Joseph Doucet directs the Natural Resources, Energy & Environment MBA program at the University of Alberta School of Business. He talks about why a good location matters for a business school offering an energy focus.
Edmonton is pretty far north. Why would someone want to go up there for an MBA?
Alberta is a natural location because of the significance of the energy, resource, and environmental sectors in the provincial economy. Our students come from all over the world, and upon graduation, have gone to jobs in the public and private sector in Canada and the US, and elsewhere. Although it is rooted here in Alberta, clearly the preparation and opportunities we give our students are global, because energy, environmental, and resource problems are global.
Business schools in London might want to exploit the advantage they have in terms of international finance. Here we take advantage of the fact that the energy and natural resource sector is so prevalent in the economy, so there are lots of opportunities for students to speak to business leaders, government leaders, and thought leaders in these different areas. We take students up to visit the oil sand plants or mines, we visit gas plants, electricity generation facilities, and pipeline and storage tank facilities.
Your program started ten years ago, before climate change really became such a big issue. I suppose a lot has changed in the industry with more government intervention in the sector.
One of the things that comes to our students in many different ways is the fact that energy markets are, for the most part, quite regulated. We see with the election of a new president in the United States, there’s going to be a lot more government intervention in the energy marketplace, whether that is renewable programs for electricity or a waste repository for a nuclear waste, or a strategic petroleum reserve. On the environment side, everything environmental is regulated directly or indirectly.
We are a business school. We like markets. We want people to be entrepreneurial and so on. But they have to understand which markets they operate in. What the scope for strategic action is. What the scope for regulation is. Even if you’re a die-hard capitalist and going out in the market, you have to realize that strategy is very closely tied to government policy. You have to understand that.
Is the potential of renewable energy one of the big draws to a program like yours?
Absolutely, but there are probably as many reasons as there are students for applying to a program. We do have people who are more driven by societal goals or environmental consciousness.
The MBA programs attracts as broad a range of students as any graduate program, because they come from all over. If you’re going to do a Master’s degree in biology, you pretty much have to have an undergraduate degree in biology, whereas with an MBA program, people come from everywhere. We have students from education, engineering, geology, economics, and so on. The ones who enter the energy specialization are a little bit more heavily weighted toward engineering and science, but we certainly do have a number of students who come from other sectors, and who want to transition themselves into the energy and resource sectors through the MBA.
What do employers want from your grads?
They want the basic skills that people ordinarily get from an MBA: the understanding of accounting, finance, as well as governance and strategic issues. What potential employers want in addition to that is students who have analytical ability; who can bring more than a cookie-cutter approach: students who are going to be able to look at a problem and think creatively about how to solve it. Also communications skills – good oral and written skills. We can’t overemphasize the importance of those enough to the students.
Photo: University of Alberta School of Business