If you could follow a Canadian CEO around for a day, whom would you choose?
For the second consecutive year, Canadian university students in their third and fourth years can apply to shadow one of 21 notable chief executive officers for a day through Odgers Berndtson's "CEO x 1 Day" program.
Seeing a looming leadership gap, the Toronto-based executive search firm created the program to give young people a chance to improve their leadership skills, said Rob Quinn, a partner at the global firm.
"This is an opportunity to get students to think about leadership roles," he said.
After a tough selection process that includes online, telephone and in-person interviews as well as testing, Odgers will choose students with leadership potential and match them with a CEO from companies in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver.
Students have until Nov. 7 to apply online at www.ceox1day.ca. Odgers runs similar programs in Germany, Spain, Belgium and South Africa, with plans to expand further.
Kaiz Alarakyia, 21, now in his fifth year at the University of Western Ontario completing a business and chemical engineering degree, took part in the program this past February.
"I wanted to see what a CEO's job was like," he said. Often the view people have is that a CEO "sits in a glass tower looking at all of his employees from above." He also wanted to talk with "someone who had gone through the journey to see how he got there."
And Mr. Alarakyia found a mentor as he was paired up with Cisco Systems Canada CEO Nitin Kawale. After his experience with Mr. Kawale and seeing the path he took to get where he is now, Mr. Alarakyia "absolutely" believes he could lead a company one day. "I had only thought of [being a CEO] as a long-lost goal," he said. "I recognize that it's more achievable now. It's inspired me to pursue that goal further."
While Mr. Kawale isn't taking part in the program this year, he said he loves learning from the up-and-coming generation, and says that encouraging them to look at Cisco is vital to its future. "I get a real charge out of spending time with the next generation."
At the CEO-for-a-day program, "the young folks that come in have a ton of questions about what a CEO does and doesn't do," he said. And by spending a day with a CEO, "this opens their eyes that 'I could do that.' "
Mr. Alarakyia said he found his personal leadership style is similar to Mr. Kawale's, who is open and collaborative, putting forth "the idea that we're all working together, not the CEO versus everyone else."
Mr. Kawale said he wants to inspire Canada's youth to be ambitious and fully realize their potential. "There's a tremendous amout of talent in Canada but I don't think that everyone shoots for the moon like they do in the U.S. and Europe," he said.
For their day together, Mr. Kawale and Mr. Alarakyia took part in a variety of activities, such as meeting with his executive team, making a presentation, holding a media conference and meeting with staff. "I get them to sit down and talk to my leadership team too," he said.
Mr. Kawale also tries to impress upon students that they also have the skills to be entrepreneurial and don't need to jump at a full-time job right away.
"I think we need more of that in Canada," he said. "You only get one chance early on in your career to do that."
The students aren't the only ones benefiting from this program, Mr. Kawale said. By taking part, he's had a chance to interact with sharp young adults who can help him gauge the pulse of their generation.
"They expect flat organizations, they want to be heard," he said, and they want access to technology that allows them to work anywhere, any time.
As a leader, that gives him clues as to what his company has to do to attract the right talent, he said.
Mr. Alarakyia said an added benefit of the program is that he now has a direct line to a major Canadian CEO if he has questions about his career path, and ties to a great network.
"It's an incredible opportunity to network with the CEO of a successful company," he said. "And it lets students see how tangible a goal becoming a CEO is."
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