Business program comes of age in a changing world

November 30, 2017

What do you get when you give a class of Bachelor of Commerce in Entrepreneurial Management students 18 minutes to build a structure using 20 spaghetti noodles, two marshmallows and pieces of tape and twine?

A recipe for innovation.

The challenge? Build a free-standing pasta tower taller than your classmates’.

The marshmallow challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, a global leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. It’s used by students, designers, architects and chief technology officers.

Associate Faculty Rita Egizii uses the activity to help students cultivate their leadership skills and entrepreneurial talent.

Those skills are more important now than ever, says the seasoned entrepreneur whose specializations include social innovation and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

These days, the fast pace of technology, globalization and the Internet means business is anything but usual. The best way to adapt is to get used to ambiguity and uncertainty, she says.

“The world is more chaotic and complex than it ever was and you can’t lead and do business in the old industrial way.”

Since Royal Roads’ first BCom cohort graduated 20 years ago, the program has evolved too says Ross Porter, BCom program head and assistant professor. What started as a general business degree became an incubator for aspiring entrepreneurs. Today’s students still learn the skills to start their own ventures, but they also learn to be entrepreneurial change agents even when they’re working for someone else.

“You can be highly entrepreneurial in your role by how you approach it; by being more creative and seeking to create value in new and different ways,” Porter says. “I would say a minority of our learners come in wanting to be prototypical entrepreneurs.”

That was certainly the case for recent BCom grad, Kyle Ingram.

As a helicopter pilot, Ingram has logged more than 2,500 hours in the skies—flying scientists to collect water samples from remote lakes in Eastern Canada to transporting technicians to repair telephone towers in the Arctic. But after almost a decade as a pilot, Ingram wanted to take his career to new heights so he registered for the BCom program.

“I was looking for something that could teach me how to be a good manager, a good leader, a good strategist,” he says over the phone from Northern Labrador.

After graduating this fall, Ingram returned to his previous employer, Universal Helicopters, equipped with the business acumen to support the company’s growth. When he’s not flying, he’s working as a consultant with Victoria-based technology company, itgroove.

Like Ingram, Porter says the majority of BCom students are interested in applying their skills within existing organizations. But they don’t want to be passive employees. They want to be engaged change agents.

“We need enterprising, resourceful, entrepreneurially minded people everywhere,” Porter says. “We need them in universities, we need them in health care, we need them in government, non-profits and the private sector. So I think our difference is to turn students into entrepreneurially oriented actors and contributors and managers—people who think and act and behave differently because they have a different mindset and orientation,” he says.

Colin How says cultivating that “intrapreneurial” mindset will help today’s job seekers get their careers off the ground.

The associate faculty member and 20-year IT veteran advises clients in Kelowna, Silicon Valley and New York on talent acquisition and growth strategies. He says companies, especially in IT, are increasingly looking to capitalize on employees’ creative, out-of-the-box skills to grow their businesses.

“It’s that shift from a liability on a balance sheet to an asset psychologically,” he says. “So to use a sporting metaphor, ‘what position do you play? Can we count on you to score or stop goals and how’s that going to benefit us?’”

In part, this shift is a result of automated jobs becoming more commonplace, How says. For that reason there’s less need for the “I-don’t-need-to-think-I-just-push-a-button jobs.”

The consequence is an emergence of employers looking to recruit talent for their creativity and problem-solving skills.

“The world is moving at such a pace that we actually cannot predict anything that’s going to be around in the next 10 years,” Egizii says. “So how do you teach people what to do for things you don’t even know are going to happen? All you can teach them is to be critical thinkers.”