Hailey Vasyliw

 

Hailey Vasyliw, BCom ’14

Merchandise Analyst, Walmart Canada

The Rotman Commerce Experience

Hailey Vasyliw has always been driven by a challenge. A Toronto native, she attended a prestigious high school before deciding to pursue commerce for her post-secondary education. However, despite knowing that her future lay in business, she wasn’t sure which school she wanted to attend. “A lot of my friends went to Queen’s Commerce, or Ivey at Western,” says Hailey. “So there was kind of this pressure to go to one of those schools. I applied and got in to both, but I wasn’t sure if it was the right fit for me.”

She says her decision was partially based on the size of the community. “A big part of me said ‘I don’t know if I can do Kingston or London’, since I was such a city slicker,” she says somewhat jokingly. More seriously, she wanted to ensure that she had the best exposure to the wider commerce world. After a period of consideration, she finally chose UofT as it offered a sense of community on both a large and small scale. “I thought the UofT business program was more suited to me,” she says. “And I also liked the concept of the college system, so you kind of have the best of both worlds. I was part of both Trinity College and Rotman Commerce.  I lived on campus for all four years—I was very determined to get the university experience.”

For Hailey, commerce was part of carrying on her family legacy, since her father was himself a commerce graduate. “My dad did his bachelor of commerce, so that was always in the back of my head,” says Hailey. “He was going to be an accountant, but ended up working in project management, in capital markets technology. He ran projects and implemented trading systems for the different banks.”

“I only learned this in the past five years—before that I didn’t really understand what he did,” she says, laughing. “He ended up working for over twenty years and then moved on to contracting, so in the back of my head, I was thinking that seemed like a good career.”

Despite this positive example, Hailey was initially unsure what exact course she wanted to pursue. Driven by a little uncertainty and a personal need to rise to the highest challenges, she found her way to commerce. “I thought Commerce would be the most valuable general option, as opposed to doing a BA,” Hailey says. “It was a little more specific and could lend to whatever I wanted to do, whether that actually be in finance accounting or marketing. And I was always better with maths, so my grades lent well to that application.”

Hailey credits her competitive side to an early interest in athletics. “I actually grew up doing competitive dance,” she says. “So there was a time when I was somewhat interested in sports medicine.” Similarly, she began to see commerce as a challenge to meet. “With commerce, I liked how there was always a right and wrong answer,” she explains. “I had friends at Trinity College and at Rotman, so I remember friends going into English exams thinking they could get an eighty fairly easily. But with math you can pass or fail completely—the stakes are high! I liked that there was always a right answer. It appealed to my analytical side.”

The Hardest Path

While at Rotman Commerce, Hailey was a highly engaged student, taking advantage of every opportunity afforded by the school. “In first year I signed up for every student group event that I could,” she elaborates. “I was part of accounting, finance, marketing, consulting—I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do so I tried them all. I kind of had my heart set on investment banking, since I thought it was the hardest career path. I liked the challenge.”

Hailey used her participation in student groups and associations to get a head start on her career, something she credits for her current success. “I ended up getting into our finance association, which I became very involved with,” she recalls. “It was a great way to meet people, to network. At the end of my first year, I applied to become director of corporate relations for RCFA [Rotman Commerce Finance Association]. I got to work closely with recruiters, which helped put my name on their radar.”

While summer breaks can often be times of relaxation, Hailey used her breaks to work, in typical fashion. “That first summer, I worked three jobs: I worked at Summer’s ice cream [a famous Yorkville ice cream place], I worked for Rotman Commerce Student Life, and I did a PR internship I found on craigslist,” she says. “When I came back, I did the RCFA corporate relations role during that year. I had so much going on that in second year my grades started to suffer and I had to refocus.”

Part of that refocusing effort came in the form of considering a specialization. “I chose finance going into second year, again because I thought it was the hardest,” says Hailey. “I didn’t want to be an accountant, and I thought if finance didn’t work I could always scale down and go into management. I was just trying to keep doors open.”

“Then in second year, I won the HSBC Women in Leadership scholarship—I was the first one to get it, since that was the first year it was launched,” she says, recalling the event with tangible pride. “Part of winning was that you could apply for an internship, so I spent the summer after my second year interning in commercial banking with HSBC, which was a huge benefit because internships don’t normally start until third year.”

It was during her third and fourth years that Hailey began to look toward her professional future. “I started networking like crazy, following people on LinkedIn, going for coffees, trying to leverage all those contacts that I had made,” she recalls. “I really wanted to maximize every opportunity I had up to that point, and I applied for every finance position that was available. But keep in mind, my GPA wasn’t actually that great at this point—I was actually below the cutoff for all these job applications. But I was applying regardless, and I managed to get interviews at CIBC, TD, and BMO.”

