Rotterdam school of Management, Erasmus University compact logo

Holly Johnson

Nationality: Canadian
Age: 30
Last job title: Finance advisor at Peru Cocoa Alliance and World University Service of Canada
Previous degree: Bachelor of commerce with a major in accounting at University of Alberta

Holly Johnson

1. Why did you decide to do an MBA?

“My work was very operational and I wanted to move on to a higher-level position. I felt like I wasn’t a strong leader and didn’t have the option to move up within my organisation. An MBA gives you a variety of classes and focuses on general leadership, instead of a specialised master which is more limited to, for example, finance or data management. RSM’s MBA also has a big focus on sustainability. A lot of North American MBAs are more traditional, gearing towards CEO positions. RSM seems down to earth which is more in line with who I am as a person.”

2. What transformation in your professional life are you hoping to achieve with the MBA?

“I worked in the cocoa and chocolate industry in Peru, mostly with female farmers. When you work in international development, the sustainable change you make is small and concentrated. People start depending on it. I enjoyed the work but realised that private companies can make the biggest impact. I want to contribute to their sourcing decisions, so I can make a sustainable impact on a larger scale.”

3. What has been the most challenging assignment or activity?     

“The Living Management Project was a real-life consulting project. I had no experience in this whatsoever. Neither did my team mates. You have no idea where to start. Through good collaboration we got it done. I learned that to be a leader you don’t need the technical expertise. But you do need to know how to get people to work together, and facilitate the means to share ideas. It was great.”

4. How has the Personal Leadership Development Programme (PLD) affected you?

“I like it. PLD makes you self-reflect. You realise how your behaviour affects others. Nobody is perfect so everyone should practise this regularly to become a better human being.”

5. How would you describe the RSM MBA experience?

“It started really intense. It was non-stop from January until July. I’m an organised person so I can get by through good planning. The MBA brings out the best and worst in myself. But for the most part: I’m really amazed at all the things I can get done. And I was fortunate to have some great teammates.”

6. What advice would you give to others to make the most of their MBA experience?

“One of the hardest things was finding a balance between being social and being academic. For most jobs, grades don’t matter so much, it’s about what you do and learn along the way. So put in enough effort to study but also to be social and build a network. Take advantage of all the activities that RSM organises. Also, you’re putting in a lot of effort so it’s good to know what you want to get out of it and where you see yourself going. Although some people see the MBA as an opportunity to discover exactly that!”

7. How do you feel about living in the Netherlands?

“I like that Rotterdam is a small city, and that I can cycle anywhere within 20 minutes. I’m from a rural part of Canada and this is the biggest I’d want to go. The weather isn’t great but you don’t come to the Netherlands for the weather. Life here is comfortable and easy, that’s what matters.”

8. After the full-time MBA, what does the future hold?      

“I want to work in commodities and something that supports agriculture. It’s part of my roots. We need farmers and food. Through a job in an organisation that tries to make responsible and sustainable sourcing decisions, I want to support farmers at the bottom of the value chain so they’re not forgotten about. I want to make sure they get their fair share. I’m looking to start in the Netherlands because a lot of organisations that buy commodities for Europe are based here. But eventually I’d like to take my knowledge and experience back to Canada.”