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'It's like the lifetime achievement award at the Oscars'

Appelbaum wins national award for business teaching

by Barbara Black

When Management Professor Steven Appelbaum went to Toronto September 23 to accept another award, he took the organizers at their word and prepared himself to say just "a few words."

He was taken aback to find that the other three winners of the award had prepared substantial speeches, and that the evening was a glittering gathering of 60 chief executives and senior vice-presidents from across Canada. "This was one big deal," he said afterwards, in wonder. "It's like the lifetime achievement award at the Oscars."

Fortunately, Appelbaum, a former Dean of Commerce and Administration and a seasoned consultant, is fast on his feet, and made a disarmingly informal speech of thanks.

He was one of four winners chosen from 26 nominees for the second annual Leaders in Management Education Award. The award is sponsored by the Financial Post and Bell Canada, and is given to one professor in each of four regions, Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and Western Canada. The other winners were from Queen's, the University of Manitoba, and Dalhousie.

"We had to be outstanding in five categories," Appelbaum said. "Exceptional teaching, research, management consulting to major companies, academic leadership (which is where being dean came in), and public service -- I'm on the board of PBS [Public Broadcasting System] in the U.S."

Appelbaum joined the Management Department in 1979, and is now a full professor. He teaches only graduate classes, and his teaching evaluations rank consistently in the 90th percentile for the Faculty, which gave him an Outstanding Teaching Award in 1994. In the 1993 Guide to MBA Schools in Canada, he was ranked as the graduate professor with the strongest teaching skills.

For the veteran management professor, the new award and its growing prestige are an endorsement of business as an academic discipline.

"There's a misperception in other Faculties that we do a lot of consulting. In fact, only about 3 per cent of us do. But if we do, it's because we're on top of the game. We're also doing research that is being bought [by businesses]. It all contributes to the teaching. It's crucial to spinning our magic."

His approach to teaching is lively and practical. "You ask yourself, What should they do tomorrow, on the job?" he explained. "I use a lot of real-life scenarios. An exercise in how it feels to be powerless, for example, will change the way the student exerts power later, as a manager. You're giving them ways to behave; I've researched these things, so I know what will work."

When Appelbaum was dean, from 1983 to 1990, a number of innovative programs were introduced in the Faculty of Commerce and Administration which are still flourishing, including the Executive MBA program, the Awards of Distinction and the International MBA Case Competition.

He was the chief architect for Concordia of a CIDA-sponsored China-Canada university exchange that lasted from 1983 to 1991, and started the Centre for Management Studies, a for-profit unit that provides on-site executive education.

Appelbaum's expertise is frequently sought by companies and institutions, and his insights often appear in the press. He has received a number of professional honours, including three prizes for research papers this year alone. He has published nearly 100 refereed papers, as well as articles in journals and professional publications.

Dean Mohsen Anvari travelled with Appelbaum to Toronto, and, with the other three deans of the award winners, made a speech at the gala banquet.

Copyright 1998 Concordia's Thursday Report.