New Ivey Dean embraces changing landscapes

Nation Wong // Special to Western News

Sharon Hodgson has had two constants in her life – family and change.

She moved 14 times in her first 21 years – back and forth across Canada, even dipping down for two stints in The States. For this daughter of an Air Force father, Winnipeg came the closest to being a hometown. But even claiming that is a stretch. There were simply too many stops to call one home.

“It seems like a lot. And maybe it was. But all that moving taught me something important – how to manage change. With each move, I had to find my ‘new’ way. Quickly assessing the environment, carefully selecting my new activities and friends became second nature to me.”

She kept moving later in life, as her career included stops with her own family in Toronto, Philadelphia, Switzerland, and Shanghai. But while her mailing address changed, her anchors remained the same.

“Growing up, home was always where my family was – my parents and two brothers. That has been a theme as I have continued to move a lot in my adult life. If you ask my family now where home is, they will ask, ‘Where’s my family?’”

Today, Hodgson knows that a lifetime of personal and professional change will serve her well as she begins her new role as Ivey Business School Dean, taking her first steps into yet another sector besieged by change on all sides. It is an “exciting challenge” she’s embracing.

“At IBM, I had the privilege of working with some of the smartest, most talented people and machines in the world. We helped people navigate through transformational changes in their business and take advantage of the opportunities presented by disruptive forces,” she said.

“At Ivey, I see a similar challenge – lead a successful institution through change as we take advantage of the opportunities presented by technical, governmental and competitive forces in academia.”

Hodgson earned a BA in Commerce from the University of Manitoba in 1987 and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. She also participated in the Advanced Executive Program for IBM at Harvard Business School.

After earning her BA, her classmates seemed to be heading in two directions – accounting or sales. But, Hodgson was drawn in by the variety offered by consulting. “I would not say I set out to be a consultant. But in it, I found something I really enjoyed.”

Currently, Hodgson is a member of the Board of IGM Financial Inc, and the Planning for Prosperity Advisory Board for the Ontario Minister of Finance. Her 30-year career has been in the consulting businesses of IBM, PwC, PW and Andersen.

As a senior executive with IBM Global Business Services, Hodgson led several multi-billion-dollar consulting businesses around the world where she drove growth and innovation. In her most recent role as Global Consulting Leader for IBM’s Artificial Intelligence, Watson, Advanced Analytics, Internet of Things, and Big Data business, she harnessed these new technologies to introduce AI and Big Data solutions to market.

Hodgson’s prior roles at IBM were serving as the consulting leader for the Growth Markets Unit in Shanghai and leader for North America’s Business Analytics and Optimization unit in Philadelphia. But the job she takes immense pride in is the turnaround she led while running IBM’s Canadian consulting business.

In addition to her roles running IBM businesses,  Hodgson was the lead consulting partner at IBM and PwC for several large-scale business transformations at global companies including Nestle, Merck, Pitney Bowes and FMC Corporation.

“I grew up in the business driving these big transformation programs. These involved massive process change, massive people change, enabled by technology,” she explained, noting the Nestle job alone involved the implementation of common business processes, common data standards, and common applications and infrastructure across locations in more than 135 countries involving 200,000 employees.

“While change has been a theme in my life and career, I don’t change for change’s sake. I change because there are opportunities that should be taken advantage of. If you don’t move, you run the risk of being disrupted in a way you don’t want to be disrupted. It is always better to lead than to follow when it comes to change.”

Although Ivey is her first foray into academia, she steps into a sector experiencing its largest disruptions in generations. Changing demographics. Evolving job market. Societal values. Technology. Tightening budgets. So many factors are conspiring against the traditional university model.

It is an environment that attracted Hodgson.

“Think about academia. It is getting disrupted in so many ways right now. Everyone talks about budgets, but budgets are just one part of that – a big part. There are many others. Take technology. It is already changing how we deliver education, how we personalize it, how make it more meaningful,” she said.

“In these challenges, there are a lot of exciting possibilities.”

At IBM, university grads were the lifeblood of the organization. She got to see firsthand how university’s finished products fared in the real world.

“I met a lot of young graduates who were truly special,” she said. “These young people were keen to get involved, but they wanted to do so with things that mattered to them. If you can tap into that as an employer, you can do amazing things. They are so smart and so much more worldly than most of us were at their age.”

She stressed students need to be prepared for the change they will encounter in the workforce. “The flexibility necessary to navigate the dynamic nature of business is difficult to learn, but I view it as one the strengths of teaching at Ivey,” she said.

Hodgson also sees education as extending beyond the years one spends as an undergrad or graduate student. She is committed to a lifelong learning process, one that provides “different injections of learning” for people when they take on new roles or change careers.

“This can mean rethinking the traditional ways people gain access to education.”

Ivey has an extraordinary history of producing relevant research in business and an alumni network that is the envy of business schools around the world, Hodgson said. She sees disruptive forces in education presenting an opportunity to galvanize the faculty’s brand and enhance its contributions on the national and international stage.

She would also like to see Ivey remain “a flagship brand” for the university while simultaneously being viewed as partner across the institution.

“We need to be thinking about what the graduate of the future looks like, what are the best skills we can give them and how we can work together to build that individual. Be it business, medicine, technology, arts or anywhere, there needs to be collaboration across all disciplines, across the university, to achieve that. Western’s dual degree programs with Ivey are a great example of university collaboration done right.”

As dean, she knows there will be a learning curve. University governance is far different than the corporate world. And the pace of change can be, well, a tad more deliberate.

But for someone who has made a career of change, she is up for the challenge.

“I love dynamic environments and being around smart people,” Hodgson explained. “Most of all, I need to be part of something striving for positive societal outcomes. I need to feel good about what I am doing as an individual, as part of an organization, and how we are contributing to society, whatever my ‘product’ is.

“I have found that at Ivey.”