Spotlight on our McGill-HEC Montréal Executive MBA Grads: Kimberly Quinn & Robert Auclair

Kimberly Quinn (BA’99, BA’01, EMBA’21)

Director of School Operations, Cree School Board

Kimberly Quinn’s (BA’99, BA’01, EMBA’21) path has, up to now, been rooted in education. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and linguistics and a Bachelor of Education, both from McGill University, and a Master of Education from Harvard University, she is no stranger to academic excellence and has spent more than two decades at the Cree School Board, in both teaching and leadership roles.

Having completed her last degree in 2006, Quinn was looking for a new opportunity not only to learn, but also to grow as a leader and as an individual. In looking at potential options, the McGill- HEC Montréal Executive Program stood out to her for several reasons.

“I didn't want to really take a leave from work, so I really love that the MBA was applied to my work setting and would allow me to explore what I'm doing from different perspectives, and provide me with new skill sets and possibly new tools to look at things,” says Quinn. “I loved the way the modules were laid out, and also that it was bilingual, and I liked that added challenge.”

When she found out she was selected as a recipient of the McGill HEC Montréal Scholarship for Managers of Indigenous Origin, she says she was grateful not only for the financial support but also incredibly honoured to be given the opportunity to represent Indigenous people in leadership and in education.

“I've always been an advocate for opportunities for growth, and also to shine a light on other people,” she says. "It was, again, kind of aligning with getting out of my comfort zone and seeing what else I could do to bring more to others, and at the same time to bring new perspectives to the program. I wasn't sure exactly what would be expected of me, I'll say that much. But I really do believe in capacity building, [the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee] has been working towards that, our board has as well. It's our mission for others to reach their highest potential.”

Quinn says she appreciates the opportunity she was given to share her culture and her nation’s history with her peers in a more personal way, allowing them to understand it from a firsthand account rather than what’s portrayed in the media.

“We were able to bring in our Grand Chief at the time Dr. Abel Bosum, and he was with us for a half a day and spoke about our James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement,” she says. “He also brought in his personal experience, and I think, from what my colleagues and peers shared, that resonated with them and has stayed with them.”

Something that Quinn was not expecting from the McGill- HEC Montréal Executive Program was the level of personal growth she would experience, particularly through the Reflective Module, which she says laid a strong foundation for everything else taught in the program.

“We were told to trust the process over and over, throughout the program,” she explains. “And that really allowed me to open myself up, and probably be more vulnerable than I've been with as many people in a professional setting.”

While pursuing an MBA at any stage in your life is no small feat, Quinn and her cohort had the added challenge of adapting to methods of learning and staying connected as they studied throughout the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. For Quinn it was particularly challenging, as she and her team at the Cree School Board worked to pivot towards online learning across 12 different schools and with some students without access to reliable internet or devices, it was no small task.

Despite this, she says they were able to successfully launch an online learning platform within just a few weeks, in addition to mobilizing families and volunteer teachers to help with homework and mentor students at a distance.

However, the challenges brought forth by the pandemic that required her immediate action and attention meant that she had to adapt.

“I'm a high achiever. I think probably everyone in the program is, so I was really expecting to be able to put everything I had into that and COVID really dampened that,” she says. “I had to give my best rather than my everything, which was different than what I would have liked. And so that was a growth opportunity when I look back. I think that the high achiever in me came back to the fact that it was about my personal and professional growth, and the pandemic was just another opportunity to grow in new ways. There will always be other disruptions that we have to manage.”

When all is said and done, Quinn says the program was a transformative experience, leaving her with a renewed sense of purpose. She credits the program’s emphasis on sharing perspectives and leadership with helping her develop a more mindful leadership style and reminding her to keep coming back to her North Star, ensuring that, at the end of the day, each student who passes through one of her schools has a positive experience and reaches their fullest potential.

Robert Auclair (EMBA’22)

Business Development Officer, Board of Compensation and Cree Regional Economic Enterprises

For Robert Auclair (EMBA’22), a Business Development Officer at the Board of Compensation and Cree Regional Economic Enterprises, pursuing his EMBA was not only a way to fulfill a personal goal but to follow in the footsteps of his mother.

