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Leadership course set Humber president on path to success

John Davies, president and CEO of Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.

Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning

John Davies is president and chief executive officer of Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto. He has held the role for five years.

What's your background and education?

I have a BSc from the University of Wales, did a postgraduate degree in education at Oxford University, came to the University of Toronto to do an MA in geography, and I have a master of education degree from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.

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I was a high-school geography teacher in North York, Ont., and worked my way up to become the director of the Toronto District School Board. I went on to be chief of staff of the group that organized the amalgamation of Toronto school boards, and then sort of semi-retired for a very short period of time. I was contacted by an executive-search consultant asking me if I was interested in postsecondary education, and that's how I found myself at Humber.

How did you get to your position?

The job of amalgamating school boards had a sunset clause and we had come to the end of it, and it was time to reflect on where do I go next. The vice-president of finance position presented itself and it was a great opportunity for me.

The president of Humber retired after I had been here five years and I was fortunate enough to be asked by the board to take on that role.

What's the best part of your job?

As I walk through the corridors of Humber – working with young people who really have a focus on what career they want to choose and to work with them to pursue the skills they need – it's an immensely satisfying and rewarding job.

What's the worst part of your job?

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I actually don't think there is a worst part of this job. It is very time-consuming, and I'm sure if you were to ask my wife, she would talk about not being home enough. You're going to have to be out at a lot of events at an institution this large.

What are your strengths in this role?

I would hope that people would say they enjoy working with me, that I create a motivational climate by being very respectful and valuing all members of the team, no matter what job they do.

I hope that I make people feel respected and supported and also can create some kind of overall sense of vision of what the school is about and where we're going.

What are your weaknesses?

That's a hard question for someone who is retiring at the end of this year. You do find yourself, in these institutions, spread very thin. I know sometimes when I'm not at events and can't be at three places at once, people are disappointed, and I regret that.

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What has been your best career move?

When I look back on what is now a 44-year career in public education, the most important thing, without any question, was going to a leadership development program that the North York Board of Education offered in my mid- to late-twenties. It changed my view of what was possible for me.

The leadership program asked some interesting questions of me and forced me to reflect on what my talents might be and what are things I need to improve, in a way that was career changing because it gave me a different perspective of what was possible and launched me to leadership positions.

What has been your worst career move?

I don't think I've had any worst careers moves. I've made a steady progression through the ranks and it sounds very Pollyanna-ish but I've never had a job I didn't like.

What's your next big job goal?

My next big goal is working at what I want to do when I retire, at the end of this year, for the rest of my life. I have a particular passion for working in community development. I'm looking forward to doing more of that on a volunteer capacity when I retire.

What's your best advice?

For young people in school, plan to go on to postsecondary education and go as far as you possibly can. There's no question that postsecondary education matters in terms of getting a job and it will matter increasingly as the years unfold.

For people who are already working, my advice would be to work to the very best of your ability at the job that you have now because when it comes to being considered for promotion. Past performance is the best predictor of future performance.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Dianne Nice is The Globe and Mail's Careers & Workplace Web Editor.

If you know a Canadian executive with an interesting career, contact Globe Careers .

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About the Author
Report on Business Community Editor

Dianne Nice is community editor for Report on Business and writes about social media. Previously, she was The Globe's online editor for Careers and Personal Finance and has written about these topics for Report on Business and Globe Investor. More

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