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Nicola Vote, MBA Japan 2006

Alumni interview with Ms. Nicola Vote, Class of 2006

Q. Can you tell us something about your career up to the time you joined the McGill MBA Japan Program?
A. I worked for the Japanese government, at both local and national level, for several years before ending up as a consultant for NTT DoCoMo in the field of international standards. I really enjoyed my work there, but by the third year, I was starting to feel my head hitting the glass ceiling. I was not a full-time employee, and so my opportunities for career advancement were restricted.

Q. What have you been doing career-wise since you graduated in 2006?
A. I have been working for McAfee, the largest dedicated software security company in the world. I actually transferred to McAfee at the end of my first year of the MBA course. In hindsight, I do not recommend transferring to a new job in the middle of the course. It was an extremely stressful time! But the fact that I was on the course was one of the reasons I got the program management position at McAfee in the first place.

Q. How did your MBA help you in your career?
A. The fact that I was taking the MBA course was one of the reasons that McAfee chose me over other candidates. Having the MBA helped me jump from consulting roles into a program management role, which was my goal when starting on the MBA program. McAfee, like other North American companies, places a high value on having an MBA. The fact that it was a McGill MBA course was an added bonus, as nearly everyone had heard of McGill, and recognized it as a good North American school. School reputation is important when it comes to an MBA.

Q. While you were studying, what were some of the biggest challenges to overcome?
A. Definitely time management. My job involved a great deal of international travel, often 1-2 times a month. I remember flying to Hawaii for a business trip, taking an overnight flight back to attend Saturday class and sit an exam, then leaving for the airport right after the Sunday class to fly to Canada for another trip! Luckily, my company was supportive in that they allowed me to break business trips to fly back to Japan to attend class. I also made very good use of the time on the airplane. Eight to 12 hours with no phone, no email, and no interruptions is a great environment [in which] to study (I invested in good quality earplugs though).

The other challenge was scheduling group meetings. Everyone is working full time and so weekdays were very hard to schedule anything more than a two-person meeting. In the end, we quickly learnt to use early weekend mornings and after class slots to cram in the team meetings, and of course national holidays.

Team work can be challenging too. You will inevitably end up in a team at some point along the course where the skills/experience are not balanced, or there are personality clashes. But battling through that is part of the learning process. In hindsight, it was the experience of working in difficult teams that has helped me more in my role as program manager, more than in the team assignments in which everything went smoothly!

Q. Do you use anything that you learnt in your MBA program in your work today?
A. Yes. The role of program manager requires a good understanding of a variety of functions. Being able to drop financial lingo at a finance meeting and show a basic understanding of marketing concepts at a marketing meeting helps open doors. I probably use my negotiations textbook and my cross-cultural texts the most. I would estimate that 70% of my job is related to negotiations and inter-functional communications. I find myself turning to the frameworks we learnt in class when I hit difficult situations.

Q. Are you still in touch with your classmates, or other alumni of the program?
A. Not as much as I would like to be, but a few of us have kept in touch. I hope this will increase now that I am relocating back to Japan.

Q. Did you participate in any of the Montreal or overseas study tours? If you did, could you describe your experience?
A. Yes. I took the 3-week intensive summer course. I had to use all my annual paid time off from work (15 days) in one shot to do it. But it was definitely worth it. It was great fun mixing with the students from the UK and Montreal. It brought a whole new perspective to class. It also greatly reduced the number of units I needed to complete during my final year back in Japan, which meant a little less stress!

Q. What advice would you give to anyone, in particular women, who are contemplating pursuing a weekend MBA?
A. Make sure you are physically and mentally prepared. It is going to be tough, tough, tough. It will feel like just work and school and nothing else. Make sure that your family and friends are aware. It will be worth it, and you will get through it. But you must prepare yourself beforehand.

As a woman, you will probably be in the minority, but I never experienced any issues or problems resulting from that. I am used to it, probably because I work in a very male dominated industry. Do try and speak to your boss and/or coworkers way before you start the course. Of course, they are not going to carry your workload for you, but they may be more flexible with deadlines or meeting times if they know in advance how tight your schedule is. In return, you can bring what you learnt in class back to the workplace.

Remember to draw the line at some point. I was heading for close to a 4.0 by the end of the first year. After switching jobs however, I had to rethink my priorities. I still graduated with a good GPA, but I have excelled in my position at work. The reprioritization was worth it for me.

Q. Would you like to share any other comments?
A. Yes. If you do have to reprioritize, make sure you do not compromise your team work! No one likes a freeloader, and in small teams those people are quickly identified. Some people are better at some things than others. Finance was my weaker subject, so I teamed up with someone good at finance but weaker at [subjects requiring] soft skills,, which I enjoyed working in. We split the work according to our strengths. After all, this is what happens in real life.
All in all, I am glad I took the course. It was definitely one of the most stressful times I have ever been through, but at the same time one of the most rewarding! I feel proud of my achievement. Thank you to everyone at McGill.