“My mother, I think it was in 2000, received her master's degree in education,” explains Auclair. “It was partially following in her footsteps. And she was an example, you know, I was raised by a single mother so [pursuing my MBA] was a partial fulfillment of that family legacy.”

For over 10 years Robert worked in health and social services with the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, a high stress job that took up much of his time. In early 2019, he left the role, and with more time on his hands and the flexibility to embark on this journey, he made the leap and sent in his application to the McGill-HEC Montréal Executive MBA program, eyeing one of the spots awarded to recipients of the McGill-HEC Montréal Scholarship for Managers of Indigenous Origin.

Unfortunately, before getting to the interview stage, Auclair was informed that the spots had already been filled.

“If I had applied maybe earlier, I might have been in the previous year's cohort, but native elders used to say and I [have] heard this on more than one occasion that you are where you're supposed to be,” he says.

Ultimately, Auclair received his offer of admission with funding for the following cohort, news that left him with excitement and fear of the unknown all at once.

“Being selected is quite an honour,” he says. “The directors know when they interview people, that they're very good at picking the right people for cohorts. I had to respect and honour that and try my hardest. Going in, you have fears and doubts, but looking back at all the struggles and challenges, I'm glad those are teachings as well. They teach you your strength and resilience as well. So, then you come out the other end a very different person with a lot more tools and skills and confidence.”

Robert’s journey through the program was not without its unique challenges, as much of the program took place under the constraints of the pandemic. While Robert and his cohort were fortunate enough to complete most of the modules in person, there was still much to adapt to and overcome. Despite this, he commends the program for being able to connect everyone during such a difficult time for many.

“It was intimidating at first, [being the only Indigenous student in the cohort],” he says. “There's a certain intimidation in saying like, ‘I'm a minority.’ People don't know a lot about my people or my background. Also, you come to school with people who are engineers, doctors, and that's very intimidating. But I picked my moments, I got over that part and got more comfortable and a lot of the cohort became my friends.”

He also notes that this journey would not have been possible without the love and support of his wife, Arnaituk, and two children, Walker and Ivy.

“When I would leave to go to school on weekends, my wife would tell my daughter Ivy, ‘Daddy is going to school,’ and she would reply in a loud voice, ‘Again?’ We had a good laugh every time,” he says.

A new way of learning

For Robert, the experience was also a departure from traditional ways of learning. He also noticed a thread throughout the modules where he was able to tie some of the material being taught to Indigenous values.

“It wasn't just a one-way communication, where you just sit there, the teacher talks, you take notes, and you take an exam. Yes, that’s part of it but also bringing in successful leaders and CEOs and learning from your peers because they come from different industries as well,” he says. “I think it happened in almost every module, there were times something clicked in my mind where we were being taught new things but realizing that I've heard this before. [It was] just [told] to me in a different way. I've heard this before from Elders and Indigenous values and beliefs over my lifetime.”

Robert credits the program with instilling in him more confidence in his decision-making abilities, which has encouraged him to go after things he wouldn’t have necessarily pursued before this experience. A lifelong learner, he says being able learn all these new things and to see his peers in their roles and what they’re doing builds confidence to then go out and do those things too, and with so many different profiles in the cohort, there is no shortage of examples to follow.

“You’ve got entrepreneurs who have their own companies that are successful,” he says. “There are vice presidents that came [to the program] who want to go higher, and there are other people, maybe like me, who make career changes because of newfound knowledge. We saw people in our cohort during the program were being promoted and others who want to move up in their professional careers, kind of like myself.”

Now equipped with new knowledge and confidence, Robert hopes to continue to have a positive impact within the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee (The Peoples’ Land) in Northern Quebec, this time in a completely different field than before, having made the jump to a for-profit role after over a decade in a not-for-profit health and social services role.

“I have that profile. I have the feeling, the need to want to help as many people as I can, in in whatever way, and preferably it'll be, with my own people, with the Cree Nation of Northern Quebec, because that's what I've been doing all my life.”

EMBA Program

McGill-HEC Montréal Executive MBA (EMBA)

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