For a new graduate, it’s difficult to imagine what it means to be the chief executive officer of a major company.
When I started working, I couldn’t begin to fathom what our CEO did each day to deserve his mind-blowing paycheque, but assumed that it included rides on private jets and hobnobbing with those on Fortune 500 lists. I kept asking myself: How do I get that job?
These days, seven lucky students across Ontario and Quebec are finding out for themselves. The “CEO x 1 Day” initiative, run by global executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, pairs third- and fourth-year university students with the leaders of companies such as Cineplex Inc., Cisco Systems, General Electric, Ubisoft and Vidéotron.
So what do you learn when you spend eight hours with a top business leader?
Samantha Sim, a fourth-year journalism student at Toronto’s Ryerson University, spent the day shadowing Kirstine Stewart, managing director of Twitter in Canada. Ms. Sim found that the executive schedule was filled with speeches, cab rides and tweets.
Their working day started with a speaking engagement at Soho House, a private club in Toronto, followed by an interview on BNN to talk about the business of Twitter, before heading into the social-media company’s office.
“In the span of three hours, we had been to three locations, taken two cab rides, hit up a client meeting where Kirstine was presenting, and then she went on national TV,” Ms. Sim said, clearly awed.
“It was a regular day – but a regular day is always irregular,” Ms. Stewart added. Given her busy schedule, it’s a wonder she could add a day of coaching to her schedule, but she said she felt highly motivated after remembering her own entry into the work force.
“There is always a difference between what you learn and what you experience out in the field, and to be able to open up our doors and give an inside perspective, is something I would have really appreciated as a student,” Ms. Stewart said. She added that she was delighted to coach a young woman because there aren’t enough female role models for women in media and technology.
For Ms. Sim, the biggest surprise was the copious number of tweets Ms. Stewart sent.
“She really believes in the product, and you can tell by the fact that she’s on it every available minute,” Ms. Sim said. “There wouldn’t be one free moment where she wouldn’t be checking her news feed. She also runs her own account, as well as the @TwitterCanada account, which just shows how immersed she is in the brand.”
Ms. Stewart sent more than 40 tweets that day, by my count, an impressive feat given her speaking engagement and television interview.
For both women, the most crucial lesson of the day was the changing face of the news media. Ms. Stewart, who ran the English-language service at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. before moving to Twitter, said she felt it was important to convey how much the delivery and packaging of news content is changing.
Not only is content-delivery changing, so too is the media business. Twitter Canada is run as a lean machine, where there is little time for deliberation.
“If I can boil down one major takeaway from my conversations with Kirstine, it’s to reject complacency and be open to where your career takes you,” Ms. Sim said. “Kirstine had a solid job at the CBC, and uprooted herself to take a chance on something new and totally opposite from what she had been used to. Her world was old media and, at the prime of her career, she completely shifted directions into the world of new media and digital.
“It’s really got me thinking about the path I want to take after graduation and to make sure I keep an open mind when opportunities arise,” Ms. Sim added.
Both women said they intend to keep in touch – through Twitter, of course. That’s another telling example of how social media is changing the workplace, by bringing once-unapproachable business leaders into closer contact with staff and potential employees.
Leah Eichler is founder of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. E-mail: email@example.com