Christiane Bergevin, executive vice-president, strategic partnerships, office of the president, Desjardins Group, talks to Gordon Pitts about her experience in the five-week Advanced Management Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
When I took the Wharton program, I was 42 or 43 years old and president of SNC-Lavalin Capital. It was the right time to transform myself as a leader for the next phase of my career in terms of mileage and having experiences to share with others in the program.
Several people in the company had already gone to the Harvard Business School AMP. I thought I could bring back a different way of thinking. Other programs also had a lot of finance and accounting in their curriculum, but I was already a graduate of a business school—I already had accounting.
One big reason for choosing Wharton was that its program was about becoming a transformational leader, gaining agility of thought. Because of pressures of time and speed, we often lose the ability to reframe an issue, and to understand there are various methods of thinking.
At Wharton, we studied leadership in different contexts; for example, leadership of a city, or leadership in the context of an orchestra. We talked about finding your own preferred way of thinking, as opposed to spending endless time on accounting cases.
It made me look very differently at the second part of my career. Because I was able to take the time, I saw that I really wanted to be president of a large organization. I was already leading a unit at SNC-Lavalin, and I had thought of myself as chief-financial-officer material. But now I saw myself as a leader in charge of a business. The program provided decision processes that made me a much better negotiator and a more global thinker.
The one thing the Wharton program did not have was an espresso machine. We had to go across the street to get our espresso, and we were losing time. Our group decided to get a machine, and I found myself championing the cause. It became a case study—an example of bringing together people of different backgrounds, and pursuing a common need. So now they have an espresso machine at Wharton. And after that, I could say: "That's who I am."