The view from away

Pat Bradshaw is an optimist. The dean of the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University is bullish on Atlantic Canada’s prospects. It’s an attitude she has held firmly since moving to Halifax from Toronto in 2012. “I tend to look at the positive, and there’s a lot of positives happening in this region right now,” she says.

Bradshaw took her position at Saint Mary’s after being coaxed away from York University’s Schulich School of Business. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, she says, and a position that she feels can help make a difference in the economic prosperity of Atlantic Canada. “The Sobey School of Business is a driver of economic prosperity,” she says. “We’re bringing international students here who are spending money. We’re generating jobs. We’re graduating students with the skills the region needs. We’re developing senior executive education for the succession crisis that’s going to happen. And we’re taking knowledge and translating it so we understand phenomena in new ways—to share it with businesspeople.”

The Sobey School of Business has launched a new centre called the Atlantic Research Group on Economics of Immigration, Aging, and Diversity to bring economists and other experts together to address issues around demographics and diversity, which are critical issues for the region. The David Sobey Centre for Innovation in Retail and Services addresses the radical transformation taking place in the retail and service sector—changes brought about by the Internet and big data. “If retailers don’t learn how to leverage that data to focus on their customers and create something that’s a unique experience, they’re not going to survive,” says Bradshaw. The Centre for Leadership Excellence and the Centre of Excellence in Accounting and Reporting for Co-operatives are also providing research and support to the business community. “We’re working hard to get our research into the world,” she says. “It’s not ivory-tower stuff. We’re building a bridge to the business community.”

The school is also working hard to bring a new respect to the concept of entrepreneurship. That much-maligned word describes the mindset that Atlantic Canadians need to embrace to take us into a prosperous future. Bradshaw says that the Sobey School has started exploring the concept of entrepreneurship in a way that academia never has before. “When I did my undergrad at Queens, we never used the word entrepreneurship—it wasn’t an option,” she says. “You did a bachelor of commerce, you studied big business. Our students, even if they don’t want to start a business, are embracing the idea of being entrepreneurial, of being more engaging with risks. You can feel the transformation. Those young people are going to bring a whole new dynamism into the world of business.”

That entrepreneurial mindset begins on day one as each new student at the Sobey School of Business is encouraged to envision a new business idea and learn how to pitch it and build it. It’s a process that happens in a multinational, multicultural environment that’s ripe with new thinking and new ideas. “I say to students, it doesn’t mean you’re all going to do start-ups, but you have to have that bold thinking. You have to be resilient and take risks.”

Bradshaw says that the much-touted complaint that students who study in Atlantic Canada will only take their knowledge home to China, Nigeria, the Bahamas, or other parts of North America shouldn’t be a concern. In fact, having a network of educated people with formative ties to Atlantic Canada spread around the world represents a huge asset for the region. “If we don’t have that external focus, if we don’t have the networks around the world, if we stay insular in this region, we’re not going to compete,” she says. “The challenge we have is making sure the students come together, not in an international university but in an internationalized university. We don’t want students from one country in a clique over here and students from another country over there. We want the transformative potential of those cross-cultural interactions.”

Atlantic Canada has a number of competitive advantages when it comes to doing business, says Bradshaw: the region’s coveted lifestyle, the close networks that exist in the business community and a spirit of entrepreneurship that’s bred deep in the bone. ”The roots of this region are based on ocean-going trade. There’s a rich history of adventuring and entrepreneurship here. The more recent history scares people, and we’ve been focusing too much on the negative. But underneath there’s a real optimism, drive, and spirit of innovation. There are so many great business leaders in this region who are quietly going about doing their business, and they’re doing great things and growing world-class companies. They can compete with the best business leaders in the world. I don’t think we have anything to feel bad about.”

Bradshaw feels at home in her adopted city and says the flurry of cranes, construction, and economic activity she sees around the city remind her of the days of the Toronto transformation two decades ago. “Halifax is starting to feel like a magnet city. People are choosing to be here. They’re seeing the possibilities. We don’t want to lose everything that’s wonderful about the city of Halifax, but it feels to me like it’s just on the cusp of something magical happening. We’re on the verge of something great.”

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