April 9, 2017

Fifteen Years After My MBA

Fifteen years ago in 2002 I graduated with my MBA from Royal Roads University.

The university recently caught up with me to conduct an interview. It gave me the chance to reflect and think about how the MBA has shaped my professional life.


MBA experience shapes alumnus’ teaching on leadership

Alumnus Dan Pontefract first decided the dominant form of leadership had to change when he was cut from a provincial soccer team at age 16.

“Three men went to the front of the stage, called out the names of the 16 boys that made the team and left the other ten in the audience weeping, and basically said, ‘Better luck next time,’” Pontefract says. “And I said to myself then and there I’ll never treat anyone that way.”

That early experience of the potentially damaging effects of certain leadership styles eventually compelled Pontefract to explore how people lead and learn to be leaders in business and life.

A Master of Business Administration (2002) alumnus originally from Stony Creek, Ontario, Pontefract is chief envisioner for TELUS, where his Transformation Office helps organizations and leaders to improve employee engagement, leadership development and organizational culture.  He has published two books on leadership and purpose, with his third, Open to Think: A Strategy for Better Thinking, to be released in 2018.

“I am trying to help both employees and leaders shine a light…that management, leadership culture, purpose—it can all be done in a different way,” he says.

In 2000, Pontefract was working for the B.C. Institute of Technology and decided to improve his education in order to be a better academic. Royal Roads’ MBA was exactly what he needed, he says, despite the youth of the university and the program.

“I wanted something that was practical and real and didn’t feel as if it was just coming out of a book,” Pontefract says. “So I looked into faculty. I looked into the way programs were set up. I looked into the fact that I somewhat obviously wanted to continue to work.

“And as I started whittling down my parameters, I kept coming back to RRU, even though, in fairness, it was fledgling (at the time.)”

Pontefract says his experience at Royal Roads, from the way the MBA was delivered in a blended learning format, to its focus on collaboration, was essential both for how he views leadership and how he teaches others to be engaged, collaborative leaders.

“I was so enamoured and enthralled with the program’s structure that effectively I stole it and used it as the basis for the TELUS MBA we started a couple of years ago,” he says with a laugh. The TELUS program teaches MBA-level skills to employees in a blended learning model with six residences. Employees work in pods and teams, similar to the cohort model at Royal Roads.

“I remember RRU really unleashing the behaviour of collaboration,” Pontefract says. “As you progress in your studies, you recognize that the sum is greater than its individual parts. So these teams you were concentrated with really disentangled the notion that you had to do everything on your own in life.”

Those lessons influenced Pontefract’s first book, Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization.

“The connected part is not technology. It’s actually behaviour. It’s that notion of being collaborative and connecting with people to create results,” he says.

Pontefract stresses the top behavior for leaders is openness with their teams.

“I define openness as the act of engaging others to influence and execute a coordinated and harmonious conclusion,” he says.

“Employees aren’t looking for heaps of money. They just want to feel valued. So how you create value is you’re inclusive. You’re coordinating with them, you’re collaborating with them. That’s open.”

Pontefract’s vision for business transformation goes beyond more harmonious, engaged work teams. He says business done with openness and purpose has greater social value than making profit; it can improve the lives of its employees and the community.

“Profit is important but not the sole reason a company is in business in the first place,” he says. “The business of business is to improve society. And if one improves society the organization will be returned a healthy profit.”

~ Interview conducted by Cindy MacDougall and first appeared on the RRU website.

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