2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Suzanne Bergeron, McGill-HEC Montréal

Suzanne Bergeron

McGill-HEC Montréal EMBA

Age: 47

“I’m a curious and passionate individual. My drive comes from what can be.”

Hometown: Montreal, Quebec

Family Members:

  • Husband: Emmanuel Dansereau
  • Son: Benjamin Dansereau
  • Daughter: Léa Dansereau

Fun fact about yourself: I have the immense privilege of being married to a Chef. We have, since our very beginnings, had this common passion for the food industry. First, for the art behind local produce and above all for the conviviality around preparing and serving a meal. My husband and I owned our bistro-style food shop for almost 6 years. In addition to having the pleasure of working with passion, we met incredible people, still precious several years later.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Hotel, Restaurant and Food Service management degree, Institut de Tourisme et d’Hôtellerie du Quebec (ITHQ), Montreal.

Where are you currently working?

Company: Sodexo

Role: Global Talent Director

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Alumni Chair of the board of the Sodexo’s Stop Hunger Foundation – fighting hunger in Canada.
  • Active volunteer of the stop hunger foundation. We raised over 500K at our 2 Stop Hunger Fundraising Galas. In addition, with our year-round fund-raising activities (Servathon, Sports challenge, soccer tournament, dragon boat race)
  • Executive member and sponsor of SoTogether. Gender parity and equity business resources group.
  • Mentor of SoTogether – Women mentoring circle
  • Mentor – Women in governance, La gouvernance au féminin
  • Board member of Le Conseil du Patronat Du Québec (CPQ)
  • Alumni advisory board member, Catalyst Canada.

During my 5 years as President of Sodexo Canada (2018 -2023) we were awarded:

  • Platinum level award for gender parity – Women in Governance Award
  • Montreal Top Employer
  • Canada Greenest Employer
  • Forbes – Canada’s Best Employer
  • Canada’s Best Employer For Young People
  • Canada’s Best Diversity Employer
  • Gold level PAR Certification (Progressive Aboriginal Relations)

Academic:

I had the honour of being nominated class valedictorian by my peers.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My biggest achievement had an impact on the academic side as well as on my extracurricular activities. For our New Business Challenge, we decided to work on a real project linked to the in-treatment patient experience of the Canadian Cancer Society. Choosing the non-for-profit route in a start-up challenge was bold and unconventional. It certainly had its challenges, but it pushed my team and me to think differently about how to approach investors and ROI. I was involved in a project that had real potential to positively change the lives of cancer outpatients while giving us the opportunity to apply all our academic learning. Couple that with working with 4 very intelligent, engaged, and wholehearted classmates and it was an achievement I’m proud of. I’m looking forward to seeing our plan come to life.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My team and I made the commitment to actively contribute to the Truth and Reconciliation Act of Canada, which involves righting the wrongs that were committed by our ancestors towards Canada’s aboriginal communities. As a call to action, we built and launched a 4-hour educational/awareness program with the objective of telling the real story and to engage with our teams on how we can contribute to a better, inclusive future. As a first step in 2022, 98% of our 1000+ managers had completed the syllabus. In 2023, our objective is to train 100% of our frontline employees (8000+).

Who was your favourite MBA professor? This is a challenging question as the high quality of our learning was a true mirror of the depth or our professors. I would like to give a shout out to Luciano Barin Cruz, for making us more conscious and courageous regarding the influence and impact we can have on the environment and social issues.

That being said, my favourite professor was Sujata Madan. She has a way of engaging the class and maintaining the energy level that is incomparable. Have a look at her pedometer if you seek proof!  In addition, she simplified and grounded theories and concepts from the economics and finance realms so that we could quickly grasp and apply to our work. Pizza and beers are forever my aide-memoire.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose the EMBA McGill-HEC because of the undeniable reputation of both business schools and their unique collaborative, bilingual curriculum. I wanted to get the best of both worlds. I also chose the program because of its focus, which is “leading with impact” and fostering tomorrow’s leaders who will have influence on the economic, social, and environmental challenges that we absolutely have the duty to act on as leaders.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I have so many, but the one that stands out the most for me is a phrase that was shared at the start of our first session: “You lead as you are.” This was exemplified, illustrated, and proven throughout the whole MBA program. Once your grasp the importance of being true to your core values and being genuinely authentic and empathetic, you understand the positive impact you can have on your ecosystem and the performance of your organization.

