Eye on the Prize

A brilliant plan is only half the entrepreneurial equation

Great ideas are a dime a dozen, but bridging the gulf between idea and execution is at the heart of entrepreneurship, and that’s where the hard work of earning an MBA can help.

While studying for his undergraduate degree in journalism, Darcy Hughes was drawn to the world of business, but he wanted to avoid big corporations. “I thought, I’ve got all these ideas and I don’t want to be formed into whatever a big-box company needs me to do,” he says. “I’d like to create my own world.” This conflict pointed him in one direction: entrepreneurship, and a return to school for a graduate degree in business administration. 

At UBC’s MBA program, Hughes became involved in an entrepreneur-focused class that would provide him with his ­breakout idea. The lesson paired MBA students with engineering students in a real-world 
scenario requiring the team to form a business project and plan. This exercise, paired with the managerial skills learned at UBC, paved the way for Hughes to found Recon Instruments Inc., a manufacturer of ski goggles with a built-in GPS system that displays speed, altitude, vertical drop and other data on the inside of the goggle lens.

Like Hughes, Marc Gaucher credits his MBA program for much of his success as an entrepreneur, saying that he “might not have gone into business without the confidence gained from an MBA.”

Gaucher is the managing director and co-founder of The Metro Group, which includes a Kelowna restaurant, a try-it-and-buy-it wine bar, and three specialty liquor stores in Victoria and the Okanagan. While business interested him, Gaucher started his career in the public sector working as a secondary-school teacher, eventually becoming an administrator at the University of Victoria. After being turned down for a job because he lacked a master’s degree, Gaucher went back to school, this time focusing on business. However, the jump was harder than he anticipated. Gaucher recalls his first finance class where, after painstakingly preparing a cash-flow chart by hand, he found that his classmates were working on Excel spreadsheets. “What took me an hour-and-a-half took them about three minutes. So needless to say, spreadsheeting was a lesson I learned very quickly,” says Gaucher.

Both Hughes and Gaucher highlight the importance of an MBA program’s focus on what Gaucher refers to as the “soft skills” of business, particularly for those hoping to embark on a career as an entrepreneur. For Recon founder Hughes, this meant a heavy dose of human resources and organizational behaviour: “The psychology of running all these people from different backgrounds – that was the most important piece for me.”

Gaucher credits his MBA education for his win-win negotiation skills, which he claims are invaluable. He says the “ethical approach to negotiating” that he learned in the UVic MBA program helped him get the most out of all of his business relationships.

Hughes says his UBC MBA helped him broaden his business perspective, explaining that one of the most important lessons he learned was how to use his Vancouver roots to strengthen Recon’s local identity, helping “make it palpable” globally. And the education didn’t hurt in broadening his own personal perspectives either: he reports that his job “requires” visits to the world’s top ski hills and the biggest ski and snowboard events around the globe.

– Sarah Fullbrook