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National student business conference described as “best ever”

BUSINESS ACUMEN: A team of U of T Scarborough students won $1,000 in the LIVE national business competition. From left are: Michael Lee, Mimi Hu, Prabhjot Singh Maini, Sharron Xiao, and Veronica Wang. (Photo by Kevin Ha.)

by Mary Ann Gratton

More than 150 business students from across the country came to Toronto last week for a unique management conference organized by students at U of T Scarborough.

The LIVE (Leading Innovative Visions to Execution) conference was held over two days, and was headquartered out of the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in downtown Toronto. The business conference requires undergraduate students to use a range of skills from all of the functional areas of management.

Teams from as far away from British Columbia and Alberta came to town to participate in the third annual conference organized by students in U of T Scarborough’s Management and Economics Students’ Association (MESA).

Management student co-chairs Sherry Feng and Akhil Gupta, both fourth-year co-op accounting students, said they and their 12-member executive planning team set ambitious goals for the conference – and the response from participants was that they surpassed those goals.

“The feedback we got is that we’ve really put our school on the map with this year’s conference,” said Gupta. “The delegates seemed to love every single part of it, and told us this conference was the best ever. They said that although we didn’t get paid, they never saw any event organizers or planners work harder or give so much of their time or energy than our executive team.”

The event began with an icebreaker social event, followed by the business competition, and talks led by top business speakers. An awards gala was held at the end of the conference. It featured a keynote address by Patricia Tiralongo, vice-president of TD Asset Management. The gala was attended for the first time by Professor Franco Vaccarino, principal of U of T Scarborough, and Professor Ragnar-Olaf Buchweitz, vice-principal (academic) and dean.

A Corporate Connections evening was held in the Fleck Atrium at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, an event that enabled students to mix and mingle with corporate leaders – a tremendous opportunity for undergraduates. The keynote address that evening was by Dave Dobbin, former president of Cogeco Data Services.

The business competition was the core event of the conference. In all, 30 teams of five people each were vying for the top spot. The business challenge this year invited teams to design a fuel-efficient car for the future, all the way from the initial design of the vehicle through to bringing the product to market. The competition was judged by corporate representatives from different companies, including the various sponsors, including Accenture, Siemens, Xerox, Certified Management Accountants, Export Development Canada, Kruger Products, Claymore Investments, and Ernst & Young.

The winning team was from U of T Scarborough, comprising the following five students: Prabhjot Singh Maini; Mimi Hu; Michael Lee; Sharron Xiao; and Veronica Wang. The team won a $1,000 prize and team members each won a one-on-one mentoring opportunity with a key business leader.

The executive mentors from business are: Tom Enright - Deputy Chairman of the Board, Canada NewsWire Group; James D. McAuley - Senior Vice President & Partner, KPMG Forensic; Stephen Scanlan - Head of Human Resources, Macquarie Ltd.; Dr. Susan Kichuk - Senior Vice President, Schenker of Canada Ltd.; and Andrew Coulson - Director of Specialist Sales, Microsoft Canada.

“What sets our competition apart is that it was developed internally and delegates can’t get that anywhere else,” said Feng. “Although there are other undergraduate conferences, they are rarely designed to address all areas of business. They are often focused on one area such as marketing or accounting. With this event, the teams had to be strategic and use all-around management skills.”

Nine months in the planning, the conference taught the organizers many lessons about organization and event planning, said both co-chairs. “We learned that small things and little details really make a huge difference,” Gupta said. “Planning ahead and encouraging our team to meet ambitious goals really mattered, and we learned an awful lot about logistics.”

Promotion of the conference was so successful that some 60 students had to be put on a waiting list. “We wanted the event to be a draw and to be popular, and a waiting list is certainly evidence of that,” said Feng.

“The delegates told us that the conference was intense and challenging and that they learned a lot,” said Feng. “It was all so exciting, and we got to meet so many great people. Organizing this event was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

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© University of Toronto Scarborough