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Vol 38  No 1
August 11, 2005





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Creating a culture of confidence

By Kim Thornhill

Leslie O’Reilly is stepping down after 13 years at the helm of the Marine Institute.


Leslie O’Reilly has seen a lot of changes in his time with the Marine Institute. He’s been a part of MI since 1981, when the then College of Fisheries was housed in the former Memorial University campus on Parade Street. He was vice-president in 1985 when MI moved to its new location on Ridge Road. And in 1992, when the institute became affiliated with Memorial, he stepped into his role as executive director, the role he is set to leave in June of this year after 13 years.

In that time Mr. O’Reilly has seen a robust strengthening of the MI program base, to include, among other things, its degree-granting status at the baccalaureate and master’s levels. He has watched MI’s unique brand of applied “problem resolution” research break new ground industry-wide. He has steadily guided MI’s international outreach work as it crossed countless borders to secure a global reputation for the institute, its faculty and students.

But to Mr. O’Reilly, the single greatest accomplishment of his term in office, and indeed the impetus behind all of the institute’s success, is what he proudly refers to as “the culture” of the place ­ a culture of confidence among the people of the Marine Institute that Mr. O’Reilly says has reached maturity within the past several years.

“It’s about an organization’s culture that has become endemic, it assumes its own energy and it isn’t dependent on any one person. It isn’t dependent on my being there,” he said. “There’s a sense that we’ve deepened our visioning and our sense of ownership for the institute, and that many people feel the need to drive initiatives. That is the key that has enabled the institute to grow stronger, to be more responsive to its mission.”

The MI mission, now fully articulated in the Vision 2020 document Mr. O’Reilly pursued during his extended term, is industry-driven, international in scope and above all else, focused squarely on the success of its students.

Mr. O’Reilly is thrilled with MI’s partnership with industry ­ a relationship he says is founded on trust of the institute’s programs and people ­ and how it has translated into unmatched levels of employment for MI graduates. He cites the successes of MI’s respected research centres in delivering practical solutions to industry problems worldwide. And as he leaves his post in June, Mr. O’Reilly is confident that his team is focused on the common vision that is propelling MI into its future as a global oceans institute.

“The challenge for us is to be standard bearers for the future,” he says. “If we can position MI to be a leading institute in the world whereby with quality programs we graduate good people, we will position them to be successful in the marine and oceans industries. Our objective is to place good graduates in the international oceans sectors so that they will be leaders in those industries. Not just participants, but leaders.”

Leadership is the simple, yet powerful, theme underlying the Vision 2020 blueprint for MI’s future: to become nothing less than a World Oceans Institute setting the standard for education, training, innovation and research (see sidebar for details). That visioning statement is the product of a series of extremely productive sessions with faculty, staff, students and industry stakeholders of the Marine Institute over the past two years, and a fitting legacy for the man who, as a self-described “student of leadership”, has helped set the course for the Marine Institute for more than two decades.

Mr. O’Reilly calls it “the art for the future”, a masterpiece of consultation and planning that paints a picture of where the Marine Institute can go and what it can achieve as it pushes forward into its next 10 years. He plans to stay involved in the process, keeping on top of emerging issues and opportunities, and lending his expertise to several boards, committees and other initiatives that will contribute to the social and economic development of Newfoundland and Labrador, especially the rural areas of the province.

The Marine Institute will continue to be “the most critical institute” in terms of the future of Newfoundland and Labrador and its young people, Mr. O’Reilly says. The culture of confidence that he has worked so hard to nurture across the entire MI community is what ultimately will define the success of the Vision 2020 statement.

“I firmly and honestly believe it is achievable because we have great people in this organization. We have a community of people steeped in a culture of believability, a culture where they believe in themselves and have built trust and confidence with their stakeholders. It is an environment in which most of my colleagues here have connected their own skill sets to the institute’s mission and vision. That is a major accomplishment for any organization.”

“There is a psychic energy between our employees and the vision for the Marine Institute. It’s exciting, and the most difficult challenge I have is to leave it.”


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