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Guest speakers give B-school students voices from the real world

Hockey great Trevor Linden, centre, shares his leadership thoughts at Sauder.

Wendy D

Professors aren't the only ones who shape minds in the classroom. Guest lecturers can deliver knowledge and inspiration, as examples from these three schools show:

University of Calgary

At the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business, some business lessons are served over foie gras, steak tartare and freshly baked bread.

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It's a refreshing change for undergraduate students considering alternatives to careers in accounting, finance or energy, says Justin Weinhardt, assistant professor in organizational behaviour and human resources at Haskayne.

This semester, his six-week course, Working With People, focused on the restaurant industry. He brought in local chefs Cam Dobranski of Brasserie Kensington and Michal Lavi and Aviv Fried of Sidewalk Citizen Bakery to speak frankly on the challenges of entrepreneurship, while offering treats in class.

"Food can be emotional, creative, nostalgic, ethical or devoid of these attributes," says Dr. Weinhardt. "I wanted to reveal how our relationship with food could reveal interesting things about organizational behaviour. This forces the students to think about management concepts in different and possibly uncomfortable ways."

Mr. Fried graduated with degrees in physics and biomedical engineering and worked in finance before quitting to deliver his freshly baked bread by bicycle, while Ms. Lavi left a successful career in geology to join him. Along with Mr. Dobranski, they choose to sacrifice a higher bottom line to run their businesses in sustainable and ethical ways, including taking care of their employees.

"From them I learned that being a leader can transfer over to many different industries," said operations management student Kaitlyn Fulton, 22. Finance student Shelby Peters, 23, added the presentations offered valuable insight as she prepares to enter the work force. "Prior to this class I was never introduced to the behind-the-scenes part of owning a local business in Calgary," Ms. Peters says.

And for marketing student Enoch Tseng, 22, it was the speakers' discussion on chasing what the heart wants that resonated the most. "At the tail end of my university career, this is the most relevant," he says.

University of British Columbia

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At the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business in Vancouver, students have rubbed shoulders with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and most recently, retired ice hockey player Trevor Linden.

These are only some of the high-profile speakers the school brings in to provide a broader understanding of the world of business, while reinforcing the need for ethical leadership.

While it can be difficult for the typical student to relate to the career path of a legendary pro athlete, MBA student Ryland Haggis says he greatly enjoyed attending the school's recent Leaders Reception 2016. The annual event, which brings in senior professionals from the business community to network with MBA candidates, featured talks by Mr. Linden, now president of hockey operations at the Vancouver Canucks, and Victor de Bonis, chief operating officer at Canucks Sports & Entertainment.

"Learning about de Bonis' career journey was incredibly valuable and inspiring," says Mr. Haggis. "His emphasis on building and maintaining positive relationships really resonated with me as being one of the most important aspects of any business."

Speakers are chosen for their ability to provide insight into a wide range of industries, says Rodrigo Porto, associate director of MBA careers at the Sauder. "We look for speakers who students know or with whom they can identify, who have an important and meaningful story to tell," he says. "While each speaker has a unique personal story, one thing is always common: their passion for business and the pursuit of responsible leadership."

Ryerson University

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As a coach for young girls in elementary school, MBA student Samantha Cawkell was particularly moved by a presentation from the female head of a major public relations firm.

The talk by Lisa Kimmel, president and chief executive officer of Edelman's Canadian operations, was part of the fifth annual speaker series at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto.

"Lisa epitomized female leadership as she worked her way up. She took risks, stood up for herself and was authentic," says Ms. Cawkell, 28. "These are all messages I try to teach the girls to show them that nothing is out of reach."

The series brings to life many of the concepts discussed in an MBA course on corporate social responsibility, which are both overseen by professor Asher Alkoby.

Described by Dr. Alkoby as experiential learning at its best, the series is delivered in a lively conversational format framed by questions that students prepare in advance. "The questions often try to relate the discussion to the themes of the course, but other times they focus on the guests' professional journey, reflections on effective and responsible leadership, or current events in business and politics," he says. "Students enjoy hearing about the non-linear nature of successful career paths and find it comforting if not inspiring."

Previous speakers have included Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke, and Ken Taylor, former Canadian ambassador to Iran. Every session is followed by an informal networking reception.

Most recently, John Levy, CEO and chairman of digital media company theScore, Inc., spoke to the school's undergrad and MBA students on the importance of aligning what they do with what they love. "The other thing to remember is that every experience leads to the next one," Mr. Levy says. "You might be doing something that you don't necessarily enjoy or feel productive in, but you're always building your network and gaining experience."

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