Austin Buzzell, University of Victoria student spends a day in the C-Suite

One CEO x 1 Day finalist is interviewed about his experience at Ballard Power Systems for the university’s website.

March 1, 2016

How did you find out about the CEO x 1 Day contest?
I found the CEO x 1 Day contest while searching for scholarships. I came across the Odgers Berndtson page and started reading about this incredible opportunity. After doing some research, I decided to take a chance and submit an application. At first, I had no expectation of even getting past the first round of the 5-round process, but something told me that I should give it a shot.

How did the application process work?
The first round consisted of a basic application package (résumé, transcripts and CV) accompanied by an essay on leadership. This is where I really leveraged my leadership experience, from my hockey career to extracurriculars at university, while highlighting my drive, motivation, and passion.

Leadership was the largest part of the application process, as they also made prospective candidates do a leadership assessment test in the second round of applications. The test was an online assessment that consisted of numerous questions based on leadership. Once the assessment was completed, I heard positive results back from Odgers Berndtson and was selected for the next round.

The third round consisted of a phone interview that measured applicants based on key questions, including leadership qualities, personality, and a few other metrics. Additionally, the interviewer asked which CEO I would be most interested in meeting and why. For me it was an obvious decision, and I expressed my interest in meeting with Randall MacEwen, CEO of Ballard Power Systems. I was extremely interested in learning about his past experience in corporate finance, dealing with mergers and acquisitions, his excellent track record of entrepreneurship and his focus on clean tech. I thought he would be an incredible person to learn from and talk with—and I was more than right!

The final round involved heading to Vancouver for an all-day interview with the top 12 applicants. The day consisted of speed-round interviews, a leadership assessment overview test and a case study from McKinsey & Company. The other top applicants were all incredible individuals who expressed excellence in leadership and numerous other aspects of their lives. It was a humbling experience and I am glad I was able to meet such incredible people during this process. From these top 12 students, three were selected and paired to meet with CEOs for the CEO x 1 Day experience.

What interested you about the contest?
What motivated me to participate was the opportunity to see how a successful company operates and how management works with its employees. I thought it would be fascinating to see what a company like Ballard does and how they plan for the future, while managing the present. I also wanted insight into what decisions C-level executives make to get themselves to these successful positions.

Additionally, I hoped to learn more about fuel cell technology and its applications, future and business. To be honest, it felt like I was drinking water from a fire hose my whole day since I had such an information overload, and was left with hundreds of unanswered questions. That said, I learned much more than I could have ever imagined, and was so incredibly thankful I was able to participate!

What did you learn from this experience?
There were so many key takeaways from this experience, but I have two in particular that will stick with me. Firstly, an organization’s CEO needs to do the little things in order to be effective. You can be an incredible businessperson and have a business mind, but if you don’t have the support of your employees, you have nothing. This was something that I admired in Randall throughout the day. He cared about his employees and demonstrated high emotional intelligence.

Secondly, I learned the importance of performance measurement in your company. You may have remarkable results, but if you have no way to track performance of all your company’s segments, you have no way to improve them. Being able to track performance of each area of your company allows your business to constantly improve.

What surprised you most about your day with Ballard Power Systems?

What surprised me most was the incredible amount of transparency Ballard and its employees offered me. I was able to see the in’s and out’s of the factory and offices, while learning the organization’s strategies. My three favourite parts of the day were sitting in on a business meeting with possible clients, being in the boardroom while they released their quarterly earnings to analysts, and having meetings with all the C-level executives.

What will you take back into your studies and future work terms from this opportunity?
Ballard stood out as a fantastic organization that is at the forefront of sustainable, clean technologies and I will be keeping in touch with them in the future. My time with Ballard has opened my mind to fuel cell technology and inspired me to learn more about careers in clean technologies. I now feel that I have a better grasp of how a business operates, how fuel cell technologies work, and incredible connections as I move forward in my career.

I would highly recommend this program to anyone who is interested in learning more about business, leadership, or themselves. The CEO x 1 Day program is something I will never forget and I would like to thank the team at Odgers Berndtson for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity!