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Not your average banker: where business degrees led three grads

Recruits practice drills during a course at the Ecole nationale de police du Quebec in Nicolet, Queb., Sept. 14, 2010.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Business school graduates once made a beeline for jobs in banking, accounting and marketing. But now many carve out careers in new or non-traditional fields. Here's how three recent graduates are making a mark:

Emilie Cushman

Degree: Bachelor of commerce, Odette School of Business, University of Windsor, 2012.

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Occupation: Co-founder, Kira Talent

While studying business, Emilie Cushman imagined careers in accounting, politics or global cosmetics. Entrepreneurship was not on the radar, though she recalls, "l always liked the idea of doing my own thing."

Barely a year after graduation, the 20-year-old is co-founder of Kira Talent, a 10-person Toronto startup that developed an online interviewing platform for top business schools and national companies.

Her career path changed in 2011 when she was selected for the Next 36, a national entrepreneurship mentoring program for promising undergraduates that provides $80,000 a venture in seed money, two industry mentors and 140 hours of academic instruction over eight months.

When paired with Konrad Listwan-Ciesielski, a mathematics and computer science student at the University of Waterloo, they had one day (like others) to dream up a pitch for potential investors. Observing how Next 36 had incorporated the video website YouTube into its application process for the first time, they explored how to expand the concept as an interviewing tool.

"Résumés suck," Ms. Cushman says. "Is there a way to improve the process using video?" Over the next few months, the team developed software and related elements to take the idea to market.

After graduating from Next 36, Ms. Cushman and Mr. Listwan-Ciesielski recruited investors and software engineers for the new company, whose name "Kira" means light. "We saw video as the modern-day spotlight for finding talent," she says.

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Reflecting on her near-overnight success, Ms. Cushman warns entrepreneurship is not for everyone. "It can be super stressful, but there is also high risk and high reward."

Narinder Dhami

Degree: Bachelor of applied science in electrical engineering and a master of business administration, Rotman School of Business, University of Toronto, 2008

Occupation: Executive director, Rise Asset Development

After spending seven years earning a joint degree in electrical engineering and business – a specialty program offered by Rotman – Narinder Dhami rejected careers in engineering and investment banking because they did not fire her passion.

But during a two-year stint in West Africa after graduation, initially with a fellowship from the Canadian International Development Agency, Ms. Dhami discovered where her future lay: in microfinancing, the use of small, low-interest loans to help the poorest people start businesses.

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"It was very helpful to be there and to see what the need is and the impact of microfinance," says Ms. Dhami, 30, who worked in Burkina Faso, Mali and Ivory Coast. "To see it first-hand solidified my desire to stay in this type of work."

In 2010, she returned to Toronto uncertain how to pursue such a career in Canada. She credits Rod Lohin, executive director of the Michael Lee-Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship at Rotman, with helping her imagine the possibilities.

She joined the institute as an associate, helping incubate what would become Rise Asset Development, a non-profit organization that provides small loans and mentoring to men and women living with mental illness and addiction who want to start businesses.

Initially a pilot project, Rise now is an independent charitable organization that, by January, had dispersed 32 loans worth $110,000.

Taking a non-traditional career path is scary but rewarding, she says. "If you want to do exciting things and create something, you have to step outside of that box."

Fady Dagher

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Degree: Executive MBA, McGill University-HEC Montréal, 2012

Occupation: Chief inspector of innovative processes and operational practices, City of Montreal Police

In 1990, recently arrived in Canada, 22-year-old Fady Dagher was studying at night at university to become an accountant while working as manager of an optical store in downtown Montreal.

When a uniformed policeman walked in, Mr. Dagher asked him about his career. Sensing the young man's interest, the officer took him on the road to explain the job. "Right away I fell in love [with becoming a policeman]," says Mr. Dagher, born and raised in Ivory Coast but of Lebanese descent. "I left the university and decided to go to the academy for policing."

He joined the force on Feb, 3, 1992. First a beat officer, he quickly moved into undercover and organized crime work, in part because he speaks English, French and Arabic. By 2005, he was promoted to area commander of a tough east-end neighbourhood.

In 2010, he applied for the executive MBA, with financial backing from his employer. Mr. Dagher was the only police officer in the bilingual program, offered Thursdays and Fridays and weekends for mid-career executives.

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Given the top-down structure of policing, Mr. Dagher says, "I was curious to see if there was another way to manage and deal with some issues and challenges." Through the program, he says he learned patience and ways to negotiate informally within the organization. "I take the time to ask, 'Is there a different way we can do things?'" he says. "The reflex is automatic now."

Midway through his EMBA, he was promoted to division chief for community relations, research and corporate communications and now serves as a chief inspector, with responsibilities that include implementation of a plan to improve police relations with the mentally ill.

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