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Christy Smith mentors Indigenous entrepreneurs as manager of the Fireweed Fellowship, a national accelerator program for Indigenous business.Handout

Christy Smith completed her MBA at the University of Northern British Columbia. “It changed my life,” says the 45-year-old vice-president of Indigenous and stakeholder engagement for Falkirk Environmental Consultants Ltd.

A member of the K’ómoks First Nation, Smith has worked in the resource sector for 25 years, where she has negotiated benefits agreements on behalf of both First Nations communities and project proponents. She also mentors Indigenous entrepreneurs as manager of the Fireweed Fellowship, a national accelerator program for Indigenous business, facilitates decolonization workshops through her own Indigenized Consulting Services, and has taught at universities, as well as contributed individually to K’ómoks’ treaty-related measures.

Here, she shares the five things she learned doing her MBA she wished everyone knew:

1. How to speak the language of business

“The number one thing that I learned taking my MBA is how to ‘speak the language’ of business. It enabled me to clearly articulate to decision makers to show return on investment, strategy and risk.

Before, there were moments I tried to argue my position by saying ‘because it’s the right thing to do.’ This didn’t fly in the boardroom. My MBA studies were so multifaceted it gave me the ability to have those conversations about finance, strategy, human resources, operations and so forth.”

2. The importance of building the right team

“A large part of the MBA program is being under pressure to deliver your assignments, often as a team. Most times, you had no choice in choosing your team. You learn quickly who wants to take charge – the type As who do not want to give any control to the others on the team. You have some who want to ‘ride the coattails,’ and then some that are in-between.

I remember one individual told me to just make our slides look pretty, basically trying to cut my opinion and voice out before we got started. Trust me, it didn’t work but throughout the program I learned how to work with all types of people.”

3. The ability to be solution-oriented

“In my career I’ve heard about problems from staff with no solutions proposed. When you are trying to manage a business, you don’t need to be burdened with problems. You just don’t have time.

You need staff to come to you with the situation and provide solutions. An MBA program teaches you to clearly articulate proposed solutions rather than just highlighting problems.

I try to continually teach this to any staff I work with as it is fundamental in the success of your career.”

4. How to speak confidently

“Public speaking takes various forms: It could be to a large gathering or event, or it could be more on a day-to-day basis when you are trying to deliver a strategy and articulate a solution to a problem to your boss. Almost every weekend throughout the two-year MBA program we were asked to present our findings or solutions to a question or a problem. [This helped me build] confidence in speaking, which takes practice.”

5. How to manage stress effectively

“The MBA program is designed to push you to the edge. I was a mother, working and doing my courses. The workload was heavy. I had to find a balance and be organized well enough to not lose sight of all these competing priorities. This is an excellent skill and procrastination is not an option.

Learning to manage stress is relevant to your entire life. Being able to take a step back in the middle of a stressful situation and clearly define steps and processes to move your way through a problem is truly a skill. Today, I support my team in taking that approach when faced with the daily pressures of work.

Of course, the real learning from your MBA happens after the program ends, when you apply these teachings in real life. You don’t come out of the program as an expert on everything you learned but you have a basic high-level understanding.”

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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