Sharon Ritchie—Rethinking expectations in Canadian banking
Sharon Ritchie: Master of Business Administration, 1999
Based in: Toronto, Ont.
Sharon Ritchie never pictured herself working past her 20s, so she’s just as surprised as anyone by how high up the corporate ladder she’s climbed. Ritchie, a Toronto-based vice-president with the Royal Bank of Canada, married when she was just 19 and planned to stay home and raise children while her husband worked.
Until then, though, she needed a job, which is why she applied to be a bank teller at RBC fresh out of high school.
“They hired me on the spot,” she says. “I didn’t think I needed a career, but then I started switching jobs every couple of years.”
Despite having no post-secondary education, Ritchie was being offered increasingly more senior jobs at her branch until, in 1996, she was asked to take a temporary position at RBC’s head office.
“I was apprehensive,” she says. “I knew what I was doing at the branch. Head office seemed like a big black hole, and I didn’t know what it would be like.”
“[AU was] ahead of their time. I was able to balance work and family and still get a high-quality education.”– Sharon Ricthie, MBA '99
She was only supposed to stay a year but ended up loving the challenges that came with helping grow RBC’s business on a national level. It also gave her a taste of the corporate life— and she wanted more. However, there was 1 problem: landing a coveted vice-president spot at the company would require post-secondary education. She had been taking night classes to improve her skills, but it wasn’t enough.
In 1997, Ritchie, who by this time had 2 young children, enrolled in Athabasca University’s (AU) online MBA program—she only needed a high school diploma and management experience to be accepted—in part, because it allowed her to continue working full-time at RBC and raise a family. Most of the work was virtual.
“They were ahead of their time,” says Ritchie about the university.
She had to put in about 15 to 30 hours a week, less than what other MBA programs demanded.
“I was able to balance work and family and still get a high-quality education,” she says.
Not surprisingly, Ritchie was nervous at first.
“I had been out of school for so long and I get bored very easily,” she says.
But her apprehension quickly faded. Every course was fascinating. She particularly liked finance, which surprised her, as she was more of an operations person. The Harvard case studies she worked on were riveting and the hands-on work helped prepare her for the real world. She enjoyed it so much that she doubled up on her courses.
One class in particular continues to stand out. She was asked to look at a U.S.-based company’s operations and then, in a week, come up with recommendations on how it could grow its business. Her group presented their findings, via live video, to the company’s executives.
“These things make it more relevant,” she says. “We were helping people in their business.”
“I would not have traded this for anything ... I ended up becoming the breadwinner and my husband stayed home. That’s something I never imagined. ”– Sharon Ricthie
Ritchie got a lot out of the program, including lifelong friends. But perhaps most importantly, it helped her land that vice-president role, which she moved into in 2010. Now, as vice-president, operations centre, Ritchie oversees 2,000 people across multiple divisions. Her group retrains staff to work in other areas of the company.
Looking back now, she thinks Athabasca University’s MBA made her a better banker and it helped her gain a love of learning that she didn’t know she had.
“I would not have traded this for anything,” she says.
What’s most surprising to her, though, is her MBA, along with her strong work ethic and constant drive, has given her a life she didn’t think could ever exist for herself.
“I ended up becoming the breadwinner and my husband stayed home,” she says. “That’s something I never imagined.”
Learn more about AU’s MBA program.