The business world has certainly changed since the founding of Laurier's Lazaridis School of Business and Economics in 1966.
Global competition is more intense, trade barriers have come down and advances in technology are dictating the pace of change. Startup companies often lead the way when it comes to innovation, while some longstanding corporations are struggling to keep up.
And, as Micheál J. Kelly will tell you, everything moves faster.
"The biggest change is the pace of business," the dean of the Lazaridis School says during an interview in his office overlooking University Avenue on Laurier's Waterloo campus. "Competition has gotten so much more intense and it's become globalized, so the speed at which you can get things done becomes critical."
Laurier's Lazaridis School is celebrating its 50th anniversary this academic year, marking a five-decade tradition of excellence in developing Canadian business leaders, and moving faster than ever before.
In the years leading up to the founding of Laurier's School of Business and Economics, the university's precursor, Waterloo Lutheran University, was experiencing significant growth. By 1966, its business and economics program was ranked as the third-largest in Ontario, leading many to argue a new school should be formed.
In March 1966 Herman Overgaard, then chair of the department of economics and business administration, proposed the establishment of a new school. The university's Board of Governors approved forming the school the following month and Overgaard became its first director.
During the ensuing five decades, the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics has grown in size and reputation. Today, it is recognized as one of the top business schools in Canada.
The school's impact shouldn't be underestimated, Kelly says, with more than 2,000 graduates having started their own businesses, more than 500 serving as CEOs or presidents of companies and more than 4,000 working in the financial sector in downtown Toronto.
More than 6,000 students are enrolled in undergraduate, graduate and diploma programs in the Lazaridis School at Laurier's Waterloo and Brantford campuses this year. All are being prepared to meet the challenges of an ever-changing business world through immersive learning, co-op opportunities and a focus on entrepreneurship.
"We help students understand the nature of competition today, and the fact that things are changing radically," Kelly says. "Through our programs, students become adaptive thinkers — which means they can analyze and respond to the significant changes that are taking place in business."
As the Lazaridis School celebrates its past, it is also heading toward an exciting future. Through the Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises, the school is positioning itself as a global centre for research providing thought leadership in the area of scaling technology companies. Formed in 2015, the institute is designed to help grow promising technology companies into globally competitive enterprises.
"The goal of the Lazaridis Institute is to work with technology companies across Canada to give them the knowledge and connections they need to take their companies to the next level," Kelly says. "As a school, this enables us to get as close to the front lines as possible. In this way our faculty have the opportunity to work at the leading edge, and our students graduate prepared to contribute to — and lead— tomorrow’s businesses."
A $20-million donation by BlackBerry founder and philanthropist Mike Lazaridis and $15 million from the Ontario government supported the creation of the institute. For Lazaridis, establishing the institute was part of his vision to ensure Canada is prepared for the next “industrial supercycle,” an era he believes will be defined by quantum-based technology. Lazaridis' determination to create a “Quantum Valley” in Waterloo Region is based on the area’s established high-tech sector and outstanding educational institutions, including Laurier's business school.
A significant change for Laurier's business school came last year when it was rebranded the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics in honour of Lazaridis' contributions.
"Mr. Lazaridis realizes that if Waterloo is going to have one of the best tech sectors in North America and globally, having a strong business school is a key part of that," Kelly says. "Having this world-class businessman put his name on the institution clearly indicates that there's something pretty incredible going on here."
The name change was followed by the completion of a new home for the school. In September, faculty and students moved into the $103-million Lazaridis Hall. The vision behind the state-of-the-art facility – which also houses Laurier's Department of Mathematics – was to create an "active learning building" with classrooms, lecture halls, study rooms and auditoriums designed to maximize collaboration. The bright, open and architecturally stunning building was also constructed with environmental sustainability in mind.
"It's one of the best buildings you're going to find at any business school in the country," Kelly says. "Our students already take great pride in this facility, which befits the quality and reputation of the school."
While much has changed at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, some traditions have remained constant. Launched in 1975, the school's co-op program was the first of its kind in Canada. Today, it is the nation's largest business degree co-op program and remains an integral part of the school.
"What I hear from employers is that the graduates who come out of Laurier are well-grounded, they're adaptable and they know how to work," Kelly says.
Students take part in immersive learning experiences in addition to co-op, including case competitions, a new venture competition, sustainability competition and student-managed investment funds.
Another constant over the years has been a high level of engagement among students.
"We attract a very different kind of student and I think that's evident in the level of student engagement we see in our undergraduate program," Kelly says. "Lazaridis School students are very involved in student government and run 22 different and very active clubs. Students choose to come here because they know it's a great peer community, we provide an excellent education, they'll have the opportunity to get some work experience and they’ll be prepared to make a difference when they graduate."
After 50 years of inspiring visionary and innovative business leaders, the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics continues to adapt and thrive in changing times.
"There is a strong tradition of teaching excellence here," Kelly says. "That tradition will obviously continue. We'll keep working to prepare our students to meet the business challenges of today and anticipate the challenges tomorrow will bring."