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Vol 38  No 9
February 2, 2006


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Centre uses different skill sets to reach common goals

Breaking down barriers to business

By Aimee Sheppard

Bonnie Simmons, interim director of the P. J. Gardiner Institute, engages some of her team members in a brainstorming session. “We’re trying to build an open-minded environment that supports entrepreneurship,” she said. “Working with people from different backgrounds enable us to find stronger, more creative solutions to business challenges.” Also pictured are Gwen Mahaney, Donna Spurvey and Chad Somerton.

When Gwen Mahaney started working at the P. J. Gardiner Institute for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (PJG), she found herself apologizing for not having a business degree. However, she quickly learned that having a background different from her colleagues was a strength, not a weakness.

Located in the Business Administration Building, the PJG provides support to the small business sector and encourages an entrepreneurial environment. To reach those goals, the PJG relies on a team of professionals with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, some of whom are surprised to be working within the Faculty of Business Administration.

“When I was in university, my mom worked in a bank and I thought business people went off to work in a bank,” said Ms. Mahaney. “Immediately, I thought that’s not for me. But I’ve come to realize that business is as broad as the arts.”

As a program co-ordinator and venture coach, Ms. Mahaney develops training programs for young business people and provides start-up counseling. She is also the director for Shad Memorial, a summer program for high-school students from across the country.

“I wanted to do work that had some kind of social impact and I never really thought business had a role to play in that. But I’ve realized that so many people in the not-for-profit sector have business degrees.”

Similarly when Donna Spurvey, a research assistant in the PJG, applied to Memorial’s MBA program she didn’t tell anyone. “It was my dark secret,” she said. Ms. Spurvey holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Music and was considering a PhD in that field when she decided to change directions. “If someone had asked me five years ago if I could see myself in business, I would have laughed at them. Music was my life from day one. When I decided to pursue an MBA, I knew people would be surprised and maybe even disappointed.”

Since graduating with her MBA in May, she’s been working with the PJG on a study to support the province’s immigration strategy. She’s been travelling the province and interviewing immigrant entrepreneurs for a publication that will be used to illustrate the contribution this group makes to the provincial economy.

“To be a musician and a performer you need to be creative and have a lot of discipline,” she explained. “Taking all the creativity I used to put into music and translating that into a different industry, is, to me, very valuable.

“A general perception is that business people are stiff and aren’t creative but entrepreneurs are very creative ­ they have to be. You have to find a way to separate yourself from everyone else and that’s exactly what I had to do as a musician.

“The PJG is doing a lot with building business and helping people to create their own work. As an artist or musician, if you want to survive in that field you have to do the same. If you’re a musician you’re an entrepreneur.”

Chad Somerton, another research assistant in the PJG, can also see the parallels between his background and the business world. He took undergraduate courses in a variety of disciplines and is currently working on a master’s of sociology. “I think my knowledge of SPSS and statistics helped me get the job here,” he said. “It’s strengthened my ability to handle data, interpret it and draw inferences from it. Also, my sociology background has strengthened my ability to write coherently.

“I didn’t feel constrained to a job in any particular discipline. I think it’s limiting to approach projects with preconceived ideas, instead we should think about what we can bring to the table to change ideas or what can we glean from others’ perspectives.

“I’m working on a project for the business families centre now and I like knowing that my skills are being used to help family businesses throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. I don’t consider that ‘selling out’ like some people would like to believe. What’s wrong with taking the skills that you have and applying it to a job that has a purpose?”

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