By Noushin Ziafati
On Feb. 24, fourth-year Ryerson global management studies student Maria Poonawala took over IKEA Canada.
Through the Odgers Berndston’s CEO x 1 Day program, she shadowed and acted as the chief executive officer (CEO) of the company.
The program matches third and fourth-year university students with some of the country’s leading CEOs, giving them an opportunity to take in-class learning and apply it to the real world.
“The [CEO x 1 Day] program provided me with a glimpse into that executive search process, which again consists of getting meaningful feedback on a leadership style, as well as gaining the hands-on knowledge of what it takes to be a successful leader,” Poonawala said.
Poonawala went through an intensive application process very similar to an executive search process, which included several rounds of interviews as well as writing an essay and handing in a transcript and a resume.
“What I learned by participating in the program was to never lose your curiosity about learning as well as the importance of refining the scale of selling your personal brand. Each step of the selection process taught me a lot about my weaknesses and strengths when it comes to leadership skills.”
She was one of 18 students selected out of hundreds of applicants across Canada to spend a day leading a major company in Canada.
Bright and early, Poonawala started off her day as CEO at 7:45 a.m. She met with CEO of IKEA Canada Stefan Sjöstrand and they chatted for a couple of hours, discussing several things such as their personal backgrounds, the vision behind IKEA and technology in retail.
After that, Poonawala met with the marketing team at IKEA to go over a new marketing campaign called “Every Second.” Poonawala is minoring in marketing, so the company wanted her to get a peek at the marketing side of IKEA.
Sjöstrand then took her on a tour through the store and explained the positioning of the merchandise and the reasoning behind the IKEA store’s complex layout.
This was followed by a management review meeting, where they discussed IKEA’s 40th anniversary in Canada. Sjöstrand gave Poonawala a lot of background of what was going on and asked for her input as well.
“He really made me feel like I had a voice even though I had only been there a day,” Poonawala said.
At the end of the day, the two discussed what they had learned from each other during the experience.
“One thing I learned is really how to look at [things] from a big picture perspective … because there are so many different moving parts as a company. As a CEO, you really need to have a long term vision and create those little strategies to execute that vision,” Poonawala said.
Sjöstrand gave her some meaningful advice — to always follow one’s inner compass, to go after what you’re passionate about instead of money and to live and breathe the vision of a company.
“From Stefan, I really learned how to look at all those moving parts of the business and sort of put it together like a puzzle, and sort of go from there.”
She even offered advice to Sjöstrand, suggesting that IKEA should grow its business-to-business segment, meaning to expand its business ventures with other companies, which Sjostrand told her is something the company is looking into for next year.
Poonawala said that being able to see the theories that she has learned about as an international business major in school being applied in a business such as IKEA, as well as being able to talk to several business executives was definitely invaluable to her.
“I’m super thankful for this opportunity because I think experiential learning is such a good complement to anyone’s education. Since I’m in my last semester, it’s the perfect way to end off university, especially shadowing the CEO of a global company such as IKEA.”