Hailey’s career path is a testament to the notions of perseverance and determination. When she was offered to intern for a second summer in commercial banking with HSBC, she successfully lobbied for a different type of position.  “I wanted to work in capital markets, investment banking,” Hailey explains. “I told the recruiter I was working with that I was more interested in investment banking and I ended up working in debt capital markets that summer. It wasn’t necessarily traditional trading, but it allowed me to see both sides.”

Measuring the Success

As the end of her undergraduate schooling approached, Hailey found herself at a professional crossroads. “I knew I could keep working with HSBC, but I was thinking ‘what do I really want to do?’,” she says. “I just knew it wasn’t me. I went on tons of interviews, and then I saw that WalMart had a posting. Which was perfect, because I had always wanted to do corporate finance for a retailer, like a Holt Renfrew, or The Bay, or Saks. I had targeted investment banking originally because I thought I could specialize in retail, do that for two years, and then move over to industry.”

With several other offers around that same time, Hailey quickly decided to join the WalMart corporate finance rotation program. “I was working in merchandise finance, as an analyst in their health and wellness division,” she continues. “I supported their cosmetics and beauty divisions, basically budgeting and forecasting for them on a monthly basis. It was more interesting to me and it felt more impactful. After a year, I was talking to my boss about some internal postings, and he suggested I try to get into merchandizing, working with the buyers.”

This change of position finally offered Hailey both the level of challenge, and the immediately measurable feedback that she was seeking. “I really loved it because you can track your progress. You can set a strategy, make a decision, execute in stores, evaluate it, and then move on,” she says. “You can feel that you’re doing something measureable and you can see the results.”

At this point she began to work as an analyst in produce, eventually moving up to associate category manager (a buying position) on temporary assignment, something that she likens to trading. “What I like about the role is that it’s kind of like being on the trading floor again—you’re pricing these things like commodities,” Hailey says. “I like that energy. Things change all the time, and things happen every day—the strawberries didn’t arrive, or avocado prices skyrocketed, or we sent two thousand dates to the wrong store. It’s problem solving, which is fun for me, and every day is different. It keeps you on your toes.”

“I like my work to be measurable, and buying is really good for that, so in future it’s definitely something that will guide my career choices,” she continues, delineating her career choices thus far. “In the beginning, I really was veering away from consulting for that reason—you make the recommendations, but then you don’t necessarily see the end of it. I think I definitely need to see the whole process through and be a part of it, rather than just making recommendations. In finance, you are a support function, on the side. But with merchandizing you’re in the front row, driving the business.”

Finding the Drive

When questioned about whether she was always so driven, Hailey laughs. “I guess so? I really think it comes from my competitive dance background, that probably laid some seeds for that,” she further explains. “Being highly involved was something that always appealed to me, and I’ve always felt driven by a challenge.”

Hailey now seeks to pass on that learning to current Rotman Commerce students through her involvement with the Rotman Commerce Alumni Network and the mentorship programs. “Having been an involved student, I really appreciated any alumni who would come back to be a mentor and the support that was provided through the career centre and student services,” she says. “I was part of the mentorship program while I was a student, and I knew that one day I would want to be a mentor and give back to the community. I have a lot of Rotman pride and I want to help build the program and the alumni network.”

She sees her academic and career path as something that can help set an example for similarly driven students who may be unsure of where their interests lie. “My advice is along the lines of ‘you can’t plan for everything, but just stay open-minded. Be hungry, take advantage of every opportunity’, “she urges. “At Rotman you have so much at your fingertips. You have so much freedom, so much time on your hands, and you can do a lot of interesting things with that.”

Hailey credits her athletic background with her seemingly endless energy. “When I stopped dancing, I started running,” she explains. “I run every day, just over eleven kilometers. I wake up at 4:30 am every day to run, so I feel that a lot of my energy comes from sheer endorphins—I don’t even drink coffee. It all comes from the running I think. It’s a meditation for me.”

As for her future goals, Hailey maintains a zen-like view of what her future may hold. “Seeking happiness—what does that really mean? I feel like as soon as you get into the professional world, you’ve spent so much of your life working to that point, you start to wonder what else is out there,” she says. “Right now, I love buying and I look forward to it. I’m excited to go in each day and see what’s happening. So I just want to maintain that happiness. And I love travelling and want to continue to see the world—it would be great to work internationally at some point. I’ve realized the importance of friends and family, and I want to keep my eyes on the big picture.”