A big (missed) opportunity for Canadian marketing MBA programs

It's no secret and not news to say that the opportunities for great marketing training have diminished significantly in Canada in recent years. Historically, Canada had a great reputation for turning out some of the world's finest-trained and best-qualified marketing managers.

It’s no secret and not news to say that the opportunities for great marketing training have diminished significantly in Canada in recent years. Historically, Canada had a great reputation for turning out some of the world’s finest-trained and best-qualified marketing managers. Canadians were actively sought out for international positions because they were regarded as well trained in the ‘North American’ (American) style, but more culturally sensitive and globally focused than Americans (yes, I know, it’s also true that we were cheaper to hire than Americans).

But that has all changed. As more and more of the major consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies focus their strategy, product development, manufacturing and communications efforts globally, the opportunity for Canadian marketers to get the kind of training and exposure to projects that they had historically is diminishing.

We all understand this. And yet, the demand for well-trained marketers has remained constant. In fact, the demand extends beyond the CPG industry; as financial services, automotive, telecom etc. become savvy as to the core marketing fundamentals that a good CPG training program provides, they are seeking CPG grads to staff their marketing departments.

To be fair, there are still tremendous training and development opportunities in Canada, both within the global CPG companies, and those more local. That said, globalism, and its repercussions on the development of local Canadian talent, is a fact of life. Ask any brand manager or director who has been charged with hiring a ‘qualified’ assistant brand manager or brand manager in recent years. They find people with very little ownership or project leadership, a lot of creativity, a lot of trade-focused promotional activity – but how many have conducted a Concept and Use test? How many have developed a product from concept to consumer, in Canada? Fewer and fewer.

So – what is the answer?

The answer is an opportunity for the business programs of the Canadian universities to develop CPG marketing programs in alliance with the major CPG companies.

The number of different streams of study available through Canada’s business schools is tremendous – everything from the core basics – Financial Management, Accounting, International, to more specialized programs – Agricultural, Arts & Media, Not-for-Profit – are offered. But why no CPG Marketing stream? Why is no school regarded as ‘the’ school for those interested in a CPG marketing career? Why are the business schools and the CPG companies not coming together to develop a marketing degree that is practical, corporate-friendly and distinctive?

If the schools and the CPG companies could come together, it would be a triple win. The companies would get a chance to have input on a course structure specifically tailored to their needs with regard to new hires. Plus, they would get tremendous opportunities to network with and access the best of these programs, as potential new hires – what would that do to their new hire success rate?

And, to be practical, the CPG companies would be able to reduce their training costs and hire students who can ramp up to effectiveness far more quickly. They would also be able to develop cases and courses of study which highlight some of their more successful marketing initiatives – a great way to improve the reputation of the Canadian marketing community.

The students would receive a marketing education which is practical and more focused on the type of career activities that they will be doing in their jobs, with better access and understanding of how these companies work. The program might include internships or coops allowing both company and potential hire to size one another up. Plus, if the companies got really active in the program – sending in lecturers, allowing job shadowing and the like, then the ability for students to have an even better assessment of what kind of work they would be doing would be greater.

In short, companies would be able to use the academic institution as its training school for new hires, giving them exposure to the kinds of activities and experiences that they generally rely on the hiring companies to provide, such as advertising development, concept development, consumer research training, managing, promotion development and retailer overview.

The universities would win as their reputations grew as great schools for businesses to hire from leading to more and better students to choose from. In addition, their ties to these very important corporate partners would improve dramatically – allowing greater cross academic-business programs to develop, not to mention funding and assistance in teaching materials (real-life cases, ability to allow students to participate in real-world, ongoing marketing opportunities).

The opportunity is there, the need has never been greater, and I would bet the willingness of the major CPG companies to be a part of this would be high.

Michael W. Shekter is a graduate of the MBA program at what is now called the Schulich School of Business at York University. A career CPG professional, Michael has also taught marketing courses at both Schulich and The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. He is currently director of innovation for Maple Leaf Foods.