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The time is now to pursue your EMBA - Q&A with Dr. Catherine  Bornbaum (EMBA ’38)

This blog post summarizes a webinar with Catherine Bornbaum, a Rotman Executive MBA (EMBA) graduate. Almost two years after our initial interview, she has a new role and has joined a board of directors, so we decided to reconnect with her.

Catherine Bornbaum completed her EMBA at Rotman in 2019 and currently works as Head of Clinical Operations and Partnerships at RetiSpec, an AI medical imaging company in Toronto. She oversees global clinical operations spanning three continents and works on partnerships to support AI imaging technology. Catherine also joined the board of directors of Sidelight, a Toronto-based health software company. She views her EMBA degree as a critical inflection point in her career trajectory.

Prior to starting the Executive MBA, Catherine was taking on increasingly senior roles, including as a managing director of a very impactful research program. She was managing contracts and budgets, as well as tackling additional challenges she felt ill-equipped for. As her responsibilities increased, she asked herself how she could perform better in her role, especially given her previous training in largely technical roles and her work within academia.

What drove you to complete an MBA and why Rotman?

I was feeling a little bit restless, I wanted something more and I felt like there was something bigger ahead. I saw the Rotman programs as that catalyst for change. Throughout the years, I’ve also seen friends come through the program and have huge inflection points in their own careers, and I was looking to better understand what this program had created for them…and also have a similar path. This is why Rotman resonated in particular for me.

Many Rotman alumni describe the EMBA as a transformational, phenomenal, and very engaging program, but most importantly, the program is designed to give students tools that they can immediately use.

How have you been able to pull all that learning and networking at Rotman into roles you’ve had since completing the program and beyond?

The network that I was able to create through Rotman has been one of the most valuable things I have gotten out of the program. Throughout the EMBA, I was able to surround myself with a wide variety of individuals of various skillsets and industries, which led to incredibly rich and multifaceted classroom discussions. Now, I am always only one text or email away from getting advice on virtually anything and I use this asset all the time. It creates a circular relationship, and people also come to me for my own background and skills. To give an example, before joining a board of directors, I was able to reach out to a classmate that I knew had experience running a directors’ forum to ask questions and learn how I can be an effective director in that role.

For Catherine, the ability to connect with people who have deep expertise in a subject and have a candid, honest and vulnerable conversation with them is incredibly valuable and was an asset for her throughout her time at Rotman.

“Expert on any topic available at your fingertips, at your disposal”

Describe your experience with the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) and the learnings you’ve gathered from it.

I loved my experience at the CDL; it was the opportunity to connect the dots with everything I’ve learned in the program. I enjoyed how entrepreneurial the experience was and how the decisions I made were consequential. I worked with a UK-based medical imaging diagnostic company and helped them scale their company. I loved the experience of getting my feet wet in the entrepreneurial space.

Catherine was able to become connected with RetiSpec through the CDL, and the firm made an offer for her to join the company once she was finished the program.

“It’s just incredible the plethora of knowledge and experience that you can learn from”

Before she enrolled in the EMBA, Catherine had to pitch her participation in the program to her employer on the basis of the more senior roles she was taking on, especially in the areas of planning and finance. Then, as an MBA student, Catherine had to learn to manage both her professional and her personal responsibilities.

How were you able to manage your time in the program?

Being fully transparent, at first, it was hard to manage my time in the program. I find that it’s worth doing hard things when there are opportunities for significant growth at the end of it. I went into the program expecting it to be difficult and that is exactly what came out of it. I often had to work late nights and offload non-essential tasks. There is a lot of work that goes into gaining so much new knowledge, but I tried to compartmentalize things.

“I find you get out of the program what you put into it; the more time and energy you invest, the more you can walk away with once the program is done.”

Time management is essential. It's really worthwhile and I focused on prioritizing learning as much as I could. It’s the combination of learning while focusing on academics and on building relationships with people that you are studying with. Make time to have coffee with people and network!

How did you measure your return on investment?

Other than all the financial gain and opportunities, for me, it was a complete industry pivot and something that I’ve truly never been happier with. I love the team I currently work with and it’s been a very exciting journey. I get to apply what I learned in school every single day, which I love, and I’m constantly dealing with operations, strategy, and problem-solving tasks. I feel that I am so much better equipped to handle those things after having completed the program.

“The leadership development program has helped me truly understand how transformational my journey has been.”

At the start of the program, you set goals for yourself and what you’d want to accomplish by the end of the program. The most notable thing for me was that the goals I set at the beginning of the program, what I hoped to accomplish, and where I hoped to be were just so far below where I was at the end of the program. I had underestimated my own potential, and what the ceiling for myself was. At the beginning of the EMBA I was hoping to work quite locally; at the end of the program, I was both thinking and working globally. That to me was a complete shift in mindset and the scale by which I measure my capabilities and potential has expanded significantly. That is one of the less tangible but really important takeaways for me from the program.

Would you give any advice for someone thinking about the program now?

When I went into the program, I was in my 30’s, I had a one-year-old, and my husband and I were both working busy jobs. I was intimidated and I wasn’t sure when the right time would be.

“I received some advice from a male friend who’s a clinical scientist and he told me, “There’s no good time to do any of these, sometimes you just have to have courage and take the leap and trust that you’re capable and it’s an experience worth having.”

I’m grateful for the encouragement; this EMBA program was a transformational experience that was worth having and I’m glad I took the leap when I did. It was all about trusting myself and having the confidence to just go for it.

As mentioned by Catherine, choosing to pursue an MBA is a daunting step, but there is no better time than now. “We’re facing so many challenges and barriers, but also opportunities for growth, and for many, this is the time to receive the knowledge that we need. “

Amidst the positive experiences, what has been the biggest challenge of being a student in the program?

I found the first semester to be hard for me: I often felt overwhelmed and almost gave up after the first few assignments. The transition was a challenge, especially getting back into the flow and the initial managing of all the competing responsibilities. I would caution people that if you feel a certain speed bump it’s totally normal and you will get through it. I found that only months later, many of my classmates also acknowledged that they struggled in the beginning—but everyone was happy that they stuck with it. I can’t even imagine where my life would be had I given up. The transition can be tricky, but it’s worth sticking it out. You get used to it, you adjust, and you just come out stronger.

“The opportunities you receive from completing an MBA at Rotman are unbelievable.”

How did you engage the career services and coaches that are available to you throughout the program?

Career services were amazing and helpful. They helped me navigate management challenges and prepare my resume. It has been incredibly helpful working with coaches, and I’ve received several job offers, both informal and formal, since leaving the program.

“I feel that I can take on any challenge now. I have the tools, I have the network.”

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