FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with David Docherty
March 31, 2015
He chose the meeting place options – Wyckham Hall or Starbucks. I thought Starbucks would be too noisy, so I chose Wyckham Hall, assuming it was a ‘quite place’. It is a food court with lots of noise, lots of activity, lots of students. And my subject was in his element – often distracted from our chat for nods, hellos and being visible. It looked a little strange I thought .. two middle-aged bald guys in the middle of the food court, but my subject was very forthcoming, entertaining and lives up to his reputation as a high-energy enthusiastic guy.
David Docherty, President of Mount Royal University, says he was a ‘middling’ student in high school. Basketball was his passion until his Grade 13 year where he began to excel. He was eager to learn physics but got 51%. But he tells me he really loved it. Good thing he didn’t become a physics prof. But he does admit to getting very good grades in undergraduate work and in grad school …
I wanted to talk about him. He wanted to talk about the school. He’s itching to talk about the school’s new ten-year strategic plan, but it hasn’t been rolled out yet. But he hinted at a few things – and exchange program. Not ‘internationally’, but within Canada. And more international students. And more first nations students. Still focused on being a great undergrad school, but with more space, more capacity … “We have an amazing product.”
His heritage is Scottish. He’s been playing bagpipes since he was 13. He used to compete …
He was born in Midland, Ontario – that’s Georgian Bay country – to parents who’d immigrated from Scotland. Mom worked as a bookkeeper at the shipyard. Dad was a stationery engineer. He has an older sister and admits to having been a somewhat typically rebellious second child. He has two sons from his first marriage, a daughter from his second.
Schooled in Owen Sound, he went on to study at Wilfred Laurier University where he earned a B. in Political Science. Then five years off to travel, to intern at Queen’s Park, Masters Degree at McMaster University, and a Ph.D. from University of Toronto. “I thought about journalism, but I wanted to be a professor.”
His teaching career: one year as a teaching assistant at Laurier turned into a full time tenure track position. Then Western as Assistant Professor, Chair of Department gobbled up the next seventeen years … to become Dean, Faculty of Arts at age forty-three. A job he enjoyed – creating new programs. Lots of responsibility but not much authority. Along that path he published some books as professors seem to do. Then the President had a project for him – two years later he had some leave coming (and time to write another book) when head-hunters came calling., as they often do. Opportunities to go to Ottawa, Halifax and Calgary. While he had some desire to go to Halifax, the ‘type of school’ was his deciding factor – he wanted an undergrad focus – and he chose to pursue the job at Mount Royal, coming here as President of Mount Royal University in 2011.
What has contributed most to your success? ”I’ve been very fortunate to have good people around me. I work in a field I absolutely love. I’m an optimist.”
What has held you back? “I don’t think anything has. I would like to have written another book by now.”
I asked David how he sees his business “post secondary education business”; I asked him ‘how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?’
… very difficult. Funding! When the unemployment rate goes up, demand goes up for us.
And over the next 5 years?
… we need to fix our market model – need our resources to be less dependent on the price of oil. For example, at Ryerson, they’ve done a facility JV with a theatre – shared parking daytime/nighttime and theatres become lecture halls by day.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… we are spending public money … quality! In terms of people, ‘that they are happy being here’.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose David Docherty and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… trustworthy, enthusiasm, unabashed supporter of post secondary – I have the best job in the world.
How would you describe your management style?
… I’m not a micro-manager. I meet with a team – once a week for three hours. I’m a good mentor for the individual – important for people to know you are around.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… access. We have students who can’t get in. Not enough spaces for the money we have. We have physical capacity …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my work as an intern at Queen’s Park [Ontario legislature] – confirmed that I loved politics, but I wasn’t partisan. I worked for Liberal and Conservative members. Roland Smith, a mentor. He was Department Chair and Provost when I was at Laurier – taught me to be a leader.
Work-life balance, do you have it?
… not according to my wife Chris. She keeps me grounded on what is important in life.
… we attend, as a family, varsity games on Saturday nights. Things we can do as a family that include our daughter. Downhill skiing. Walking my two dogs from 5:30 to 6:15 every morning. [rescue dogs from ARF]
What do you read?
… political biographies, James Bond genre novels, historical fiction. Currently reading ‘Hannibal, Enemy Of Rome’ by Ben Kane.
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