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Students gain valuable lessons in leadership

Feb 12, 2020

MK MBA Conference Resize

Michael Katchen, HBA '09, CEO and Founder of Wealthsimple

Some of Canada's leading business and sports figures spoke to students and guests about the challenges of leadership in today's world at the Ivey Student Leadership Conference 2020. 

Speakers include Michael Katchen, HBA '09, CEO and Founder of Wealthsimple, George Cope, HBA '84, LLD '12, retired CEO of BCE and Bell, and two-time Olympic gold medalist Cheryl Pounder, along with a number of guest panelists. The event was generously supported by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership at Ivey Business School. 

Thanks to Toshaan Harjai, Fletcher Courage, and Brian Geoghegan, all MBA 2020 candidates, for their contributions to the story. 

Michael Katchen, HBA '09, CEO & Co-Founder of Wealthsimple:

Katchen focused his talk on the collaborative aspect of leader character. He highlighted his belief that, in order to be a successful leader, it is right to choose people over passion because, "it is much easier to change the world when you have the right people to do it."

Leadership and Technology Panel:

The panel featured Rupinder Dhillon, Chief Data Officer, Data Innovation and AI at HBC; Matthew Busbridge, MBA '09, Head of Higher Education at Amazon; Lindsay Lorusso, Chief Explorer & Creator, Nudnik; and, Nichola Thompson, CFO of WeedMD. 

The panel discussion focused on how the increasing presence and importance of technology in business places unique challenges on leaders and a greater importance to lead with character. What separates the good from the great in fostering corporate culture and building human companies in the age of machines?

Here are some key takeaways from the panel discussion:

  • The support of your friends, family, and team is key to success when creating change or starting a new venture; 
  • As changes or ventures scale, clear consistent communication builds employee engagement and culture. Keeping the culture consistent is a challenge, but not having culture is an existential threat; and
  • Organizations where leadership principles are just wall decorations usually don't last long. 

Reality Check Panel: 

The panel featured Stephen Suske, MBA '77, President and CEO, Suske Capital; Darin Deschamps, HBA '87, Head, Wells Fargo Securities Canada; and, Julie Giraldi, Vice-President, People and Strategy Development at CAAT Pension Plan. 

The panel focused not on the end result of a project or accomplishment but on the journey to get there. What does great leadership look like on a daily practice, as well as the good, and the not-so-good aspects that go along with it?

Each of the panelists had different perspectives, but shared some common messages:

  • Doing the right thing was an important theme. That could be anything from serving your customers, to being willing to get fired for standing up for something;
  • Set yourself up well in order to be sure that you can do the right thing, and not feel obliged to land on the wrong side of a moral dilemma;
  • Have a network that you can rely on to help you through those decisions – either a set of mentors you can go to or your personal network. They can help keep your moral compass aligned and your spirits up when you make the hard decisions; and,
  • Do something that you want to do: You can do anything for the first 10 years of your career, but what you do with the last 30 is critical. 

Pushing the Boundaries Panel:

The panel was made up of Brent Choi, HBA '93, CEO and Creative Officer, DDB Group Canada; Charles Brown, MBA '83, President and CEO of Lifelabs; Peter Kalen, HBA ’95, MBA ’01, CEO of Flexiti Financial, and Hilary Lloyd, VP Marketing and Responsibility, North America.

The panelists examined the topic of the increased pressure and awareness leaders face. How do leaders use this platform for good and equip themselves to effectively and successfully manage and navigate? 

Two main themes emerged from the discussion: The importance of confidence and transparency:

  • Whether you are an entrepreneur in your 30s or a new grad just starting out, you need the confidence to get where you need to go. The struggles you encounter will create grit, which is one of the only indicators of success;
  • Authentic and successful leaders empower the people they lead through transparency and consistency. The challenges you encounter will be dynamic, and you need to provide context and value to your people; and,
  • Bad leaders hold information close to themselves and doll it out sparingly like dog treats. Good leaders provide all the information they can to the people around them so that those people are empowered to make decisions when the leaders are absent.

Fireside chat with Diane Hodgins, CFO, Shorefast Group:

Hodgins is the CFO of the Shorefast Group, which is a not-for-profit that owns the for-profit and world-famous Fogo Island Inn. She shared her thoughts at the conference.

  • The only way to learn something is to do and experience the thing in question. There is no theory that replaces practice;
  • There is no job that is below a leader regardless of education. It is your responsibility to fill your knowledge gaps;
  • Leadership is something you do at all levels. How you take care of the people around you is a way of life; and,
  • Buying from a supplier is like investing in a business, you need to know them, and their reputation. 

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Cheryl Pounder:

Pounder spoke about the similarities between team-based environments in business and sports. Pounder spoke on how leader character is inherent at every moment of truth, in either setting. By focusing on key aspects of character, and exhibiting authentic leadership, you can make relationships and teams better, and go on to achieve way beyond your individual potential.

The conference was organized by Lauren Miller, Abbas Khambati, Bhagirath Raichada, Tayabur Rahman & Toshaan Harjai, all MBA 2020 candidates. The panels were moderated by Archit Goyal, Arjun Singh Hooda and Andrew Newton.

Read more about the event and speaker line-up.