Alumni Corner

Alumni Spotlight: Rylan Dobson

Rylan is a recent graduate of the MBA program at SFU. See what he’s been up to since he graduated and learn about the valuable resources at the Graduate Career Management Centre he used as a student to help him with the job search process and reaching his career goals within the corporate sustainability sector.

Since graduating from SFU’s MBA program in December 2016, Rylan Dobson began working as an independent consultant for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a non-profit organization dedicated to proactively engaging the business community to prevent the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. As a Water Stewardship Consultant, Rylan works with global companies to help them reduce the impacts that they have on fresh water resources, this includes supporting them in improving their approach to water stewardship across their business operations and measuring and understanding their corporate exposure to water-related risks.

While it is deemed as more unconventional for an MBA grad to work in the non-profit sector, it is more promising than it seems. According to an article by TopMBA, the kind of strategic and analytical skills acquired by many MBAs paired with their knowledge of the private sector can be particularly useful to a career in a non-profit organization. Plus, as many non-profits operate and compete in the same manner as businesses, the skillset is easily transferrable. We talked to Rylan about his current role and the resources that he used at SFU and the Graduate Career Management Centre to help him secure his current role.

How did you get started as an independent consultant?

It wasn’t the plan. I came into the MBA looking to secure a full-time role at a company by the end of the program. I came to Vancouver three years ago and at the time my professional experience was as a project manager within the rail industry and so I ended up working with Translink here in Vancouver. However, my undergraduate degree was in environmental biotechnology with a focus on water, so it’s always something I have been interested in getting back into. While working in London, I had tried a few times to get back into the water sector but a common response I got from people when I tried to shift careers was “you’re a project manager, what experience do you have working in the water sector?” When I arrived in Vancouver, I continued to struggle to find a job in water, as well as a job in construction as my experience was again primarily in rail. While working with Doug Leong at the CMC, he encouraged me to start engaging in informational interviews to grow my network here in Vancouver and learn more about what water-related work was being done in the city.

Studying towards an MBA was a strategic career decision as it would allow me to have a clean break from my current career and work on re-branding myself. It would also offer me the chance to develop a new set of skills. Going back to informational interviews, I was trying to talk to people who were working with water in general here in Vancouver. Through this process, I happened to come across someone who works for WWF International and specifically with corporate freshwater stewardship. The informational interview that I undertook with him resulted in a 4-month internship with WWF.

What do you do in your role with WWF?

I work directly with WWF’s corporate partners who have approached WWF for support in evolving their corporate freshwater strategies and policies. I’m currently working with 3 global companies based in the U.S. One company is exploring the implementation of the international Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) standard across their global production facilities. With this work, we are helping the company understand and prioritize which facilities would most benefit from the implementation by assessing the water-related risks faced by each facility using WWF’s Water Risk Filter tool. For example, if they have a plant in a country that has a high risk of water scarcity and the production facility is highly material to the operations of the business then disruptions caused by water-related challenges present the company with an enormous business risk. By implementing the AWS standard, a facility can better respond to all water-related risks (physical, reputational and regulatory).

Another company is looking to refresh their current water policy; the brief with them is to do a benchmarking exercise to look at some of the leading companies who are working with water globally and use these to create recommendations for the client to consider while they develop their new strategy.

Is it different working for a non-profit organization vs. a for-profit organization?

It certainly can be. With WWF, the work that I get involved in is very project specific. A lot of their work revolves around what kind of corporate partnerships they’re developing or are engaged in and this forms a part of their revenue stream. As an organization, they have to balance project work with advocacy work that seeks to develop policies and ideas that further the conservation conversation and keep challenging companies to consider their impacts. It’s a lot leaner working with non-profits, which is probably the biggest difference and means you must be more creative in how you execute your projects.

What resources were helpful to you during your time in the MBA program? How or why were they useful to you?

The thing that I really benefited from was the introduction to informational interviews. I suppose I was already engaging in these before the MBA program, but not in a structured way. I also used Mentors in Business, however since I was looking to get involved in a very specific career, it was tough to find someone who was doing the work that I was interested in. However, it is all about the networks that you can create, so even though my mentor wasn’t able to help me with my immediate needs, he was able to put me in touch with a slightly broader network of people involved in water issues here in Vancouver.

Do you have any tips for success for current MBA candidates?

Get in touch with the CMC as early as possible in the MBA process and let them know what you’re looking for after the program, especially if it is a very specific career. Even if it is not specific, get yourself on their radar in the first semester and then spend it focusing on getting back into the routine of studying. At the start of the second semester I would recommend that MBA candidates focus on getting their resumes ready so they can begin conducting more informational interviews. Make sure your LinkedIn profile and your resume are as up to date as possible before starting informational interviews – especially if they are companies that you are really interested in working with. In the third semester you should start leaning on the connections that you’ve been developing and begin discussing employment opportunities.

Are there any final words of advice you want to give current MBA candidates with respect to the CMC?

Take time to build a relationship with the CMC staff. The more they know what you want to do after the program and what you’re looking for with respect to the job, the more they can support you. Also remember that it takes two to find a role. Unless you’re speaking to the CMC, their ability to support you in finding a role that fits what you are looking is extremely limited.