David Whiffin was always interested in change management, but in his previous career he didn’t have a name for it. Now working as a senior consultant specializing in change management at EY, he is an engineer by trade with a master’s in sports and exercise nutrition, who, at one point, worked for British Canoeing as a lead analyst. “It’s funny looking back at it,” he says. “I was already working at the intersection of people and technology. I found I was often bringing people on a journey towards a more technical and analytical approach – one they may not have been comfortable with at first. It was one of my favourite parts of my job, but I just didn’t have a name for it.”
Bookending his stint with British Canoeing is a career in motorsport. “Predominantly Formula Two and Formula Three, with a little bit of Formula One,” Whiffin recalls. “I started as a data performance engineer for a racing team and after a couple years had worked my way up to chief engineer – but was around this time when I started to realize that I wasn’t really into the technical aspect of car performance.”
Putting his experience as a performance analyst to good use, Whiffin eventually joined British Canoeing where he would become the lead performance analyst. Going from a technical role to one that focused more on individual athletes, he found the personal connections refreshing. “I really liked the human interaction and leading people on a journey to show them that these new techniques and technologies aren’t going to take anyone’s job away – but they will lead to better results,” he says.
Eventually, he was drawn back into motorsport by a friend, but instead of being in a competitive role, solely focused on winning, it was a championship supplier position. “It was much more about product safety, usage, management and engagement than winning races, which I preferred,” he says.
It was the exposure to the business side of racing that that piqued his interest in pursuing an MBA. “I started to be drawn into the more business aspects of it, supply chain is a huge part of motorsports,” he says. “I started to get exposed to stakeholder management, strategic planning, project development and it opened my eyes to a transition away from the sporting world and into a career with a more manageable work/life balance. I was traveling anywhere between 150 and 200 days a year for work and that’s not very sustainable if you want to keep relationships and friendships going.”
It was a combination of those two factors that set him down the path towards an MBA. His goals were two-fold: get the education needed to catalyze a career change and move to Vancouver. Having been to the city a few times to visit his then girlfriend, now fiancée, who was studying here, Whiffin was in awe of the natural beauty and proximity of the mountains to the city. “There aren’t very many cities where you can walk out of your office and be skiing or mountain biking in 30 minutes. Being that close to nature, was really important,” adding, “Vancouver seemed like a place where I’d really want to live and settle down.”
Drawn to SFU Beedie’s MBA program for the usual reasons – excellent reputation, world-class instructors, and tight-knit cohort – it was the dedication of the recruitment team that really made the SFU Beedie stand out to Whiffin. “While I was engaging universities about potentially enrolling in their MBA programs, SFU Beedie’s recruitment team had the most positive outlook and I felt like they really made the effort to engage and have some great chats with me early on,” he says.
MBAs are always a challenge, doubly so when most of it is mediated by Zoom, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to the challenge was the fact that for the first year much of Whiffin’s cohort, including himself, was spread out around the globe. “For some of my early groups I was in the UK, others were in Canada, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Iran, Kenya, all over the world,” he says. “Trying to navigate and collaborate on things in a virtual space that we weren’t used to across 12 or 14 time zones made the first year of my MBA quite a challenge.”
He made the most of it, making the extra effort required to engage with his new comrades digitally and even co-captaining a squad for the modified MBA Games. While it was his responsibility help guide his all-star team through challenges like case competitions, a photo safari, team spirit challenges, he definitely did not do it alone. “A huge shout-out to co-captains Jarred, Janelle, Rachel and Aida for their tireless work, the best part of the experience was just how close it brought me to my cohort,” he says. “Our success at the MBA games also wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible support of Arjun Batta, Shelly Graham and Lesley McKay.”
He eventually made it to Vancouver and he is graduating, in person, in June 2022. Recently hired as a senior consultant specializing in change management at EY, Whiffin credits the support he received from faculty and staff for allowing him to take the next step in his career. “The change management module really sparked my interest, but it was faculty mentors and the career management centre that really helped guide me down my new career path,” he says. “I had a number of different coffee chats with various professors who had worked in the industry and had a business mentor through the career management centre which gave me the ability to speak to somebody and work through what a day in the life of that role looked like.”
Now that he’s here and settling into his new role, Whiffin is finding the time to explore the local trails and reengage with old hobbies. “I like to camp, ski, and play golf,” he says. “I liked to mountain bike as a kid, but I’ve just re-engaged with it after something like a 15-year hiatus.”
Looking back at his time with SFU Beedie, Whiffin emphasizes the value of making the best of a situation. “Try and learn from every situation, no matter how frustrating at the time,” he says. “Learning remotely for the first year due to the pandemic was a huge challenge and deprived us of many of the face-to-face interactions and networking that the MBA is renowned for – but it did give us the perfect training for working remotely and this will be an important skill for the working world moving forward. And don’t forget to use the power of your cohort. I found lifelong friends and mentors in this program, and I learnt just as much from those around me as I did from the courses.”
This story was originally published on the Beedie School of Business website on June 7, 2022.