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Why climb a mountain? Because it’s there ... to teach business lessons

Haskayne’s Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business takes some students on outdoors adventures, such as a mountain climb in the Rockies, to teach group interaction and leadership.

Haskayne School of Business

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

Learning how to lead is more than a classroom exercise for some business students.

A five-day trek into the Canadian Rockies with a group of strangers whose collective fate rests on everyone working together provides a test of leadership and decision-making skills for a select group of undergraduates at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business.

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The leadership expedition is one of several outdoor adventure programs offered through Haskayne's Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business, which this month received $3-million from school alumni Hal Kvisle, former president and chief executive officer of TransCanada Corp.

He recalls taking his MBA at Haskayne as a part-time student at night while working by day in Alberta's oil fields. "I found the combination of real-world decision-making and academic learning was pretty terrific," he says.

In a similar vein, the centre's backpacking expedition creates an opportunity for students to apply what they learn in class about leadership and problem-solving to a real-life situation. A team of 12 students, accompanied by two faculty and two representatives from Outward Bound, set the route and assign tasks to each other to ensure a safe trip up and down the mountain.

"We are talking about adventure education involving some level of risk," says Jennifer Krahn, executive director of the centre. "There is a consequence to the decisions you make not only for yourself but also for your colleagues. If you choose a bad route, everyone hikes up a very uncomfortable side of the mountain."

The donation, paid out over several years by Mr. Kvisle, a member of the centre's external board of advisers, will serve as an endowment to expand participation in various outdoor adventure programs.

Since the leadership expedition was introduced two years ago, Ms. Krahn says she has seen "strong transformational impact" on students, some who subsequently take on volunteer roles at the university before graduating. "Many of these students form networks that support them in other activities," she says.

For Mr. Kvisle, Haskayne's Calgary location and its outdoor education programs give the school a competitive edge in a crowded field.

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"Haskayne has proximity to an incredible concentration of business leadership in downtown Calgary … and we have the fantastic Rocky Mountains and Foothills," he says. "The outdoor environment is something most other places don't have."

In discussions over a possible donation, he says he and school faculty "were of a common mind that this outdoor theatre of operation, if you will, is something that should be taken advantage of."

Specialty business degrees gain traction

European business schools have led their North American counterparts in offering specialty graduate programs for those with little to no academic background or work experience in the given subject.

Increasingly, Canadian schools are expanding their offerings, with the latest a 12-month master of management degree to be offered by York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto this September.

The move is consistent with global data released this month by the Graduate Management Admission Council that shows 23 per cent of prospective students are considering only specialty business master degrees, up from 15 per cent in 2009.

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The appeal of the new degrees is understandable, according to Kevin Tasa, program director of the new master degree and an associate professor of organization studies at Schulich.

"It gives an opportunity for people with non-business degrees to, in one year, hopefully get a leg up in the job market," he says. "It's designed to focus on what the market needs."

The programs offer a focus on effective communication, working in teams and an introduction to strategy, he says.

Based on inquiries to date about the new program, Dr. Tasa says "there seems to be great excitement among students."

He expects some students might use the degree to start their own business or as an entrée to employment in the corporate world. By third term, all students work on an "enterprise consulting project" that deals with a real-world problem posed by a company.

As an added attraction, graduates of the program will be eligible for advance standing in Schulich's MBA, enabling them complete that degree in one year instead of two.

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Dean's new book makes summer reading list

In a list of 17 new books for "creative leaders" to read at the beach, Forbes magazine contributor David Slocum cited Achieving Longevity: How Great Firms Prosper Through Entrepreneurial Thinking by Jim Dewald, dean of Haskayne.

Dr. Dewald, whose business credentials include serving as a former CEO of two real estate development companies, says he wrote his book because he thinks business leaders are too focused on corporate efficiency instead of innovation.

"We might be driving a race to the bottom in the Western world," he warns.

Corporate donations expand specialty programs at two schools

An aboriginal business mentorship program at Cape Breton University has received $500,000 from Royal Bank of Canada, with funds matched by the federal government under a 2013 budget commitment.

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The five-year gift from RBC will be used to support the university's In.Business mentorship program that matches 300 high-school students from across the country with aboriginal business mentors.

Meanwhile, a $450,000 pledge from Coast Capital Savings Credit Union will contribute to the relaunch of the University of Victoria's Innovation Centre for Entrepreneurs, previously housed at the business school and now a campus-wide initiative. Among financial and other supports, UVic students now will be able to work full-time on developing an idea, including taking a semester off from academic studies to pursue an entrepreneurship co-op program.

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Contact Jennifer at jlewington@bell.net

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