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Five MBA grads reflect on what the degree means to them

Read what Breanne Everett, Warren Dyer, Rohit Gupta, Doug Schindel and Lesley Conway have to say

May 1, 2014

by Alberta Venture Staff

Alberta Venture’s Guide to Business Education
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Breanne Everett

Title: President and CEO, Orpyx Medical Technologies
School: MBA, Haskayne School of Business, Class of 2013

Breanne Everett is an overachiever. A medical doctor and plastic surgeon at the University of Calgary, Everett completed her MBA at the Haskayne School of Business while also running Orpyx, a then-startup health-care technology company. She says learning while also doing – taking the MBA and applying the lessons to her startup – ­enhanced her grasp of business. “Both of those things taken together enabled me to take learnings from one and apply it to the other and vice versa,” she says. “Having that startup environment, where you can apply what you learn in the MBA – you’re really dealing with every aspect of a business – enabled me to accelerate that learning.”

“I went into the MBA being more analytical”

Everett says her MBA changed her approach to problems she’s encountered at Orpyx, as well as the way she thinks of them in the first place. Before, she says, her mindset and vocabulary were science-based; after, there has been a melding of the scientific with personal. “I went into the MBA being more analytical, [and] approaching problems more scientifically than when I left,” she says. “I did really notice a change when I would go back into a medical context and speak to people from a medical background. I felt like what I was saying was pretty normal, but they would talk about how I was speaking a different language now. The way you approach problems and discuss problems, and your business and your work, ends up taking on a different pitch.”

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Warren Dyer
Photograph Ryan Girard
Warren Dyer

Title: Chief Visionary Officer, Group Six Technologies, and formerly president and CEO of Ulterra Drilling
School: Executive MBA, Haskayne School of Business, Class of 2008

For Warren Dyer, who recently co-founded a laser cladding business after years of success running a drilling company, completing an MBA offered him entry into the boardrooms of an industry he loved. “I got kind of topped out in my career,” Dyer says. “I’d made it up as far as I could go without getting an MBA.” Over that 20-year career, Dyer managed drilling operations in Venezuela for Halliburton Drilling Services before returning to Canada for a position with United Diamond, a drill bit manufacturer based in Leduc. But, he says, he was discovering that he’d gone about as far as he was going to without an MBA. “I wasn’t being allowed a seat at the table in a bigger company like Halliburton,” he says. “I got a lot of job offers from ExxonMobil and others, and then they found out I didn’t have my MBA, that I wasn’t an engineer, and it really put me back. They said ‘You’re going to have to go work in the field if you want to work for Exxon, to get into the office.’ That’s when I actually moved back to Alberta [in 2004] and took the MBA.”

It’s a good thing he did. In 2007, United Diamond was acquired by another firm, and Dyer was integral in that deal. “We sold to a private equity group out of Boston called Intervale Capital. “Dealing with those guys, never having been in any kind of negotiation for a company, nobody in the company had any experience at that, yet we were able to sell the company for a very good price and the three founders
that were left did very well.”

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Rohit Gupta
Photograph Ryan Girard
Rohit Gupta

Title: President, Rohit Communities
School: MBA, University of Alberta, Class of 2006

“Everybody has to be ­treated fairly”

Rohit Gupta is at the helm of Edmonton’s Rohit Communities, a housing company that his father Radhe Gupta named after him. That might sound like a lot of pressure, but Gupta has risen to it – and then some. Under his leadership the company has continued its tradition of winning awards from organizations like the Canadian Home Builders’ ­Association, and he credits his MBA degree with some of that success. He says it changed the way he thought about people, credentials and achievement.

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Before his MBA, Gupta says he believed everybody within an organization should be treated equally. But the MBA “helped me realize that everybody has to be treated fairly, which is a significant distinction,” he says. “You have top producers and you have people who are not top producers. When you have a top producer, you have to ensure they are treated and rewarded for their results, whereas people who are not top producers would have to be rewarded accordingly. That doesn’t mean top producers are allowed to break rules or go against the corporate culture. It’s just that they’re given a bit more freedom in certain areas.”

One good example of this philosophy is his decision to move someone from his IT department into management. He says the person may not have the credentials, but that he’s producing fine results. “That’s a function of the individual’s ability to overcome challenges,” he says.

Doug Schindel

Title: President, Weldco-Beales Manufacturing
School: MBA, Athabasca University, Class of 2005

Weldco-Beales Manufacturing makes parts for the big yellow machines you see on mine sites, according to its 64-year-old CEO Doug Schindel. He went into the shop for an upgrade of his own, emerging with an MBA from Athabasca University in 2005. He says the program reinvigorated his mind, which was his primary motivation for enrolling in the first place. But, he says, it also changed his approach to managing the company that he’d recently been put in charge of. “I’d only taken over as president of this company about a year before I started my MBA,” Schindel says. “With running a company, strategy is a very important part of it, so that was something that I managed to put to use almost immediately.”

Getting his MBA didn’t change Schindel’s job prospects at Weldco, but it did draw his attention to parts of his business that he had not paid much interest to before. “As with any sort of education, some parts will be applicable to some people and some not,” he says. “In my case there were some parts of the program that were very applicable and some I haven’t thought of since. [The courses on] human resources – even though I came to the understanding that I would not be a good HR person – gave me the understanding of how important HR is, and if you don’t do it, what the consequences are. And I realized the need for me to go out and hire a really good HR person so I didn’t miss out on that part of it.”

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Lesley Conway
Photograph Bryce Meyers
Lesley Conway

Title: President, Hopewell Residential Communities
School: MBA, University of Calgary, Class of 1989

In the 1990s, Lesley Conway was ­working in the housing industry while raising a family. She had completed her MBA at the University of Calgary in 1989, and after having a second child unexpectedly lost her job. “It was a devastating experience, but maybe that’s some of the learning,” Conway says. “Having my educational experience in my back pocket made me say ‘I’m going to dust myself off and move on the next opportunity.’ ”

She did. She was hired by Hopewell in 1996, became president in 2000, and has gone on to grow the company as well as receive plenty of awards for her leadership. “One of the biggest things I ­learned is how to think strateg­ically,” Conway says of her degree. “It’s probably the biggest takeaway. The second would be the importance of, and need for, working within teams in the business environment. The third would be, and it wasn’t called this back in the day, but EQ [emotional intelligence quotient]. So, we talked about using our gut or intuitive sense and that that came from wisdom and experience, and that it’s a very legitimate tool in the business world. I took that learning and was fortunate enough to be in a position where I was able to employ it as I moved into a very senior level as president at a relatively young age.”

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