Oct. 31, 2023Print | PDF
Pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the most valuable investments you can make in yourself and your career. Many Lazaridis School of Business and Economics MBA graduates have leveraged their degrees from Wilfrid Laurier University to advance their careers or enter a new field. Others use their degrees to advance in their current occupations, including Nicoletta Stefou (MBA ‘08). Stefou has spent the last 11 years at McDonald’s Canada, where she is currently the Director of Global Strategic Sourcing Services for the fast food chain.
Stefou joined the Laurier Career Centre for their Leadership Speaker Series, a Q&A series providing Lazaridis graduate students the opportunity to hear from alumni of the program as they share their expertise on leadership, industry insights, and their career paths.
Before her MBA, Stefou earned a Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. At UofT, her focus was on strategic management, and she said her initial plan after graduation was to become an accountant—but her plan changed after a sudden realization.
“In my second accounting class, I started to think that it wasn’t the right space for me. One of my first co-op terms was for a company at the time called MDS Sciex in supply chain procurement. That gave me exposure to procurement and how it all comes together,” Stefou said.
After graduating, she worked at MDS Sciex before deciding to take a year off for the full-time MBA program at the Lazaridis School.
Stefou was driven to stay within the supply chain field after her MBA, however she was influenced to look for a role in a different industry where she could apply her experience and education. Stefou said that the marketing courses she took as part of her MBA studies inspired her to pursue a supply chain leadership role in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) sector.
“I wanted exposure to consumer-facing products rather than the business I had been in before, which was more medical devices and B2B clients. That was my goal, and that's what I did,” she said.
Stefou graduated with her MBA amid an economic downturn. She said the recession at the time made her career search difficult, but she secured a contract position with Kraft Foods as a demand planner. She said that while it wasn’t the exact role she was looking for, it did help get her foot in the door to work in a CPG business.
“I didn't love it, but at least I was working in this space that I wanted to be in. Then more opportunities came up for other roles that led me back to procurement,” Stefou said.
After spending time at Kraft and Maple Leaf Foods, Stefou decided to explore work as a Deloitte consultant before moving to McDonald’s. Her first role at McDonald’s was in sourcing for its Canadian operation. She said her role involved sourcing everything from poultry for chicken nuggets to buns and lettuce for Big Macs. The role was exciting but also a new area for Stefou, who had never sourced resources for consumer products before.
“I remember telling my hiring manager, ‘well, I have worked for food companies, but I've worked more on the indirect side. I bought things like toilet paper and hairnets for manufacturing meat plants.’ He said ‘don’t worry, we’ll teach you’, and I knew that this is where I belonged,” she said.
She said she quickly realized that McDonald’s was a place where she could grow her career. Stefou worked in food sourcing for her first six years at the company before moving to its global sourcing team. McDonald's operates in over 100 countries, and Stefou worked on sourcing equipment for franchises worldwide.
“I learned a lot about ice cream machines and how they're not always broken—you can ask me all about that,” Stefou joked.
In 2021, Stefou made another internal move to support the chain’s global marketing sourcing needs. Her team of five is part of a 300-person strong global supply chain management team. Stefout said being part of a global team based out of a market office gives her an interesting perspective.
“We get to give direction and guidance to over 100 countries and then we fully focus efforts for a couple of key markets as well. I’m based out of the McDonald’s Canada office while our team is based out of the HQ in Chicago. You get a flavour of both, and you see how a market works—it's been pretty interesting in that way,” she said.
Throughout her career, Stefou said she has been able to learn from great—and not-so-great—leaders. She added that while books on leadership can be helpful, seeing leaders in action where she has learned the most.
“It's really the details of seeing leaders in action when no one's watching. It's one-on-one conversations when they're putting in that extra mile and really caring about their people and their teams and wanting them to succeed. I've had some great leaders and mentors that have been generous with their time and who have explained their thinking or decision-making and allowed me to ask questions,” Stefou said.
Being able to ask leaders these questions has given her a unique behind-the-scenes understanding of how great leaders make decisions. She added that building trust with your leaders and team is crucial.
“I want to understand if I was in that position, how might I approach it. That's helped me be a better leader. I've learned a lot by being exposed to things, so I want to always make sure my team is in those positions as well,” she said.
Stefou put her leadership style into action last year during a well-earned sabbatical. McDonald’s awards corporate employees an eight-week sabbatical after ten years of service. Stefou said she gave one of her team members the opportunity to lead the team while she was away.
“I wanted her to understand that I trusted her and that while I'm gone, I'm not going to second guess any decision she makes. I might ask questions, but that’s just to talk through the decision-making process. That set her up for success. It’s saying ‘okay, you're willing to step into your leader shoes’ and that helps highlight her own leadership skills and gives her an opportunity for future growth as well,” Stefou said.
While Stefou’s leadership skills have grown at McDonald’s, she said that much of her success could be traced back to her time at Laurier. She added that there are many opportunities for students to start their leadership journeys while still in school—including group projects.
“You didn't always get to choose your team. They were these strangers you met on day one and this is your team for the whole first semester. I had a great team and we all brought different things to the table, but there were conflicts sometimes. In your career, you'll most likely not be able to handpick your teams either. So how do you get along with people that you might not always want to work with or have to get to know quickly?” she said.
Another skill set that Stefou said companies are looking for is being able to balance a variety of tasks. She said balancing academic and extracurricular activities can demonstrate this ability to potential employers.
“It shows your employers that you can handle multiple things. I've seen resumes for interns or people new in their careers and it looked like they were sort of a one-trick pony. But you have to balance a lot of things in the working world. So if you can demonstrate that, I think it goes really far.”
Learn more about the Lazaridis MBA.
Hear from our other Leadership Speaker Series Alumni:
Danielle Brewin Graham, MBA '14 - MBA alumna lights the way for other women entrepreneurs
Albert Tam, MBA '15 - Lazaridis MBA alum takes the path less travelled to a career in risk management
Nicoletta Stefou, MBA '08 - MBA alumna's climb up the corporate (fast) food chain