Greg Evans is an aspiring businessman.
In fact, the second-year student in Red Deer College’s network systems technology program is already developing his own information technology business.
So Evans was understandably intrigued when the founder of Parkland Fuel Corp., Canada’s largest independent marketer and distributor of fuel, spoke to his management class recently.
And when Jack Donald went a step further and offered to meet with students one-on-one, the young entrepreneur took advantage of the mentoring opportunity.
“It was kind of cool,” he said of his hour-long tête-à-tête with the man whose business accolades include membership in the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame and Calgary Business Hall of Fame.
More importantly, Donald gave Evans a helpful nudge toward the business world.
“He gave me a lot of good input on it, and actually made me want to do it even more.”
Jack Donald and his wife and longtime business partner Joan Donald are the first Entrepreneurs in Residence at the college’s Donald School of Business.
As such, they’ve committed to sharing their knowledge and experiences with students at the downtown satellite campus that’s named in their honour.
The college has already compiled a list of some 50 business people and entrepreneurs to follow the Donalds in its mentorship program, said Red Deer College president Joel Ward.
These run the gamut from business owners to real estate moguls to vice-presidents of financial institutions.
“When we conceived the idea of moving the Donald School of Business downtown and connecting it more to the business community, we thought, what ways could we take advantage of the immense talent that exists in our downtown?” said Ward.
The Entrepreneurs in Residence program is the result.
The insights of battle-scarred business people are a perfect complement to the theoretical lessons taught to students in class, said Ward.
“For example, you probably would never see in a textbook a statement like this:
‘If you want to be in business, you’d better be able to lie awake at night and wonder if you’re going to be able to make the payroll, and if you can’t handle that pressure, you probably don’t want to be running your own business.’”
This kind of perspective, and the real-life stories that the Entrepreneurs in Residence will be able to share, are what many business students want and need to hear, said Ward.
“That’s what resonates with students.”
The business people who participate in the program will each do so for an approximately four-week period, he said, donating a few hours a week to speak to classes and meet individually with students.
The college hopes that some of its students will also get a chance to work on real projects for local businesses, such as market research and developing marketing plans, said Ward. Employment opportunities might also result.
“We know that students get jobs right out of these programs, based on the fact that they’ve been able to interact with these entrepreneurs and business owners.”
The Donalds laid the foundation for the Donald School of Business through a $3-million donation to the college. Their service as its inaugural Entrepreneurs in Residence further illustrates the couple’s commitment to post-secondary education.
“Young people are the future of our country — full stop,” explained Jack.
He believes local students might benefit from the lessons he and Joan learned during their years in business, and also from the varied perspectives of other local entrepreneurs.
For instance, Jack has come to recognize the importance of effectively marketing yourself and your product or service. And Joan knows the importance of being grounded and living a balanced life. Career and financial success are important, she said, but so are family, friends, community and health.
Such perspectives would be valuable to young people preparing to embark on their own careers, suggested Patrick O’Meara, chair of business and commerce at the Donald School of Business.
“What a wonderful opportunity for them to really get some insight from somebody who’s built a multibillion-dollar business — a true Canadian success story and a true Alberta success story,” said O’Meara, who’s a big proponent of the Entrepreneurs in Residence program.
“I’m really quite excited about it because of the fact that applied learning model is going to be applied right in the classroom with the experience of people like Jack and Joan.”
The Donalds said they’re pleased with the Donald School of Business and the direction it’s going.
“I’d like to think that the Donald School of Business is and will in the future attract the brightest and the best,” said Jack.
Joan agreed, stressing the importance of offering a complete business education locally so that young people don’t have to move elsewhere.