It’s an ongoing debate whether good managers are born or made. However, it’s likely a bit of both for François Julien, who managed to elevate the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management to greater heights during his long and successful career at the business school.
Julien, 57, stepped down this past June as dean. He was also previously vice-dean, associate dean and director of Telfer’s MBA program.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself with a team of excellent collaborators and, together, we’ve really been able to make a difference at Telfer by bringing the school to the next level of excellence,” he said in an interview.
What Julien has most enjoyed from his 30-plus years of working at Telfer are the students, with their fresh ideas, endless enthusiasm and ambitious aspirations.
Notable alumni include Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario’s chief innovation officer, Mari Teitelbaum, who graduated from the Telfer Master of Health Administration program, and Shopify president Harley Finkelstein, who was admitted into the joint MBA-JD program and distinguished himself at uOttawa.
“I’ve watched his career with a great deal of satisfaction,” said Julien.
Then there’s Canadian mining executive Ian Telfer, after whom the school was named in honour of his $25-million donation in 2007. The huge gift was his way of thanking the school for making such a difference in his life.
Telfer had graduated from the MBA program after being cautiously admitted at the last minute. He also established a scholarship at his alma mater, asking that it be awarded to the last student to be admitted.
Julien has seen shining examples of entrepreneurship and innovation at Telfer, particularly through Enactus uOttawa, a student-run organization that uses the power of entrepreneurial action to empower people to improve the livelihoods of others. One recent success story is The Growcer, an Ottawa-based startup that provides sustainable fresh food, co-founded by two former Telfer students.
“When you see the students’ passion, their creativity and their innovation, it’s very motivating,” said Julien. “What they need is support, and that’s what we provide and that’s how the school continues to grow and have an impact – not only through the work of our researchers but also through the leadership of our students and alumni.”
Inspiring him along the way has been his dad, Gilles Julien.
Gilles, a former professor in pharmacology at Université Laval, moved his family from the suburbs of Quebec City to Ottawa when he joined the National Research Council Canada in 1971. Julien, the eldest of four children, was eight years old when he arrived here, becoming a Franco-Ontarian by adoption.
It’s no surprise Julien was attracted to a career in academia. He finished top of his class from the uOttawa business school before obtaining his master’s and PhD in management science from the University of Waterloo, with a focus on mathematical modelling. He was already a professor by the time he was 27.
Yet Julien’s teaching and research career headed in a different direction after he was asked to become director of uOttawa’s MBA program in 1997 – the same year he received tenure.
“I was quite naive at the time and thought it might make an interesting challenge,” said Julien of a role that came with no training but many duties and responsibilities.
He would go on to run the program for seven years with no regrets, calling it a “satisfying and enriching experience.”
"This was probably the best time for me to pass the baton to the next person.”
Julien was appointed Telfer’s dean in 2011, holding the position for more than nine years. He stepped down from his second term one year early for health reasons.
“It’s probably time for new leadership and new energy,” he said. “I think this was probably the best time for me to pass the baton to the next person.”
On his last official day as dean, he was honoured and thanked in a video prepared by university colleagues and friends.
“Nobody has dedicated more to the School than you have,” his predecessor, Micheál Kelly, told him. “You’ve taken on every job, risen to every challenge you’ve been given, and the school today is largely a reflection of the contributions that you have made in the many roles that you have played.”
Five things to know about François Julien:
The François Julien Doctoral Research Scholarship Fund was recently created in his honour to help fuel a project that he established and is passionate about, the Telfer PhD in Management program.
He and his wife, Danielle Da Sylvia-Julien, have been married 34 years and are parents to three children, all in their 20s.
He got his first taste of leadership in high school as president of his school band at École secondaire catholique Garneau.
As for words of wisdom, he believes learning should be a lifelong process and that people should pursue a career they’re passionate about.
His father founded the local francophone choir, Les Chansonniers d’Ottawa, and eventually handed over the role of musical director to Julien, who derives great pleasure from running the choir and preparing the musical arrangements.