Frank earns CEO-for-a-day stint

Frank earns CEO-for-a-day stint

Dollard des Ormeaux resident selected for North American first

By Robert Frank

Less than two months before graduating from University of Ottawa with a commerce degree, Robert Frank got to spend the entire day in New York City, Feb. 17, shadowing MEGA Brands president Marc Bertrand.

The finance major (no relation to the eponymous author of this report), who grew up in Dollard des Ormeaux, and previously studied at West Island College and John Abbott, was one of 10 students selected from among some 5,000 applicants for a special program designed to give tomorrow’s prospective business leaders insight into what top corporate leaders do.

“It was pretty surreal,” Frank told The Suburban the following day. “It was an experience I don’t think that any other student is likely to have, getting to observe his leadership and learning how he runs his business. He was a very down-to-earth guy, and the insights that he shared were very interesting.”

“The perspective that he gave me will help to make me more competitive,” he enthused. “I accompanied him to an international toy fair where many exhibitors were showing off their new products to prospective buyers from large firms like Wal-Mart and Toys’R’Us, as well as to financial analysts and news media.”

“One of the main takeaways for the students is to see with their own eyes what is the real job of a CEO, because they don’t know what a CEO does on a daily basis,” said Roger Duguay, managing partner at Odgers Berndtson, the executive search firm that organized the event. “The other is to make the connection between what they learned in school and the real world.”

Berendtson has run its CEO-for-a-day program for about seven years in Europe and elsewhere, but this year’s Canadian stint was a North American first.

“We match third- and fourth-year undergraduates with the CEO of a major firm, whom they get to spend the day with,” Duguay said.

Frank was one in 10 students who was selected from more than 5,000 applicants from across Canada.

“What sets them apart is their strong leadership skills,” Duguay explained. “They’re all strongly involved in student and community work, have very strong interpersonal communication skills, willing to learn and develop and take their studies very seriously. Some of them have already won awards and have done international work.”

“They’re young, ambitious, involved—and nice,” he added. “We’re not looking for big egos.”

“Marc and I did a tour of entire place, viewing all the displays of other companies. I was able to observe them pitching to potential buyers, what their new products were and how the differentiate themselves from one another,” Frank recalled. “I also got to pick his brains about his company and how he got started. He parents founded the firm, but he and his brother took over about 30 years ago. Their first product was building blocks. I learned how they first entered international markets and how they decide where they want to go in the future.”

“It definitely influenced me with respect to the executive mindset,” he added. “I have a much better idea now of how they lead what they do and the reasons why they do it.” 

Frank, who has worked in commercial banking for Scotiabank during his student years, is tentatively laying out his plans following his impending graduation.

“I might travel to the Middle East,” he said, though he remains open to other career opportunities that might arise in Canada in the meantime.

From Duguay’s perspective, the inaugural North American CEO-for-a-day program proved worthwhile.

“It entailed a lot of volunteer work,” he acknowledged, “interviewing 5,000 people across Canada.”

Duguay’s firm is better known for recruiting CEOs than placing students with them. Odgers Berndtson is currently helping VIA Rail Canada find a new CEO, and the firm has placed the last three governors of the Bank of Canada.

“All of our consultants wanted to help foster a link with the young leaders of the next generation,” Duguay concluded. “We rarely have a chance to get younger leaders involved.”
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Dollard des Ormeaux native Robert Frank got to spend a day in New York City, Feb. 17, shadowing MEGA Brands CEO Marc Bertrand. The company was subsequently the object of a US$460 million takeover bid by Mattel.
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