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Leaders of the Future

After four years in Commerce, the class of 2018 is ready to take on the world. We spoke with some of this year’s grads to find out highlights of their time at Smith, lessons learned, faculty who inspired them, and what’s next in their careers.
Rob Gerlsbeck

Erin Palmeter

Hometown: Halifax, N.S.

Why I went to business school? I was looking for a program that would allow me to learn through practical application. Smith is one of the best business schools in Canada and has a huge focus on applied learning.

One thing I learned at Smith I’ll never forget is discovering one’s personal value proposition. By understanding the unique benefits that you offer, you can differentiate yourself against others.

A highlight of my time at Smith: Building relationships with such incredible individuals from all different backgrounds and interests. Four years later, I am leaving with more friends than I could ever have imagined.

One thing that really challenged me at Smith was: At first, I found it intimidating to be in a program that attracts some of Canada’s brightest minds. It was the first time I was presented with hardship and failure in the face of others’ successes. But I learned how to adapt. This allowed me to truly appreciate the value of learning in a competitive environment.

My motto: “Focus less on accumulating titles and more on building skills.”

My best advice to future students is: Find your niche in the program and don’t concern yourself with what others are doing. For example, I am very passionate about film production, which I got to explore over my time at Queen’s by being involved in several film-related organizations. I eventually translated this passion into monetary value by establishing my own freelance videography company.

What I’m doing next: Following a few months travel, I will start at Mondelēz International, in the two-year rotational program, in commercial marketing and sales.

Kanak Nagee

Hometown: Woodbridge, Ont.

Why I went to business school: In high school, I loved working with other people and I had a strong interest in global markets and economic policy. Business school became the obvious choice for me after I attended Shad Valley, a summer entrepreneurship program.

One thing I learned at Smith I’ll never forget is the importance of friendships. The people I met in this program propelled me forward and encouraged me to be my best self every day. I'm excited to keep in touch with all my peers after graduation and to keep track of all the amazing things they accomplish. 

A highlight of my time at Smith: Exchange! Fifteen Smith students in Singapore — what could be more fun?

A professor who inspired me: Professor Blair Robertson. He went above and beyond to teach me about the finance industry and has been a phenomenal mentor. 

One thing that really challenged me at Smith: Leading QFAC and Limestone Capital. I learned a lot about managing people and problem solving. 

My motto: In omnia paratus. “Ready for all things.”

Best advice to future students: Keep an open mind and leverage everything Smith has to offer. Don't forget to have some fun along the way.

What I’m doing next: Investment banking analyst at Evercore in New York City

Paul Vollmershausen

Hometown: Woodstock, Ont.

Why I went to business school? I knew business school would open doors and present opportunities for me while giving me the necessary skills to make an impact wherever I go.

One thing I learned at Smith I’ll never forget is that economic value can come hand-in-hand with societal value.

A highlight of my time at Smith: Exchange. I attended the Cologne Business School (CBS) in Germany. The value in studying abroad for a term cannot be overstated. Having the opportunity to experience contrasting cultures and explore various parts of the world is a unique aspect of the Smith experience that you can’t get in many other places.

A professor who inspired me: Professor Bill Cannon inspired me with his continuous pursuit of knowledge, desire to help his students, and belief in making time for the things that matter in life.

One thing that really challenged me at Smith: Business, Government and the Global Economy (COMM 398) class challenged me to think outside of the Commerce program’s ordinary constructs and frameworks to understanding the state of our world today and the true nature behind why things have occurred the way they have.

My motto: “Small everyday decisions are what amount to major changes and successes over time.”

Favourite business book: Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Best advice to future students: If you’re interested in something­ — anything — become intensely curious, and develop your passions by learning as much as you can about it. As a business student, the best thing you can do is to explore what the world has to offer you.

What I’m doing next: Capital One Canada as a business analyst in Toronto

Shirley Lin

Hometown: Toronto

Why I went to business school: I wanted to have a career that would allow me the privilege of working with other professionals on a daily basis. I knew that business school would help enhance my leadership and teamwork skills, business acumen, as well as my personal and professional networks.

