Rodney Cheung is a life long learner and a graduate of the Rotman Executive MBA program. He was the first Executive MBA candidate to join the CDL program in 2017 and has paved the way for many others. We had an opportunity to chat with Rodney about his professional journey, the part that CDL played in it and the lessons learned along the way.
How did your entrepreneurial journey start and what has shaped you as an entrepreneur?
I started two consulting companies during the dot com era – around the late ‘90s and early 2000s. We sold both of them to other companies. I am 49 now, and have had a longer career than many other MBA students in the CDL program.
My background is in engineering and I attended University of Waterloo. So in terms of running the business, we were flying by the seat of our pants and relying on our common sense to do things. To be quite honest, now that we know better, there are lots of things we could have done better than we did 15 years ago. Being open to continually learning and iterating has been one of the main drivers behind my professional journey.
Why did you decide to move from an engineering career to a business oriented one? And what made you want to start your own company and be a part of startups?
A lot of my decisions that have led me to where I am today have had to do with the fact that I wanted to do things differently. The issue with a traditional career track is that you are restricted quite a bit by the company that you are working with. However, as a consultant, you get a lot more variety and can potentially make a bigger impact.
As a consultant, you are always working on different engagements and your learning cycle is that much faster because you are exposed to different environments. You can then transfer those skills to other projects – that appealed to me.
How did you first hear about the CDL program and why did you decide to join it?
I took a pre-course at Rotman called MBA Essentials for Managers. It was a one month course that was taught over eight or 10 evenings. One of the evenings, we had a session with Professor Ajay Agrawal and he introduced us to Creative Destruction Lab.
I decided to reach out to him afterwards to figure out what it was all about. I told him that I am planning to join the Executive MBA and asked about how I could get in to the CDL. He said that there was no tie in but encouraged me to apply regardless of that. So I did.
The Executive MBA administration told me that I could not do the MBA and be in CDL at the same time but over time, I managed to convince the administration to change their minds.
My perseverance paid off and my understanding is that the opportunity is now open to Executive MBA (EMBA) and Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) students.
The reason why I wanted to join is because the way Ajay explained it was so compelling – the idea of building something massively scalable. In comparison, my previous consulting companies were more linearly scalable. I had to hire new people, every time we wanted to grow. You could not grow so quickly without increasing your business risk. I wanted to join CDL so I could be a part of these ventures and learn from it.
Why did you decide to pursue your Executive MBA and the CDL program together? And what has been the impact of your decision.
First of all, I found the difference between Executive MBA and CDL striking. In the MBA program, you do need to work hard and it is challenging but at the end of the day the courses are still courses and there is a definite structure that you have to adhere to.
Whereas at CDL, the opportunities are endless and you get out what you put in. They match you with an actual venture that is in the process of building a business and I found the speed at which things happen at CDL very exciting as well.
What was your key takeaway from the CDL program?
I think the key takeaway is that in a startup you have limited resources to do the things you need to do. You may have a thousand things to do but you can only do several of them. So based on my learnings, you should be focusing on things that validate your technology, validate your business model and funding – so that your company lives to see another day.
Concentrating on these three things really gets to the heart of the matter and will help you succeed. I saw this clearly in the CDL Sessions. If you are not concentrating on those three things, you need to reevaluate.
Would you recommend the combination of the Executive MBA and the CDL program to others?
A hundred percent! The two experiences are complimentary.
The Executive MBA students also bring a wealth of experience and can add significant value to the CDL ventures.
Any advice for people thinking of joining the program or thinking of applying, be it as an MBA student or founder?
I think an important thing is to keep humble and to expose yourself to different modes of learning. I am fairly experienced but I have no problem doing the grunt work for the companies. You need to come in with that mentality and be ready to do whatever it takes.
As a founder, be coachable and be humble. You have an incredible opportunity and you should be open to suggestions on your business.
You are an extremely busy individual, do you have any down time and what do you do to relax?
I love music, watching foreign films and running.
Thank you Rodney for taking the time to chat with us!