MBA alumni find life-long support in team

July 7, 2011
Amy Dove

Their team is as unlikely as it is beautiful.

More than two decades divide their life experience. When they met one had a doctorate, another was half way through a bachelor degree. What they had in common was a strong desire to advance their careers and education. That and the fact that all five chose Royal Roads University to do so.

"I just can't say how lucky I feel to have been thrown in with these guys. (I have seen) how the right team can teach you as much or more as an MBA. Maybe it is over stating it, but I feel like we are still in the program in some ways," says Marian Marshall, VP Strategic Development at The Supplierpipeline Group. "I have this resource I can trust."

Marshall was paired with Ken Haycock, Mike Cass, Alison van Buuren and Terry Miller at the start of the MBA program. They quickly learned to work together and to each other strengths. Their commitment to bettering themselves and supporting each other has created a unique life‐long team that continues to embody the Royal Roads approach toward collaborative work.

In the seven years since they graduated, the team gets together annually for a holiday that is equal parts relaxation and professional development. Though occasionally spent in Vancouver, their trips have taken them to San Jose, Palm Springs, Kelowna and Cyprus; London, England is booked for 2012. Regardless of destination, the gatherings have a familiar pattern. By the time the team has settled in, the wine is flowing and inevitably the presentations begin.

"The flow (of the evening) is directly proportional to bottles of red wine and there is always this sort of bear pit session. I sit and wait for it; it's kind of amusing from my perspective," says Miller with a chuckle. At the last reunion, Marshall had a business plan that would take her in a new professional direction. And of course she wanted her team's eyes on it before moving forward.

"She even had a PowerPoint presentation," says Miller, a consultant with T Miller & Associates. "I was smiling the whole time (watching it unfold)."

Regardless of where they are, the holiday vibe of drinks poolside, sightseeing and leisurely meals turns into a professional development session. Marshall isn't the only one known to bring a PowerPoint presentation, says Cass, human resources director for Island Timberlands LP. He admits to bringing a LCD projector so the team can set up a bevy of computers and put their plans up for scrutiny.

"We are very different, we think differently. It literally is like a team of advisors looking at your stuff," says van Buuren, an executive coach and consultant with Inspira Group. "That's why you have to have a bit of wine first and then we talk about relationships, our families and just life."

On paper the group dynamics shouldn't necessarily work, Miller says. There is a strong mix of personality types and the group is good at respectfully challenging each other. "They will tell you what they think and hit you between the eyes with a tough question," he says.

There is also a lot of peer support with the peer pressure, says Haycock, senior partner with Ken Haycock & Associates Inc. "We expect the best from each other. We can be really quite aggressive with each other and we discuss the choices we make in ways that even family or closest friends wouldn't. Somehow we learned we had to be honest with each other."

The professional and personal support found on holiday isn't restricted to annual get‐a‐ways. The team checks in with each other through phone and email throughout the year. It is the kind of group that you know if they can't talk to you now, they are going to call you back in an hour, Marshall says. "We stay in contact whether there is a problem or not."

It's not about giving advice, it's about how we can support each other through situations, Cass says. The leadership skills Royal Roads taught them really sustains that approach, but above all else it's a willingness on the part of the team to do so.

The EP checks (which stands for emotional productivity check - the team's original way to quickly drill down into their current state) and other techniques they have developed through ongoing contact has allowed them to put aside work deadlines long enough to talk about how the team is doing, Miller says.

"They have changed my life in so many ways; we will never, ever not be friends. The bond is just so tight. We have gone through some stuff together, life changes with different people," van Buuren says. "We would never have come together if it wasn't for Royal Roads. We are too different."

And that after all, is the beauty of it.