5 Questions: UBC Sauder’s new dean Darren Dahl shares his hopes for the university

He also talks about his reasons for resisting the private sector.

Darren Dahl

Credit: Martin Dee

He also talks about his reasons for resisting the private sector

1. You’ve been with UBC for over 20 years as a professor. What are your main goals as dean of the Sauder School of Business?

The obvious big one is how to leverage what we learned coming out of the pandemic, and figuring out how we build back. A lot of people got used to being at home in their jam jams, and there’s value to that, but there’s also value to being up here at UBC. We’re working with the school on creating and building that value, and growing the student experience. What’s the future of post-secondary education? Students are going to need an experience that’s transformational, that changes their lives and shifts their worldview. In Canada, we have great universities, and we want to make sure we’re on the cutting edge of producing students who are looking to change world, who are leading the way in contemporary issues like data analytics, climate change and Indigenous relations.

2. You have a PhD in marketing, but spent a large chunk of your career leading the Innovate BC program at Sauder. What did that entail?

That role is geared toward education and knowledge in innovation, sales and marketing. The course brought businesses, students and engineers together—it was kind of like that first school dance. We put them in teams together, the engineers build the product, the business students bring it to market. They’d build their own companies—shoutout to Innovate BC for supporting the university in creating cool experiences for students.

3. What are some of the more memorable ventures that were created out of the program?

Recon Instruments came out of the MBA level in 2006. They eventually sold the company to Intel. But they found each other in that course, so that’s kind of cool. A more contemporary example is BarrelWise, a company that monitors the aging of wine—they’re four years old now. So, there are these tangible companies that come from the course, but more importantly you can see the spirit of entrepreneurship. A lot of graduates take the course and get inspired or more excited about entrepreneurship. Casca Shoes and Red Label Communications are examples of that. They had that drive, and I guess we didn’t screw it up.

4. How has Sauder changed since you joined it in 2002?

A lot of things have changed, but some things are still the same. We still do research on finance, accounting and those things. What’s changed is how we do it, and how we look at current challenges facing society. EDI [equity, diversity and inclusion] for example—no one had those initials in their head at all, no one thought about it, we didn’t have it in coursework. Now, when you take the undergrad program, you take a course on it. Business these days has a bigger role when we talk about climate change or reconciliation. It’s on us to prepare the future leaders to be equipped to do that. In terms of the technical aspects, 20 or 30 years ago the professor would drone on like a bad Charlie Brown cartoon, just at the front, yapping, and you’d be madly taking notes. It’s more about being active in the classroom, getting hands dirty, solving problems and cases. COVID showed us a whole different way to think about post-secondary. It’s more dynamic.

5. Have you ever been tempted to leave the school for the private sector?

Well, I’ve had some senior CEO types say, Why are you doing that? Come work for me, run your own thing—why would you stay at the university? Being a professor is like being an entrepreneur without the risk. I’m free to do lots of different things. I like the teaching and the research and administration part. But I also get to get out in the business community. I’ve been honoured to work with companies like Rocky Mountaineer, Evo, Teekay, G&F Financial Group—to get to be with those organizations a bit, see the challenges they’re going through and try to help. And then take those lessons to the university. I think everyone should come back and be a professor. You’re surrounded by energy and then you still get to have some fun in the business community.

Last book I read: The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

Favourite TV show: Ted Lasso

Most memorable concert: Depeche Mode, 1990

Pet peeve: Bad drivers

Favourite place in B.C.: UBC!

Guilty pleasure: Craft cocktails, sticky toffee pudding