Business schools across Canada are always striving to stand out in a competitive field. The Sobey School of Business, at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, is no exception. Harjeet Bhabra, who took the helm as dean in September, 2018, talks about the school’s entrepreneurial focus and the importance of having a global mindset.
Why is it important to have an international focus as a business school?
If you look back 20 or 30 years, oftentimes students would go to high school, then university, then they would get a job and pretty much end up spending their entire career in a particular geographic region. Fast forward to 2019, it's no longer the case. You don’t know where opportunities will come from. And businesses are no longer just local any more. Every business has to understand that if they want to grow and prosper, they really have to look beyond their immediate neighbourhood.
In Nova Scotia, in particular, there’s been a big focus over the last little while to really reach out and grow internationally. In fact, in Sobey’s EMBA [executive MBA] program, we have an eight-to-10-day international trade mission, where students act as ambassadors for local businesses. The students work with the businesses to understand what the model and products are and what kind of market they’d like to reach. And then they prospect future opportunities on behalf of the businesses in the markets they visit.
You have a lot of international students in the Sobey MBA program. Tell us about that.
Between 40 and 45 per cent of our students are international. That’s a big number. Sobey and Saint Mary’s started taking in a lot more international students about 15 years ago and local businesses have benefited a lot. Many of those students stay in Canada and Nova Scotia [after they graduate], which brings in high-quality talent from all over the world. That’s been a real win-win for businesses here.
Sobey has a big focus on entrepreneurship. Why?
Many of the students who get into our programs either have their own businesses already or they come in with the intention of starting something in the future. I think the desire to work for a large company for life seems to have waned to a large extent. Especially in the tech sector, it’s become more accessible for people to start a business with very little capital.
We have a very innovative program that was introduced in 2014, a master of technology entrepreneurship and innovation. It’s a full-time program where students can start or grow their own technology business as part of the program, or intern with a local business as a consultant.
Another really unique program at Sobey is the venture-grade student investment fund, which I have not seen done anywhere else. Students go out and raise financing from investors and then they invest in startup companies themselves. And we also have a very large entrepreneurship centre at Saint Mary’s, which works very closely with the local talent hubs in the city.
Is there a certain flavour to Sobey because it’s located on the East Coast?
I myself am discovering the East Coast. I’d heard and read so many good things and I love it here now. It’s a beautiful community and the people are so friendly, so warm. Students become very engaged with the local community while at Sobey and it’s a very inviting environment. That’s become a selling point as we go into more international markets.
What’s the biggest challenge as a business school in Canada?
Creating a space for yourself in the business education world is always a big challenge, and our entrepreneurship programming is one way we’re doing that. But I think the bigger challenge for most business schools is staying ahead of the curve. The upheavals caused by technology have meant that things are changing at such a pace. The way students learn is different from when we went to school. Look at digital marketing – it did not exist five or 10 years ago. Crowd-funding and microfinancing did not exist 10 years ago.
What do you think students are looking for these days in a business school?
I think key skills are creativity, problem solving, and managing people in diverse teams. And those are things we teach at Sobey. Because Sobey is a very international school, students by default end up teaming up with people who have done their education in very different environments, with diverse viewpoints and opinions.
What would you like prospective students to know about Sobey?
We offer extensive experiential-learning opportunities, an entrepreneurial mindset, international travel opportunities, top-notch faculty.
If you’re looking for a school where you can develop your entrepreneurial mindset and grow your career quickly, we offer that kind of an environment for you.
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