Posted in Features

SFU student Maddie Millsip is in the business of “figuring it all out”

Beedie student reflects on an eventful undergraduate degree as she rounds off her fifth year at SFU

Image Credits: Maddie Millsip

From her pencil skirt to her impressive articulation, everything about Maddie Millsip screams business student. From the moment I sat down to interview her, she exuded authenticity and true passion.

From beginning to end, it was clear that Millsip had made the five years she spent in Beedie’s School of Business truly her own. From being a varsity athlete to participating in business case competitions to experiencing internship programs, Millsip let The Peak in on everything she’s done, and what she envisions for her future.

A mountain of opportunities

“I really am a ‘put all my eggs in one basket’ type of person,” Millsip started off laughing as she recalled how SFU was the only university she’d applied to coming out of high school. There are only two Canadian post-secondary institutions with a varsity wrestling program, and wanting to stay close to home, SFU’s women’s varsity wrestling team was what won Millsip over.

In terms of what led Millsip to the business faculty, it was almost an equally clean decision. While she contemplated studying biology due to her love of spending time in nature, it was a simple suggestion from her dad that led her to choose her major. “He said, ‘With your personality, I think you’d be really good in business,’ and I just agreed,” Millsip added. Looking back, she decided that her dad’s assessment was undoubtedly accurate: “I don’t think there’s another faculty that wouldn’t pushed me as hard and connected with me as well — I could not be happier.”

Millsip has been an active member at Beedie, but when asked what her most valuable experience has been during her business education, it was easy for her to pick the business case competitions in which she participated. In case competitions, business students form teams of two to four students, are coached by a professor for months in business strategies and implementation plans, and compete against teams from other post-secondary institutions. In the competition, teams are given a business case and a set amount of time, ranging anywhere from a few hours to over a day, to develop recommendations and an implementation plan for the organization, which is then presented in front of industry professionals.

For Millsip, case competitions “really bridged that gap between what [she was] taught in school and where [she could] apply that in terms of a more business context.” It was an incredible confidence booster and gave her a more contextual lens to help her amalgamate her course content into future business scenarios. Despite the undeniable advantages of the case competition experience felt by Millsip and her teammates, she feels that the experience is not marketed well enough to Beedie students, and that not enough students take advantage of the opportunity.

Through all the activities she’s been involved in and growth she’s experienced, Millsip expressed enormous gratitude for always being able to touch base with and run things by whom she would describe as her mentor — Dr. Kamal Masri.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that your success in university, your ability to develop and grow is so dependent on who you surround yourself with,” Millsip enthused. For her, a vital part of her surroundings was Dr. Masri, who directed her to new opportunities she could benefit from, helped her navigate delicate professional interactions, and gave her both his encouragement and constructive criticism through her business education journey. “The reason Dr. Masri and I connect so much is because he’s always challenging me to do better, and I really respond to that,” Millsip said.

Millsip spoke about how important it is for ambitious students to find someone who believes in them and can guide them, and then when they do, to build a relationship beneficial for both sides. “It’s really rare to find someone who believes in you, so when you do, you have to treasure it.”

Not all that glitters is gold

International exchange is one of the numerous experiences Millsip has had in the past five years. “What’s really interesting about international exchange is that everyone tells you to do them, but no one really talks about the difficulties you face — everything is very much rose-coloured.”

While she definitely appreciated the different perspectives that came with taking sustainability courses in an international, culturally-diverse classroom, she also experienced difficulties that she felt she hadn’t been prepared for going into the experience. From not having room and board for the first couple of weeks to unexpected loneliness, Millsip experienced a range of emotions she didn’t foresee as she packed her bags for a four-month stay in Copenhagen.

As a person always on the go and looking for new opportunities, she recalled feeling as if her life had been put on pause for four months as she followed her friends developing in their lives while she herself was stuck halfway across the world. “I felt strangely insecure,” she recalled, “like, ‘Hey, what am I even doing here?’ I struggled with accepting that I was where I was supposed to be and that my growth and development on exchange was just as meaningful.”

Millsip also spoke about the piercing loneliness felt when she walked down the street, unable to absorb the snippets of conversation flowing around her in foreign languages that she couldn’t understand. “You feel a bit secluded when you can’t understand what is being said,” she recalled, “it was a weird loneliness I hadn’t felt before.” Ultimately, she felt students should be better informed on what international exchange entails — as proof that the negatives of exchange were unexpected and difficult to overcome, she remarked that a lot of students who go on exchange come back before their term is over. “And that’s not something you hear about,” she noted.

Unexpected positives arose out of the experience as well, as, for the first time since she’d begun her post-secondary experience, Millsip found herself with true free time. “As a student, you usually fill your semester up with so many things, you kind of forget what you love because it’s not something that looks awesome on your resume,” Millsip said. For her, exchange was when she rediscovered her love for running — she went for a jog everyday and ended up running a half-marathon.

CEO x 1 Day

Through the executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, Millsip was chosen from a four-stage evaluation process open to students all around Canada to spend a day shadowing a local CEO just this February. She was matched with British Columbia’s Lottery Corporations’ (BCLC’s) Jim Lightbody.

“Initially, I was skeptical about [the company I was matched with] because it was public sector, and it was gambling — two negatives basically,” she recalled. So for Millsip, the most interesting part of the day was that it taught her that one truly should not judge a book by its cover. She found the corporate culture of BCLC approachable and open, and received leadership advice from Lightbody and other executives.

For Millsip, the advice was incredibly fitting as her ultimate dream for herself is to be a CEO. “As a business student, there’s almost a [stigma] to saying you want to be a CEO because it’s such a lofty goal and not many people get there,” she added. But she believes it really is the perfect position for her because of how much she loves working with people and her passion for having “the opportunity to lead people, inspire them, get them to take ownership, and achieve something together.”

The CEO x 1 Day experience came at an influential time for Millsip, when her confidence needed uplifting. Sitting across from the poised, well-adjusted, and well-spoken Beedie student, it was a surprise to learn that earlier this year she had been rejected from her dream position — something she truly wanted to do after graduation. “The experience with Jim rebuilt some of the confidence I’d lost from [the rejection],” Millsip said. “And it was an important lesson, too — just because you fail somewhere doesn’t mean you fail everywhere.”  

Looking Ahead

Currently, Millsip is going through a somewhat tumultuous experience looking for a summer internship, and after that, she hopes to complete her business degree this fall. Academically, she hopes to finish her career on a high note: “I don’t want to fizzle out — I just need reminding myself why I love to learn and pull the most out of my education while I’m still here.” Personally, she’s trying to recall the lessons she learned during exchange about taking time for herself and her mental health. “Hands down, I’m awful at that work-life balance,” she laughed.

And to top it all off, Millsip is in the midst of planning her wedding, set for next year.

It seems fitting that as Millsip wraps up her degree at SFU, she is sustaining the same, or perhaps even a higher, level of activity, growth, and passion as she had during the past five years. Even as she moves beyond the concrete walls of SFU, which contain more opportunities than students are aware of in her estimation, Millsip looks to keep squeezing the most she can out of her experiences and her life.