Originally posted by Scott A.E. Smith.
Sean Sinclair (@SeanSin3) recently caught up with Tomas Stryncl, an international MBA student and former OHL hockey player who’s currently on his Corporate Residency with Aon Reed Stenhouse in Halifax. After finishing his major junior hockey career, Tomas went on to play for the University of Prince Edward Island and represent the Czech Republic in the World University Games while completing his undergraduate studies. There aren’t many stories more interesting than his, so enjoy!
Tomas, you have perhaps the most unusual story of all the students in your cohort; please tell us a little bit about your heritage.
What’s there to tell besides the Czech Republic is an awesome hockey country and has the best-looking athletes? But seriously, it’s been an amazing and rewarding journey to where I am today. It has been a challenging road to get to the Dalhousie MBA program and to secure a residency at Aon Reed Stenhouse. I come from a spa city – Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, a big tourist destination and home of the International Film Festival. My parents kept me pretty active in my early years, playing soccer, volleyball and hockey. While my mom, a high school principal, always put emphasis on education, my dad, an engineer and ex-professional volleyball player, put emphasis on sports, ultimately hockey. But it was my older brother’s influence that ultimately pushed me towards hockey. Then, at the age of 16, I was asked to consider Canada as another step in my hockey career. Shortly after, I went through an Import Draft into the Ontario Hockey League and there I was, with the Brampton Battalion, where I played for three years, and had the chance to play against guys like [current NHL players] Corey Perry, Mike Richards, Kyle Quincey and P.K. Subban.
Wow, you seem to have really taken a risk leaving home and moving to a foreign country at such a young age. Have you always been such a risk taker? Do you think this trait is important for future business leaders?
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even realize how big a deal it was back then. All I focused on was making sure that I did everything I could to make the most of my opportunity. My coaches and teachers back home had little faith in me staying in Canada for long because in their eyes I didn’t have what it takes to be successful. I moved to Canada as a 168-pound defenseman to play in the best junior league in the world. For those who are not that familiar with hockey, the average weight should be 185–190. My professors were skeptical because I could not speak English. I thought my English was good enough, but at the Toronto airport, I realized pretty quickly that I had absolutely no idea what was going on around me. The first few months were a challenge. I couldn’t effectively communicate with my peers, coaches and billets. This initial frustration taught me to be appreciative of people who try to help.
It was not easy leaving my family behind and going to a foreign country all on my own. At that early age, I was forced to be self-reliant, accountable to myself and disciplined. I guess, at the time, the biggest risk in my eyes was the idea of not making it in hockey and being “shipped” back home. Well, let’s just say that I enjoyed proving people back home wrong. My hockey club where I grew up playing didn’t want to let me go as they had invested in me, so they informed me that if I left and wanted to come back later, I would not have a spot on the team anymore. With the support of my family, I decided to take the risk and I can tell you it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
How does that compare to risk-taking in the business world? In my experience, you have to take risks if you want to be successful and achieve your dreams. Even though I didn’t get drafted to the NHL, I was fortunate enough to continue my hockey dream at the inter-university level (at UPEI), while at the same time investing in an education. When you take risks you cannot remove the chance of failure, but hard work, dedication, personal sacrifices and little bit of luck will certainly increase your chances of success.
What advice would you give to prospective international students who are thinking about securing a visa to study in Dalhousie’s Corporate Residency MBA program?
One thing that I learned a long time ago, through playing hockey at the international level, competing in business case competitions and simply checking out the job market, is that all of these different environments have one thing in common – competition. It doesn’t matter where in the world I end up, there will always be a number of equally qualified people competing for the same position. One way I differentiate myself is to study abroad and to take full advantage of the opportunities presented to me along the way.
During the first six months of the Corporate Residency MBA, I had the chance to speak with a number of established and successful professionals from a variety of industries. All of them were more than willing to share their experiences and the paths they took to get where they are today. They spoke candidly and shared not only their successes, but also some of the mistakes they made along the way. I’ve found this element of the program extremely beneficial and encouraging.