One thing I learned at Smith I’ll never forget is the value of teamwork. It’s incredible what you can achieve with a group of talented individuals who share a common goal — just look at all the conferences under ComSoc!

A highlight of my time at Smith: CommProm. It was amazing to see Comm’18s come together to celebrate our four years of undergrad.

A professor who inspired me: Kate Rowbotham. Kate is a genuine and kind person who is incredibly considerate and supportive of everyone around her.

One thing that really challenged me at Smith: QBET. Organizing this conference was one of the greatest challenges in my university career. Things would always come up and interfere with our planning. But when you’ve got a dedicated and hardworking team, everything works out in the end.

My motto: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?!”

Favourite business book: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.

Best advice to future students:  Enjoy every minute. Craft your own path and live these next four years how you want to. 

What I’m doing next: IBM as a client representative.

Zain Safdar

Hometown: Peterborough, Ont.

Why I went to business school: I wanted to pursue a degree where I would be working on skills that could easily be transferable to a job setting, such as presentation skills and quantitative analysis.

One thing I learned at Smith I’ll never forget is that although industries have become more data-centric and analytic-driven, people are still at the core of businesses. That is why individuals who have high EQ (emotional intelligence) will help organizations flourish.  

A professor who inspired me: Professor Jim Hamilton. He inspired me with his charismatic lecture style and his willingness to discuss unorthodox real-life scenarios that may arise and best practices to address them. 

One thing that really challenged me at Smith: The entire job acquisition process, especially being able to handle the adversity and rejection this process entails. 

Favorite business book is: Young Money by Kevin Roose

Best advice to future students: Remain resilient. In your university career, you will experience adversity inside the classroom, professionally, and in your personal life. But it is the lessons learned from these hardships that will help you grow as a person. 

What I’m doing next: Joining Goldman Sachs as an analyst in London, England 

Hannah Gardner

Hometown: Markham, Ont.

Why I went to business school? I loved the idea of having an endless number of opportunities upon completing my degree. Business school has taught me a number of professional and personal skills I’ll be able to bring to my future endeavours. 

One thing I learned at Smith I’ll never forget is Porter’s Five Forces.

A highlight of my time at Smith: Being involved in a variety of ComSoc committees provided me with some of my favourite memories. Meeting new people, planning events and conferences alongside friends, being mentored by upper years, and then later being able to give that advice back to younger students, were all highlights over the past four years. 

A professor who especially inspired me: Professor Ken Wong. Professor Wong always came across as caring about the success of every single one of his students. He recognizes your personal strengths while inspiring you to always do better.

Best advice to future students: Don’t do it alone. Rely on your fellow classmates and friends to help you through the next four years. It’ll be a lot more fun that way!

What I’m doing next: Beginning a career in consulting at Monitor Deloitte.

John Sibbald 

Hometown: Sutton, Ont.

Why I went to business school: I’m someone with a wide range of interests. I knew that business school would only ever open doors for me; it would never limit my possibilities. Also, the skills learned in business school are applicable in nearly every field, so I knew it was the best fit for me.

One thing I learned at Smith I’ll never forget is that there are certain things you will fail at; it’s inevitable. You just need to “fail forward” – learn from your mistakes and grow.

A highlight of my time at Smith: Founding Q+, the LGBTQ+ alliance at Smith, was a challenging journey that taught me more than I could have imagined. I love seeing the impact that it has made, ranging from inspiring individual students to be confident with themselves, to a major attitude shift of the greater Smith community.

A professor who inspired me: Dr. Nicole Robitaille inspired me to always go the extra mile. If you set high standards for yourself, others will take note.

My motto: “Be bold.”

Favourite business book: Same Words, Different Language by Barbara Annis

Best advice to future students: People do business with people. For that reason, it’s important that you remain authentic to your true self. Embrace and celebrate who you are — whether that be your culture, background, sexuality or gender identity — and you will increase not only your happiness, but also your potential.

What I’m doing next: Management consultant at Oliver Wyman in Boston