For U of T Mississauga student Mohamed Sidibé, the path to the top suddenly seems a lot clearer. The fourth-year commerce student recently won a coveted spot with CEO x 1 Day, a program run by international executive search firm Odgers Berndston that gives university students a chance to spend a day with top executives.
“I would definitely say this is one of the best days of my university career,” said Sidibé, who student-shadowed Allan Shapira, managing director of consulting firm Aon Hewitt Canada. “I felt that I grew as much in one day as I did in all my years at university.
Sidibé was one of 18 students selected through an intensive selection process that involved a personal essay, a leadership assessment and a half-day of individual and group exercises.
During his day with Shapira, Sidibé sat in on planning sessions, attended a private lunch with other top executives from the company and participated in a meeting with hundreds of managers from across the country. “I was able to understand and apply knowledge from my academic education in the meetings and discussions,” he says. “I felt like I could contribute.”
Sidibé also had one-on-one time with Shapira, who is U of T's actuary and a nationally known expert on the design and funding of pension plans. Sidibé says Shapira shared personal advice on leadership and career building.
“My biggest take-away is that to be a great leader, you have to build credibility through your performance,” Sidibé says. “As young professionals, we need to know that.”
“I also learned that listening skills and being there for your team are important,” he adds. “Good communication means taking the time to listen and to deliver key messages at the right moment.”
“Coming out of university, I just want everything,” Sidibé says. “Allan Shapira told me, ‘be patient—everything comes in time. You don’t collect the fruits of the tree before they’re ready.’ That was something I needed to hear.”
“Because of this experience, I have a better idea of how to reach my leadership goals. The ability to visualize where I can go is important,” he says. “This experience will help me as I work towards the things I want to achieve.”
“I love math, and I love playing with numbers,” says Sidibé, who grew up taking care of the budget for his family home in in Mali. “My plan is to build a really great education in Canada and see where I can go from there. Accounting is the language of business—if you understand the numbers behind an economic decision, you can influence those decisions.”
This fall, Sidibé will start as a junior accountant with KMPG’s audit team while working towards his CPA certification. He plans to spend several years learning the ropes as an auditor before moving into consulting.
Sidibé notes that mentorship has been an important part of his education. Through a mentorship program with UTM’s Management program, Sidibé was paired with retired KPMG partner Doug Varty, who coaches Sidibé in academic and professional development. In turn, Sidibé, who is a teaching assistant and president of UTM's Undergraduate Commerce Society, finds time to mentor first- and second-year students. “Mentorship opened my eyes to what I was capable of doing, and how I can do it,” he says. “That was what people did for me, and I want to give that back.”