MBA Journal: A Change of SeasonsStephanie Erb
Ah, back to school. It’s an age-old tradition so ingrained from the seemingly endless years of scholarly pursuits that September always feels like a fresh start. Even when I had been in the working world for some time, September always made me want to start a crisp, new agenda book and swap my worn-out pencils and pens for shiny new models. But after a dream summer internship at the global corporate headquarters of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, I had rather mixed feelings about kicking off my second year in the full-time MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
On the one hand, I was eagerly anticipating seeing my Rotman friends more frequently again—after eight months of practically living together on campus, I had felt it strange not to see the same familiar faces on a daily basis. Although those of us remaining in Toronto for the summer had promised to rendezvous regularly, people’s work and travel schedules made it more difficult than anticipated; and besides, we had all prioritized making up for lost time with the friends and family who’d all but left us for dead amid the rigors of the first-year program. Aside from reuniting with my Rotman family, I was looking forward to making the most of what I was fairly certain would be my last hurrah as a full-time student. I guess it’s easy to romanticize studenthood when I’ve had four months to repress the unpleasant memory of final exams, but I think most would agree that being a student is a charmed, albeit short-lived, existence that should be treasured while it lasts.
On the other hand, I wanted to hold on to my time at Four Seasons for dear life. My summer there had been everything I’d hoped an internship would be, and much more. I’ve been an intern before, and, let’s face it, interns are often considered just another warm body to help ease the workload of beleaguered staffers. At Four Seasons, this could not have been further from the truth. I was made to feel like a valued member of the corporate marketing team from the start; I was empowered to share my ideas and opinions and was regularly benefited from constructive feedback so I could develop at an accelerated pace. Furthermore, I was entrusted with responsibilities of consequence, which fostered a true sense of ownership of and accountability for my work.
It was also a very carefully planned and well executed internship program on the part of human resources. No effort was spared to ensure that each of us interns had a rewarding, enlightening, and well rounded experience. For instance, as anyone who has worked in hospitality knows, it is impossible to garner a complete understanding of hotel management without ever having been exposed to the day-to-day operations at the property level. The 85-and-counting Four Seasons hotels and resorts around the world are the lifeblood of the company—where the action truly happens—and it is an important mandate that anyone working in the corporate environment has the opportunity to spend a day among his or her colleagues in the field. And we interns were no different. We spent a fascinating day at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, where we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the property and enjoyed a rare view into the internal workings of a luxury hotel.
One of my favorite elements of the internship program was the “lunch and learn” sessions organized so we could acquire wisdom from the preeminent members of the company’s executive team. Every couple of weeks we would collect our gourmet lunches from the corporate office’s cafeteria and head to a boardroom to meet with that particular session’s guest of honor. Throughout the course of the summer, we dined with the president and chief executive officer, the chief financial officer, and vice-presidents for marketing, development, and human resources, among others, and each of them was a wellspring of fascinating anecdotes and savvy advice. An extra-special occasion, however, was our lunch with Isadore Sharp, the founder and chairman of Four Seasons, whose warmth and humility made an enduring impression. After each executive’s departure at the end of the session, we all were left feeling inspired and astounded at the incredibly down-to-earth and accessible nature of these high-powered executives.
Needless to say, despite the aforementioned benefits of heading back to the books, the prospect of leaving Four Seasons was not a welcome one. Although I was confident my contributions had been well received and I was considered a good fit with the team, the reality is that Four Seasons is not like a bank or consulting firm, which hire a steady stream of MBAs year in and year out. It’s a relatively small team, and, as you can imagine, people seldom leave. So when a full-time opportunity unexpectedly came up, I didn’t hesitate to apply—even though I knew it would mean transferring from the full-time into the part-time MBA program and take at least a year longer to complete the degree. To me, it was a no-brainer. After all, isn’t one of the key objectives of an MBA to end up with the job you really want? After my summer at Four Seasons, I knew it was exactly where I wanted to be, and for the first time I had absolutely no trouble picturing myself at the same company several decades from now, with the same zeal as the first day I set foot there.
I’m delighted to report that I have now joined the ranks of proud Four Seasons employees around the globe, as coordinator, social media marketing. And although I’ll no longer be a daily fixture on the Rotman campus, I have every intention of remaining involved in the student experience whatever way I can.
One common theme from our “lunch and learn” sessions really resonated with me. We have the tendency to assume that exceptionally successful people have had their career trajectories mapped out from the get-go and have never once deviated from their meticulously orchestrated plans. I’m sure this is true for some, but it was really interesting to learn of the winding career paths many of the Four Seasons executives had followed. Much of their success, some of them noted, came as a result of being open to and seizing unexpected opportunities that came their way. I see now what sound advice this was.
If you’re open to exploring unanticipated prospects and flexible enough to divert your path as you go, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities you might not have otherwise considered. So, while I’ve taken a slightly unexpected turn on the road map of my life, I couldn’t be more excited about the journey ahead.
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