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Lessons from Leadership: 4 alumnae reflect on the MBA for TELUS

March 28, 2024

Headshots of TELUS team members Lynn Salekin, Beyhan Zor, Jodi Baxter, Maddy Baker and Jill Schnarr

In honour of International Women’s Day and the 2024 theme “invest in women: accelerate progress,” Gustavson asked recent MBA for TELUS grad Beyhan Zor to interview four powerhouse women who had previously graduated from the program and gone on to leadership roles at TELUS. Here, Zor shares her reflections on these conversations.

Related reading: 

  • Q&A with Jill Schnarr, chief social innovation & communications officer at TELUS, MBA for TELUS ’17
  • Q&A with Jodi Baxter, vice president 5G & IOT connectivity at TELUS, MBA for TELUS ’17
  • Q&A with Lynn Salekin, vice president finance shared services at TELUS, MBA for TELUS ’17
  • Q&A with Maddy Baker, vice president customer experience excellence for TELUS Agriculture & Consumer Goods, MBA for TELUS ’21

By Beyhan Zor

The MBA for TELUS brings together a cohort of promising TELUS team members to take a customized MBA in Strategic Leadership at UVic. Completing an MBA that has been built for and with your organization is the kind of learning not many have the opportunity to experience.

As a recent graduate of the MBA for TELUS program at UVic, it was a privilege to engage with these four remarkable women to reflect on and share our experiences in this unique, award-winning program. In candid one-on-one interviews, Jill Schnarr, Jodi Baxter, Lynn Salekin and Maddy Baker spoke with me about their journeys. From humble beginnings to remarkable achievements, their stories serve as inspiration for aspiring leaders everywhere. Each has left an indelible mark on me personally through their stories of triumph, resilience and unwavering commitment to excellence, offering much to reflect on as I navigate my own career path and work through similar challenges.

Although unique in their trajectories, outlooks and goals, these four women also brought forward commonalities that resonated deeply with me. The themes I took from these interviews are those of resilience, determination, continual growth, the power of mentorship and networks, empathetic leadership, inclusion and creating a culture of innovation.

Here, I highlight these themes and how the MBA for TELUS unites our stories. To learn more about the individual journeys of these remarkable leaders, I invite readers to explore the Q&As, linked above.

Culture of innovation & integration

One of the key themes in these interviews was the profound impact of integrating the MBA program into students’ daily lives at TELUS, which has been instrumental in fostering a culture of continuous learning and development. Students in the program are current TELUS team members, so application of the concepts learned in the classroom is immediate and relevant to ongoing work. Moreover, the benefit of these learnings reach far beyond the individuals who are participating in the program, as they bring their new connections, learning and inspiration into their workplace teams. During my interview with Jill, she emphasized the visionary leadership of our CEO, Darren Entwistle, whose unwavering commitment to innovation and learning has shaped the ethos of our organization. The MBA for TELUS program stands as a testament to this commitment.

Capstone projects from the MBA have also contributed directly to organizational growth and innovation, such as the creation of the TELUS Agriculture and Consumer Goods division.

Resilience & commitment to personal growth

I deeply admire the unwavering clarity of purpose and the relentless pursuit of personal growth shown by each of these women. Despite facing numerous challenges along the way, they each demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability, seizing opportunities and breaking barriers in pursuit of their aspirations. Each made strategic decisions, took calculated risks and committed to personal growth. 

From frontline team members to leading multinational teams, their journeys are a testament to the power of embracing change and seizing opportunities. For example, Lynn's experience with the MBA program encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone and explore new opportunities, leading to her current role.

“The MBA encouraged me to take on a special project and accept an exciting secondment opportunity within TELUS,” said Lynn. “It was the second year of MBA when I decided not to go back to my former role and keep making progress and expanding the opportunities within my secondment role, which ended up opening the door to my current role today.”

Jill was already in a VP role at TELUS when she began the MBA, and some asked her why she chose to go back to school at that point in her career. “A lot of people asked me why would I go do the MBA now at this time in my life and my answer was always, why not? Just embracing it and wanting to have this learning mindset all the time, that has definitely filtered into the rest of my life and my career. I'm always interested in trying new things or doing new things or learning new things. It just reinvigorated me.”

