Please join the Faculty of Business in welcoming Russell Kalmacoff as our inaugural Executive in Residence!
“With a plethora of business experience over four decades in several business ventures, Russell has created and continues to grow a vast business network with connections reaching all over the world. We couldn’t be more pleased to have Russell as part of the team and we are excited to see where this new collaboration takes us,” said Dr. Deborah Hurst, Dean Faculty of Business.
Russell Kalmacoff is a savvy businessperson with expertise in capital markets. He is a lateral thinker who has found that when operating at forty thousand feet – dots can be connected that others often miss, and disparate ideas can be hot-wired into actionable forward momentum. He is excited by the prospect of helping connect the dots and sharing his knowledge with students and alumni, in simple terms, on how to raise and secure capital for business ideas. Russell has worked on developing a 10-step path along the Innovation Continuum that can be utilized to assist students and alumni for turning business ideas into successful business realities. As the Faculty of Business’ first-ever Executive in Residence, Russell is excited and open for the opportunity to engage with students and alumni as they journey along their path of academic and business success.
Athabasca University’s Faculty of Business (AUFB): What excites you most about this new Executive In Residence (EIR) position?
Russell Kalmacoff (RK): AUFB is a carte blanche, a tabula rasa, unlike the more mature, hidebound institutions. Business Schools are unique among their peer faculties. They are where academic theory engages with the real world. I think we can do great things here. For example, I’m happy to provide mentorship for a paper on the operation of credit unions in Alberta to look to Quebec to see what they’ve done. I envision communicating it to government and then writing policy to get results.
AUFB: How are you hoping to impact AUFB students and alumni in this new role?
RK: I believe passionately in business schools. The number one most important thing is research carried out by universities. From the research, it’s important to determine what’s commercializable. Business schools have the capability to understand, discern, and communicate what’s possible to the private sector and capital markets. I hope to assist in propelling student ideas along the commercialization trajectory.
AUFB : How would you describe your style of leadership?
RK: Inspirational laissez faire vs. command and control. Rather than give people commands I prefer to inspire people, give them latitude and a long leash because that’s when better things happen.
AUFB : Who or what has been the most noteworthy influence on you professionally?
RK: There are two people who are as relevant today as much as ever. The first was from my time as a student at the University of Manitoba: Dean Ralph Harris. It was his course: Government and Enterprise that showed me how it ain’t black and white. Dean Harris explained really early on about the importance of nuances between opposing groups and how to break them down simply. This is something I still apply today.
The second person was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley: Federal Reserve VP, Robert Einzig and his course Money and Capital Markets – a tour de force that brought the subject alive, with humour and a twinkle in his eye. It was under the guidance and mentorship of Einzig that I wrote my first paper to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
AUFB : What’s the most important piece of advice you could pass onto AUFB students and alumni?
RK: Don’t ever feel that you’re boxed in or cornered. There’s always a way onward and upward. If you find yourself feeling like there is no solution, then go and do something different from what you are currently doing. Take a break and find something that excites you and energizes you. Allow yourself time to soak it in. The time away from whatever is presenting a challenge should act as a re-set button, thus providing the will to overcome the challenge. For instance, when I’m feeling ground down one thing I like to do is get on a plane and spend some time in the San Francisco Bay Area – the land of boundless optimism. I find the energy in the area reinforces my will for forward momentum.
AUFB : What are your plans to engage with the students and alumni in this new EIR role?
RK: The present state of capital markets is chaotic and confusing. I’m very excited and honoured to be involved in the development of a model that summarizes and clarifies capital markets Interface throughout the Innovation Continuum. Beginning with the entrepreneur drawing from the well of pure research, and identifying a commercializable idea. It’s been a team effort between myself and AUFB, specifically the finance department, to define 10 steps that can lead the entrepreneur to emerge with a viable, stand-alone public company with all the tools of the capital markets at the corporation’s disposal. I look forward to assisting and engaging students and alumni as we plug in their ideas to the 10 steps comprising the Innovation Continuum.
AUFB: Do you have any ideas or plans about how you can act as a business connector for AUFB students?
RK: There’s an organization of angel investors: The National Angel Capital Organization (NACO). It’s a group of seasoned business people who don’t mince words or suffer fools. These angels typically hear business pitches from a team that includes the CEO and a CFO, at a minimum. One function of angels is to evaluate business pitches and provide feedback in order for the presenters to polish their pitch. Angels is actually step six of ten on the Innovation Continuum. I’d be happy to hear business ideas from students or alumni and act as a connector wherever I am able in order to turn ideas into business realities.
AUFB : What’s your take on mentorship?
RK: A mentor’s guidance can be invaluable, lives can change. When you’re able to say, simply: “don’t go through that door, go through THAT door.”
AUFB : Describe Canada’s entrepreneurial culture as you see it at present.
RK: We are victims of the legacy of the United Empire Loyalists who rejected “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in favour of “peace, order and good government,” which has led to a culture of excessive deference to authority, and suspicion of entrepreneurship.
AUFB: In what direction is the world going?
RK: In three places – San Francisco Bay (Berkeley, Stanford); Boston (Harvard, MIT); and, Oxbridge (Oxford, Cambridge); certain people (Stuart Russell, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Nick Bostrom, Bill Gates) are ringing alarm bells regarding the approaching point at which machines are smarter than us. This is not just the challenge of the Century, it’s the challenge of the Millennium. It’s the ultimate challenge of management science/operations research. A peer in this group is Richard Sutton who teaches Introduction to Artificial Intelligence at University of Alberta, and wrote the classic Reinforcement Learning.