With it being YSEC’s ten-year anniversary, we wanted to gain a firsthand perspective on what it was like establishing YSEC back in 2004. Luckily enough, we were able to sit down with YSEC’s two co-founders, Ed Whittingham and Duncan Kenyon, to discuss the creation of YSEC ten years ago.
In 2004, Mr. Whittingham and Mr. Kenyon co-founded YSEC while in the first year of their Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degrees at Schulich. Their vision was to create an organization that would provide MBA and Masters in Environmental Studies (MES) students with an opportunity to practice social and environmental sustainability in real world business situations.
What were the primary objectives in starting YSEC?
For both Ed and Duncan, one of the primary objectives in co-founding YSEC was to gain hands-on experience in the consulting services sector. Duncan mentions that one of the key reasons in starting YSEC was to, “get our own hands dirty”. The firm arose out a need to gain “practical experience” in the consulting sector while also learning how to run, set up, and manage a company.
Were there any defined goals / hard targets when starting YSEC?
Ed and Duncan co-founded YSEC with the idea of creating an exciting and entrepreneurial environment that also provided ‘real world’ hands-on experience for students. The idea was to create a “budding business” where students could learn the ins and outs of the consulting business as well as other practical business skills.
What has been the greatest reward(s) in starting up YSEC?
For both Ed and Duncan, the greatest reward in starting up YSEC is seeing how the Company has benefitted fellow Schulich graduates over the years. Both co-founders point to how YSEC has been an invaluable learning tool for graduate students. Ed and Duncan reflect on knowing how students have used – and continue to use – YSEC to help get a job after graduation and further on in their careers. They point to how YSEC graduates have leveraged the skills they learned at YSEC into full-time jobs in a number of different fields.
Another reward is the relationships and networks that have been created through an association with YSEC. Both Ed and Duncan mention how they continue to stay in touch with fellow YSEC alumni even after all of these years. For both co-founders, the relationships developed and strengthened through YSEC appear to be especially rewarding.
One of the key benefits and rewards of YSEC is the “real world application” of academic knowledge and resources. For example, Mr. Whittingham references how YSEC helped him hone specific business skills like preparing and filing annual corporate tax returns.
For Duncan, one of the rewards is seeing how YSEC is like a “rugby ball” that gets passed from each successive generation of YSEC members.
What was the greatest challenge / obstacle in starting YSEC?
Both Ed and Duncan mention that there were significant challenges and obstacles in starting up YSEC. Aside from founding YSEC while being full-time students, both Ed and Duncan said there was not much support in trying to create the student-run environmental consulting firm. According to the co-founders, starting up YSEC led to a “political dogfight” between various entities. The co-founders are adamant that YSEC would likely never have come to fruition if it was only a student-run initiative that did not get support from key faculty members.
Both Ed and Duncan made it clear that setting up YSEC as a legal federal and provincial corporation was more work than they expected and, while being frustrating, the process provided both Ed and Duncan with valuable business and life lessons.
How important was it to have the support of Schulich? And of professors?
For Ed and Duncan, assistance came from one professor that originally helped “put the idea in our heads” about starting a student-run environmental consulting organization. Following in the mold of an existing student-led consulting entity, the concept was refined to specifically focus on environmental issues.
What was the number one skill that helped you succeed in starting YSEC?
Duncan says that the number one skill that helped get YSEC up and running was the constant reminder that, “It’s still business”. He mentions that there was not a lot of room to be “warm and fuzzy” in creating YSEC. Mr. Kenyon suggests that, at the end of the day, you cannot forget that you’re still running a business and have certain expectations and responsibilities.
For Ed, the number one skill that helped get YSEC up and running was understanding the importance of numbers. Mr. Whittingham argues that numbers are a key component of any presentation to company executives, especially if they’re numbers-oriented to be begin with. In other words, it is extremely important to craft any presentation so that it speaks specifically to its intended audience.
Where does an organization like YSEC fit today? Where do potential opportunities exist?
With regard to YSEC’s current and future prospects, Mr. Whittingham said that he very much “still believe[s] in its purpose”.
Mr. Kenyon says that YSEC is a valuable process, especially given how YSEC has benefited students in the past. More specifically, Duncan is encouraged by the “growth and learning” that he has seen come out of YSEC. As a result, hopes to see it continue to grow.
For both Ed and Duncan, co-founding YSEC appears to have provided both professionals with a number of life-long skills, resources, and friendships. Establishing YSEC appears to have provided both with an invaluable mix of entrepreneurial and day-to-day business skills in addition to being able to “connect and interact with like-minded people”. Ten years later, the organization still acts as a “community of practitioners” where alumni and future graduates continue to network and interact in an effort to complete interesting and worthwhile projects, practice and hone skills, and learn.