SAIT: Fostering Entrepreneurs Since 1916

This October, Calgary's Southern Alberta Institute of Technology celebrates its 100 anniversary of fostering our city's entrepreneurial spirit. Most people think of Calgary as a corporate headquarters city when, in fact, 95% of Calgary’s businesses have fewer than 50 employees. On a per capita basis, Calgary is home to more small businesses than any other Canadian city (source: Calgary Economic Development). 

George Mansfield Holmes epitomizes Calgary’s early independent business culture — and how SAIT has helped strengthen that culture for 100 years. Holmes graduated from the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA, as SAIT was known between 1916 and 1960) as an electrician in 1926 and was immediately hired by the small local firm Lambert and Leak Electric, where he was responsible for the installation of Lambert's Day-Nite Signs across the city. In 1953, he opened his own business — an appliance parts and service shop which flourished until he retired in 1974. 

Today, SAIT delivers business education to more than 3,800 students in degree and diploma programs, and to 10,000 registrants in our professional and leadership programs. But even before SAIT’s School of Business was officially formed, the Institute boasted a very active business education program focused on providing Calgary’s growing business community with the talent it needed to thrive.

Like any good business, planning for PITA began with market research. In Rosalie Pedersen’s 1991 history of the Institute called Technically, An Experiment, she notes, “To help determine exactly what to teach, representatives of school boards, manufacturers and Calgary businessmen met and prospective students were surveyed. Stationary engineers wanted evening classes; Mr. Short of CPR’s Ogden shops wanted arithmetic, basic mathematics and mechanical drawing and design; Mr. Glover of the Cockshutt Plow Company requested courses in business methods.”

SAIT's juxtaposition of the old and new architecture fosters leading edge thinking.

Fostering Entrepreneurs

The late Senator Patrick Burns is one of the best early examples of Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit. Burns spent the summer of 1878 chopping wood for a neighbour to earn enough money to travel west, only to discover the neighbour didn’t have enough cash to pay his $100 bill. Instead, he gave Burns two oxen. Burns, realizing the value of each ox was $70, doubled his profit by slaughtering them and selling their meat and by-products for $140.

Arriving in Calgary in 1890, Burns established his first major slaughterhouse, followed by a packing house in 1898. He eventually evolved his business into Burns Foods, Western Canada’s largest meat packing company. Burns revolutionized the slaughterhouse industry by emphasizing the utilization of by-products, such as hide for leather, fats for soap, bone for bone meal, and hair for brushes.

His leadership in fostering Calgary as a vibrant business centre was recognized in the mid-1960s, when SAIT named a major new facility in his honour. It was a time of expansion throughout Calgary. Business was booming and the oil industry’s demand for people with business education was skyrocketing. The opening of the Senator Burns Building in 1966 enabled SAIT to expand as well as create a home for the Business Education Department.

The new department introduced a new Business Administration diploma because, as outlined in the 1966 Academic Calendar, “A manager in business, from the foreman or supervisor to the top administrator, must have a thorough knowledge of basic business principles ... there is a very real need for both men and women to have a sound background of basic business skills.”

That same year, Barry Lammle graduated from SAIT’s Merchandising program. At the age of 12, he bought a lawn mower and mowed lawns all over the neighbourhood. Later he enrolled at SAIT and, after graduating, started working at The Bay. After two years, he became disgruntled and wanted to get out and make some money. Having saved $1,800, he asked his mother to co-sign for a $5,000 loan so he could open a little shop on 1st Street SW — just a half block south of The Bay. Today he owns Lammle’s Western Wear & Tack, one of the largest stores of its kind in North America.

Like Burns, Lammle developed his entrepreneurial spirit early in life and later became a community leader inspiring others to pursue their dreams.

Building a bold future.

Preserving the past.

Adapting to Business Community Needs

By 1994, a Labour Market Study prepared for Alberta Advanced Education and Career Development found computer skills the number one employee training need. The next year, SAIT opened the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Business Technology Centre, a “one-of-a-kind business training facility … for the latest Business and Industry computer software applications,” according to a SAIT press release.  Today, SAIT is not only a leader in offering computer training, but a leader in pioneering online education programs locally and internationally.

On the flipside, one of SAIT’s most innovative partnerships revolves around face-to-face teaching. It started in 1995, when we partnered with the Canadian Professional Accountants (Alberta Chapter) to convert their online study program to a SAIT classroom program. Unique in Canada, it nearly doubled the pass rate of students seeking professional accounting designation, and it continues to evolve.

One of SAIT new study halls...

Adapting to economic change

Calgary’s economy has evolved significantly over the past 100 years, from agriculture and ranching to oil and gas. Today’s marketplace is a global marketplace, and Calgary is a major inland port supporting a growing transportation and logistics industry. SAIT’s business education has also adapted to meet the changing needs of business.

One example is the Supply Chain Management program SAIT has developed on behalf of the Supply Chain Management Association. Courses relate directly to skills needed for purchasing, manufacturing, dispatching, shipping and receiving, transportation, inventory management, warehousing and procurement employment — all vital to giving consumers access to the goods and services Canadians rely on every day.

Heritage Hall is full of wonderful murals above doorways.  

Next Generation

For Becky Salmond (BASCM ’16), enrolling in the SAIT School of Business diploma program was a result of her early career positions as Marketing Coordinator for food distributer Planet Foods and Order Manager for Flextronics.  This work experience not only helped her realized she would need a formal business education to help advance her career,  but also sparked her interest in supply chain management.

Salmond says SAIT’s competitive advantage over other schools is “the small class sizes, which means you get individual attention from your instructors and develop close relationships with your peers. The focus on group work, which can be challenging, also reflects the current business trend of working in teams.” When asked, “Was there a instructor who was instrumental in your career decision?” Salmond quickly responds:  “I could probably take up the entire issue of LINK; however, if I had to choose one influencer, it was a professor who never actually taught me a formal class. Dr. Vicky Roy was the coach of the Business Case Competition for the two years I competed with the team. She was incredibly dedicated to our team, and personally coached me about supply chain management.

“Her guidance, experience and knowledge helped us win the Gold Medal at the 2016 Vanier College BDC Case Challenge. Dr. Roy has enabled me to choose the right career path for me,” Salmond says.

Salmond is continuing her studies this fall in the Bachelor of Business Administration — Supply Chain Management program, one of four new majors added to SAIT’s BBA in 2015. When asked to describe SAIT’s School of Business in three words, she immediately says: "innovative; practical; supportive.”

Last Word

Too often I hear Calgary has no history, yet everywhere I go I am reminded that our city is full of history.  I can't imagine a Calgary without SAIT.

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Fall 2016 edition of LINK SAIT's Alumni magazine.  

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