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Leading change, sustaining excellence: the Len Even years

IMG_4543As the tenure of the College’s first director general from outside the ranks of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame comes to a close on June 30, Marianopolis Matters sat down with Len Even to reflect on his experience and discusses his hopes for the institution.

During his two terms as DG, Mr. Even oversaw a dynamic and challenging chapter in the life of Marianopolis, including the completion of the move to its Westmount campus, the development of the College’s next strategic plan, a community-wide comprehensive review of the College’s bylaws and governance structure, and the adoption of the first collective agreement with the College’s faculty. Most importantly, under his leadership, Marianopolis sustained and enhanced its hallmark of academic excellence.

Len Even, 54, was born in Quebec City and raised in Montreal. He received a BCom. from Concordia University and an MBA from McGill University before completing post-graduate work in Management and Leadership in Education at Harvard University. He came to Marianopolis from The Netherlands, where he was Director of the Leiden campus of Webster University, a global, not-for-profit American university, and where he secured Dutch accreditation for American programs and opened a location in Amsterdam.

Mr. Even’s legacy ensures that Marianopolis continues to thrive as an independent college that honours the values of its founders. Here’s what he had to say about staying ahead of the curve, the power of choice and the importance of not always playing it safe.

Looking back to July 1, 2009 when you first took office, did you feel the need to make big changes?

My appointment was one of a series of new beginnings for Marianopolis: the College had recently relocated to a new campus and had launched its first strategic plan after celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2008. New century, new campus, new priorities, new leadership. It was made clear to me from the start that Marianopolis needed someone at the helm who would focus on moving it forward.

This was an institution steeped in tradition and undergoing a renaissance. From my perspective, Marianopolis was also coming of age and experiencing some growing pains, much like its students: seeking more independence from their parents but not yet fully-fledged self-governing adults, discovering who they want to be and how to stand out from the crowd, wary of making mistakes or choosing the wrong path.

So my approach was to be a good listener as I developed my thoughts about the future. This meant being patient (difficult for me!), providing support and structure, making sure there is enough money in the bank and a solid roof over our heads. But most of all, it meant creating an environment where people are comfortable taking risks and occasionally making mistakes. My colleagues are probably tired of hearing me say that I would rather be 7 for 10, than 2 for 2. I think it’s better to try new things and risk failure now and then, rather than playing it safe all the time.

You’re leaving the College in a strong position despite various challenges in the Quebec education sector over the past few years. How has Marianopolis managed to stay ahead of the curve?

Yes, it’s been an eventful time for Quebec schools: educational reforms, student boycotts, public sector strikes, leaner budgets, fluctuating enrolment in colleges across the province due to demographic changes, a greater diversity of special needs and learning styles, etc.

Despite all this, Marianopolis is thriving because we have remained true to our core and focused on what we do best: preparing young adults for success at their university of first choice and beyond. Our unwavering resolve is to provide the best educational experience, with our distinctive approach that combines academic rigour, individualized support and lots of fun!

What stand out for you as the most important achievements during your tenure?

IMG_1658First and foremost, our students continue to impress me. Consistently ranked #1 in Quebec in terms of incoming high school averages, they are talented, curious and engaged. They achieve the highest average R-Scores in the province and the most R-Scores above 34. Nearly 9 out of 10 of our students attend their first-choice university, many in their preferred programs, and, despite the College’s small size, they occupy a big share of admissions to competitive university programs like medicine and law.

During my time here, we reached historic enrolment levels thanks to our stellar reputation and outstanding recruitment efforts, while keeping our class sizes 25% smaller than those at CEGEPs, about 30 students per class on average. We remained accessible by growing our financial aid and scholarships by 30% to over $400K each year and maintaining stable tuition through modest annual increases. We supported long-term sustainability by reducing our debt with over $5M in loan payments and investing heavily in our historic campus. We continually expanded our academic offerings by, among other things, introducing two new certificates, creating a new Social Science profile in Math and Finance, conducting several new international courses and launching strategic partnerships with Alliance Sports-Études, Collège Jean-De-Brébeuf and École de musique Vincent d’Indy.

We were able to do all of these things because of our incredible team right across the campus. If Marianopolis is the best college in Quebec, it’s thanks to our people ─ our faculty, staff, managers, Board of Governors and many other volunteers and donors. Their expertise, their work ethic and their collaborative and caring approach are daily examples to our students and the envy of their peers.

That’s why it was important to me to build an employee appreciation program at Marianopolis. Working here already had many rewarding benefits, but I’m very pleased to have founded a few new traditions, like our annual Service Awards, when we gather to say thank-you to each other on a personal basis, to recognize individual contributions and to remind ourselves why we do what we do.

I am also particularly proud of the heritage video we created. One of the most memorable moments for me occurred during one of our community assemblies to kick off the academic year. On our auditorium’s giant screen to a packed house of teachers and staff returning from their summer vacation, we showed a video I commissioned about the College’s heritage and mission. It was really great to be all together, to watch our teachers, students, alumni and sisters of the Congrégation talk about where Marianopolis comes from and what it means to them. We now show this video as part of our orientation to every new employee we welcome into our ranks.

It was also very important to me grow the College’s culture of leadership and participation at all levels  ─ for everyone, no matter their sphere of influence, to get involved, to get their hands dirty, to take initiative. On a personal level, I’m proud to have built a solid leadership team with whom I’ve worked closely every day. They have supported me in my efforts, humoured my imperfections and, yes, challenged me when they disagreed. I will miss them, and I cannot thank them enough for a rewarding seven years.

How do you see Marianopolis moving forward in the years to come? What are your hopes for the College?

Many things already make the College great. My hope is that Marianopolis continues to flourish by truly embracing the advantages of private education. “Private” doesn’t mean “elitist” or “exclusive.” It’s about choice. As J. K. Rowling famously wrote, “It’s our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Well, we get to choose our exceptional students and employees. We get to choose where and how we dedicate our resources and energies: smaller class sizes, incredible and accessible teachers and support staff, flexible and individualized services. As a private college, we are committed to remaining financially accessible, but we simply can’t compete with zero tuition. The flip side however is that public colleges can’t compete with us, with the many value-added benefits that we offer. Thanks to everything Marianopolis provides, our students have the kind of opportunities that only a great education can give them.

160525-154654-28524And speaking of choice, as I wrap up my term, I’m thrilled with our Board’s choice of Christian Corno as the next director general. He has served Marianopolis as a faculty member, as professional staff, and since 2012, as an exemplary academic dean with whom I have collaborated closely. This is a natural next step for him and for Marianopolis and I’m happy to be leaving the College in such capable hands.

What’s next for you?

After 25 years in education, I’ll be returning to my professional roots in the business community. I’ll be keeping my home base here in Montreal so that I can cheer on Marianopolis’ progress!

Honour Len Even with a donation in support of the Director General’s Scholarships. Learn more and donate.