Catching up with JD/MBA Alumni Nikhil Handa, Jacob Kojfman, and Ryan Szainwald!
JD/MBA Alumni-Student Mentorship Program — Alumni Spotlight
By: Alexis Choi (JD’20) & Luigi Rulli (JD/MBA’20), 2019-20 Hennick Fellows, Programs & Special Projects
Each year, the alumni of the JD/MBA joint degree volunteer as mentors for the JD/MBA Alumni-Student Mentorship Program. The purpose of this program is to support the academic and career development of JD/MBA students by fostering a meaningful connection between students and graduates. Alumni mentors provide students with the benefit of their experience, give insight into a specific field or industry, and help students explore career choices and opportunities. This year, the Hennick Centre wanted to shine a spotlight on three of the outstanding alumni who contribute to this program annually.
First, we spoke to Ryan Szainwald, Managing Partner, Investments Private Equity of Brookfield Asset Management. Ryan emphasized the importance of building trust and genuine connection between mentors and mentees through open communication. In discussing how to cultivate a meaningful mentor and mentee relationship, Ryan stressed the need to embrace the differences in the mentor and mentee’s careers. He noted, “[mentees should] just think of the mentor as a person who was you. Don’t think that this person might get me a job or give me a good reference, it’s just a person who was literally in the exact same shoes as you were, only a few years earlier.” Ryan encourages students to reach out without thinking that the mentor’s time is too valuable, as the mentorship program is not about “finding the perfect answer to the perfect question, but it’s about trying to create a connection.”
Reflecting on what makes a good mentor, Ryan emphasized that it takes practice to be good at mentoring. Often, professional lives and lifestyles may not be structured in a way that makes sustaining good mentorship easy. While discussing what makes a good mentor, he stated, “In my view, it’s less about providing specific advice based on the mentor’s personal experience and more about listening to what the mentee really cares about and how to clearly articulate a useful perspective based on the specific situation. In my experience, I have seen many mentors and mentees that didn’t fully appreciate the importance of actively listening. From a mentee perspective, my suggestion would be to try to resist the urge to say things that they think might impress their mentor or ask questions that they think are the ‘right’ questions to ask. Honesty and openness will yield the best results by far.” For mentors, he re-iterated that “when you are actually trying to help somebody, I have found that generally speaking less and listening more tends to be the most valuable thing you can do.”
Next, we spoke to Nikhil Handa, Chief Financial Officer at The Supreme Cannabis Company. When asked what motived him to contribute to the JD/MBA Alumni-Student Mentorship Program, Nikhil emphasized that mentorship had helped him gain perspective on the different career paths available to him, as well as the important decision criteria that should inform his decision-making early in his career. He focused on being honest about motivations, understanding strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing that priorities will change over time. This helped him make the difficult choice to forgo articling and pursue a career in investment banking. As a mentor, Nikhil helps students by providing similar advice and guidance as they make their own early career decisions. In terms of how to best utilize the joint JD/MBA degree, Nikhil suggested that students exercise their critical thinking, understand the breadth of knowledge that is available to them in the program, and engage with the many extracurriculars available at both schools.
Finally, we spoke to Jacob Kojfman, Legal Counsel at CGI. Speaking to alumni who may want to contribute, Jacob stated that mentorship can be quite rewarding, especially if you have a mentee who takes full advantage of what you are offering them. The difference a mentor can make in someone’s career development at such an early stage is both rewarding and fulfilling. A good mentor is willing to share their experiences with the student, while remembering what it was like to be on the cusp of starting their professional career. A good mentor is willing to be a resource to the mentee, as well as a sounding board by asking good questions.
To the students, Jacob suggests, “[b]e humble, be grateful, be appreciative, and take advantage of the relationship. Don’t just have the one call – make time to speak with your mentors. These are people who are willingly offering their time, advice, and experience. Very rarely will you find that in life. You don’t have all the answers, and neither do they. Listen to what the mentor has to say and if a mentor gives you a suggestion or advice and you follow it, then let them know what the outcome was, positive or negative.” He continues, “[i]f you’re in the same city as them, try to meet up quarterly or semi-annually for coffee/meal. Send them regular updates of what you’re doing; it makes it easier to reach out again and ask for help when you need it. Share resources with them – if they mention something that may interest them and you come across an interesting article, clip it and mail it to them.”
All three mentors emphasized that mentorship continues to be important and enriching in both the legal and business communities’ post-graduation and that the JD/MBA Alumni-Student Mentorship Program is a great opportunity for mentors and mentees to build a genuine and reciprocal connection.