Originally posted by Scott A.E. Smith.
For our latest blog, we caught up with Sean A. Sinclair, who’s currently on his Corporate Residency with Scotiabank in Toronto. Sean started the Facebook group for the Class of 2013, so we made sure to ask him about that. Enjoy!
So what’s your story, Mr. Sinclair? Where are you from?
I grew up in what used to be the small town of Newmarket, Ontario, located about 45 minutes north of my current home in Toronto. My mother is a nurse, and my father is a retired police officer. As you can imagine, both have had very demanding careers and as a result have provided my sister and me with prime examples of loyalty, dedication, discipline and hard work. I carried these life lessons throughout my childhood and into competitive sports where I truly began to develop leadership skills. I had the privilege of captaining various soccer, hockey and lacrosse teams that represented my town or my schools. When I realized I wasn’t going to make it to the NHL and grew too old to compete in organized sport, I continued to train and participate in intramural and recreational leagues. I even tested the waters with competitive bodybuilding, which taught me about discipline, resilience and spirituality to some degree. Sport is where I developed my greatest friendships. It’s where I learned how to succeed and fail with dignity and pride. It’s where I learned the importance of hard work, but also the place where I first experienced defeat and heartbreak. Because of my experience in competitive sports, I hate to lose. I understand the importance of hard work and preparation. But most importantly, because of sports, I am resilient and mentally tough. I will need these traits as I pursue a career in finance as I know there will be thousands of other candidates out there who will have their own advantages. The difference is that I have the determination and the will to network my way to success, and I can suck it up and get going when the going gets tough.
What brought you to the Corporate Residency MBA program?
Mainly the Corporate Residency component. I had been working for two years after graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Guelph and I realized that I did not have the contacts or the network I would need to achieve the level of success I desire. My honours specialization at Guelph was in marketing and as a result that is the direction I took after graduation. It took me a bit of time to figure it out, but I realized I want a different challenge from my career than what marketing and sales roles offer. Around the same time the sub-prime mortgage crisis began to hit the U.S. pretty drastically and I knew nothing about its implications for Canada and the global economy. That is when I developed a strong interest in global financial markets. I drew from my economics and finance experience at Guelph to develop opinions but I quickly realized that I had a lot more to learn. I knew that if I wanted to pursue a career in global markets or wealth management I would have to build a network I could leverage for advice and career progression, plus I would have to learn a heck of a lot more about the world of finance. The Corporate Residency MBA at Dalhousie has provided me with the opportunity to achieve both these goals, and build on them as I develop.
You started the Facebook page for the Class of 2013. How did that help in bringing the class together?
I have always had a knack for getting people together and facilitating action (see Class of 2013?s official party journal for details). In addition, I am a giant social media and general Internet nerd—my friends are often complaining about my littering of their news feeds with the latest Bloomberg headline or some infographic related to the world of fitness and nutrition (another passion of mine). Before applying to and being accepted by Dal’s MBA program, I did my research like any other prospective grad student would. I did this by using social media to get the true story of what this program is all about. Through Facebook I met one of my many mentors at Dal: Mr. Jordy Fujiwara, who was a part of the inaugural Corporate Residency MBA class. Jordy is the originator of the Dalhousie MBA Facebook page, as well as one of the original contributors to the blog here. He provided me with advice throughout the application process and the two of us set out on a journey to bring together all current Dal MBA students to one page. The goal was for the various cohorts to develop relationships, share success stories and build an online community for students that would otherwise struggle to stay conected given the geographical breadth of some residencies (e.g. Katie Gallagher, who did her residency in South Africa).
From this general program networking page, I decided (with the assistance of my Coburg Consultants colleagues) to create another page that now has restricted access and is exclusively for our cohort. This simple idea gave rise to something quite extraordinary. The class of 2013 Facebook group began, in earnest, by having each student introduce himself or herself upon acceptance into the program. This was fantastic because it seemed like I knew many of my future classmates before I even met them face-to-face. On my first night in Halifax I ventured down to my now-favourite watering hole The Lower Deck where I saw a familiar face. It was my future classmate Sara-Beth Harrison. Creepy or not, I had found a new friend thanks to Mr. (Mark) Zuckerberg. Once classes began, the volume of posts and sharing in our Facebook group grew exponentially. It had become a forum to discuss issues, an exclusive list to parties and events, an online marketplace for exchanging textbooks, and most importantly a place where we could share our interests and get to know one another. I highly recommend that anyone joining the program or thinking about it reach out to me or one of my peers. We are more than willing to share our experiences and guide you the way that Jordy and the inaugural cohort did for us.
Tell us about the first six months of the program. What was the adjustment like from the real world back to the classroom?
The first six months were interesting to say the least. I had taken a two-year hiatus from the world of academia and during that time experienced several different job roles. I knew that grad school would be very different from undergrad but I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from my classmates. Because Dal recruits students straight out of undergrad, and from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds, I had no idea whether my classmates would be competent in ‘thinking business’ or if they would be astonishingly brilliant and I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I think that for the first month or so I was constantly sizing up the competition. In some circumstances I had feelings of being an impostor, almost—in which I sort of felt inadequate to the 34 other carefully selected peers in my cohort. And then there were other times when I thought to myself: ‘What the heck are these science students doing asking questions that a first-year commerce student would know the answer to?’ The diversity of personalities created a dynamic that was very exciting to be a part of. It became apparent very quickly why the selection committee chose the candidates it did. Every single one of my classmates is ambitious, hard-working and eager to learn. The way to think of it is that you select the top two students from your undergrad class and put them in a room together with the top two from other universities. We’re basically a crockpot of keeners, class presidents, varsity athletes, dean’s list kids and the odd teacher’s pet.
