Sunday, January 16, 2011

[Rotman] 5 Great Speakers at Rotman

[Rotman Series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

Jaime is a part-time student in the MBA program at Rotman. He has worked in the sports media industry since 2002 and is currently Manager, Digital Media for the Canadian Football League. He and I went to the Latin America study tour in May last year. He was gracious enough to do a write up for me on his favourite guest speakers which follows:

By Jaime Stein

One of the first things you notice when you obtain an e-mail account at the Rotman School of Management is the sheer volume of e-mails from a guy named Steve. At first it can be overwhelming, but if utilized wisely, it can be your ticket to an exclusive roster of speakers. Steve and his team are the masterminds behind the A-list speakers that regularly visit the Rotman School.

The hardest choice I have to make each week is which speakers I will NOT listen to. This is a good problem to have because choice is always welcome when working full time and attending school part time. I simply don’t have the time to listen to every speaker that passes through Rotman. However, in almost three years, I have been privileged to listen to close to 100 guest speakers.

Most of the speakers that I have seen have delivered outstanding talks, but for the purpose of this blog I present five of the best speakers I have listened to during my time at the Rotman School:

1. Paul Martin – Former Prime Minister of Canada

Imagine you are in your second semester of a three-year MBA degree and you are studying Macroeconomics. A large focus of the course stems around Canada’s macroeconomic policies during the 1980s and 1990s; specifically the country’s battle with debt and inflation. One day you find out that the man behind the plan to battle inflation will be speaking at your school. That would be like a young basketball player having the opportunity to shoot hoops with Michael Jordan and ask him for tips.

Fortunately for our macro class, Mr. Martin came to speak at the Rotman School one morning and for about an hour took us through his plan that brought Canada back from the brink in the mid-‘90s. Following his talk he took time to speak to each of us and share some more personal insights and war stories from his time as both Finance Minister and Prime Minister. This was one of the great days at school that left me wanting to explore a subject further.

2. Isadore Sharp – Founder, Chairman and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

One of the main selling points of the Rotman School is its focus on Integrative Thinking – the theory coined by the current Dean, Roger Martin. In one of his books on Integrative Thinking (The Opposable Mind), Martin focuses on the story of Isadore Sharp and his path to building the greatest luxury brand of hotels in the world. In many of our classes we study the Four Seasons Model for customer service and other best-in-class management techniques. We were fortunate to have Mr. Sharp visit the Rotman School and explain firsthand how he went from one Four Seasons hotel in 1961 in Toronto to operating a chain of approximately 100 properties worldwide.

For anyone with an ounce of entrepreneurial spirit this was a motivating discussion. You could see the passion, courage and drive that Mr. Sharp possessed to launch his vision and stay true to it along the way. Any successful company will create a competitive advantage – however, these are eventually replicated by the competition over time. When people are your competitive advantage, it becomes truly sustainable as Mr. Sharp has proven. While other hotels provide outstanding service, none of been able to match the formula created by the Four Seasons.

3. Rahaf Harfoush – Digital Strategist and Author

It was November 27, 2008 when Ms. Harfoush spoke (for the first time, I believe) at the Rotman School. There was lots of hype surrounding her talk that day because Barak Obama had recently been elected President of the United States and Ms. Harfoush was a part of his wildly successful digital media campaign. I also remember this talk vividly, because it was one day later on November 28, 2008 that I joined Twitter. A lot in my personal and professional life has changed since that defining moment – all for the better.

The topic of conversation at Rotman that day was, “Applying Barack Obama’s Social Media Strategy to Your Brand’s Communications Needs” and it was Ms. Harfoush’s talk that became the inspiration for a lot of what we have done at the Canadian Football League over the past two seasons in the social media realm. To me, this is what an MBA program is about – an exchange of ideas to help stoke peoples’ imagination and potential. I’m glad I made time to attend her talk that day.

4. Michael Lee-Chin – Founder and Chairman of Portland Holdings Inc.

In October, 2009 I attended the Rotman School MBA Leadership Conference in downtown Toronto. It was a star-studded event with speakers like George Butterfield, Co-President of Butterfield & Robinson, Beth Comstock the CMO for GE, Don Morrison, COO of Research in Motion, Robert Deluce the CEO of Porter Airlines and Michael Lee-Chin, the Founder and Chairman of Portland Holdings.

Mr. Lee-Chin is one of the most engaging speakers I have had the pleasure to listen to in person. Mr. Lee-Chin spoke for about an hour on a variety of subjects including how to create wealth. He focused on a small number of blue chip businesses with long-term growth potential. But he was adamant that you know and understand where you are investing your money. One quote from Mr. Lee-Chin that sticks with me is, “If you don’t understand what you own, are you investing or speculating?” This is important advice that too many people continue to ignore this day and age.

5. Jay Hennick – Founder and CEO of FirstService

Mr. Hennick spoke to our class recently at the Rotman School. He runs FirstService, a company that provides services in commercial real estate, residential property management and property services and generates about US $2 billion in annualized revenue. Mr. Hennick told us his amazing story of how he achieved his current standing atop a multi-national company. He got his start with a company he ran as a tenth grader that brought in an income of $200,000. Yes, you read that correctly – he was in grade 10.

His key message was focused on people management; what he believed was the differentiating factor for the success of his current company. His “Partnership Philosophy” states that impact players must have more than a salary and bonus invested in the business; they must have an equity stake. His company focuses on aligning employees’ interest with shareholders in building long-term value. This was both fascinating and eye opening for most students who believe this is hard to do in a company of 18,000+. Yet FirstService continues to succeed. Listening to Mr. Hennick and his passion for success was rewarding.

As you can see, there are some overarching themes from these speakers such as focusing on people and establishing long-term strategies. But ultimately, each of these speakers is among the leaders in their field and that is why I feel fortunate to have spent the past three years at the Rotman School. The access to these great minds alone was worth the price of admission – well almost!

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