As technology, globalization, sustainability considerations, and other emerging issues continue to reshape the world, organizations need to reimagine what they stand for and how they operate to create a sustainable and prosperous future for all.
With that in mind, Ivey brought together more than 200 senior executives, change-makers, and thought leaders to discuss critical issues of the present and the future. Ivey’s The Future We See Symposium at the Toronto Board of Trade included extraordinary keynotes, CEO panels and insightful breakout sessions.
Addressing critical issues facing leaders
The culmination of Ivey’s centennial celebrations, the event, held on Nov. 9, reflects Ivey’s new mission and strategic plan, which challenges the School to address the critical issues facing business and society through teaching, research, and outreach. The three critical issues Ivey is tackling are the evolution of work, Canada’s place in the world, and sustainability.
“The goal of the event is to highlight new ideas and insights so that we can re-envision our opportunities and responsibilities as business and community leaders,” said Ivey Dean Sharon Hodgson. “Our hope is that participants will feel inspired, energized, and empowered – and ready to make change for themselves and their organizations.”
How to thrive in an age of disruption
The event included separate keynotes from two best-selling authors on the forces that are revolutionizing the business world.
The opening keynote was delivered by Rahaf Harfoush, HBA ’06, a strategist, digital anthropologist, and New York Times best-selling author who discussed the intersections between technology, innovation, and digital culture. Harfoush is executive director of the Red Thread Institute of Digital Culture and teaches about innovation and new business models at Sciences Politique’s School of Management and Innovation in Paris. She has been recognized as a young global changer as well as a rising talent for her thought leadership in the fields of digital culture and technology.
Harfoush spoke about the deep cultural influence of generative artificial intelligence (AI) on the world, citing how AI is impacting everything from how we communicate and learn as well as how we evaluate human labour.
Warning that new technologies reflect our beliefs and ideas and may be infused with our biases, she urged leaders to consider and question what cultural and social issues might emerge as a result of moving into digital spaces.
“Ultimately, we’re not just making technological decisions anymore. Now, every time we make a decision, we have to think about the cultural and social issues that are applied to that as well,” she said. “Not only do we have to ask questions, but we have to be ready to follow those questions no matter where they lead us, even if it makes us uncomfortable. I believe the greatest skill we can develop is that curiosity.”
But that doesn’t mean organizations should shy away from technology. Instead they should view each disruption as an opportunity to better the world, she said.
Lessons from innovators
The final keynote of the day was delivered by Walter Isaacson, a journalist, professor, and author of best-selling biographies for Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and, most recently, Elon Musk. Among other honours, Isaacson made Time magazine’s 2012 list of the world’s most influential people and received the National Humanities Medal from U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this year.
Issacson gave a tour inside the minds of the geniuses he has profiled in his many books. He skillfully weaved together many traits consistently found in these innovators. He pointed toward such characteristics as curiosity, adventurousness, willingness to experiment, and being passionate and mission-driven as the core traits found in these pivotal figures throughout history.
“The reason they are geniuses is not because they are smart,” said Issacson. “What really matters is being creative, and being able to think differently and outside of the box.”
He also stressed the importance of understanding the moral consequences of technology and said universities have a key role to play in helping the next generation of leaders to figure out how to use technology in a moral way.
Insights from CEOs
Two separate panels of influential Canadian CEOs, mostly Ivey alumni, also weighed in on how the critical issues are affecting firms. One panel included Linda Hasenfratz, EMBA ’97, LLD ’19, CEO of Linamar Corporation; David McKay, MBA ’92, LLD ’19, president and CEO of RBC; and Jeffrey Orr, HBA ’81, LLD ’17, president and CEO of Power Corporation. The other panel included Shahrzad Rafati, founder, chairperson and CEO of BBTV; Scott Vanderwel, HBA ’98, chief executive officer of PointsBet Canada and Nicole Verkindt, HBA ’07, CEO of Buggy.
Participants were also divided up among six different breakout sessions throughout the day. Each session was led by an Ivey faculty member and included three experts on the subject matter. Topics included artificial intelligence and digital transformation, sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, transforming health care, the electric vehicle industry, and the future of leadership.
An important element of the day was the announcement of a generous $3-million gift to Ivey to continue work on critical issues. The gift from Sylvia Chrominska, HBA ’75, LLD ’14, a corporate director, will establish a new Chair position at Ivey focused on advancing research on the evolution of work. Rob Austin, a professor of information systems, is the inaugural Evolution of Work Chair. Austin’s work focuses on how some pioneering companies are breaking down barriers for people with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and dyslexia.