Mentorship & networking

Each leader emphasized the significance of mentorship, coaching, networking and continuous learning in their career advancement.

For me, these interviews have offered a prime example of how the network of MBA for TELUS alumni support each other and offer learnings and mentorship to those following in their footsteps. The opportunity to connect with each of these incredible leaders, the alacrity and willingness with which they gave their time, are a perfect testament to the collegiality and shared experience coming out of a custom MBA such as this one.

These interviews combined with my own MBA for TELUS experience have clearly depicted that the relationships forged during our MBA journeys, characterized by camaraderie, support and shared aspirations, continue to serve as sources of inspiration and empowerment in our professional lives.

Women in leadership

As we delved deeper into discussion, these women highlighted the unique leadership styles that women bring to the table. They spoke about the collaborative and empathetic approach that women leaders tend to embody, fostering a culture of inclusivity and innovation within organizations. From navigating the complexities of the corporate world to fostering inclusive environments where diverse voices are valued and heard, these leaders exemplify the transformative effect of women at the helm. Their stories reaffirm my belief in the power of representation and the importance of creating pathways for women to thrive and succeed in leadership roles.

“I find women really empower one another in the organization,” says Jill. “We respect and support each other and when we see another woman doing really well, we cheer each other on. I love working with amazing people because I continuously learn from them and it makes me want to do better as I have to lift up my game in order to perform to that same standard.”

Career outcomes & applying the MBA for TELUS at work

One of the most consistent outcomes from an MBA is greater confidence in your contributions to the organization. Maddy shared her journey of self-assurance and leadership, saying, “the MBA definitely gave me the confidence in myself, the confidence in my business capability, and the confidence in my leadership so that I felt that I could put my hand up and not sit in the background and wait for somebody else just to put my name forward.”

“Completing the program gives you credibility in the sense that people look at you a bit differently once you have an MBA,” says Jill. “Also, you have more confidence because of the training and education. Those two things together build a culture for you to go back into the organization and say more, do more, drive more because you now feel like you have the permission to do it.”

As Jodi told me, the MBA program served as a springboard for career advancement, providing opportunities to hone leadership skills, expand networks and embrace new challenges. “The MBA was well recognized by my business unit and that allowed me to take on more leadership responsibilities,” she says. “I engaged heavily in growing my leadership and used the MBA as an opportunity for me to leverage the network that I built. This played an instrumental role in being promoted to a director during my MBA.” This highlights the program's role in empowering aspiring leaders to reach their full potential.

My experience in the MBA program has also been transformative, particularly in terms of how it has impacted my confidence and my approach to work. Like Maddy, I found that the program instilled in me a newfound sense of self-assurance and belief in my abilities. Prior to pursuing my MBA, I often hesitated to assert myself or share ideas widely with confidence, but the program provided me with the tools, knowledge and network to step forward confidently. As Jill noted, completing the MBA program not only enhanced my credibility but also bolstered my confidence through the rigorous training and education it offered. This newfound confidence has translated directly into how I show up to work each day. I now actively seek new challenges every day, leveraging the skills and networks I cultivated during my MBA journey, and also encourage my peers and my team to be bold and confident as they progress on their career journey.

On the classroom side, the MBA curriculum equipped them with essential skills and frameworks. Each highlighted important lessons from their coursework, including the different perspectives gained from the strategy class, the fact-based decision-making structure they developed through the lens of statistics, and the practical frameworks acquired through coaching and marketing courses that they use daily with their teams.

As Jodi shared, “Right after MBA, I was tasked with looking at a pricing approach and I used what we learned in the statistics course where our instructor, Jen Beggs, was very helpful in building the model with me. It was a very effective way of communicating with the leadership team and helped us make a decision based on pure data, helping me gain the leadership team’s trust for future projects.”

Last word

My interactions with these influential MBA for TELUS alumnae have deepened my appreciation for the transformative power of education, mentorship and women leaders. As I continue on my own journey, I am empowered by their stories, fuelled by their passion and inspired by their unwavering commitment to their teams. Armed with the lessons learned from these trailblazing leaders, I am eager to embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, confident in my ability to make a meaningful impact.