Alumni Spotlight: Terry Ross ’92 —The Value of Entrepreneurial Thinking

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Terry Ross ’92 is the Director, Strategic Centre Initiatives at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary. In his role, Ross ’92 oversees the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Centre for Corporate Sustainability. We spoke with Terry about his life after LCS, his work driving innovation and sustainability in Calgary and the value of entrepreneurial thinking.

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Tell us about your life after graduating from LCS?

After graduation in ’92, I attended Bishop’s University and studied psychology and philosophy. It was interesting enough, but I didn’t have a particular mission or vision about where my life was headed career-wise. Following that, I moved out to Alberta and started working in a variety of sales jobs, which were fantastic because they were tough. They toughened me up to the idea of putting myself out there, getting used to rejection, and thinking about being empathetic to the particular needs of someone that you’re talking to. It was difficult to understand how valuable that experience was, until looking at it years later. 

I started working at a start-up invention development company and realized within a few weeks, it wasn’t very ethical and left. But, I had an idea for something that was quite interesting to me. I had a colleague who mentored me and said that one of the best things I could do would be to go do an MBA, so I enrolled at the University of Calgary. It was a thesis-based program, so I did a larger-scale research project on how start-up companies articulate their strategy and what role seeking investment plays in that. That was a really transformative experience for me. 

I found a position at the Ministry of Innovation and Science in Alberta, where we were thinking about ways we could introduce new policies and initiatives to catalyze knowledge-based economic growth. Alberta is well-known for its energy industry, which is baked into the DNA of the province, but the government is slowly wrapping its head around diversification to not only support the oil and gas industry but also support the research and start-up community. Then I started with an organization called iCore, which had the mission of making the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta world-class in Information Technology or Informatics. We would headhunt elite researchers and recruit them to work in universities in Alberta. If you bring in superstar researchers, they will bring in superstar graduate students who will then be available to work in the local area. The fruits of this take years and years to play out, but they are starting to now. 

I decided at that point to do my doctorate. I was working full-time, my wife and I were trying to raise multiple kids, and I was doing a dissertation — I’m not sure I would recommend this. For my PhD, I looked at the ways an economy like Alberta’s can change by a government taking action and creating agencies that can focus on economic opportunities that are science or innovation-based.  After finishing my PhD, I moved over to the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary where I direct the Centre for Corporate Sustainability and the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. 

How did your time at LCS help make you who you are today and craft some of your personal/professional interests?

I think one of the things that Lakefield did was put me in an environment as a young man that required stepping out of my comfort zone. If I had gone to another school at that time in my life, I probably would not have been challengedand therefore grow—in the way that I did. I started at the school when it was a boys’ school for Grades 9 and 10, and then it changed to co-education for my final three years. The school was a very different place before and after it went Co-Ed, and I’ll be honest, there were a number of challenges that I experienced in my first few years. But the friends, the network, and the community that I was part of during my Lakefield experience is by far the most resilient, supportive community that I’ve ever connected with, in my life. I’m still in touch with practically all of my classmates. And I think it’s because of the incredible shared experiences we had. 

I lived in Wadsworth House with Bob Armstrong and Grove House with Mike Arsenault, and it’s amazing that Mike is still at the school. When I was going to school, I don’t think I necessarily appreciated how good faculty members like Mike were, and how much of an impact they had on us. 

What excites you about your current role and what are some exciting initiatives that you’re currently working on?

I think the two centres I lead, can impact our students, our faculty and the research they do, and the community at large. With the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, one of the main things we do is help students realize that entrepreneurial thinking is important. This comes down to increasing student agency and teaching them how to experiment, take risks, and seek out resources. The challenging part is realizing that this isn’t just a skill for starting a new venture, but you can use these skills to help your current company. The other aspect that excites me is bringing resources to the business school to make us world-class in innovation. There are a lot of interesting challenges, including how to manage energy sector projects that directly impact Indigenous communities and understanding the best way to transition to net-zero by 2050.

The Centre for Corporate Sustainability helps companies, particularly those in Calgary, become more sophisticated in things like sustainable finance and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investments. The cost of capital for projects that are on the wrong side of this is going up, so that’s something that a lot of companies need to wrap their heads around. Alberta has a lot of people who think about the traditional, liquid hydrocarbon industry as the be-all and end-all, and another group that thinks diversification into software, medical, and sustainable energy is the way to go. The reality is that we’re going to have to balance both for a long time, so it’s about how to get that narrative in place. 

Right now we’re piloting an entrepreneurial thinking summer camp. We’re asking Teaching Assistants (TAs) at the University of Calgary to design the camp. We’re excited about this because it gives the TAs a great experience, it introduces the Haskayne School of Business as an entrepreneurial thinking program, and we hope that the participants learn these skills and apply them in their own lives. If there is anybody interested in helping with pilot locations of the summer camp, I’d be interested in connecting as we bring this up to scale. 

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