Okanagan College business students Josh Widmann and Daniella Hallam finished second in last weekend's Inter-Collegiate Business Competition at Queen's University in Ontario. In 2012, Widmann and another partner finished second in the same international competition.
"I have said that we have one of the top undergraduate business programs in the country, but sometimes we are one of the best-kept secrets in our own community," said Derek Cook, an accounting and corporate finance professor in the school of business.
He made his comments Saturday after Josh Widmann received his bachelor of business administration. Widmann also was acknowledged for finishing second (with business student Daniella Hallam) at the previous weekend's Inter-Collegiate Business Competition (ICBC), the top post-secondary business-case competition in Canada, held annually at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. Widmann, with another partner, also placed second at the 2012 contest while in his third year.
"If you ask Queen's or the University of Calgary or McGill or Concordia University, they'll tell you we are one of the top undergraduate business programs. But in Kelowna . . . I guess we live in the shadows of UBC Okanagan because, of course, it's a world-class university with a global brand name," said Cook.
UBCO had no teams at the Queen's competition, he noted.
"Neither did Sauder (School of Business) because we beat them, too."
Sauder is a leading business school at UBC that is consistently ranked among the top 100 worldwide.
One of the reasons Okanagan College has such a good reputation is that it can focus on teaching without being driven by a research agenda and the need to keep publishing every year, said Cook.
"I think, too, if you looked at the backgrounds of the faculty here, we all came out of the business world. Before we taught, we were all out there living, breathing and making those decisions."
When teaching material from a textbook, relating it to personal, real-life experience means students end up getting more than the concepts out in the book, he said.
"They get that add-on of what I like to call practical judgment."
Business accounting is more than just working with numbers, he agreed, noting professors could tell some of the students competing at ICBC came from programs "where they could crunch numbers till the cows come home."
"But at some point, you have to step back and say: 'OK, I've got all these numbers, but this is my business. What am I going to do?' That's what I get all my students to do."
Every time his students prepare a business case, he tells them to treat it like it is their own business.
He says: "If you make the wrong call here, you could put a whole lot of people out of work and you could lose everything you've got, so let's think hard about the decision. What are the people issues? What are the marketing issues? Who is our competition and what are they going to do if you do this?"
Professors also learn something from these competitions, he added.
"It's good for us to go to those competitions against the top schools because we benchmark ourselves every year. We say: Are we teaching the right things? Are we doing what it takes to get our students to the level they need to be?"
Cook also had high praise for Widmann and Hallam.
"He's a great student," he said. "It was just a pleasure working with the two of them.
"I didn't know Josh when he first came to the college, but I was told that he was pretty quiet and studious. Now when you see him, you see his confidence and his ability to present."
Since he teaches first-year students, Cook can watch them mature as they proceed through to fourth year and graduation.
"It's remarkable what we're able to do to help them achieve their potential as students," he said.
When he accompanies students to ICBC, he meets some of the first-year students from Queen's.
"They got into Queen's with really high grade-point averages with all kinds of things in their resumes because it's so hard to get into Queen's," he said.
When he compares those students to first-year students in Kelowna, "certainly there's a gap," he said.
"But by the time we get to Queen's and we've got our fourth-year students competing against theirs, they are on a totally equal playing field.
"Everyone in Kelowna would have been so proud of seeing Josh and Daniella getting up and competing against top schools in the country and two international schools. I was just glowing after their presentation. I was so happy for them."