At the end of their reign as Executive MBA candidates, the first class of the University of Ottawa's Executive MBA program in 1994 presented the Program with a gift - a statue of the Inukshuk. The Inukshuk was a symbol used by ancient Inuit people to guide them and to mark their travels and explorations. The Inukshuk still stands on its pedestal within the Centre for Executive Leadership lobby as symbol of the Class of 1994's journey within the Program and as an inspiration to those who followed them.
A tradition has formed since this time for the graduating class to leave a symbol of their own journey. It has evolved into the class presenting a gift to the Program Director which is symbolic of the area the Class visited within the International Business Consulting Trip and their final days abroad as a candidate of the Program.
The Story of the Class of 2014 and the Plate of Guangzhou
by: Melissa Olegario, EMBA 2014
What is 'Guangzhou'?
With only a week until the Closing Banquet, and knowing that the vast majority of it would be a mad dash to the finish line of trying to fit in interviews, negotiations, company visits and travelling in between, it made sense to choose the class gift on the only day we had scheduled for sight-seeing.
The second location we visited within the tour was a temple and sanctuary for the arts. After the guided historical tour of the temple, some of us entered one of the souvenir shops. We wanted the gift to be something custom-made and not machine-fabricated, that would be a true representation of Guangzhou as well as the spirit of 40-of-’14, the nickname for the Class of 2014.
The group was mesmerized by the magnificent silk embroidered artwork hanging on the walls of a dark lit room. Although it was not surprising to us, we were still slightly disappointed to be informed that embroidered silk paintings took weeks, if not months, to produce. This would not do given that we were leaving within the week and we were half way across the globe.
In another display there was an array of hand-painted plates and vases. Each of them had some representation of the city which was what we were looking for, but nothing seemed to be exactly what we were imagining for the gift. The cashier saw us centered around the display. She recommended that we speak to the artist himself- the artist was actually located on-site.
Speaking the Language
Our class member Connie was fluent in the local language. She conveyed our admiration to the artist about his work that was on display. We especially liked his use of the colours and minute attention to detail. Connie asked if it were possible that he could create a large hand-painted plate and would he be able to complete it before we departed from Guangzhou at the end of the week? The artist agreed and a mock image was created to include the iconic symbols of Guangzhou which were painted on several other works.
A Lesson in Leadership
It is amazing what an artist can produce when you effectively communicate your vision and let him field the artistic touches with his talent. It was a relevant application of our learnings on being an effective leader within business environment; a leader guides subordinates with a vision of the end result and allows them the space to discover and excel.
The Final Product
Three days later the artist sent the group an image of the finished product. It was beautiful in all of its detail: metallic-gold edging, the 40-of-’14 symbol representing our cohort, the iconic mountain-top statue of the Guangzhou mountain goats, the kapok tree with its blooms of the Guangzhou flower of bombax ceiba and the mountainous terrain of Guangzhou.
Connie arranged for the group to pick up the gift on the Friday that week- the last day in the City. The artist, Chen Bo, agreed to come into work on his day off which was the eve of a national holiday. He led the party of Executive MBA candidates Connie, John, Melissa in addition to Professor Dana Hyde into the souvenir shop. When he opened the red-silk covered box holding the plate, the group was overwhelmed with his painted creation.
The group took pictures of the artist with his master piece and expressed our gratitude for his efforts to complete the project before our departure and with such artistry and attention to detail.
Fragile, Handle with Care!
The 'mission impossible' of transporting the delicate plate from Guangzhou to Ottawa began that evening with Melissa dropping off the coveted red box at Professor Hyde’s hotel room. Professor Hyde was one of the few travelling back to Ottawa with a hard-cased luggage bag. Our travel agent, Sarita Sawhney of Voyages Cortravco, helped check the bag as priority to ensure safe handling throughout our connections. The mission and the 20 hours of travel were nerve wracking for Professor Hyde who was wondering if the plate would arrive in the same state it went into her suitcase. The group was overjoyed to hear from Professor Hyde when she landed in Ottawa that it had arrived safely. Connie picked up the class gift and joined forces at Michael’s craft supply shop where framing, matting and colours were selected to adequately display such a meaningful work of art.
Presenting the Gift
The gift was presented to the Telfer Executive MBA program director, Sophia Leong, at the Class of 2014's Convocation celebration. Class President Bobby Firth-Tessier and Vice-President Lisa McDonnell addressed the group and presented the gift. Connie further explained the significance of each of the symbols on the plate to the Telfer Executive MBA staff, faculty, graduates, family and friends who had joined us for the celebration.
At Home at the Centre for Executive Leadership
The frame containing the plate as well as the graduation pictures of the 40 candidates of the Class of 2014 is on display at the Centre for Executive Leadership with the other gifts the Program has received over the 20 years since the first gift was presented of the Inukshuk.