Michael Dorr (BMath ’01) reflects on his return to Waterloo as associate vice-president Marketing and Brand Strategy, after graduating 20 years agoBy Michael Dorr (BMath ’01) Associate Vice-President, Marketing and Brand Strategy
How does someone go from mathematics to marketing and brand strategy? It’s an unconventional journey, so let me tell you...
In 2001, I proudly graduated from Waterloo with a Bachelor of Mathematics. Like many of my peers, I chose Waterloo because of its co-op program and the opportunity to gain real-world work experience.
When I enrolled, I didn’t have any specific career ambitious - I simply knew that I was naturally analytical, having excelled in calculus and algebra in high school. Ultimately, I opted to pursue the Mathematics-Business program with co-op. The business angle appealed to me because it helped to ground my analytical skills with a commercial lens.
Life at Waterloo
During my years at Waterloo, it was the height of the dot-com boom. At that time, Research in Motion was rapidly expanding, and Waterloo was further cementing itself on the world stage as a hub for technology and innovation. The burgeoning technology space led to much-coveted co-op placements. I had the good fortune to land an array of co-op placements ranging from at IBM, Department of Defence, and University Health Network. Without a doubt, it was a time of great professional learning and growth.
Thinking back to my many hours inside the Math and Computer Building (MC), this is where I developed a love of statistics (specifically, the ability to quantify and understand people’s perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours). At the same time, I developed a passion in marketing and strategy, particularly art and science of persuasion. As a side note, MC is my favourite piece of architecture on campus - I think it’s a beautiful example of brutalist architecture.
The Toronto years
After graduating, I spent ~15 years working in Toronto. My first job was doing database design for a customer relationship management consultancy. I had the opportunity to apply my mathematical skills (developing response models for direct mail campaigns), while starting to put in practice my core marketing principles like consumer targeting, brand communications and more.
In 2003, I enrolled in University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management MBA program to help pivot in my career. Specializing in Marketing, I gained an invaluable set of foundational skills (strategy, finance, economics and more) and this is where I developed a keen interest in the field of Market Research / Insights. I loved that Market Research blended analytics (analytics, statistics & proof-points) and storytelling (i.e. telling stories that deeply understanding of people and their behaviours).
After completing my MBA, I took on a mix of professional initiatives - a digital marketing agency, and then landing at Hotspex, a consumer insights and brand building consultancy, where I stayed for the next ~10 years, helping clients build their brands through insight.
Moving across the pond
In 2016, a unique opportunity presented itself - opening a London (UK) office for Hotspex - I could not pass up this chance of a lifetime. One year later, my partner and I packed up our lives (and our cat) to move to London.
During this time, I had the pleasure of working with global clients (Coca-Cola, Ricola, Sky Italia, Johnson & Johnson and TikTok), which took me to Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France and all around the UK. The work was wide-ranging (advertising effectiveness, brand equity, brand positioning and more) and very fulfilling.
Looking back at my 5 years in London brings me a lot of joy (and pride in my work). Personally, we made incredible friends, had amazing travels around Europe and had the great privilege of calling London our home.
But all good things come to end. After ~5 years in London, my partner and I made the decision to return home to Canada. When I saw an opportunity to join University of Waterloo as a staff member, I immediately applied. The job was a great fit, and I thought it was a timely opportunity to come home.
In January 2022, I moved back to Waterloo. I am struck by how much has changed: the downtown Kitchener skyline, the light-rail train system that connects the city and the new buildings on campus (like the Quantum-Nano Centre ). Mind you, I am sad to see that The Bombshelter Pub is no longer with us (so many hours were spent there). It is also very inspiring to see our entrepreneurial ecosystem flourishing with the continued growth of Velocity in 2023). The energy in the Waterloo Region is truly electric and I couldn’t be happier to be back home. It is a true privilege, for me, to be marketing a brand that I truly love and admire.
So that is my (long) journey from math to marketing. It is an unconventional journey - but not entirely surprising given that I am a graduate from the University of Waterloo - a school "designed to be different."