Leaders for a sustainable world

Business school receives largest-ever gift in u of g history

Dean Julia Christensen Hughes
Dean Julia Christensen Hughes

The University of Guelph’s business school now has not only a new marquee and home on campus but also substantial new resources and equally big prospects in everything from innovation and entrepreneurship to sports business. Following an early April announcement of the largest-ever single gift in the University of Guelph’s history, the former College of Business and Economics was renamed as the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics. With the donation and the renaming, U of G is marking its place in business education and scholarship, says Julia Christensen Hughes. Adds the dean of the former college for the past decade: “We’re signalling that we’ve arrived.”

In early April, longtime benefactors Stu and Kim Lang announced a $21-million gift to U of G through their Angel Gabriel Foundation, the latest of several major donations made to the University through the foundation. Their new donation will support numerous initiatives in the school, from four new academic chairs, to various undergraduate and graduate scholarships, to student competitions and experiential learning opportunities. From Schulich to Ivey to Rotman, says Stu, business schools are, well, business schools, and most carry the moniker of a prominent businessperson. For all its accomplishments, U of G’s former college had neither of those attributes – until now. The new Lang School is named for Stu’s father and renowned business leader, the late Gordon Saunders Lang.

The Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics consists of five academic units:

  • Department of Economics and Finance
  • Department of Management
  • Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies
  • School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management
  • Executive Programs (MBA/MA Leadership)

as well as…

  • John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise
  • International Institute for Sport Business and Leadership
  • Centre for Marketing Analytics

and links to…

  • University-wide initiatives, notably the Arrell Food Institute, a signature U of G project to feed a growing world population while sustaining the planet.

Adds U of G president Franco Vaccarino: “The Langs’ generous gift adds further prestige to our business programs and will help raise the profile of the school and the University among prospective students as well as the business community. This partnership between the University and the Lang family reflects common values, including our shared commitment to sustainability and our focus on community.”

The funding is also intended to help the school to further expand its already widespread sustainability initiatives, captured in its brand statement: Leaders for a Sustainable World. This past fall, U of G’s sustainable commerce MBA program placed ninth worldwide – ahead of such institutions as Harvard, Stanford and MIT Sloan – in the Better World MBA ranking published by Corporate Knights, a Toronto-based media company. Seated in her office located in the former Macdonald Hall residence, which was repurposed in 2016 to house the business school, Christensen Hughes says, “This honour recognizes our sincere commitment to producing a different kind of business leader – people who understand the power of ethical business to make a positive impact. For business schools to produce the kinds of leaders the world needs, we need a different approach to business education.”

Gordon S. Lang School of Business Launch

The Corporate Knights results also reflect a widening consensus. Early this year, business school deans and corporate leaders gathered at Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum discussed a new report released under the aegis of the United Nations Global Compact. Calling for inclusion of measures such as sustainability and corporate social responsibility in school rankings, the report’s authors wrote “there is a significant potential to have a positive impact on business school education – and therefore the global business community – by adjusting rankings and accreditation criteria to reflect the needs of an inclusive, sustainable 21st-century economy.”

That’s what U of G’s business brand statement is all about, says Christensen Hughes, who will end her term as the school’s longest-serving dean this spring. Earlier this year at Davos, she facilitated a session on rankings organized by the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative and Corporate Knights. In 2018, U of G was recognized as a PRME Champion – one of only two Canadian business schools with that designation – for its efforts to integrate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into its academic and research programs and community partnerships. The University also belongs to the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI), an international group of schools and organizations. Says Christensen Hughes, who will join the GRLI board this summer, “The Langs’ transformational gift will elevate the school to a new level. We are particularly excited by the opportunity to significantly strengthen our commitment to active learning, research with impact and community engagement.”

Prof. Rumina Dhalla
Prof. Rumina Dhalla

That idea resonates for Prof. Rumina Dhalla. She joined the Department of Management a decade ago as an expert in organizational identity and reputation. She’s now coordinating efforts to further embed sustainability across the school’s teaching, research and community engagement activities, including building on innovations introduced by colleagues, such as Introduction to Business, with its “Great Ethical Dilemma” case competition for all first-year B.Comm. students. Noting that the school belongs to both the UN Global Compact Canada and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Canada, Dhalla says, “We want to build our identity of being sustainable so that it becomes our DNA.”

Sustainability also encompasses community well-being and engagement, ideas that underpin the John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise, says Melanie Lang (no relation to Stu Lang), an adjunct professor in the Department of Management and the centre’s founding executive director. Founded 10 years ago, the centre received a $7-million gift last fall from John F. Wood, formerly president and CEO of W.C. Wood Co. Ltd., one of North America’s largest appliance manufacturers. Working with client businesses and organizations, the Wood Centre offers experiential learning opportunities for students looking to solve economic, social and environmental problems. Further afield, a course offered through the centre has taken U of G business and science students to Campobello Island, N.B., to analyze the island’s socioeconomic challenges and recommend solutions.

The centre’s Hub incubator program has funded and supported dozens of start-ups run by alumni and grad students – from Escarpment Labs, which provides yeast strains for craft brewers; to WELO, a food and beverage company that makes probiotic-infused bars and drinks; to Altilas Beauty, a cosmetics company that sources innovative and environmentally responsible ingredients. Some of those business ideas might come from participants in the centre’s newly equipped MakerSpace, which provides facilities and equipment for students from across campus to collaborate on prototypes. Among other benefits, the Wood gift will enable the centre to establish two named chairs in entrepreneurship and community engagement, says Melanie Lang, who is 2018-19 chair of the board of directors of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. “It’s important for students to be part of their surrounding community.”

“This gift will give us resources to become a world-leading business school with elite international faculty.”

Prof. Norm O’Reilly

Elsewhere in the school, the Marketing Analytics Centre launched early this year is intended to help bridge academia and industry through events and marketing research projects. Calling the centre a virtual hub, director Tanya Mark, a professor in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, says it’s the first research centre in Ontario to use business analytics and insights to explore consumer behaviour in food and health. “Companies have access to incredible amounts of data, and we want to help them improve how they engage with their customers,” says Mark. Besides helping organizations learn about consumers and improve business decision-making, the centre is intended to provide students with skills in analytics through collaborations with local companies.

Prof. Norm O’Reilly
Prof. Norm O’Reilly

That kind of industry-academia partnership also underpins the University’s new International Institute for Sports Business and Leadership, announced last fall. The only one of its kind in a business school at a Canadian university, the institute brings together U of G faculty members and grad students with Canadian and international researchers to study business aspects of the multibillion-dollar sport industry, including events, facilities, sponsorship, professional and participation sport, and links to health and wellness. “Sport-related businesses need the kind of analysis that can be provided by the academic world,” says founding director Prof. Norm O’Reilly, a leading sport business scholar and the school’s assistant dean of executive programs. The institute is run jointly by the business school and U of G’s Department of Athletics; its advisory board of more than 40 industry leaders is chaired by Richard Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee and a globally recognized champion of doping-free sport and fair play.

Ask O’Reilly about the impact of the new Lang gift, and he predictably reaches for a sport metaphor. “It’s a home run,” he says. “Unless you’re a Harvard or a Stanford, every named business school needs the credibility of a successful businessperson. This gift will give us resources to become a world-leading business school with elite international faculty.” At U of G’s new Lang School, that’s an idea worth sustaining.