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In October, a cohort of 20 Telus managers will begin a two-year MBA program at the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business.Brent Lewin/The Globe and Mail

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

When Telus Corp. decided to rethink the education and training of its future corporate leaders, the Burnaby, B.C., telecommunications company tried a new strategy: it sought proposals from 10 Canadian business schools.

Upheaval in the telecommunications industry – and technology-driven changes in how education is delivered – were factors in Telus reimagining its approach to executive education.

"The [telecommunications] industry is so dynamic and changes quickly. Is there something we could do differently to take into account how learning is changing?" Josh Blair, chief corporate officer and president of business solutions in Western Canada for Telus, asks rhetorically. "Learning is not just the classroom anymore," he adds. "Learning is virtual, group-based and experience-based."

The winning proposal came from the University of Victoria's Gustavson School of Business, a provider of executive education and other training to Telus since 2009.

Gufstavson recommended a private customized MBA, a twist on the traditional graduate business degree.

In October, a cohort of 20 Telus managers (nominated by the company but academically vetted by Gustavson) will begin a two-year MBA program whose content is largely that offered to full-time students on the Victoria campus. However, participants in the customized MBA will continue to work full-time with a reduced workload to accommodate their studies.

Unlike those in the regular MBA, Telus employees will pursue their studies through a combination of classroom learning (residential stints in Victoria and one overseas location), video lectures and virtual collaborations using Telus technology. By design, some of the program content will be tailored to leadership and strategy issues specific to Telus and the telecom industry.

"We knew we were getting the best of both worlds: a focus on our industry in a dynamic learning environment and the strong academic standards of a university," Mr. Blair says. High-performing managers with at least three years' experience at Telus are eligible to apply for the degree.

Assuming a successful experience for the first cohort, Telus plans to offer its business clients an opportunity to send their rising stars to Gustavson's customized MBA. "We are effectively doing a bulk rate for the MBA," Mr. Blair says. "We can offer them [Telus clients] very good value for money than if they were sending someone through a standard process."

Gustavson retains full control over admissions, progression through the program, faculty hires and content, according to dean Saul Klein. "All the normal academic requirements remain totally with us," he says. He emphasizes that the customized MBA for Telus is not subsidized by taxpayers, adding that faculty are paid separately to teach courses delivered to the Telus employees.

The financial terms of the deal with Telus were not disclosed. "Telus is paying the full cost; there is no subsidy and it is generating additional resources for the Gustavson school," Dr. Klein says.

The Telus customized degree is the latest example of experimentation by business schools that, worldwide, are adding specialty degrees and introducing other innovations to offset flat, at best, enrolment in traditional MBA programs.

"It's an interesting model of trying to adapt and contextualize an MBA program to enhance its relevance," Dr. Klein says. "It is a different model for how business schools interact with corporations." Still, he plans to evaluate the customized program with Telus before marketing to other companies.

Collaboration is a key feature of the Telus-tailored degree, with the company's senior leaders (including executive chairman Darren Entwistle) slated to teach in the MBA program through executive-in-residence and guest lecture opportunities. These senior Telus executives will mentor participants in the program who, in turn, will mentor others in the company.

While apparently not true for Telus, according to Mr. Blair, companies sometimes find that employees who go off to earn an MBA use it as a stepping stone to a new career elsewhere.

For Mr. Blair, the success of the customized degree will be measured by the impact of returning employees on the fortunes of Telus.

"Time will prove that," he says. "Are we getting that uplift in terms of leadership capability, collaboration and capability of these individuals?"

Manitoba business leader tapped for executive education post

The University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business has named Debra Jonasson-Young as director of its executive education programs, effective Aug. 4.

An Asper MBA alumna, Ms. Jonasson-Young was president of People First HR Services, held senior positions in a number of Manitoba companies and has served as a director on private and public boards, including Manitoba Hydro.

In announcing her appointment, Asper dean Michael Benarroch stated in a press release that "her proven ability to build strong and profitable organizations will ensure our executive education program remains at the forefront of leadership training and development, and strengthen ties with our partners in the business community."

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Contact Jennifer at jlewington@bell.net

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