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Three questions with Canada Post’s former President and CEO

Aug 10, 2018

Deepak Chopra

This summer, the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership hosted the former President and CEO of Canada Post, Deepak Chopra, as the keynote speaker for Ivey’s annual MBA Leadership Day.

Chopra spoke to students about leading Canada Post in the digital age, and the transformation required of this centuries-old corporation if it was going to survive the sharp decline in mail volume and capitalize on the rapidly growing demand for parcel delivery fueled by online shopping. With seven years of transformative leadership at the company resulting in Canada Post becoming the #1 E-commerce parcel delivery brand and recording 16 consecutive quarters of profits, Chopra had plenty of advice, warnings, and stories to share with the MBA Class of 2019.

We caught up with Chopra after his keynote speech to ask him three questions on leadership, disruption, and his day-to-day life.

You spoke with Ivey MBA students about leadership and disruption. What is the key message you want students to take away?

The title of my talk “My Experiments with Courage” was inspired by the famous book “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” by Mohandas K. Gandhi.

The point I wanted to emphasize was that the decisions in a large institution, often under demanding circumstances, are difficult to replicate in a classroom no matter how interesting the case study or how heated the debate. There are virtually no consequences, besides perhaps your marks. At Canada Post, the decisions I faced had wide-spread implications – often on a large group of constituents.

I shared some real-life examples of tough situations and the criteria I used to make those decisions. It’s completely different than decision-making in a smaller setting, or in a classroom setting. It’s incredibly complex. I hope the real-life examples I shared help broaden students’ understanding of complexity and supplement their case work.

The business world is changing. What challenges do you anticipate students facing in the future?

Disruption has been talked about forever. But the pace of disruption has changed dramatically.

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By the time students graduate, even after just a four-year program, the world would look completely different than when they started. Often when students enter university, they get completely immersed in the university life and the program of study they have chosen. While teaching faculty does their very best to keep them current, it is not unusual for students to find themselves with a gap in what the industry needs vs. what they learned three or four years ago. For example, four years ago, students wouldn’t know what “Alexa” meant. Now, they’re probably ordering everything on Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa. There is now a whole new field of study called “voice skills development.”

Students have to complement their learnings with real-life challenges while they are at university. I often say, “Educate yourself about the world’s disruptive technologies, the stuff that may not always be discussed in the classroom. Keeping up to speed will greatly enhance your ability to be effective and in-demand when you graduate.”

What are you doing now, post retirement?

Currently, I’m advising a few startups. I’m working with startups in three very interesting fields. One is the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data in the Silicon Valley. The second is neuromarketing. And the third is drones. The startups I’m working with are now in the scaleup stage so it’s a lot of fun. I also serve on a few public company boards. This is indeed a very exciting time.

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