In a recent article, MacLean’s magazine threw a stone in the waters of education with a story about C students who grow up to become captains of industry (or Presidents of the USA.)
According to the senior president of a top Canadian bank, head-hunting only top students can be limiting. “During my Masters program, the academic superstars loved working on the sheer beauty of a math simulation, but people like that are a better fit in research and can add much more in that role.”
According to John Loewen of Loewen & Partners, "To move beyond the mechanical stage of corporate finance you need to be smart enough to create the product, but you must be able to communicate your ideas to your peers, team manager and larger groups. If you get into a boardroom and freeze in the headlights, then you will stay at the product level. I would much rather hire an interesting, energetic person than have the whole team be top graduates. I look at the drive of the person."
To rise to leadership roles, you need the energy to create a long-term relationship with clients; to get them to reach into their pocket and pay you cash for your technical skills and ideas. This client-cash transaction is the toughest part of business, one that most working Canadians do not do if they work in research, government, marketing or a team supporting the actual rain makers. A cold, naked, money focus is the life blood of a business, yet few can do it. It is done by those with resilience and that means high EQ (emotional intelligence) and as Jacoline Loewen, author of Money Magnet, points out - those with resilience get to raise capital to grow their companies.
The owner of a fund, Richard Wernham, filled his entry level jobs with only the top academic students from universities. After a few years, he noticed a disturbing trend: although these bright sparks could do the complex work assigned, they did not take risks, try fresh ideas or push for change. Without this creative tension the business was not evolving. When the fund owner sat down with his senior team and analyzed the reasons, he threw out their hiring criteria and began again. Sure, they wanted recruits who could handle the technical work but they also needed the self confidence to tackle incoming problems in new ways. The traditional “learner” may not have the inner rebel required to challenge the way things get done.
“The trouble with a top student is that they have bought into the system” says the management guru Tom Peters. “Crazy is the friend of innovation. Your people need to question the boss and speak up.”
Richard Wernham put his money behind his recruiting philosophy by starting a school with the vision of educating children to grow into well rounded, confident adults and leaders of tomorrow. Part of the curriculum is to spend time camping and canoeing in the Canadian North. There, it’s the great equalizer as children step away from the comfort zone of Lululemon identity brands to pitch tents, paddle canoes, swim in murky lakes, swat mosquitoes but most important of all, sharpen up those EQ skills with fellow campers. It is the quintessential Canadian cultural rite of passage – singing songs around camp fires with your mouth full of smores and burnt marshmallow.
Immigrant parents, new to Canada keen to see their children become leaders in Canadian business are strongly advised to pack off their children to summer camp - even the day camps - and watch the growth in their children. They will absorb Canadian values of taking personal risks but with awareness and co-operating within the group, not just working for their own achievement.
So parents concerned that little Jill or Sarah is not number one in the class, take a chill-pill and get her booked into a camp for next summer. Broaden her character and who knows where she will lead.