Gerry Pond: 'bound and determined' to expand sales training.

Gerry Pond: 'bound and determined' to expand sales training.

Gerry Pond has finally found the university sales program he’s been courting for almost four years, and it’s cropped up in his home town of Saint John.

The University of New Brunswick Saint John is now offering a 12-month MBA course with a stream in “Business Development and Professional Sales”, making it the first English-language university in Canada with a sales program.

Pond, the prime mover of the region’s IT startup craze, shocked a meeting of academics in early 2015 by offering $500,000 to any institution that could produce a full program to educate sales people. Until now, there has not been a sales program at any major Canadian university – even though such programs are growing in the U.S. and typically offer students placement rates above 80 percent.

“We’re very proud and very excited to develop a program that is very highly needed in the market, both in Canada and globally,” said Shelley Rinehart, the MBA Director at UNB Saint John.  “Anything that is important to the business world will eventually find its way into the business schools because that’s what business school s do.”

Shortly after Pond issued his challenge to the region’s universities, the Saint John campus of UNB began to integrate sales into its executive MBA program. Chris Weir, a sales executive with the global accountancy EY, began teaching a sales course, bringing in business leaders to discuss the importance and methods of sales. “I’m trying to broaden the mindset of the class to understand that everyone is in sales,” said Weir in an interview.

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That single class evolved so that UNBSJ is now offering a full sales stream to MBA students. Under the schedule of the MBA program, students begin the year in general curriculum, and then choose a stream to specialize in, such as international business, project management, or now sales. The university offered the sales stream with little fanfare last year, and 10 of the 74 students opted for it. The current roster of students has yet to choose their streams, though Rinehart said there is a “high level of interest” in sales. 

The university has now approved the sales stream as a long-term offering, which means it will promote it to domestic and international students for the 2019-20 school year. The curriculum includes data analytics, cross-cultural communication and negotiation, and strategic negotiations.

Since the university has offered sales curriculum, Rinehart and her team have learned how sales skills apply to any number of fields, including medicine, telecoms and technology. “It opened the eyes of many, myself included, as to how permeated sales are across organizations,” she said.

Pond made a contribution to the program and had input on its development, but said in an interview the university did not receive the half-million he advertised four years ago. That money has been donated or invested elsewhere, he said.

He is still “bound and determined” to spread sales education across Canada because of the dire need to improve sales talent in Canadian industry. He continues to speak to other universities, such as St. Mary’s University in Halifax and the University of Manitoba.

Rinehart understands that UNBSJ won’t be the only Canadian school with a sales program for long. She said: “The highest level of praise is for someone to do what you’re doing.”