I feel that I was already leading in this way but did not have the confidence that I was enough. This lesson gave me proof points and the gravitas to trust that I am more than enough. I took on internal mentoring opportunities to share that lesson and to encourage the development of these leadership competencies.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? My advice would be two-fold:

  1. Really take the time to assess with yourself, your loved ones, and your manager if this is the RIGHT time to commit to this program.
  2. If the answer is yes, be just selfish enough to make that leap of faith. No need to feel guilty for the time spent away or studying. I promise, your people will only feel admiration and pride for your accomplishment.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is the lack of time to invest in the program while working full time. When you enroll in the program, it is made very clear to you the time commitment needed for you to succeed as well as to insure you will be a valuable classmate. It seems insurmountable when you try to fit this in your week, including work and personal commitments.  Once you make that selfish decision to invest in your development you learn how to prioritize your commitments, to prioritize yourself, to delegate and to say no.

Personally, I was taken aback by the time commitment. I rationalized that other people as busy or even busier than me had gone through the program before me. Like any other professional projects, I will make it work and deliver. At the end, it worked out very well and my team benefited from my absence to expand their roles and responsibilities.

What was your biggest regret in business school? The end of the program is by biggest regret. I realized the importance of challenging myself and to staying on top of trends, business theories, and concepts. I will certainly find the way to incorporate continuous development in my career path so that I can keep feeding my curiosity and eagerness to learn and share.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I had 44 amazing classmates. All as unique as they can be. My heart stopped for my colleague Diego Mena. As a leader in the philanthropic world, he has shown me how to have a true impact. Through all the different concepts and shared cases, he strengthened his business acumen so that he could translate his learning to his philanthropic field and increase the value proposition and awareness and heighten interest for being part of the solution.

Diego Mena is for me the sheer definition of selflessness, empathy, inclusiveness, authenticity, and savviness. He will, with no doubt, change the world we live in.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives?  The main reason for choosing the EMBA program is firstly the impressive quality of the content, the flow, and the expected outcome of the program. When comparing different programs, this was my first filter. In addition, I was kindly advised to select a program that was delivered in-person because the biggest value of such a development opportunity is in the in-person networking with your classmate. As skeptical as you are to this statement, believe me when I say that you will get a priceless network from this experience. People that will pick up the phone whenever you call. True friends.

In my opinion, the depth of the networking is sustained by the proximity of the participants and the journey we go on, together, as one team.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to continue my career progression with the purpose of always having the most positive impact and influence on people, the environment, and economic development. I want to use my learning, my capabilities and experience to serve the community. This can take many shapes or forms. However, I don’t believe that I would want to compromise on the 3 dimensions of impact.

What made Suzanne Bergeron such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?  

You might not think it’s possible for one person to be a mentor to 44 classmates, but Suzanne would prove you wrong.  Her classmates really valued Suzanne as a sounding board, a port in a storm, a source of new perspectives, and a generous and humble ally. It’s no surprise that she was selected class Valedictorian.  She’s very good at meeting people where they are and figuring out how best to support them no matter what journey they’re on.  She’s low key, but speaks up when it’s important, with an eloquence and a sincerity that commands attention. She asks tough questions, but in a way that engages others, which led the class to some important and challenging discussions.  Her final paper studied the role of empathy in leadership and the performance of organizations, which gives you a good idea of what makes Suzanne tick. She’s a people person to her core – all people, always.  It’s not just her classmates that are the beneficiaries. Her organization employs many of the front line workers we heard about so much throughout the pandemic, and she is the incarnation of her company’s purpose: “Making everyday better for everyone.”    For her, it’s not an idle promise.  She has the courage and tenacity of her convictions, as she’s worked hard to build inclusion and understanding across her organization.  Her goal is positive impact and it shows in all she does.  To us, the captures the essence of the EMBA – leaders with impact.

Marianne Vandenbosch
Program Director
EMBA McGill-HEC Montreal

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