Learn to lead: Canadian business courses for IT pros

Steve Soychak says he’s a more effective leader since completing an executive education program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management earlier this year. Soychak is the vice-president of corporate services for Collingwood General and Marine Hospital in Collingwood, Ont., as well as its chief information officer and chief financial officer. He chose the Rotman program specifically for its focus on the health care industry as well as its emphasis on strategic leadership.

“It’s lonely at the top and you have a tendency to question yourself,” says Soychak, adding that the three-week program gave him the tools to “harness the brain power of the entire group” by encouraging feedback and input at all levels of the organization.
CIO Canada surveyed schools across the country to hone in on the programs that could make a difference in their career development.

University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management

Soychak joined about 40 other participants, including doctors, people with nursing backgrounds and other C-level executives in Rotman’s Advanced Health Leadership Program, or AHLP. The mix of roles, he says, was integral to understanding the bigger picture of his work environment.

“Doctors are a very critical part of the business we’re in and if you didn’t have that presence at the table you would be missing a big chunk,” he says.

The AHLP is a collaboration between Rotman and Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-term Care and focuses on the leadership competencies required to implement Ontario’s new Accountability Framework. It’s one of the many custom executive education programs offered at Rotman, including some geared specifically to executive women.

Like most of the executive education programs at Rotman, the AHLP is industry-specific, and this allows participants to translate classroom lessons into action faster, according to Rita McDowall, Rotman’s Executive Programs Director.

“Our clients want action-based learning; they want to go to work and apply what they’ve learned in the program immediately,” says McDowall.

Soychak recalls a recent example of putting his new leadership skills to the test: His office was preparing for a move, and one of the housekeeping staff asked if it was a good use of her time to do a thorough clean of the office, considering they would only be there for two more days. She suggested to Soychak that her time would be better spent elsewhere. He agreed, and says it was a lesson in the value of fostering two-way communication with all staff.

‘If you create this kind of environment, people think and feel they have an opportunity to provide valuable input,” he says.

University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business

In western Canada, the Sauder School of Business at UBC has recently introduced the Accelerated Leadership program, a three-week courses that focuses on strategy, leadership, innovation and marketing for executives. The residential program takes place in Whistler, BC, with the first two weeks held in the Fall and the final held the following Spring. In between, participants work on projects they’ve undertaken in Phase One, and receive individual coaching sessions from Sauder professors to ensure their course lessons take root.

“We found this eight-month break between the first and second phases of the program to be a real differentiating factor,” says Gordon Rein, senior program manager with Sauder’s executive education program. “They take their projects back to work with them and design a final proposal, with the help of coaches.”

Participation in Sauder’s Accelerated Leadership program requires executive sponsorship for each applicant, and that, says Rein, is fundamental in helping companies calculate the return on investment for training.

“Companies are more cognizant to show the ROI of training,” says Rein. “The skills have to be more applicable and there has to be a touch-back with participants. Having executive sponsorship ensures the content is focused to the individual students.”

University of Alberta’s School of Business

The University of Alberta’s School of Business Executive Education program formally launched in 1999, and has since opened its doors to more than 55,000 students looking to fine-tune their business and leadership skills.

The business school offers a variety of courses and programs geared to executive types, including its 16-day Management Essentials course, which provides the fundamentals of a mini-MBA, according to Carolyn Campbell, the program’s assistant dean.

“We’re finding people are interested in more detailed financial analysis, not just the profit and loss statement,” says Campbell. “We’ve also recently added an investment piece to the management essentials program as well as a module on negotiation.”

About 10 per cent of participants are CIOs, and roughly 30 per cent of the school’s offerings are open enrolment, with the balance being custom programs, built to address the specific needs of participants. U of A’s client roster includes corporate entities such as Suncor, Enbridge and others from the energy sector, as well as federal and provincial government departments.

The program is growing, both in the number of students it accepts and in its reach to other provinces across Canada. When Campbell took over as assistant dean in 2004, U of A’s business school posted 305 course days, with only 14 of those taking place outside of Alberta. Today, the school has 470 course days and roughly 20 per cent of those occur at customer sites outside of Alberta.

Campbell says the biggest challenge is balancing participants’ desire for face-to-face instruction while keeping program costs down. She’s exploring online communities as an avenue to reach out to new students and to keep graduates engaged with the university.

“There’s nothing like being in a room with an instructor and colleagues,” she says, “but at the same time, how do we get online and make sure we’re serving people who can’t get to the classroom?”



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