6 Questions: One-on-One with Wendy Cukier, associate dean, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University

Ryerson University's Management of Technology and Innovation MBA bridges the gap between management and IT.

In a perfect corporate world, IT professionals would be blessed with business management skills, and executives would have the technical savvy to leverage IT as a strategic partner. Unfortunately, a gap often exists between IT and upper-level executives. As a result, companies will invest loads of money in the latest, greatest technologies, even though they?re not aligned with business goals. But Toronto?s Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University has developed a unique MBA program ? Management of Technology and Innovation ? to fill that gap. Now in its second year, the program is designed to help companies deal with technological change in order to make smart decisions with regard to innovation. Leading the program?s development is Wendy Cukier, associate dean of Ryerson?s business school, and who has over 20 years of experience consulting on emerging technologies. We asked Cukier six questions.

• What is the greatest challenge currently facing the Management of Technology and Innovation program and what are you doing about it?

Technology is a very rapidly changing environment, so there are challenges to faculty in terms of keeping up-to-date. We?re lucky because at Ryerson all of our full-time staff members teaching the program not only have PhDs and research publications in the field, but they also have extensive work experience. And that really helps ensure they have their finger on the pulse of industry. Second, ever since the dot-com bust the market for technology education has been a bit soft, even though we know from the industry that there are acute needs for highly skilled professionals in technology sectors. A particular area that we?re sensitive to is ensuring that we attract well-qualified women as well as internationally educated professionals.

• Who else ? person or company ? do you feel is doing innovative work and in what way?

I worked on a book a few years ago called Innovation Nation where we profiled 34 Canadian entrepreneurs from different walks of life. Ted Rogers was one of the people we profiled in the book. Not only is he a media mogul and a major innovator in the technology sector, but he?s very community oriented. A lot of people don?t know it but the money that he gave [Rogers recently donated $15 million to the business school] was not for the business building, it was primarily for students. The donation was focused on making sure our program was accessible to students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to do an MBA. So I think Ted Rogers is interesting because he combines considerable business success in a pretty tough market with a really strong orientation toward giving back to the community.

• How would you describe your leadership approach/style?

To be perfectly honest I would describe my leadership style as contingent, which means it depends. So there are times when I will completely delegate and empower people who report to me to undertake a particular task from beginning to end with very little oversight. There are cases where I?m very participatory and engage my colleagues on, for example, what goes into the curriculum and how we?re going to market the program and what we?re going to prioritize in terms of our goal for next year. But there are some areas where I would describe myself as quite autocratic. It really depends, to a large extent, on what the problem is and what I think is needed to resolve it.

• The Management of Technology and Innovation program sounds very unique. What factors led to its creation?

I had spent a lot of my consulting career trying to talk people out of the latest and the greatest technology and really push them to do the kind of systematic analysis of what is it going to do for you. And I?d spent a lot of time butting heads with engineers and computer scientists, who seemed to have a very strong attachment to technology for its own sake. And one of the things I really liked about Ryerson?s Information Technology Management program at the undergraduate level was this hybrid between technology and management. The focus was always, “What?s the technology going to do for the business? What are the real costs? What are the real benefits?” So the MBA program was a natural evolution out of our Information Technology Management program. So far we?ve doubled [our enrollment] ? last year we started with just around 50 students between both the general MBA and the technology MBA. We?ve increased the quality of the incoming students as well, as measured by the amount of work experience they have.

• It?s common knowledge that Canada is facing a staffing shortage as baby boomers retire. Do you think Canada will lag behind other nations in terms of innovation because of this problem?

The Royal Bank of Canada chief economist published a study called Diversity ? The Competitive Edge that said in the year 2011 all workforce growth will be fuelled by immigration. So we have to find better ways to integrate people who are coming to Canada from other countries where they may have some of the skills that are required but not all of them. And we have to do a better job of developing bridging programs to integrate those people and provide them with good opportunities. The immigrants coming to Canada today have way more choices than in the past. What we?re seeing is people coming to Canada; they?re not getting the jobs that they want or think that they deserve and they?re going elsewhere. That?s a really new phenomena and I don?t think a lot of companies have really come to grips with that. And certainly our government policies have not come to address that in an effective way. I feel strongly that the whole issue of better accommodating diversity and figuring out how to integrate internationally educated professionals is probably the single most important competitive issue facing Canada over the next couple of decades. And not that much is happening. It?s going to get worse before it gets better.

• You?re co-founder and president of the Coalition for Gun Control and a founding member of the International Action Network on Small Arms. What motivated you to get involved in anti-violence programs?


I?ve never been especially motivated by making lots of money ? I?m much more motivated by trying to grapple with some of the big social problems. The Montreal massacre was a turning point for my interest in preventing violence against women. The whole concept of entrepreneurship and innovation is not restricted to business and technology. Jeff Skoll, who founded eBay, for instance, is one of the leading lights in this idea of social entrepreneurship and making sure that people understand they can apply their skills to make the world a better place.