Canadian business schools score top marks from senior execs

U.S. business schools like Harvard and Wharton are losing their prestige among Canadian executives.

In fact, many senior execs are turning to homegrown talent, preferring to hire business grads from universities like Queen’s and Western, according to a new survey released by the Environics Research Group.

“Forget the popular perception that businesses are looking for grads from the United States. They think Canadian schools are just as good, if not better,” said Derek Leebosh, a senior associate at Environics.

The research firm interviewed more than 400 presidents, CEOs and general managers and the majority of them (69 per cent) said Canadian business schools are “just as good” as American schools. Around 18 per cent believed U.S. schools are better and eight per cent said Canadian schools are superior.

“It shows that we’re far from being a country with an inferiority complex. The top execs think our business schools stand up quite well south of the border,” he said. “It shows execs are feeling quite bullish about what Canada has to offer.”

However, there may be other factors contributing to this shift in attitude by employers. Frank Price, Calgary-based vice-president of human resources at NexInnovations, a technology consulting firm, said Canada’s lowly loonie may have something to do with it, especially when companies are considering sending employees back-to-school to upgrade.

“I’m looking at the costs of Canadian and U.S. schools. I’d be hard-pressed to convince my president to send me (to an American school) with our dollar.”

Price studied in the U.S., and during that time — the early ’90s — he believed U.S. schools were better. They were at least two to three years ahead of what Canada was offering, he said. But times are changing and Price knows better than to be an education snob.

“Whether you come from an Ivy League school or not, the issue comes down to what is the business need. The school you come from doesn’t cut any mustard. You have to show what you’ve got.”

Actually, employers will overlook what schools candidates attended as long as they have impressive resumes. This becomes increasingly important as people climb the corporate ladder.

“When you’ve gotten to a certain level over time, the school you went to doesn’t really matter. Once someone has a track record, everything else falls away,” said Elan Pratz, Toronto-based regional managing director for executive search firm Korn/Ferry International.

Pratz said the reputation of a school can often sway an employer but it can also work against a candidate who doesn’t live up to expectations. So students still have to choose their schools wisely, and the survey alludes to which schools senior execs think are best in the country.

Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. topped the list with its executive MBA program (30 per cent), while the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business in London, came in second (19 per cent). The University of Toronto’s Rotman Business School was third. Queen’s also received the top ranking for the best non-degree executive education programs. Again, Western was the runner-up.

Canadian schools have definitely gained some ground on the U.S., but achieving their level of brand success takes a long time, said Pratz.

Danny Szpiro, director of Queen’s executive MBA program, is well aware of the effort it takes to create a well-branded institution. He said most Canadian universities have been stepping up to the challenge, broadening offerings and raising the bar on business education.

“Historically the efforts to rank business schools has been U.S. based. Many of the schools in the U.S. had decades to raise their status,” he said. To gain the same recognition, our schools have to cater to the needs of Canadian employers.

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