How an Evening MBA grad is inspiring change, one speech at a time
Often known as ‘Unstoppable Tracy’, Tracy Schmitt (Evening MBA ’06) wants people to stop focusing on what’s missing and start thinking about what’s possible.
In some respects, this mission began when she was just four-years-old and fighting for a spot in the local kindergarten class. Her school only allowed her to enroll after she demonstrated to them that she could tie her own shoelaces. Schmitt, who was born a four-way amputee, proved that she could, in fact, keep up with her classmates.
Later she proved her critics — including friends and family members — wrong again when she pursued competitive sailing, eventually competing in world cup regattas. She’s gone on to conquer goals that many would have deemed impossible: she’s climbed the Himalayan Mountains, competed and medaled in para-skiing competitions and earned multiple degrees.
She’s become a leading international speaker and won several awards, including the 2017 Robert W. Jackson Award, named for one of the founders of the Canadian Paralympic movement, and she’s been nominated for the 2018 Women of Essence Global Award.
It only makes sense that Schmitt has made a career out of advising organizations — including Shoppers Drug Mart, the Parapan American Games Organizing Committee and the Ontario Public Service — on how to navigate challenges and recognize opportunities, especially when it comes to accessibility.
Her message is a simple one.
“Success comes down to finding the right people for the job and setting it up so that they can perform at their very best,” she says.
Her past experience and the management fundamentals she acquired at Rotman have helped her carve out an exciting career centered on spreading this positive message.
From teacher to student
Schmitt has always seen herself as a teacher. After earning her teaching degree, she spent years teaching in schools and working with children around the world, including Jamaica, Uganda and Nepal.
Eventually, she found herself coaching and training employees in corporate settings. While overseeing career and learning development for Air Canada, she started thinking about returning to the classroom, this time as a student.
Pursuing MBA studies in the evenings, after work, was a logical move, says Schmitt.
“If I was coaching professional people on how to move ahead in their careers, I needed to live by the same principles I was preaching. I had to demonstrate that I was a high performer and that I could bring value to any environment I was working in,” she explains. “I knew a Rotman education could give that to me.”
“Start by being brave enough to ask for something bigger.”
— Tracy Schmitt, Evening MBA ‘06
Her classes taught her the fundamentals of effective negotiation, team building and leading, which she immediately applied at work. More importantly, she graduated with a deeper appreciation of business and management trends.
“I started looking at business with a different lens,” she explains. “I began to think more about where industries were headed and future needs.”
Becoming Unstoppable Tracy
In 2012, six year after earning her MBA, Schmitt put her business school lessons to use by examining her own career. She had just been laid off and decided to approach her situation as a strategist. Rather than fixating on her disappointment, she objectively considered all her options, qualifications and interests.
Over the next few years, she pursued Paralympic sailing and travelling. Eventually she caught the attention of the Pan/Parapan American Games Organizing Committee and landed a management role, advising the group on accessibility priorities. A major part of her job was delivering a series of presentations during the months leading up to the 2015 Games in Toronto.
After the Games finished, the speaking requests kept coming. And organizations, including the Ontario Public Service and Home Depot asked her to consult on projects.
Schmitt saw an important and exciting opportunity.
“I realized that there were so many companies that wanted to know more about my story and how to make their practices and products more inclusive,” she says. “Accessibility is becoming an important issue and I knew I could contribute to that conversation.”
She got to work honing her speaking points and was soon invited to speak at events for the Rick Hansen Foundation and the March of Dimes Foundation. She recently returned to the Rotman School to speak at the 2018 Accessibility, Inclusion & Universal Design MBA Conference.
Today, in her talks and with her consulting work — which have taken her around the world — she shares insights from her own journey.
A powerful component in all her work is pointing out all that she can do, as a four-way amputee, including walking, typing, grasping objects and driving.
“So much of my life has been spent proving to people that there is a place for me, whether it was in school, at work, or in sports,” says Schmitt, who is known as the “Unstoppable Tracy” at public events.
“These talks are an opportunity to show managers and companies how to readjust their thinking. Instead of fixating on supports and technology aids I use, let’s take a look at the many ways someone in my situation can contribute to driving your company forward.”
Companies walk away with a newfound appreciation of universal design and how to think about introducing accommodations in the workplace. And those living with visible disabilities leave her talks inspired.
“Don’t let people underestimate your abilities,” she says. “Whether it’s about launching your own business, or getting that promotion, start by being brave enough to ask for something bigger. You can find a way to make it happen.”
Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »