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Sobey gets a ‘reality check’ on its contribution to the Nova Scotia economy

The Sobey School of Business has been evaluated by the Brussels-based European Foundation for Management Development, an accrediting body with members in 86 countries, including Canada.

Riley Smith

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

Canadian business schools often publish glowing self-evaluations of their impact on the local economy.

This week, the Sobey School of Business at St. Mary's University in Halifax took a different tack. It released an independent report that cited Sobey's "substantial" contribution to job creation and the economy in Nova Scotia but also revealed gaps in areas where the school thought it was strong.

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The evaluation – the first of its kind for a business school in North America – was carried out by researchers with the Brussels-based European Foundation for Management Development, an accrediting body with members in 86 countries, including Canada.

EFMD's Business School Impact System assessed Sobey on seven broad measures, including contribution to the economy, education, business development, research and social issues.

The report estimates that Sobey contributes $329-million annually (directly and indirectly) to the Nova Scotia economy, recruits 43 per cent of students from abroad and assists 250 international students a year to land their first job in the region. As well, every year 40 per cent of Sobey's 800 graduates stay and work in the province.

Despite the positive findings, the report also contained a "reality check," says Sobey dean Patricia Bradshaw.

"We had set up the visits for the external [examiners] around themes we thought would be real impact areas," she says, such as entrepreneurship. "What came back [from local stakeholders] was that we may think we are wonderful in entrepreneurship but we haven't made the case."

The report's external feedback "is very powerful," says Dr. Bradshaw, with staff and faculty now looking at new ways to measure program impact.

For example, Sobey offers a master of technology entrepreneurship and innovation, with 22 startups established so far by graduates. But until now the school has failed to track revenue growth and employment of the startups – one indicator of the program's long-term impact.

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"It's a message of transparency, accountability and trustworthiness," she says.

Her emphasis on accountability stems, in part, from a 2014 independent Nova Scotia commission that warned of a continued downward slide for the province without collective action to reverse current demographic and economic trends.

"That call to action resonates with me," says Dr. Bradshaw. "This [EFMD report] was a way of contributing to the region and holding ourselves accountable on a range of measures that is more than economic."

Sobey, a member of EFMD, paid $30,000 for the report and will receive continuing assistance to refine its impact study over next three years.

New institute to investigate impact of female leaders

Do female leaders enhance the performance of a company or is its success due to various practices that include gender equity?

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Answering that question – and others about diversity and leadership – is a research focus for Sarah Kaplan, inaugural director of the recently-announced Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

"When you start to look at what that relationship between women on boards and women in leadership and performance signals, it can simply be that you have a really good organization … and [one of its strengths] is the appointment of women into leadership roles," says Dr. Kaplan. "So what you are measuring is a good organization and not the effect of having women in leadership."

Dr. Kaplan says the institute plans to conduct research – and express it in layman's language for business leaders – on gender-related corporate practices. For example, under what conditions do female directors add to a company's bottom line and what are the pros and cons of gender-equity quotas?

In recent years, she notes, researchers have identified the positive role of female leaders in sectors, such as mining, where traditionally they were under-represented in the boardroom. But Dr. Kaplan says more research is needed to see if the same pattern holds in other sectors.

"We just don't know enough about that relationship [between gender and performance] to be able to make blanket policy recommendations," she says.

The creation of the institute comes as new data show slow progress on adding qualified women to corporate boards.

Last month, the Ontario Securities Commission reported that women account for 12 per cent of seats on boards of TSX-listed companies, up one percentage point from 2015.

Dr. Kaplan says the early response to her institute is positive. "People are coming out of the woodwork to say it is critical to the Canadian economy and to the world economy and we want to be involved."

School's in for technology startups

Canadian entrepreneurs start new ventures but often fail to transform them into big businesses. Just one in 1,000 small businesses grew bigger than 100 employees in 2013, according to a Business Development Bank of Canada survey cited by the Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Next week, the institute is set to roll out its new "scale-up program," with a first cohort of 10 emerging technology companies receiving mentoring and other advice in coming weeks from experts in Canada and Silicon Valley.

Follow Jennifer Lewington and Business School News by subscribing to an RSS feed here.

Contact Jennifer at jlewington@bell.net

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