CEOx1Day Future Leaders Summit: Connecting student leaders with the C-suite
CEOs and other senior executives often impart their wisdom on stage at conferences, in media interviews, or even in their own memoirs. But what kind of advice would they give future generations in a more intimate, personal setting?
Odgers Berndtson’s global initiative, the CEOx1Day Future Leaders Summit, offers the answer to that question. Founded over 10 years ago in Germany, the annual event gives students in their third- or fourth-year of university the opportunity to have unparalleled access to CEOs, CHROs, and top executives in major cities.
This year, the summit was approached differently – it took place virtually to include more students from across Canada and to prioritize the health and safety of participants. And it did not offer a one-on-one experience, instead providing many opportunities to learn from and network with more of Canada’s most impressive CEOs and CHROs.
Two Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) students at the UBC Sauder School of Business, Cristian Mihailescu and Brendan Smith, were selected as finalists to join a cohort of 50 ambitious student leaders and attend the Canadian edition of the summit earlier this year.
Bridging the gap between students and the C-suite
Mihailescu first heard about this opportunity through his LinkedIn network of peers who were part of previous CEOx1Day cohorts. After reading about their experiences learning business and leadership skills directly from CEOs of top Canadian companies like Lululemon, Cineplex, and VanCity, he eagerly awaited the next application cycle.
The selection process is meant to prepare applicants for future job searches. With personalised leadership assessments and interviews, it involves opportunities for candidates to receive deep insights and feedback on their leadership skills, including relationship-building, goal-setting, and strategic thinking, in addition to areas of development.
Mihailescu’s hard work and personality helped him stand out and he was invited to be part of this year’s class of finalists.
Having an inside look at the C-suite experience with keynote speakers, panels, and networking in breakout rooms with his assigned CEO, left Mihailescu positively surprised.
“My expectation of what being a CEO means is primarily formed through media,” says Mihailescu. “It was very interesting to see that someone who is portrayed as a larger-than-life figure with so much gravitas and power can also be human.”
Informing career trajectories with mentorship
Working towards a future career in the public or non-profit sector, Mihailescu was also surprised that the CEOx1Day Future Leaders Summit brought on several CEOs from companies representing his area of interest.
“We typically hear from leaders at the top of for-profit companies,” says Mihailescu. “Having connected with Nizar Ladak, Chief Executive Officer at Digital Research Alliance of Canada, for direct mentorship, was very valuable since it helped inform my career trajectory.”
“I had a preconceived notion that you can’t be successful if you’ve only worked in a non-profit organization. I am so grateful Mr. Ladak shared his personal career journey with me because I now know that there are many routes to professional success and can confidently choose this career path that I am passionate about.”
Gaining practical career management advice
When Smith first stumbled upon the application for the CEOX1Day Future Leaders Summit, he had been working closely with senior executives for two years through his role with start-up GetFresh Ventures. He was also simultaneously running 180 Degrees Consulting at UBC as a Managing Director.
Enthralled equally by both the C-suite and founder experience, the event piqued his interest. Smith says the summit offered practical career management advice and he learned how CEOs manage their careers, what challenges they’ve overcome, and what they look for in young talent.
“Through this experience, I learned a lot about the leadership development it takes to become a CEO and successfully manage teams to drive results,” says Smith. “Hearing about how they navigated workplace challenges like imposter syndrome humanized them because students also regularly experience those feelings.”
“I can definitely apply a lot of my learnings from the panels and workshops to my current roles and hope to become a better leader with their advice.”
Balancing personal and professional lives
For Smith, a mental health advocate who has volunteered with a crisis centre in Vancouver since 2018, a big curiosity about the life of a CEO was whether they are able to strike a balance between their personal and professional lives.
“I am a huge proponent of self-care and was worried about what taking on a role as important as that of a CEO would entail,” says Smith. “Before the summit, I had a preconception that CEOs would work 18-hour days and give a hundred percent of their time and energy to their companies for the best results.”
“Surprisingly, one of my biggest takeaways from my conversations with the CEOs was how much they prioritised work-life balance for themselves and their teams.”
Cultivating a lasting relationship
Though the event looked different this year, both Mihailescu and Smith took advantage of the opportunity to cultivate relationships with top executives and their cohort.
Smith says the peer-to-peer connections he made with “future leaders” across Canada was particularly memorable and he hopes the students can continue to support each other during their growth.
After graduation, Mihailescu plans to relocate to the east coast of Canada for work and he hopes to continue the mentor-mentee relationship in-person with Ladak, who is based out of Toronto. Smith plans to continue working at GetFresh Ventures and has taken the initiative to set up coffee chats with CEOs to facilitate those one-on-one experiences for himself.
The CEOx1Day Future Leaders Summit has planted the seeds for an enriching community of student leaders and CEOs. As they stay connected, they can support each other’s personal and professional development and form lasting relationships beyond the summit.