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As incoming dean of Laval University's faculty of business administration, Michel Gendron subscribes to a simple philosophy: focus on students and professors.

"If you recruit the best students and get them excellent professors, you will be a fantastic school," says Prof. Gendron, named to a four-year term last month. "We are a public university and we have to produce good citizens so they will be in a position to meet the objectives of society, and eventually to define where they want society to go," he says. "In 10-15 years they will be the movers and shakers."

A member of Laval's business faculty since 1985, Prof. Gendron was director of its department of finance and insurance for 10 years before taking over July 1 from Robert Mantha, who was dean for eight years (the maximum possible stay).

Praising his predecessor's legacy – Laval was the first non-English speaking business school in North America to win accreditation from top agencies in the United States and Europe – Prof. Gendron says, "I want to continue on the same path in the search for excellence."

He hopes to hire more professors, encourage more faculty research and recruit top academic students. He says money, alone, is not enough to lure talent.

"Money is important, but if you attract students or professors with money you are missing something and they will not stay for long," he argues. "You have to provide them with an environment. … If you have a good group and good facilities you can somehow compensate for lower salary levels."

For example, he points to two trading rooms at Laval that train students about the stock market and provide opportunities for faculty research. Students take part in international competitions on financial trade, with a first-place finish in New York last year and a top-eight finish for two Laval teams in Toronto this year.

Prof. Gendron sees opportunities to expand international links for his school, which currently recruits 700 of its 4,300 students from overseas. Possible avenues for expansion include more joint degrees with other universities and deeper alliances in French and English-speaking Africa. "Africa can be an opportunity for us," he says.

Laval is a francophone university based in Quebec City, but the business school offers a number of courses in English, including a bilingual undergraduate degree in business administration. "We can be much more exotic than other universities," he says.

As for his decision to become dean, Prof. Gendron points to his long association with Laval, where he earned a bachelor's degree in actuarial science in 1977 and a master's in 1982. Three years later, after earning his PhD in finance from the University of British Columbia, he returned to Laval as a professor.

Risk challenges

Actuaries are the experts who tackle questions most people would prefer not to ask: how long will I live (and will my pension last)? What are the odds of my having a catastrophic accident (and how much insurance do I need)?

To these sombre questions – traditional fodder for actuaries – add another: What are the risks from extreme weather conditions?

"This is going to be huge in the future, not just for property but for people, as well," predicts Sam Cox, who has held the Dr. L.A.H. Warren Chair Professor of Actuarial Science at the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business for the past five years. "There have been increased extreme weather events and those risks we have to learn how to mitigate, insure and hedge against."

These and other research questions are on the table this week at the University of Manitoba, host of the annual research conference of the Society of Actuaries that brings together about 180 academic and industry actuaries from across Canada and the United States.

It's no accident the event coincides with the 100th anniversary of the teaching of actuarial science at Manitoba, where the program is one of only a few in North America housed within a business school.

"We tell students that if they are good in math and want a career in business, this is the field for you," says Prof. Cox. "But it has to be that you want a career in business. Just being good in math is not enough."

As noted in "Assessing the Risk," a history of actuarial science at Manitoba prepared for the centennial, the discipline had highs, lows and more than a few setbacks before gaining its current stature at Asper.

Prof. Jeffrey Pai, director of Asper's Warren Centre for Actuarial Studies and Research, says the three-year program attracts about 120 students, with applications up about 20 per cent this year over 2011. The centre is one of about 22 programs worldwide accredited by the Society of Actuaries.

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