The first two months (the summer term) were very different from the fall semester. They consisted of 9-to-5 classes of the same subject (hence the term “intensive”). It was Economics the first two weeks and then Accounting and Quantitative Decision Making after that; all day, every day. However, there was little homework to be done during this time, mostly just preparation work with Management Career Services for the big September interview day. So this was not too harsh a change from ‘the real world’. The fall semester on the other hand represented more of a classic academic schedule with multiple classes, and offered lots of homework. The main difference between undergrad and grad school is the volume of work thrown at you. Regularly, I would be up past midnight working on cases or doing textbook readings for the next day. I will admit that I always threw a solid workout in my schedule after school, so that contributed to my late nights as well. But, hey, when you’re busy and stressed with deadlines, it’s essential to find some time to move your body and clear your mind.
Where are you doing your residency? What are you doing there?
My residency is at Scotiabank in the Domestic Commercial Banking group. I was hired as an associate in the Commercial Associates Program (CAP for short). In this role, I am responsible for the credit communication, security and risk analysis and underwriting of facilities ranging from $1 million to $10 million. The Credit Solutions group, where I will get most of my training, has a very team-oriented atmosphere. I work closely with senior analysts, relationship managers and directors and I communicate with Scotiabank’s Global Risk Management group daily. One of the joys of my current role is interacting with CFOs and CEOs. Put very simply, I help SMEs fund their operations and investments. I analyze each company’s financial data to determine whether the bank should lend to them or not. I work with the customer and with Scotiabank’s risk management department to structure a solutions package that will satisfy both parties. This includes negotiating security and collateral to the bank, establishing borrowing covenants and developing borrowing base calculations.
What’s really interesting about the commercial bank is that we get to touch an extremely diverse portfolio of clients. In a meeting this morning, my director mentioned that 40% of our portfolio falls into the ‘other’ category or cannot be classified. One day I will be structuring a deal for a specialty tool manufacturer, the next day a biodiesel processor, and the following day a private Montessori school. The variety of experience as a CAP trainee doesn’t stop with the business of my customers but continues to the actual credit products I am learning about. The beauty of the (CAP) program is that it involves a rotation throughout the commercial bank. This summer I will work with the following groups: Global Transaction Banking, Real Estate Lending, Specialty Products Group, Global Risk Management, Auto Finance, and Roynat Capital.
How’s life in Toronto treating you?
So far the experience is amazing, and it’s not even summer yet. As I mentioned, I grew up just north of the city so I am already familiar with the geography. Most people don’t know this, but I was first offered my residency at Scotiabank in Halifax. I had the opportunity to work closely with Senior Manager Bruce Smith, who is a great friend of the Corporate Residency MBA program. Though I knew I would experience great mentorship and development by staying on the east coast, I also knew that Toronto is the heart of all things finance in Canada. It took a little bit of a fight, but with the help of Bruce I obtained an associate position on Bay Street. Since I have been in Toronto I have not forgotten the reason why I fought to be at this specific location. Every day I pass by thousands of other professionals on the street. Because it is my goal to realize a job offer before I return to school in September, I have been hustling to speak with as many of these people as possible. I love being in Toronto for the opportunities; it is my opinion that the B-school students who complain about the job market simply do not try hard enough and do not meet the right people. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that the odds for scoring a sales and trading rotation are about one in a few thousand, but those odds get much better when you know the right people. I am the first to admit that I’m not the most book-smart person in my cohort, but I am a relationship person and I live by the old adage, “It’s not always about what you know; it’s about who you know.”
In addition to the career development perspective, I love Toronto because it is close to my friends and family. In January, I moved into a brand new condo with fellow classmate and Coburg Consultants Ltd. business partner Blake Jeffrey. Not a single weekend has gone by that we haven’t had one of our best friends sleeping on the couch. There is so much to do here every day and night; the boys from home can’t pass up the opportunity to come visit. As you already know, Blake and I are big sports fans and it’s great to live in a city that has so much passion for its professional teams, regardless of how terrible they are. Hey, we’re only a few hours away from the Blue Jays home opener; they’re looking good this year! The SkyDome (I stick with the nostalgic name) is a 5-minute walk from our condo, and Steam Whistle Brewery is on the way. The sunny days spent watching the Jays will keep Blake and me sane while we study for the CFA or CSC the remainder of the week.
Do you know what you want to do post-grad or is it too early to say?
It’s still too early for me to say. I am very grateful for my experience at the commercial bank thus far as it has established a solid foundation and provided me with significant breadth of credit knowledge. However, I know that my strengths fall on the sales side and I am looking for something with a fast pace, a competitive environment, and high future compensation. As a result of the networking I’ve been doing so far in Toronto, I have discovered parts of the bank I didn’t know existed. This is what I initially found so difficult about banking and finance: the language and the structure of every bank is different, and when you start looking at private firms the water is even more murky. I am very interested in capital markets or investment banking roles, but I am not closing myself off to any other opportunities. Looking to the future, I would like to find myself on the debt side working on a fixed income/bond desk as I am a little apprehensive of what the future holds for equities. My plan over the next month is to prepare for applications and interviews for capital markets rotation programs at the Schedule I banks. A rotation will allow me to work on multiple desks and further my understanding of the various product and industry groups. Yesterday, I sat down for a coffee with the director of my group at Scotiabank. After discussing The Kee to Bala, Blue Rodeo and other music-related topics, he gave me a great piece of advice. He told me to seek diverse experience at the beginning of my career because once you start to specialize and earn promotions, growth becomes limited and the learning scope becomes narrowed.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @SeanSin3, or find him by searching for Sean A. Sinclair on LinkedIn!