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MBA Journal: Introduction

Dancing, Publishing, and the Didgeridoo

I'm the first to admit I'm an unlikely MBA. I've given many different answers to "What do you want to be when you grow up?" over the years—dancer, veterinarian, journalist, to name a few—but "businesswoman" was never among them. I was a wildly imaginative kid, and I suppose my parents hoped I might channel my creative energies into becoming a child prodigy of some sort, because at age eight they enrolled me in a prestigious Toronto fine arts school—picture an elementary-school version of Fame. I spent the next 10 years—in addition to the required academic curriculum—taking pottery workshops, memorizing Shakespearean monologues, and perfecting musical scales. I was also introduced to dance, which would become a lifelong passion. In high school I discovered a personal predilection for the liberal arts and excelled in languages, social studies, and humanities. Once I determined that the starving artist life of a dancer was not in the cards for me, I opted for the slightly more practical Bachelor of Arts.

Four years later, I graduated from McGill University with a first-class honors degree in English and cultural studies, with a minor in French. After a magazine internship and some exploratory dabbling, I decided to pursue a career in book publishing. Since then, I have held various roles in multinational publishing houses, both in Canada and overseas, and now operate my own freelance business. I started out as a production editor for Nelson Education, one of Canada's largest educational publishers. During my tenure, I managed the production of dozens of titles in disciplines as varied as mathematics, literacy, and professional learning, and I coordinated all the aspects involved in transforming a manuscript into a published book, culminating in timely and cost-effective publication.

After two years at Nelson, I felt ready for a change. I had always dreamed of living and working abroad, gaining international experience and immersing myself in a new culture, and it seemed like the perfect time to take the plunge. After a great deal of researching and a fair bit of wavering, I pushed my fears aside and moved more than 15,000 kilometers across the world to Sydney, Australia. In addition to a geographical leap, it also represented an exciting career leap for me, as I was offered a coveted position at McGraw-Hill Australia as a development editor in the higher education division.

Savoring the Continent

Looking back on my time in Australia, it's hard to believe it wasn't all a dream. I had to pinch myself nearly every morning, as my daily commute took me across the Harbour Bridge, giving me a perfect view of the rising sun glinting on the white domes of the iconic Opera House. How many people have the chance to live in a world-class cosmopolitan city and also live a three-minute walk from a postcard-perfect beach? I also traveled extensively throughout the continent and experienced such wonders as diving the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, exploring ancient Aboriginal cave art and learning to play a didgeridoo in the Northern Territory, and snorkeling alongside an 8-meter whale shark in Western Australia.

My time in Australia was as enriching professionally as it was culturally. As a development editor, it was my job to guide the esteemed authors of many of the division's most anticipated texts through the development of their manuscripts. I also had the opportunity to get involved in the sales and marketing functions of the industry, which I very much enjoyed. Since many of my titles were in the management list, I worked closely with top educators in subjects that included international business and organizational behavior. Collaborating with such passionate and innovative business minds was incredibly inspiring and made me realize I wanted to learn more about business and give myself a wider berth of career opportunities. The thought of doing an MBA had been circling in my mind for some time. So I decided to pursue it wholeheartedly on my return to Canada.

I knew I wanted to be in Toronto, so the Rotman School of Management (Rotman Full-Time MBA Profile) was a pretty easy decision. Aside from being affiliated with one of Canada's most prominent higher learning institutions—the University of Toronto—there were many aspects that attracted me to the school. Dean Roger Martin's fresh perspective on business education and the innovative integrative thinking approach on which the MBA program is built have given Rotman international recognition as a forward-thinking school, and, since I was a liberal arts graduate, the integrative thinking mentality—which advocates questioning underlying assumptions and accepted practices and seeking out new connections between models—resonated with me. Add to that the distinguished international faculty, diverse and accomplished student body, and plentiful opportunities to get involved in student life, and I was sold.

Envisioning the Future

So where do I see myself when the MBA program is said and done? I envision myself pursuing a career in either brand management or general management at an arts or media company, as I hope to combine the business skills I cultivate throughout the MBA with my creative inclinations. I am keeping an open mind—after all, I will be exposed to many subjects with which I have little or no prior experience. Does this make me a little apprehensive? Sure it does. More than anything else, I'm eager to start learning.

I went to campus several weeks ago to drop off my deposit. As I wandered the hallways of the building that will be my second home for the next two years of my life, I couldn't help picturing myself cramming for an exam in the study room, chatting with friends between classes in the lounge, listening to guest speakers in the lecture halls. I'm pretty confident the next two years will be the most difficult and intense of my life thus far. Still, I'm even more confident they'll also be the most stimulating and rewarding—from a career perspective, certainly, and also in regards to personal growth. And I'm ready for the challenge.

Despite her fears of quant, this former editor in book publishing was driven to earn an MBA when she realized she had nowhere else to go in her previous career. Living in Sydney, Australia, where Erb worked for the higher education division of McGraw-Hill, she longed for home. She returned to her native Canada and began the MBA program at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management (Rotman Full-Time MBA Profile) in 2010. She said in an interview that she sees herself somewhere in marketing and hopes to use her creativity post MBA.

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