Fetherstonhaugh Family Foundation Recognizes Teaching Excellence at Desautels

Recipients of the Teaching Awards engage with students to promote and accelerate classroom and lifelong learning.

In 2018, when the Fetherstonhaugh family envisioned an award to recognize and reward teaching excellence, they hoped for great teachers and at the Desautels Faculty of Management extraordinary teachers emerged.

Sujata Madan“I’m extremely impressed with the professors at Desautels who have received this award over the past four years. They bring a top world game to the student experience. At McGill’s Management Convocation ceremony, Professor Sujata Madan – this year’s recipient -- received a standing ovation. That’s the kind of professor we want to celebrate and keep at McGill,” says Robert Fetherstonhaugh, BCom’78, DPA’80, who established the award along with Brian Fetherstonhaugh, BCom’79, and Catherine Fetherstonhaugh Graham,who studied Industrial Relations and Economics at McGill in the 1980s. Previous recipients include professors Amanda Abrams, Wei Qi, and Jiro Kondo.

Winning hearts and minds of students

Sujata Madan, Professor of Practice, Finance, has always put excellence in student learning first in her personable, practical, and innovative approach to teaching at Desautels. “Students are the reason I do what I do. They may have only one class with me, but I want students to have a learning experience that is empowering and gets them excited about lifelong learning,” says Madan, who received the Fetherstonhaugh Family Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award for Undergraduate Programs 2022.

While she teaches advanced courses to upper year undergrad and MBA students who specialize and have a keen interest in finance, Madan recognizes the need to win over the hearts and minds of the 150 students who take her Introduction to Finance course (mandatory for BCom students) from the very first class.

“Some of these students may not be interested in finance, or they may be intimidated by it. My aim is to demystify and simplify the concepts and content as much as I can, so it doesn’t sound like jargon or seem incomprehensible and out of reach. I deliver the content in bite-sized pieces, in words and analogies the students can understand and apply. I have to get them ready for the real world with financial tools they can actually use,” explains Madan, who earned a BSc in Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an MBA at the Indian Institute of Management in India, before joining Desautels in 2005.

She encourages undergrad business students to develop and improve their interpersonal skills as well - which are vital to success and satisfaction in any career they pursue. Her students build these soft skills through collaborative group projects, informal chats with classmates, and interactions with alumni and other guest speakers from the financial industry. As a teacher, Madan also models these skills through her warm, engaging personality, humour, and how she connects with students in groups and individually.

“My only rules are no cell phones, and you need to work with other people. We start each class with a few students sharing something happy and positive, and I encourage each student to chat for a few minutes with their neighbour. There is so much happy chat and energy in the room, which makes the mood more relaxed and conducive to learning,” she says.

Madan is honoured to receive an award that encourages excellence in teaching and values her own and her colleagues’ contributions to student learning. “When you recognize teaching with an award like this, you’re recognizing teachers who have an impact on the way students learn. If you recognize the people who make learning easier, you are empowering students to learn more through their own lives and careers,” she says.

Recognizing excellence in teaching and its lasting impact on students

The profound and lasting impact of their own experience with outstanding professors at McGill is one reason why Robert, Brian, and Catherine established the Fetherstonhaugh Family Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award for Undergraduate Programs in 2019.

Both Robert and Brian Fetherstonhaugh benefited immensely from an Organizational Behaviour course they took as BCom students in the 1970s, taught by sessional instructor Caela Farren. This was one of the first experiential learning programs offered by the Faculty and it made a big impression on the two brothers and their peers, as they were taught how to instruct future students. Farren emphasized the kinds of interpersonal management skills and emotional intelligence that Madan imparts to Desautels BCom students today.

“Organizational behaviour was the single most valuable course I took at McGill. It was a soft skill set. Students were taught for three months how to present and take a lead, and how to understand the motivations of people across the table. If you understand the person across from you – his or her personality, thinking and motivation – you have a much better chance of getting a desirable outcome in negotiations when you are buying or selling a business, for example,” says Robert, who has been a senior investment advisor to some of the world’s leading families and foundations, based in Montreal, San Francisco and Geneva. He is also a member of the Desautels International Advisory and Advancement Board, and along with Marc Balevi, BCom’77, DPA’78, co-founded and has actively supported Canada Cycles for Kids, a charity devoted to helping sick kids and their families across Canada, for the past 20 years.

Brian found that a solid grounding in interpersonal management skills was critical to his growth and success as a leader in the field of international marketing and advertising. “Caela Farren’s organizational behaviour course was highly interactive and experiential. She had students teaching other students. It was foundational in developing my interpersonal management skills. In 15 years as a global CEO, I used the skills learned in that course every day and those lessons have lasted a lifetime. I also fell in love with marketing at McGill,” says Brian, who was Global Chairman and CEO of OgilvvOne Worldwide for over 12 years, and worked with many of the world’s leading brands, including IBM, American Express, Coca-Cola, IKEA, Unilever, and Nestlé. He is now CEO of the Long View Talent Group, senior talent advisor for WPP, a member of McGill’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management Advisory Board, and regular guest lecturer at Desautels.

For Catherine, Professor Frances Bairstow, Director of McGill’s Industrial Relations Centre from 1970 to 1985, was an influential mentor and role model in her career as a manager in high-end hospitality. “Professor Bairstow taught the collective bargaining course and was a barrier-breaker for women as a leading labour arbitrator in Canada and internationally. I remember attending dinner parties at her home where students were able to meet and feel comfortable talking with prominent political, business and industry leaders. The McGill experience gave me negotiating and soft skills that were very helpful in working with different types of people and handing difficult situations when they arose,” says Catherine, who managed the Fairmont Gold VIP section of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa for many years. She also played Varsity hockey and was President of the McGill Industrial Relations Association as a student.

Four generations of McGill graduates

Four generations of the Fetherstonhaugh family have attended McGill, starting with the siblings’ maternal and paternal grandparents, Keith C. Notman and Harold Lea Fetherstonhaugh, who graduated from McGill Engineering in 1908 and McGill Architecture in 1909 respectively, their aunt, Mary Lea Fetherstonhaugh, BA’47, and their father, John Fetherstonhaugh, Law’50. Their great-uncle, Robert Collier Fetherstonhaugh, LLD’47, was author of the book, McGill University at War, 1914-18, 1939-1945, and another relative, Conrad Fetherstonhaugh Harrington, Law’36, was Chancellor of McGill from 1976 to 1988. Robert’s children, Julie Fetherstonhaugh, MBA’12, and David Fetherstonhaugh, BCom’16, are the most recent Desautels graduates.

“McGill is part of our DNA,” says Robert. In addition to supporting entrance scholarships for students at Desautels and a conference room in the Armstrong Building, the Fetherstonhaughs believe it’s important to recognize the vital role that teaching plays in enriching the student experience and inspiring the next generation of leaders. “McGill competes on a world scale to recruit professors, so awards that recognize teaching excellence can make a difference in helping to attract and keep the best professors here,” says Robert.

Pictured above: 2021 Award recipient Jiro Kondo, Dean Yolande Chan, Robert Fetherstonhaugh (BCom’78, DPA’80), and 2019 Award recipient Amanda Abrams pose with additional Fetherstonhaugh family members virtually. Photo by Philip Smart.
Photo of Sujata Madan by Owen Egan.
Article written by Mark Witten
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