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Reg Manhas, vice-president of corporate affairs and communications for North America with Talisman Energy in Calgary, has been admitted into the new Global Energy MBA at the Haskayne School of Business. (Chris Bolin/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)
Reg Manhas, vice-president of corporate affairs and communications for North America with Talisman Energy in Calgary, has been admitted into the new Global Energy MBA at the Haskayne School of Business. (Chris Bolin/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)

Report on Business Education, Spring 2012

Niche executive MBA courses make inroads Add to ...

Over the past 15 years with Talisman Energy Inc., Reg Manhas has done a little of everything.

A chemical engineer turned lawyer, he joined the Calgary-based oil and gas company in 1997. He worked on a controversial project in Sudan, later set up a corporate affairs office and now, as vice-president of corporate affairs and communications for North America, is a spokesman for another contentious project – this one to extract gas from shale rock.

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His corporate résumé makes him a natural candidate for the C-suite. With his employer’s support, Mr. Manhas has enrolled in a new executive MBA program for “high potential executives” to help him get there.

The Global Energy Executive MBA, developed by the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business and industry consultants IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, begins next month with Mr. Manhas and 36 industry managers from seven countries in the inaugural class. Tuition is a hefty $105,000 U.S., usually paid by the employer.

Mr. Manhas says the program is part of his “long-term professional development plan” at Talisman. “Stepping back from the global [side of the business]to North America gets me closer to our business,” he says. “In conjunction with the executive program, hopefully this gives me the foundation to take my career to the next level in the next few years.”

Haskayne’s EMBA is typical of a new crop of specialty professional programs developed by Canadian business schools to generate revenue and stand out in a competitive global market.

Diverse in scope, the new EMBAs often share similar features: an international learning component, a blend of in-class and online study and curriculum delivered by multiple partners.

In the Haskayne program, in-class learning modules run for about two-and-a-half weeks every three to four months in the top energy capitals of Calgary, London, Houston, several locations in the Middle East and China. In between, participants complete course assignments online for the 16-month program.

Courses are delivered jointly by Haskayne professors and industry consultants from Cambridge Energy Research Associates (co-founded by global energy guru Daniel Yergin), with opportunities for networking built into the global schedule.

Energy is a “significant niche and a huge growth market,” says Harrie Vredenburg, academic director for the program. “Our general EMBA does well,” he adds. “If we grow, it should be international and aligned with Calgary as a city in its aspirations to be a global energy centre.”

Similarly, a new Americas MBA for Executives introduced last fall by the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University is international in scope and built on partnerships.

In the first year of the two-year program priced at $48,500 for tuition, participants spend the first year at their home institution – Beedie or one of three partner schools in the United States (Vanderbilt), Brazil (FIA) and Mexico (ITAM). In the second year, students work in cross-cultural study teams, with eight-and-a-half day sessions at each campus on key aspects of global business.

Not everyone wants an executive MBA, which explains the growth in interest for master’s level professional courses for a particular region of the world or a subject area such as finance, entrepreneurship and leadership.

At the University of Guelph’s College of Management and Economics, enrolment in a 24-month master of leadership almost quadrupled to 61 participants last fall since it was first offered in 2003.

Aimed at professionals with seven to 20 years of experience, the program provides an on-campus residential learning experience at its beginning and mid-point, online group work and structured opportunities for self-reflection.

The program challenges the old bromide that leaders are born, not made.

“People with different kinds of background styles and approach can be effective leaders by working with who they are and understanding who they are,” says Ken Smith, associate dean of executive programs at the college.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sylvie Beaudry, a 20-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, was commander of the military police academy at Camp Borden when she selected the Guelph program in 2006.

“This program was not your typical MBA,” she recalls. “I wanted to do something different that would serve its purpose in an organization where leadership is the focal point for everything we do.” A married mother of two boys, and with a demanding job, she also wanted a program that was geographically close to home.

After the course, she received a promotion that made her the boss of public servants and military officers, enabling her to take advantage of what she had learned.

“Your leadership style has to be different because you can’t give orders to those who are in the public service,” says Lt.-Col. Beaudry, who was appointed military adviser to Governor-General David Johnston last year.

At Rogers Communications, a lot of technical people report to Kim Carpenter, a long-time manager with a non-technical background.

“I wanted to be a better people manager,” says Ms. Carpenter, director of network management services, who graduated from the Guelph program in 2010.

She took advantage of a 360-degree peer evaluation, required of everyone at the start of class, to build her capacity to delegate and listen. When participants return for a second on-campus session, they go through the same evaluation to monitor their progress.

“My staff noticed a change when I came back from the second year,” recalls Ms. Carpenter, who says now she is better equipped to advise staff on their own development. “It has given me the courage to have those [feedback] conversations and also to be self-aware,” she says.

Back in Calgary, Mr. Manhas is already working on his first assignment in preparation for the official start of class next month.



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