Volume 29 - Number 8 - Thursday, January 16, 1997

Quebec honours Mintzberg

by Eric Smith

Management guru Henry Mintzberg has just added another award to an already impressive collection. In December he became the first management professor to receive the Léon-Gérin Prix du Québec, the highest honour bestowed by the province in human sciences.

A 30-year veteran of McGill's Faculty of Management, Mintzberg has been called "perhaps the world's premier management thinker." He has authored nine books, including The Nature of Managerial Work, recently named one of the 10 books which have had the greatest impact on U.S. management practices in this century. He holds six honorary degrees from universities around the world and is in constant demand as a speaker and consultant.

He was the principal architect of the joint doctoral program in business administration offered by Montreal's four universities and has now helped put together an International MBA program for senior managers which features a collaboration between McGill and business schools in England, France, India and Japan.

His belief in working cooperatively extends beyond academics. In the months before and after the referendum, Mintzberg could often be read in the city's op-ed pages defending federalism, or as he puts it, "defending sanity. Canada stands as a wonderful example of how people from different cultures actually function extremely well together."

Dividing his time between McGill and INSEAD, the European business school in Fontainebleau, France, Mintzberg has the opportunity to look at organizations on both sides of the Atlantic. And he argues that much of what Quebec has achieved in the federal system makes this an "absolutely wonderful place."

Mintzberg doesn't limit his study of organizations to the corporate world. He identifies four models of organization in society: capitalist enterprises, state-run organizations, cooperatives, and what Mintzberg calls "non-owned organizations."

Societies are well served by maintaining a balance of these different models, according to Mintzberg. And of the four, he has a particular regard for the non-owned model, and he finds a good example of this sort of organization right here. "An organization like McGill is actually a non-owned organization, as are most of our hospitals and universities," he said. "In other words nobody owns them, they're not state-owned, they're not privately commercially owned and they're not cooperatives. McGill's not owned by anybody. I think that's a healthy way to be."

Mintzberg argues that McGill can attribute "the quality of the people, the quality of the research, the level of thinking, the level of scholarship and the devotion that is really quite unusual" largely to this non-owned status.

"When you're a commercial organization, you're working for somebody else. You're an employee. You're just there to bring profit to somebody else's pockets. When you're working for government, you're usually in a very rigorously controlled organization where there's a very clear hierarchy and very clear kind of rules, whereas the university in general and McGill in particular is a sort of bottom-up organization. You just don't manage them in the way you manage another kind of organization."

Mintzberg says his International MBA program is attracting students from companies around the world, but it has also attracted some controversy in parts of the McGill community because it was established outside the provincial tuition subsidy system and carries a $30,000 price tag.

Mintzberg says the program is intended for experienced businesspeople who are enrolled in it by their respective companies and adds that he doesn't think "it makes sense to train 18-year-olds to be managers or even 25-year-olds in MBA programs. I think managers are created on the job. Then we bring them in and enhance their abilities, but I think they have to be chosen."

As to the concern that the program represents increased privatization at McGill, Mintzberg said, "I think it's fair for people to be worried about those things, but I don't see our program as remotely contributing to those problems." And he added, "The word privatized is ridiculous. The University is not a state institution so I think the word privatized is absurd. It's a question of full-fee versus subsidized. 'De-subsidized' might be the correct word.

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