CEO for a day: Students experience what it’s like to run a major Canadian company

Yahoo! Finance interviews former CEO x 1 Day finalist about her experience shadowing the CEO of Purolator Canada.

By: Andrew Seale

Dania Zargaran was 21 when she took the reins as co-CEO of Purolator. It was a short stint—less than 24 hours—but not because she got the axe so much as Zargaran was participating in executive search firm Odgers Berndtson’s CEO X 1 Day program.

The program, which is kicking off its third year, pairs students with CEOs from organizations like the CFL, Omers Ventures, Altus Group and IKEA Canada.

“It was really interesting to see how normal it was,” recalls Zargaran, who was a fourth year commerce student at Queen’s University when she participated in the program last year. “It’s just like a work day for anyone else, you come in, you have your to-dos for the day – it was surprisingly normal.”

Zargaran teamed up with Patrick Nangle of Purolator, one of the 21 CEOs who participated.

“It was an early morning, we started at the distribution centre in Mississauga and after the warehouse we went to the corporate offices and I was involved in leadership meetings,” she recalls. “It was interesting for me to see how the decisions made in the corporate world can effect all limbs of the organization – I got to see the whole Purolator mission and vision in context from beginning to end.”

The lead up to Zargaran’s day as CEO featured a rigorous recruitment process involving everything from pre-screening phone interviews and psychometric testing.

“All the aspects, the leadership assessment, the speed interviewing, the problem solving – they’re designed to develop you and future leaders,” she said.

Essentially, the crux of the program is identifying some of Canada’s next generation of leaders and sensitizing the current generation of entrepreneurial grads to the skill-sets required to helm some of the biggest organizations in Canada, explains Rob Quinn, a partner at Odgers Berndston.

“When we talk to employers, the one thing they’re talking about is the lack of leaders that they can find in the general population,” says Quinn. “People have the technical skills but they don’t have the leadership skills and that’s an important skills gap for Canada that we’re trying to close.”
In a sense, allowing students to work their way through the executive search program de-mystifies the process a little, opening them up to the corporate world in an authentic way.

“We go out to universities across Canada and we promote the opportunity and students submit applications – there are specific skills we’re looking for,” explains Quinn.

The upcoming CEO X 1 Day will take place throughout February and will feature 18 different students from across Canada with diverse background and from a range of different programs.

“There are a lot of development conferences program and experiences geared towards students in their undergrad to help them with career development,” says Zargaran. “But this was the only one I knew of that would literally pair you one on one with a real life CEO and give you the first-hand experience.”

While it’ll be interesting to look back 10 or 15 years from now and see which ones of this generation are leading the top companies in Canada, Zargaran says she’s not sure if her name will be on that list.

“I’m still figuring that out for myself, it absolutely helped to be the CEO for a day, it’s so unique, but I don’t know if leadership for me is going to manifest itself in that way,” she says.