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Telfer MBA learns lessons in the real world

Bombardier was among the companies visited by Adrian Papara and his fellow Telfer MBA students during their Canada Industrial Trip course.

Michael Miles

Adrian Papara is a full-time MBA student at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, with an interest in management consulting. Previously, he held various roles in the financial and marketing industries and earned a bachelor of arts, with a major in economics, from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. In his spare time, he volunteers with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, raises funds for various charities and has a keen interest in recreational flying and automotive restoration. This is his fourth blog in a series.

The Telfer School of Management is one of just two business schools in Canada, and one of less than 50 in the world, to have achieved the triple crown of accreditations. It is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International, the Association for MBAs and the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS). The most recent accreditation by EQUIS was awarded in 2009 based on the high degree of internationalization at the school, which draws approximately 35 per cent of students in its MBA program from outside Canada.

As part of its curriculum, every year Telfer offers students the opportunity to travel abroad and visit high-performance companies to learn about the dynamics of doing business in Europe, all while earning credits toward their graduation. Since the MBA program is made up of such a large proportion of international students, many of them have pointed out that they would highly benefit from a similar type of arrangement by visiting high-performance organizations within Canada and learn about doing business here.

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The course, now dubbed the Canada Industrial Trip, was established about three years ago, and this year I decided to become part of the experience along with other international students. Between October of 2013 and April, we visited a number of premier companies in Ontario and Quebec. They included firms operating in the technology, financial, manufacturing, distribution and consumer industries, such as Alcatel-Lucent, Future Electronics, TD Economics, Bombardier, Nissan, Steam Whistle Brewing, Sodexo and L'Oréal.

Through conversations with managers at these companies, I was able to obtain a deeper understanding of the factors that are influencing their operations and how they are responding to them. Along the way, I observed corporate strategies as companies strive to provide customer value while remaining competitive, win market share and increase profits against a backdrop of continued sluggish economic growth, a weak Canadian dollar and rising energy prices.

Reflecting on the key takeaways of our Canada Industrial Trip, I learned that companies are placing greater importance on attracting and retaining the "right" employees in order to gain an edge over their competition. Companies that have the same product offerings are increasingly leveraging company culture and focusing on reigniting innovation among employees as a difference maker. Establishing transformational leaders is equally important to communicate a company's strategy and motivate its work force.

I also learned that companies increasingly use customer analytics to identify consumer preferences and needs, and use online resources to cater to their increasing demands for service convenience, accessibility and advice. Technological advances in cloud computing is also helping companies create new business models that would have not existed without it.

Companies are also working on their branding strategies to address brand deficiencies and create new meaning such as affordability, good value and familiarity. A few of the companies also have singular product offerings and are strong believers of the saying, "If you do one thing, do it right."

Lastly, despite operating across various industries, the companies we visited are increasingly incorporating corporate social responsibility, or CSR, into their operations because they understand that "doing good" is good for business. Companies understand that being socially responsible has the benefit of attracting customers that share the same values, and sustainability can help them implement green initiatives with the potential to reduce waste. Taken together, they have a positive impact on a company's bottom line.

While some lessons came as a surprise, I was also able to call on information learned in other MBA courses, such as finance, organizational behaviour, marketing and strategy, to understand the motivations behind some of the companies' actions. Over all, I found the course very rewarding in that it gave me the opportunity to visit some amazing companies, meet interesting individuals and further expand my professional network.

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Adrian can be reached through his LinkedIn profile.

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