It is not easy being an international student at a post-graduate program in Canada. Securing study and work visas requires many steps, such as official translation of my native documents into English, filling out pages and pages of applications and paying hundreds of dollars in fees. Once accepted into the Dalhousie MBA program, an international student then finds himself/herself paying additional international tuition fees, which are substantial. Finally, when you think you’ve done everything that is required, you find yourself in the process of filling out more pages to renew your visas. It is of utmost importance to keep in mind that these are only little obstacles on the path to achieving something that not everyone can say they’ve done. I’m not the first nor will I be the last international student in a Canadian post-graduate program, and for good reason. It’s a life-long experience that increases my chances of success down the road on professional and personal levels. If you believe you are up to the task, you should definitely consider the Dalhousie MBA.
You have experience representing the Czech Republic on the world stage, and you have brushed shoulders with many current NHL players during your time in the OHL. I am curious to hear your thoughts on how young athletes can leverage their experiences and transfer sport-derived skills to the business world.
Hockey has clearly contributed to a large part of my life. This is where I learned to play within rules, but still be aggressive enough to reach my own ambitious goals. This is where I learned how to deal with defeat and disappointment, and where I learned to embrace and learn from these moments. This particular part of my life has taught me the most. I can only tell you what I’ve taken from the world of sport and tried to apply in my day-to-day life and, more importantly, now have tried to apply to the business world.
I think it’s important to go after my own goals and dreams, but also to accept authority and advice, and be humble along the way. Sport taught me to be mentally tough and resilient. Sport taught me to understand that without practice, there is very rarely a good result. Team sports have taught me to work towards a common goal and, most importantly, they have taught me how to be a contributing team member. I’ve been part of many teams and groups, and I believe that hockey has showed me what it takes to be a valuable team member.
During the first few months of the Dalhousie MBA program, I read a book called The Winner’s Mind by Allen Fox. Fox states that “winning isn’t everything,” but winning is still eminently preferable to losing. If there is one thing I took from hockey to the business world, it’s that.
You are half-way through your corporate residency at Aon Reed Stenhouse Inc. as a Strategic Business Advisor. Sounds pretty interesting. Tell our readers about your role at Aon and your experience thus far.
The title sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? My role involves working on a Logistics project with Aon’s Senior Leadership. The goal is to evolve the Logistics practice to a workable model aimed at providing value-based innovative solutions for Aon’s clients. I’ve already had the opportunity to speak with stakeholders in the UK and Germany, and it has been my responsibility to maintain these relationships throughout this project. In the early stages of my residency, my team was tasked with tailoring the Aon Protection Plus program for small to medium-sized businesses. In this role, we were responsible for the development and planning of strategic initiatives to increase Aon’s market share within the SME space in the Atlantic region. As part of the Marine Department, I have had an incredible amount of learning exposure, starting from visiting clients and determining their risk exposures to finding the best premium rates in the markets for our clients. So far, I have been fortunate to experience several components of the insurance industry, and I find it challenging and rewarding.
Early this month, I wrote one of the required exams on my way to becoming a licensed insurance broker in Canada. It’s one of four modules for the Canadian Accredited Insurance Broker designation, which is recognized across the country. I’m planning to write the second exam early in July and the third early in September. I never thought I’d be involved in the insurance industry, but the exposure to the world of risk through the Marine Department at Aon has been very exciting. On top of that, I’ve had the chance to meet insurance underwriters from many parts of the country and also the UK.
Perhaps the most unusual day I’ve had at Aon was when I received a phone call from our regional manager in Newfoundland who asked me to play on his team at the Bluegoose Hockey Tournament here in Halifax. Not one to pass up a networking opportunity and a chance to lace up the skates, I quickly said yes.
So Tomas, now that we know a little bit more about you, please tell us about your future. Where do you see yourself after graduation, five years from then, and 25 years from then? Will you be in Canada? Will you be the CEO at Aon? What will you be driving? I want to know what success means to Tomas Stryncl.
I certainly can’t tell you if I will be the CEO of Aon, but, hey, I wasn’t supposed to last longer than two weeks in Canada, so I wouldn’t count it out. My primary focus right now is to successfully finish my corporate residency at Aon. I plan to continue to educate myself on the risks and exposures facing businesses in the Atlantic region and see where that takes me.
What does success mean to me? I’d say being respected, appreciated and seen as sort of an expert in a particular field could mean success. We shall see what the future holds. All I can do in the meantime is continue to work hard and go above and beyond what is expected. Another hockey lesson that has stuck with me through the years is the motto of my former coach. He said “Control the controllables” and I think this is true for all aspects of life. If you work hard at what you can control, everything else will fall into place.