Alannah Cervenko aims high after MBA experience

Aug 24, 2012

Alannah Cervenko with Vancouver Canucks hockey players Manny Malhotra and Ryan Kesler

Beedie School of Business MBA student Alannah Cervenko has accomplished a lot in the last year of her life. But as she prepares to move on from the MBA program to one of the world’s largest mining companies, she intends to use the experience she has gained from it in order to accomplish even more in the future.

Cervenko graduated from UBC in 2006 with a degree in Psychology, before going on to work as a teacher at an American International school in Genoa, Italy. After this experience she returned to Vancouver and began working for private equity firm CAI Capital Management. It was while working there that she opted to pursue an MBA, although she admits that she came to this decision through chance.

“My role at CAI Capital Management was progressively involving more and more responsibility, and I was aware that I was missing some key business tools needed to advance my career,” says Cervenko. “A friend asked me to accompany him to an information session for the MBA at SFU. The session appealed to me immediately and I decided this was my next step.”

Cervenko quickly decided she had made the correct decision in choosing the Beedie School of Business, and was particularly pleased with the camaraderie she developed with her fellow cohort members. “The MBA program at Beedie is awesome, but at the same time pretty intense,” she says. “The small class sizes have really helped us to develop a sense of community. The other students in the cohort have been great to work with and bring so much to the table, because we all come from such diverse backgrounds. I have spent a lot of time in the vault over the last year working on group projects, so having such a tightly-knit cohort has been extremely beneficial. It’s one of the real strengths of the MBA program at Beedie.”

Over the course of the program Cervenko has taken full advantage of the opportunities made available to her, as well as creating some of her own. Along with her fellow MBA student Alice Longhurst, Cervenko founded the Graduate Business Women’s Council (GBWC) for the Beedie School of Business in 2011.

The organization, which focuses on raising awareness of networking and development opportunities for women in business, is one that Cervenko is proud to be involved in. “When I first arrived here, I noticed that nothing like this existed and decided we should do something about it,” explains Cervenko. “By creating the GBWC, Alice and I have tried to ensure that women at the Beedie School of Business are well versed in the networking opportunities available to them and able to make the most of them when they arrive. I am also pleased to be leaving a legacy here, as the Beedie School of Business has helped us ensure that the GBWC will now be passed on to future SFU MBA cohorts.”

Cervenko has also made an impression in some of the more creative class projects she has been faced with over the MBA program. At Opportunity Fest, an event which made up part of the students’ final mark for their Entrepreneurship class, Cervenko was on the team which placed second overall. The event called for students to be split into teams where they were then tasked with creating their own business plan before presenting to a panel of judges consisting of members of the local business community.

“Opportunity Fest was a fantastic experience, and really tested a lot of the knowledge we had learned throughout the program,” says Cervenko. “My team’s proposal, the BC Community Engagement Tuition Offset Program, sought to increase volunteerism in BC by offering high school students post-secondary tuition credits for every hour they volunteered from grade eight to twelve. For the idea to have been well received by such respected business men and women is real testament to the quality of education we have received throughout the MBA.”

Cervenko has also been able to combine her own interests with class projects, even managing to raise funds for charity in the process. A lifelong fan of the Vancouver Canucks professional hockey team, when asked to create a social media strategy for a non-profit organization as part of her marketing class, she was able to enlist the help of players such as Ryan Kesler, Manny Malhotra, and Kevin Bieksa to autograph a Canucks-branded towel she had in her possession. Cervenko then auctioned the towel to raise money for Dugout, a local organization providing meals and support to Vancouver’s downtown eastside community.

Cervenko’s charity work does not end in the classroom however. For the last four years she has helped organize Golf for Good, one of the largest charity golf tournaments in Vancouver. “In five years, the tournament has raised over $600,000 for organizations that benefit women and children in the community: Atira Women’s Resource Society, Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland and Vancouver Japanese Language School,” explains Cervenko. “It’s always a fun day and a wonderful opportunity to celebrate organizations that ‘do a lot with a little’. We have a great committee and it’s something I’m really proud to be associated with.”

With the MBA program now finished, Cervenko will start work in a communications position with mining company Teck Resources, where she will coordinate their Zinc and Health campaign. Having initially heard about the program while networking, she is a shining example of the power of networking in business.

“I was networking over coffee and the topic came up,” she explains. “I was told that there might be an opportunity to work on Teck’s Zinc and Health initiative, which is a multi-faceted program that partners with UNICEF and other organizations to raise awareness and address the alarming number of children who suffer from zinc deficiency in developing countries. It just clicked with me instantly and was exactly what I was looking for. It really demonstrates the power of networking.”

Cervenko has a clear idea of what her future career path may be. “I love to work with ideas and people, and the prospect of working in consultancy in a creative field really appeals to me,” she says. “I have never viewed the MBA as a ticket to a fancy job, but rather, as a toolkit that will help me expand my skill set and equip me to perform well in business.”

Although her goals in life are impressively ambitious, Cervenko’s sights are somewhat lower than the target she set for herself as a child. “When I was five years old I wanted to be Empress of the world,” she laughs. “I have given up on that since then, but I still like to aim high and I’m looking for a career where the sky is the limit. The MBA program at Beedie has given me the tools to aim for that goal.”