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Blaize Horner Reich: Commanding performance

Honing expertise in technology and its enormous consequences for business
Blaize Horner Reich: "my overall goal is to help organizations use technology more successfully"

As a leader in the information, communications and technology sector, Blaize Horner Reich studies the effects and ramifications of the ever-more-complex world of information technology on today's business.

"Her work is particularly relevant to understanding how IT practices can be used to improve firm performance," said Daniel Shapiro, dean, Lohn Foundation professor, Simon Fraser University.

"At SFU, she has been an important part of our evolution into a modern and successful business school, the Beedie School of Business," said Shapiro. "Blaize was instrumental in creating and building our Information Systems group, now one of the most respected areas of its kind, and recently ranked in the top three in Canada.

"She helped create and design our unique management of technology MBA, a program which now plays a prominent role in our strategy. As associate dean, she was instrumental in the launching of the Segal Graduate School of Business."

Highly active in the business community at both local and national levels as a board member and director of business, academic and professional associations, Reich (pronounced reesh) is also an award-winning teacher. As the RBC Professor of Technology and Innovation, she took national leadership in creating the business technology management (BTM) program. As academic lead, she worked with employers from the Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow's ICT Skills to build the framework of the BTM system. According to Shapiro, this program "will have profound effects on the sector for decades."

"My overall goal is to help organizations use technology more successfully," said Reich. "I do that by serving on boards, teaching executives and undergrads in IT and project management and by researching areas of IT governance and projects. So I have a big playing field."

Among the boards on which she serves are the CIO Association of Canada, the Vancouver chapter of the Canadian Association of Management Consultants and the Information and Communications Technology Council.

Reich is also a board member of several international academic journals and is responsible for the dissemination of research on business, technology and management. These include the Project Management Journal, Information Systems Management, the Journal of Strategic Information Systems and the Journal of Information Technology.

Reich is committed to helping women in business succeed. She has served for years on the board of the local chapter of the Women's Executive Network; she helped create a permanent endowment for a female entrepreneur at SFU.

Asked if concern about the role of women in business is still relevant, her answer is well considered.

"In some sectors in some first-world countries, no. In most of the rest of the world and in some sectors in the industrialized world, it is still a concern that we aren't tapping into the full array of talent we have," said Reich. "For example, membership of females on boards of directors is still hovering around 10% in Canada – that's simply too low for other voices to be heard.

"I think you need a critical mass of leaders to be women in order to achieve a good balance. Maybe it's 20%, maybe a bit more, but once you are over that hurdle, merit drives your hiring and advancement decisions to a greater extent than in less balanced organizations."

She is also a mentor, a role she finds very rewarding: "I love the opportunity to give back as I work. I mentor lots of people – students, academic peers, friends. The reason I can do that is the real joy of an academic life – you work with smart people, you are surrounded by new and exciting ideas and you get to learn and teach all the time. That's pretty fun!

"Some people are getting discouraged that their education doesn't result in a job that challenges them," said Reich. "There are several causes – downsizing, people working longer and technology changing the workplace. So it's a tough world out there. I think, on the part of students, the result will be a more careful decision about what education to pursue. And on the part of educational institutions, a greater willingness to connect education with the workplace so students are better prepared to make the transition successfully."

Her advice to those starting out is straightforward.

"Follow your passion. It sounds trite, but if you want to be successful, the easiest path is to do what you love to do," said Reich. "You'll put in the effort to be great at it and someone will want what you have to offer.

"If you can align your work with your values, you will avoid a lot of the cognitive dissonance that people feel when they do what their parents or peers tell them they should do. Follow your dream." •Five Questions

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Apart from seeing my children follow their dreams, it would be making the successful transition from entrepreneur to academic.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

I took a job that was advertised under false pretences. It was a wonderful position and I learned too late that I would have to quit and try and reposition my career. It was a lesson in playing hardball, but I didn't have a racquet.

Would you make different career decisions if you were you starting out today?

Actually, no. Each move has capitalized on some things I already knew and added another dimension. So it's been a continual learning process.

What's one business lesson you'd like to pass on to others?

These days, you really don't know what will happen to your job or your company. I tell my students (and myself) to find work where you can learn new skills and knowledge; don't let yourself get pigeonholed just because you are good at a particular task. Keep moving forward.

To what extent do you think there are still glass ceilings for women in business — or in the world of academia?

Depends on the business and the academic institution. In the public sector, women can rise to the top. At the Beedie School of Business, there are many women full professors and in the university there are several female deans. But that's not true of everywhere – it depends on the culture.