50 MBA Stories: part 27: Ritesh Kotak

Ritesh Kotak originally lived in Toronto. He attended the University of Toronto where he was awarded an undergraduate degree in business. He then found a role in the Toronto Police Service, where he was in charge of bringing new solutions to old problems. A few years later, Ritesh embarked on an MBA at the University of Edinburgh Business School. He is due to graduate in December 2017. He cites that his MBA so far has taught him many new skills and states that it has also taught him a lot about himself. He wants to use his MBA to address issues of public safety and combine technology, business, and the community to do this. The following is Ritesh’s account of his life, his MBA, and the lessons he has learnt.

 After spending six years in the world of public safety, it wasn’t easy to step out to pursue an MBA, but it was the best decision I have ever made.

I was born to parents who immigrated to Canada and started a small family business in downtown Toronto. With my crib in the store, there was no other option but to learn business survival skills in a growing competitive environment. They instilled the values of hard work and public service into both my sister and I. It wasn’t until my fourth birthday that my father came home with our first computer which had a blazing fast Pentium 486 processor, a massive 8mb hard drive, and ran a Windows 3.1 operating system. I remember him telling me that this was the ultimate power machine and we will never have to purchase another device. He couldn’t have been more right. Since then my passion for technology grew and I realised that my goals in my life would combine technology, business, and public service.

While completing my undergraduate degree in business at the University of Toronto, I had an opportunity to meet a Staff Sergeant with the Toronto Police Service who encouraged me to volunteer and ultimately apply. Within a year of joining the Service, I was offered an opportunity to work directly for the Deputy Chief of Police. My job was to bring creative technological solutions to old law enforcement problems. I had the privilege of serving my community in several roles within two different policing departments, from cyber-crime to innovation. Not only did I get to work on leading-edge projects, but I also had the opportunity to meet diverse like-minded individuals from all over the world. I recognised that the challenges being faced were not unique to Toronto but instead were universal in nature. It wasn’t too long before I made the decision to leave the Toronto Police Service in pursuit of furthering my education, to increase my ability to contribute towards community safety.

I knew that pursuing a higher education will create new opportunities but more importantly, allow me to gain new perspectives. Previously, I had never lived outside of Toronto and my experience was limited to policing. It was time to push myself outside of my comfort zone and try something different. A personal goal of mine was to obtain an MBA. I was further encouraged by my former boss / mentor who had also completed an MBA and told me how it had positively impacted his life. I followed in his footsteps, applied to an MBA programme and ultimately accepted an offer from the University of Edinburgh Business School.

Throughout my time in Edinburgh, I met incredible people from industries I had never been exposed to before. I learned from world-leading academics and made friends from all over the world. I was also accepted to complete a 4 month student exchange in Beijing, China. Reflecting back, this was a life-changing experience. It was eye-opening going to a new country where you didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak the language, and needed to essentially start the journey from the beginning all over again. I had to learn a new language in order to communicate, adjust to a city of 30 million people, and figure out how to travel as common apps I used in Toronto were not accessible in China. My experience at Peking University taught me a lot about myself. No textbook could have provided me with this experience and as difficult as it was to initially adjust, the reward was greater as it allowed a deeper understanding of different cultures and a new appreciation of life.

It is with this understanding and appreciation, I know that continuing to work in communities and helping to strengthen societies is how I would like to apply my MBA experience. We are living in a VUCA world. Traditional methods are being disrupted and the knowledge gap is widening due to exponential change. In addition, technology is demanding transparency and the citizenry is mobilised and wants to participate like never before. It is important now more than ever that strategic innovative solutions to address such complex issues are explored and applied. The new tools gained throughout the MBA can be leveraged to co-create public safety. I feel that combining technology, business, and the community is my destiny. The several different paths I have travelled have led me to this point. This will be a marathon not a sprint, but one thing is for sure, the journey continues.