Business, English grad takes the road less travelled

Business and English graduate Ellie Sak was challenged to recite poems at one job interview.

Ellie Sak may well be the first business student in Ivey Business School history to clinch an internship by reciting Robert Frost poems.

And if the HBA and English and creative writing grad took the road less travelled to her combined undergraduate degrees, it has made all the difference in helping her land a career she loves.

Sak is part of a six-person team working in marketing development at Telus, a position that excites her because of the company’s community focus and the innovation inherent in the job.

It’s proof, she said, that creativity and the corporate world can aim for far more than just co-existence.

Sak, from Traverse City, MI, chose Western after a tour of main campus and the Ivey Business School. “I immediately loved it, absolutely fell for it: that historic, old-brick feel, all the grass on UC Hill. I thought, this is a good environment to study in and be an academic.”

She realized early on that she wanted degrees in both business and creative writing, which meant five years of study and some schedule-juggling.

Between her third and fourth years, Sak was hired by Restaurant Brands International (parent company of Tim Hortons, Burger King and Popeyes) after a competitive process that included an interview with three top company executives.

Sak, unconventionally, had included in her resumé a link to her published writing and a list of favourite authors – and the interviewers challenged her on it.

Recite one, they demanded. She launched into the first lines of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Too easy, they said, try another.

“So then I switched over to ‘The Woods on a Snowy Evening.’ And it turned out that one of the CEOs was an English major as well, so he thought it was hilarious. It wasn’t meant to be a mean thing: they ask you these really intense questions, not because they need you to know the answers but because they want to see how you perform under pressure.”

She learned a lot that summer as an intern in Tim Hortons’ global marketing program, and during the next in an internship at Telus that led to her current role. Sak also found invaluable a summer-abroad AISEC experience in Budapest helping Hungarian business students improve their colloquial English. “I would 100 per cent recommend it to anyone who’s interested in travelling or volunteering.”

She continues to be an avid ambassador for both Arts & Humanities and Ivey and for combined degrees that embrace creativity and business.

Automation is rapidly replacing or dramatically changing a lot of banking, sales and trading work, she said. “Machinery can do it faster, computers can keep a record of it and they won’t make the same mistakes that we make. However, the creative aspects of things – the innovation that comes with designing new tech, the marketing campaigns that lead to sales and lead to betterment of the community base – all of that requires creative thinking, and that can never be automated.”

In her work, that means thinking hard about her target market, what messages to promote and how to design them well within the available resources.

“Business professionals and interviewers are always on the lookout for creative perspectives these days, which is why a humanities degree is crucial to success.”

Sak continues to savour her friendships with former Western classmates and roommates, as well as fellow former exchange students and interns.

“When I came here, I didn’t know a single person in the country – not a family member, not a friend, nothing. So being here now, having built community from the ground up, feels amazing. I’ve just gotten exposed to so many more people and so many cultural things that I didn’t know existed, that I don’t think I ever would have been exposed to had I stayed in the States, let alone in my small town.”

She was surprised to find a country where people regularly buy a coffee for strangers behind them in line. “I love that. When people at Tim Hortons told me that, I was like, ‘that’s a thing?’ I come from the Midwest, so people are pretty nice. But it’s even nicer in Canada, and even in Toronto, just having people be kind to you on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile, she continues to pursue the creative writing that won her the Lillian Kroll Prize in Creative Writing in 2019 and two honours for her entries into the Alfred Poynt Award in Poetry.

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Cruise Control

By Elizabeth Sak

Driving east down I-94, a hairline fracture in the windshield,

the rain assaults like a boxer in the ring, Muhammad Ali, give em the old one-two.

A left hook forces a moment’s hydroplane. Water blurs my vision

and once more I am thirteen and swimming, feet kicking wildly for a bottom I cannot see.

Across the concrete divider, a necklace of pearls strung from headlights

rests gently against the interstate’s saturated collarbone.

My skin releases frozen screams beneath an old wool sweater,

the grey color everything fades to when the cycles wear it down.

I’ve been tracing the washing machine, spinning,

lovers repeating like cheap radio songs.

My mother once asked me,

Why do you love at this latitude?

When Lake Michigan splashes my collarbone,

like a baptized child, I’m born again.

  • Poem first published in the alt-mag journal Cold Strawberries.