Business Park Association

* Teacher of acting workshops focused upon the Meisner Technique

* Mediocre defenceman for my adult recreational soccer team

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I received a perfect score on one of our Macroeconomics assignments. We had to write a policy report regarding a given country’s fiscal and monetary policy response to the various macroeconomic shocks that flowed from the global pandemic. Fascinated by their unique, no-lockdown approach, I chose Sweden. While I didn’t learn much about the wisdom of pursuing such an approach, the assignment helped clarify for me the role of central banks within a country’s economy and what tools the banks have at their disposal. Quantitative easing was finally demystified. I was certainly proud of the grade I achieved, but was more excited to finally grasp something that previously escaped me, especially given its relevance to our current economic outlook.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m most proud of abandoning my promising law career to try my hand at the family business. Five years ago, I was working as a junior associate in the New York office of a Global 20 law firm when my father asked my siblings and me if any of us were interested in taking over his company given his looming retirement. I decided to take the plunge. My prospects now are less certain than they would be had I remained in law. But, I’m invigorated by the variety of challenges that confront me daily as a small to medium business owner. Thanks to my executive MBA, I feel much better equipped to meet those challenges.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose Rotman because of its standing within Canada and among international business schools. It helped that I could bicycle to class when the weather was nice.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I got married in the middle of my executive MBA. Originally, we had planned a small City Hall wedding on a Friday in March. The day before we were to be wed, due to the rapidly worsening COVID-19 pandemic, our wedding was cancelled. We spent the next months in limbo, waiting for City Hall to re-open. Eventually, we abandoned our City Hall plans and started scrambling to arrange a pandemic appropriate venue. Given the restrictions of the pandemic and the demands of my MBA program, it was difficult pulling everything off. Ultimately, I got married on my apartment balcony on a Saturday off from my MBA program. We had 10 or so socially-distanced friends and family in attendance. I’m glad I took the day before my wedding off of work. Doing so allowed my wife and I a chance to let other obligations and responsibilities fall away, if only for a day, to give our marriage ceremony its due attention.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Be clear to yourself at the outset what you are hoping to get out of it (promotion, career change, self-development, etc.). There are many reasons to pursue an executive MBA. Given the significant price tag and time commitment, it is best to be clear up front regarding what you hope to gain in order to conduct appropriate cost-benefit analysis. Knowing what you want up front will also help you better navigate your experience and clarify where you should be spending your precious time.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Before the start of my executive MBA, I went to an event that was attended by current students, recent alumni, and prospective students. All of the current students impressed upon me how much work the program was. I was skeptical. In all of my schooling to date, including law school, I had enjoyed academic success without having to over-work. The fundamental difference with an executive MBA is this: unlike all of my previous schooling, I was not juggling a full-time management-level job at the same time as pursuing a degree. That juggling act, combined with the fact that executive MBA programs by their design race through two years’ worth of material, meant that this time round the warnings of others rang true. When someone tells you an executive MBA program is a lot of work, believe them.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish I had spent even more time interacting socially with my peers. I frequently joined my classmates for a drink after our weekend sessions wound down. However, there were many times I passed on these gatherings as well. The pandemic interrupted our in-class teaching, pushing our program online and foreclosing our ability to meet in person as classmates. Now with the program behind me, it is the social moments with my peers that I cherish most.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? While we had an impressive cohort overall, the classmate I most admired was Aaron Alton. His thoughtful contributions to in-class discussion led me to seek him out as a project teammate for the later terms where we were allowed to choose our own groups. Working alongside Aaron as a teammate, I gained a firsthand appreciation for how bright and disciplined he is. But, what impressed me most was his generosity. On multiple occasions, Aaron organized and led group study sessions in advance of exams or assignments. Aaron already had strong command of the material so the additional study sessions he organized were largely to help bring along struggling students.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I chose an executive MBA program over other part-time or online alternatives due to the anticipated peer group. Given my leadership position within my company, I was eager to learn from other leaders in other industries. The age, experience, and leadership requirements for admission into the executive MBA program ensured that I would have the chance to learn from seasoned veterans across a diverse set of industries.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I am already President of my company. My professional goals therefore relate to the direction I hope to take Unicell. I certainly hold ambitions for growth and increased sophistication. More personally, I hope to never stop learning and to approach each new challenge with curiosity and excitement.

What made Hugh Martin such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

Hugh Martin brings a wealth of experience to his general management role. Hugh practised law in Manhattan and attained professional status as an off-Broadway actor.  When he returned to Toronto to apprentice as the next CEO of Unicell, he registered for Rotman’s Executive MBA program to gain knowledge in all aspects of the business. Hugh’s experiences manifest as perspective, even wisdom, when he plans, strategizes, and solves problems. His interpersonal skills are highly polished; A testament to his leadership capabilities is the set of relationships he has formed with Unicell employees, from accountants to tradespeople to drivers. It is good to know that, with Hugh in charge at Unicell, manufacturing will remain a part of community fabric in Toronto.”

John Oesch
Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour
Academic Director: Executive MBA Program; Morning and Evening MBA Program
Rotman School of Management
University of Toronto

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