Locally raised MBAs: The British Columbia school focused on its own backyard

With a resource boom expected in the province’s northwest, Simon Fraser University launched a program tailored to regional needs

 
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A few years ago, northwest British Columbia seemed headed for boom times, with billions of dollars in projects planned by the liquid natural gas (LNG), mining and other resource sectors. Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business saw an opportunity. That part of the province has once been a place where professional advancement was possible with formal qualifications. Growth in the area might be taking more time than expected, but economic development still requires highly trained individuals with formal credentials. To serve the region’s unique needs, Beedie pulled together one of Canada’s first Executive MBA programs with a specialized geographic focus. The Northwest EMBA’s first cohort started the program in Prince Rupert, B.C., in September 2015. Candidate Tanya Rexin told Canadian Business about her experience so far. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Canadian Business: How did you end up taking the program?

Tanya Rexin: At the time they started recruiting about two years ago, I was the dean of university credit and health science at Northwest Community College (NWCC). Originally, the discussions were around how SFU could partner with NWCC [in Terrace, BC]. They wanted to build that collaboration, which was great, really respectful. Because we were doing the program as a joint promotion, I was attending all their info sessions. Every time I listened to their presentation, I was like, ‘that is such a great program.’ I got convinced to become a member while I was helping recruit.

CB: Why was an EMBA the right thing for you?

TR: I started as a college instructor and moved through government and post-secondary roles into executive-level management. Increasingly, in any kind of administration with public service connections, our budgets are so tight. The ability to do the financial management of really large budgets with really tight constraints and prioritize budgeting is important. I had been looking to move into vice president roles—now I’m a director at Northern Health—so I wanted to understand change management, project management, HR issues and have the ability to handle these really complex ethical issues that you end up facing when you’re a manager. I really liked the EMBA was for people in mid-career who were really looking to gain practical application while they work.

CB: Why did the regional focus appeal to you?

TR: For me, the first thing is proximity. It’s an expensive program. Not having to fly to another location makes it more affordable. And the second piece is having discussion points related to the unique features of the region. We’re focused on issues that face executives in a regional or a remote area. You just don’t have as many resources, you have multiple community partners, and you’re sometimes fighting for the same dollars. How do you manage that? And we include First Nations learning in all that we do. I have a real passion for that First Nations content. If we’re going to be talking about partnering with First Nations for developments in the area, we need to understand how that’s different from negotiating with the government. What are the other factors to consider? There aren’t a lot of MBA programs that even mention that.

CB: How important is it to have this kind of training in the northwest?

TR: There’s very little management, especially higher-level management, training. So the fact that it’s that much more affordable—which makes it that much more accessible—is huge. And the cohort itself adds capacity, because of the network that’s being built and the linkages being made between all of these industries and organizations. That dialogue that’s happening and those connections are building a higher-level management network.

CB: Where are you hoping this will take you?

TR: I’m already using the things I’m learning in my current director role. It’s just really helping strengthen my foundational skills. Also, it’s those linkages I’m making, whether that’s through the cohort or through the instructors that you meet in the program, the ability to get a better sense of where you want to go and access to networks you might not have been able to think of before.


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