Leveraging an MBA for career advancement

For two part-time post-graduates, earning an MBA just made things “click”

In partnership with Royal Roads University

Two MBA students on campus at Royal Roads University

Provided by Royal Roads University

Hope Sanderson had attended dozens of quarterly review meetings throughout her decade working in Canada’s energy sector—but this one was different. It was 2002 and she remembers listening while TransCanada Pipelines executives delivered corporate financial information, such as price to equity ratios, internal rates of return and investment strategies. Typically, these presentations “went right over my head,” says Sanderson, an Indigenous woman who completed an undergraduate degree in political science with a specialization in Indigenous self-government before diving into the industry. She usually left quarterly meetings with only a general sense of whether the company was doing well or not, but in that meeting, for the first time, it was like a lightbulb went on.

“I sat down and went, ‘Wow! I understand this stuff now!’” she recalls. In that moment, Sanderson knew that her Royal Roads University MBA, which she started in 2001 and would graduate from in 2003, was making a difference.

The program offers a combination of structured online courses and on-campus residences that can be completed in 31 months or an accelerated program in 18 months, with specializations like management consulting and leadership.

The specializations are part of what attracted Ben Chung to Royal Roads. After leaving the non-profit sector and entering the private sector, he realized he was a “pretty small fish in a large pond.” In an effort to set himself apart and better understand “how things work,” he began looking into MBA programs. At the time, he was working with IBM, and his job required a lot of travel, so the remote learning appealed to him—and an international business specialization felt like it would give him an added edge. (Both Sanderson and Chung completed their MBAs while working full time.)

Now a talent acquisition manager with IBM, Chung says that overall, having an MBA sends the message to employers that a candidate has critical thinking skills, more business acumen and potentially the ability to look at issues from a more global perspective.

“To be honest, most MBA programs have similar curriculums, but it’s about the environment and the context in which you learn it, so having a more global approach, having different faculty that have a very different background and also global experiences, that was something that I appreciated,” says Chung, who did the accelerated 18 month program and graduated in 2017. He says that his MBA gave him the confidence and ability to present more effectively in meetings with IBM executives or major clients, both in Canada and around the world.

Chung specifically remembers travelling to Korea and China for his International Business specialization. Speaking with executives there about how they run their businesses and approach the local markets, something clicked for Chung. He realized that up until earning his MBA, his education had been focussed on a North American way of thinking, whereas now, he was learning how to operate a business on an international scale—skills that opened up opportunities, like being selected for an IBM program to do pro-bono consulting in India, which he completed in 2018. “Without the MBA, I don’t think I would’ve been chosen for that,” he says.

For Sanderson, an MBA enabled her to reach her goal of being a better senior leader. “We weren’t an executive MBA, that was one of the things I liked about it, because an EMBA is abbreviated, and I didn’t want to abbreviate my education. I wanted as much as I could get out of it,” she says. Less than four years after graduating from Royal Roads, Sanderson was able to double her salary and noticed a significant difference in her high-level business abilities.

She recalls working as the CEO of the RCMP Foundation. The national charity didn’t have a CFO at the time, so she was responsible for creating, presenting and explaining financial statements to the board, working with auditors if those statements were challenged and doing senior level accounting—similar to the type of financial statements that once went over her head during quarterly meetings earlier in her career. After preparing her first set of board documents for presentation, she realized that without an MBA, she wouldn’t have been able to do that job—or at least do it at the same level. “[An MBA] really enhanced my skillset dramatically, and it opened doors I wouldn’t have otherwise had,” she says.

For Chung, having his MBA has accelerated his career, helping him earn promotions and salary increases more rapidly than some of his peers—a trajectory he also understands from a professional perspective since he works in recruitment. “I can see clearly that if I took a carbon copy of myself without an MBA, I wouldn’t have the same results,” says Chung, now 34.

Now the Senior Director of Indigenous Affairs at Trans Mountain, Sanderson says the MBA program was a catalyst for her career success. “I think a Royal Roads MBA is transformational, I really do.”