2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Scarlett Zhang, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Xijuan (Scarlett) Zhang

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Age: 35

“Balance risks with returns” – Scarlett loves building business functions with a strategic and entrepreneurial mindset.

Hometown: Chongqing, China

Family Members: Aaron Wu (spouse), Lin Huang (mom), Shaohong Zhang (dad)

Fun fact about yourself: Scarlett loves travelling with her family and exploring different cultures, art, and food worldwide. She has been to 20 countries, three continents so far.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Bachelor of Commerce, the University of Toronto (Major in Accounting, graduated with High Distinction)

Certified Internal Auditor – The Institute of Internal Auditors

Chartered Professional Accountant of Ontario

Where are you currently working? Boson Protocol (a blockchain technology startup), Head of Risk Management and Compliance

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

* Creative Destruction Lab – Toronto, MBA student, 2020 to 2021 @ Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

* Mentor at the TD Visible Minority Mentoring Program, 2019

* Co-leader of the TD Credit Cards Diversity Annual Flagship – Tell Your Story Workshop, 2018

* Co-facilitator of the Effective Negotiation Workshop @ the Pan-Asian Leader Conference, 2018

* Treasurer and Secretary of the Toastmaster – Toronto ACT 1 Club, 2017 to 2019

* Member of Ascend (Pan-Asian Leaders Canada), 2016-2019,

* Member of TD Women in Leadership Committee, 2017 – 2019

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Being an Executive MBA student, the hardest part is juggling school, work, and personal life. I am most proud of achieving a high GPA during my EMBA program, being accepted into the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) advanced course, and building a positive brand amongst my EMBA network. I entered the EMBA program with a strong desire to learn from my professors and classmates while developing my leadership and sharing my knowledge. The academic achievements and the extracurricular achievement in the CDL have demonstrated the level of mastery that I reached and my ability to apply the knowledge into the real world.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I successfully made a career move from banking to a tech startup, leveraging my incredible experience with Rotman EMBA and being part of the Creative Destruction Lab.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favourite MBA professor was Jim Fisher, who taught us on Strategy I and Thoughtful Leader. Jim has a wealth of knowledge both about academia and industry. His Strategy course provided me with the ability to think in a strategic mindset and with a set of practical tools to apply in the real world. His class and his book – The Thoughtful Leader, have inspired me to take my leadership to a new level with an integrated approach, which helped me considerably lead a team navigating through two major reorganizations and successfully rebuild the business function. I really loved Jim’s teaching style, which was truly genuine, insightful, and inspiring.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? My long-term career goal is to become a senior executive who drives the company’s vision and leads effective teams to deliver impactful results and think strategically and embrace technology and innovation. My short-term career goal at the time was to move into technology to gain the relevant knowledge and experience. The exciting opportunity to participate in the Creative Destruction Lab and work with tech startups, applying my experience and learnings from classes to solve real-world problems, really attracted my strong interest.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I gained during my MBA was exploring and understanding my true self – what is my drive and what motivates and inspires me. The Leadership Development Practicum helped me discover my next calling and build commitments to achieve it. I stayed committed to my near-term career goal, and when the opportunity arrived, I had the confidence to push myself and step out of my comfort zone and made a bold move from banking to a tech startup.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I entered the EMBA program thinking that I had everything planned to balance my work, school and personal lives. It didn’t turn out that way. First, I had two major reorganizations at work, and my mandate was significantly expanded and my team size was tripled. Then, we entered into COVID, and work became very demanding. Lastly, we transitioned all our classes online. Nothing went as planned! Being in the EMBA program built up my confidence as I told myself, “I can do this.” It gets down to gaining support from your family, your boss at work, your classmates and study groups; have proper prioritization, planning and making trade-off decisions on how you spend your hours each day. I even squeezed in a vacation to Jamaica with my family last year before the pandemic.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Take the time to nurture the relationship with your classmates, who will form your lifetime professional network. Take advantage of all the leadership development opportunities and push yourself out of your comfort zone. The value you will gain from doing those will be significant.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? One of the biggest myths is that you need a lot of time to succeed in the EMBA program, which often “scared off” some working professionals, especially female candidates. You indeed need to spend adequate time to succeed in the program, but it is not an impossible task to continuing education while working. Make sure to talk with your family and your boss at work to set up expectations and gain their support early on. Throughout the program, you will also have support from the faculty and your classmates. With proper planning and prioritization, you can both be successful in the program while working.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret was not doing an international summer program in Milan, Italy, due to the pandemic. I was looking forward to gaining the experience of studying abroad.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are many amazing classmates from whom I learned a ton. The MBA classmate who I most admire was Aaron Alton. Aaron always offered his unique perspectives and asked great questions in class, which promoted the quality of learning in our class. He is a thoughtful leader, empathetic and genuine. He took time to reach out to his team members individually to offer help when needed. He also took initiatives, such as setting up peer studying sessions and chat groups to connect people and help the class move together via knowledge sharing and peer support. Aaron also recognized his team’s contribution and gave them the spotlight, which was an important leader trait.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? The main reason for choosing an executive MBA program was learning from the top-class faculty, and intellectual business professionals/senior-level experienced classmates, with whom I have built a lifetime professional network.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to be a strategic and innovative thinker who embraces technology and innovation and an inspiring woman and visible minority leader who has a strong brand and develops other leaders.

What made Scarlett Zhang such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“As soon as Scarlet enters a room, her quiet intelligent presence is evident. During her studies in the Executive MBA Program, her classmates respected her as a natural leader on projects, class discussions, and team deliverables – she made a lasting positive impact on the class. Not surprising to us, she maintained a high GPA in the EMBA program while successfully adding the Creative Destruction Lab advanced course to the list of her academic achievements. On the professional front, Scarlett was promoted twice within TD Bank, a Financial Services organization, during the program and has recently joined Boson Protocol, the start-up company she worked with in the Creative Destruction Lab as their Head of Risk Management & Compliance. Her goal when she came to the program was to leverage her experience and leadership skills to make a career switch into a company focused on making positive changes on society using innovative technology. She has already achieved that and we know she will make a great impact wherever she lands. Scarlett is a confident, inclusive leader with a balanced perspective and creative mindset who can motivate teams to deliver results.”

Rocca Morra Hodge
Executive Coach, Careers and Leadership, Executive MBA Program
Rotman School of Management
University of Toronto

Natasha Mackley
Associate Director, Executive MBA Program
Rotman School of Management
University of Toronto



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