New dean sees JMSB taking off 

By Barbara Black

Sanjay Sharma has only been on the job for two months, but he has already met between 50 and 60 business people and hundreds of faculty members and students.

JMSB Dean Sanjay Sharma Magnifying glass

JMSB Dean Sanjay Sharma

His working day starts at 7 a.m., and on the rare days he doesn’t have a breakfast appointment, he goes to the gym. “I should do it more often, because going to the gym gives me an extra two hours of energy at the end of the day,” he said with a smile.

In an interview, the new dean of the John Molson School of Business explained why, after 16 years working for multinational companies, moving restlessly from assignment to assignment, he became an academic.

“We were in Nigeria, where my wife was working for the United Nations. The catalyst was when our daughter was born in Lagos during a military coup, we were confined to the hospital for 10 days while people were being shot in the streets.” International assignments in exotic places lost their lustre.

Sharma got his doctorate at the University of Calgary initially thinking that he would leverage his business experience to become a management consultant, but he enjoyed doing research so much that he decided to stay in academe. He became the Canada Research Chair in Organizational Sustainability, a field that he helped develop as a credible academic discipline.

In 1994, he was one of the founders of a new division called Organizations and the Natural Environment within the Acad-emy of Management, the leading research body for management academics. The division now has close to 1,000 senior and emerging scholars producing high-quality research in the field.

The research in this domain has expanded from a focus on the environmental footprint of organizations to corporate sustainability, which includes organizational impacts on social equity and poverty eradication. He is still active in the field, working on several books with internationally renowned academics and public figures and research projects with scholars in Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Spain.

Sharma’s business breakfasts in Montreal have taught him two things. The JMSB is the business school of choice for prominent anglophones, and they want to be more engaged in its activities.

“They feel we offer the right combination of practical and conceptual knowledge,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I meet graduates who are entrepreneurs — I think that’s something we do particularly well.”

There are challenges, of course. Increased enrolment has put quite a strain on the faculty; limited-term appointments have mushroomed, and for the first time, the JMSB is giving classes on Friday evenings. However, making structural changes to accommodate the increased workload on a permanent basis could have negative implications in the future if enrolment declines.

Sharma says the core undergraduate program is solid, though some of the elective courses are “a little dated.” Research-based graduate studies need strengthening in accordance with the mission of Concordia.

Doctoral programs in Quebec are unattractive to Canadians because the funding levels are very low as compared to nearby Ontario, where PhD students can count on support of $60,000 from the government over four years, and often matching funds from their university.

Sharma is also working on strengthening the private programs such as the Aviation MBA in active consultation with the JMSB advisory board and members of the aviation industry.

The Executive MBA “is struggling in terms of numbers, but has great potential.”

The accounting programs, especially the program focused on grooming students for chartered accountancy exams, are doing well.

The Goodman Master’s in Investment Management, which also offers CFA accreditation, has started to generate surpluses in Montreal. To build and develop the Toronto component of the program, Sharma is discussing a partnership with Ryerson, which has a new business school building in Toronto’s financial district. The chairman of Dundee Securities, Ned Goodman, who has been a great supporter of JMSB and underwrote the MIM during its start-up years, continues to support its growth.

A trip last month to China confirmed Sharma’s sense of the tremendous support of Concordia and JMSB alumni for the school. He met with members of the Concordia Hong Kong Foundation alumni chapter, which has about 600 active members. They have established entrance scholarships for Chinese students at Concordia and are planning a major fundraising event to coincide with the Beijing Olympics.

Sharma recently spoke to an influential group from Montreal’s Indo-Canadian community, and found them particularly interested in encouraging graduate studies at JMSB.

He has started a “bottom-up visioning and strategic process” to clarify and sharpen the JMSB’s sense of mission. The new building going up on Guy St. provides a potent symbol of renewed vigour, and he is determined to build on its symbolism.

“We’ve got some world-class professors at JMSB, the students are outstanding, just amazing, and the staff provides a nurturing environment,” he said. “We have all the right ingredients to take us to the next level — to be the best business school in Canada.”


Concordia University