Kyle Warton's choice to pursue an MBA degree is deeply personal, fueled by a drive to use his success to uplift and give back to Indigenous communities like his own.
Warton found himself part of two worlds growing up — he lived and attended school in the small town of Sutton, Ont. during the school year, while his summers were spent living and working on the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation reserve, where his extended family live.
After high school, Warton completed an undergraduate degree in commerce from Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, then interned at TD Bank’s Indigenous Trust Services team in Toronto. He’s now completing his first year of the MBA program at the Rotman School of Management.
Warton is one of the first Rotman MBA students to leverage the school’s new partnership with Indspire, an Indigenous charity that provides bursaries and scholarships to First Nations, Inuit and Métis students.
The partnership is one of the ways the school is introducing pathways for more Indigenous representation within the Rotman community. It’s also in line with recent recommendations from the Rotman Indigenous Task Force, which was created by Dean Susan Christoffersen in early 2022. Formed in response to the University of Toronto’s calls to action towards truth and reconciliation, members of the task force included leaders in the Indigenous business community and Rotman.
Warton sat down with Rotman to reflect on the journey that led him to the MBA program, and his hopes for future generations of Indigenous students.
What drew you to studying business as an undergraduate student, and to go even deeper into your studies as a graduate student?
I’m the first in my immediate family to go the business school route, but my mom has always modelled the importance of higher education. She went back to do her master’s when I was young, and she’s currently completing her PhD at Trent University in Indigenous Studies.
Today, it feels like it’s suddenly a wonderful thing to be Indigenous — but it wasn't always this way, and people like my mom and grandparents went through so many struggles they did not deserve.
Now that I’m in a position where my Indigenous identity helps me academically and professionally, I want to give back to as many Indigenous groups and peoples as I possibly can.
I chose the Rotman School to open as many doors as possible. When I was working at TD, I quickly realized that I could make a positive impact in my community. But I wanted to grow my skills and knowledge to be able to make an even greater impact, so I viewed the MBA program as a fast-track way to get there.
What have been the best parts about your time at U of T and Rotman so far?
Having grown up in a small town and on a reserve, the exposure to so many different cultures is something I've never experienced before. In class, you'll hear from students from Australia, Mexico and many other countries sharing their perspectives. My best friends in the program are from different areas of India and Brazil, and I'm trying to absorb as much cultural understanding as possible while here. I like to ask my friends about their lived experiences, and I've been able to share my experiences with them.
There were times in class when Professor Walid Hejazi — who didn't know I was Indigenous at first — brought up Indigenous issues and history in the context of economics. I spoke with him afterwards to thank him for what he did. We talked about my lived experiences on the reserve, and it touched me how open he was to listening and learning about me. Of course, other professors also do this — that's just an example that really stuck with me.
You’re one of the first recipients of the Indspire and Rotman scholarship. What impact does this scholarship have on your studies and beyond?
This is my first time living in Toronto, and I see firsthand how incredibly high the financial burden can be for students living away from family. Adding financial challenges on top of personal and academic challenges is a massive weight on your back. However, it took an enormous weight off my shoulders once I learned about the scholarship.
To pay off the high cost of business school, I would have to land a full-time role when I graduate that compensates well, even if it's not something I enjoy or align with. Instead, the scholarship allows me to focus on where I truly see myself. I'm learning so much about different career paths beyond banking or consulting, and it's making me rethink where I see myself making the greatest impact. That sense of freedom would not have been possible had it not been for Rotman and Indspire coming together.
How would you describe the value of Indigenous representation in business and society?
It’s incredibly important. As Indigenous Peoples, we bring unique strengths and perspectives to the table. Personally, I grew up on the 7 Grandfather Teachings — love, respect, bravery, truth, honesty, humility and wisdom.
I’ve found that many business situations and decisions rely on the question of what's more important: maximizing shareholder and company wealth or caring for people and the environment. For me, it's always been an easy answer because I was raised on the idea that it’s our duty as the current generation to create and leave behind an environment that future generations can live in. Therefore, acting now is the only way to create a sustainable and prosperous economy for future generations. In many Indigenous communities, we’re taught to look seven generations ahead. Bringing this different lens is what many businesses need.
Do you have any words of advice for Indigenous students who may be considering pursuing higher education?
I've thought about those who have had the most significant impact on me and the lessons they gave me, and there's a common theme: Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Don't be afraid to chase your goals. Don't be afraid to have a dream, no matter what it is. Don't hide away from it because there have been times when you thought you might not fit in.
I urge other Indigenous Peoples, students and kids that their voices deserve to be heard, and their voices will make an impact. Every person from every background brings something valuable. This could be a new way of looking at something or helping others amplify and back their ideas. We all bring something to the table.
Education has always been a dream of mine. I ended up chasing it, and it brought me to Rotman. This has been the best decision I've ever made for my education, from the people I met to the learning experiences. So, for other Indigenous students and kids, just don't be afraid because it will work out in the end. Your message will be heard, and it's needed.
Written by Jessie Park | More Student Stories »