Meet Tamara

During the 24 months that Tamara Isaak was studying at the UBC Sauder School of Business, she received three job promotions. Looking back, she believes that her colleagues began to see her leadership potential more clearly when they learned she was pursuing an MBA.

“Taking my PMBA signalled to my employer that I was motivated and highly engaged in my professional development and that I was planning on advancing my career,” she says.

Today, Tamara is the Chief Financial Officer for United Way of the Lower Mainland. Her mission-driven work is rewarding on many fronts: she’s strengthening vital connections in the community while also practicing the full range of business skills she learned in graduate school. 

Dedicated to serving the community

The charitable impact space is where Tamara has spent her entire career. “I was born and raised in a family that volunteered. It was part of our daily life and I just really enjoy working to strengthen communities.”

Tamara studied business at university and earned her professional designation as a Certified General Accountant. In 2018, she was working as a Controller for Easter Seals BC/Yukon, a charity offering enriching programs for individuals with diverse abilities. She had two daughters at the time and she and her husband began talking about having a third child. An idea came to her: she could maximize her maternity leave by also going back to school.

“At that point in my career, I was proficient in accounting, financial management and leadership, but I really didn’t have an understanding of the other disciplines like marketing, strategic planning, program delivery, operations. I just hadn’t had that exposure in my career.”

She applied to UBC Sauder and was accepted into the PMBA program. Classes started only a few months after her third daughter was born. The intention was to take the time to finish school and then resume her career, but Tamara’s team missed her and wanted her back.

“My employer called and asked what conditions would bring me back to the organization. So I worked with my PMBA career coach, who helped me negotiate a promotion to a leadership role with a 15-20 percent pay increase and part-time hours.”

Returning to the workplace allowed Tamara to immediately practice the concepts and tools introduced in class on business strategy, change management, leadership and more. Her manager was so impressed, Tamara was promoted to an expanded role of Director of Finance and Business. 

She then parlayed her work experience and business education into an executive leadership role with an organization she had long admired – the United Way. 

“Taking the PMBA expanded my language to speak to the other verticals in an organization. Because you learn with peers from different career backgrounds, you learn different perspectives, which is so illuminating. And through those relationships, you expand your knowledge.”

Juggling responsibilities


Tamara’s advice to working professionals with children who are thinking about going back to school is to get help on the home front. 

“Going to school while working and parenting is a massive commitment, so make sure you get buy-in from your family and maybe from your extended network as well. Also consider asking your employer for support through educational paid leave and financial contributions.”

Reflecting on her education, Tamara says her time at UBC Sauder was both an investment and a reward. 


“Going back to school allows you to slow down and expand your mind. It’s not just an investment in your career, it’s an opportunity to develop your view of what’s possible in business, social impact and other opportunities where you can make a contribution and make a difference.”

Tamara Isaak