Dec. 12, 2023Print | PDF
The idea of retiring with a pension and a nice watch is something Lazaridis School of Business and Economics alumnus Simon Chan (MBA ‘01) never pursued. Instead, Chan has worked to create a career path that has enabled him to grow as a leader, spend time with his family, and dig into how the ways we work and learn are changing — and what that means for leaders.
While previous generations often worked for one employer for their entire career before retiring, workers from Generation X to Z aren’t just switching employers often, they’re taking sabbaticals and time off to pursue educational and personal goals.
Chan has lived this new career model since graduating from the University of Waterloo, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology specializing in organizational behaviour. After graduating, Chan started his professional career at TD Canada Trust before moving to Sun Life Financial, where he worked in its Group Retirement Solutions business unit.
While at Sun Life, Chan decided to shake up his career path. He said he wanted to round out his education with a formal business degree. He decided to take a year break to pursue the full-time MBA program at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“I looked at a number of different programs, one of which was Laurier’s. What I really liked about the Laurier program was that it was a one-year program versus other business programs that were usually over two years. I also really liked the feel of Laurier as a campus in terms of just the ability to get to know other people thanks to the small class sizes,” Chan said.
During his year at Laurier, Chan developed an interest in finance and worked with his manager at Sun Life to find a new opportunity for when he returned.
“One of the things I learned while I was at Laurier was the importance of the financial aspects of a business. The role I went back to at Sun Life was as a Senior Financial Analyst. I went from the investment side to my MBA and then into a finance role,” Chan said.
In 2003, Chan took his mindset of learning from diverse experiences to Manulife. He spent the next fourteen years doing what he called the “tour of duty” at Manulife, including time in its banking division, wealth management, retail insurance, and group retirement. While working in group retirement, Chan started to think about how clients were planning for retirement — and what questions they weren’t asking.
“Clients would often ask how much money they needed to save to travel or spend time with their grandchildren. I thought it was interesting that we never talked about the non-financial aspects of retirement. What were their plans to replace the purpose and meaning they got from work? How did they play to shift their identify away from their profession to what was next,” Chan said.
Another aspect of the conversations that piqued Chan’s interest was how clients deferred doing things like travelling or spending time with family until after retirement. It was this part of the conversations that inspired Chan to take another break from his career to spend time with his parents and his high school-age son.
“Part of the reason I took a year-long sabbatical after almost 20 years in financial services was I wanted to do the things that had what I call an expiry date. My parents were in their late 70s. My son was going into high school. I wanted to travel with him before he went off to high school and before my parents got too old,” Chan said.
The other reason for Chan’s sabbatical was to refocus on his interest in innovation. He said he wanted to develop practical skills in the area, which led him to Communitech, an innovation hub in Kitchener. At Communitech, Chan worked in corporate innovation before developing and running its Future of Work & Learning program. The program connected academia, private and public sectors to form a coalition of more than 20 organizations to share insights into emerging talent attraction and retention trends.
“When we were talking to companies, one of the areas they had started thinking about was how to attract talent to evolve their companies to become more innovative. These conversations included how the workplace was evolving and what were the emerging models for how people work,” Chan said.
Topics like hybrid work and flexible work arrangements were not mainstream ideas at the time, but then the pandemic struck and suddenly, the future of work wasn’t years off — it was happening in real time.
“The pandemic accelerated everything that we were talking about around the future of work, from hybrid and remote work to the gig economy. That worked inspired what would become Adapt with Intent,” Chan said.
Adapt with Intent Inc. is a boutique consulting firm that works with leaders, educators, and organizations to reframe their thinking and redesign new ways of working across life stages. The company focuses on the intersection of longevity and work to see how we can adapt careers and work systems and what “retirement” might look like in the future. For Chan, the business is an opportunity to continue the conversations about the Future of Work & Learning and help organizations and individuals create the best possible work life balance.
“With Adapt with Intent, I’m looking at the intersection of how increasing longevity — how people are living longer — is reshaping work and careers,” Chan said. “How is living to 90 or 100 reshaping retirement? How is that going to reshape careers, which used to be a 30 to 40 year sprint and now are a 50 or 60 year marathon? Many people may not retire in the same way that we think about today where we view retirement as full stop and the end game. My intent is to work with leaders to start shifting their mindset and test different models so they can start modernizing their workforces today.”
Chan added that Adapt with Intent has taken him back to where he started helping the financial services sector change how they help individuals plan for retirement more holistically.
Working with businesses and individuals is only part of Chan's work to change how we think about career models. He is also working to help higher education look at programming to support new ways people can plan for a 60-year career. Chan is a Dean's Advisory Council member for the Lazaridis School of Business, and in 2021, Chan he joined the Wilfrid Laurier University Board of Governors as Vice Chair. In these capacities, Chan said he hopes to help Laurier adapt to the future of work and increased longevity.
During conversations about the Future of Work and Learning, Chan said many partners recognized how the post-secondary alumni associations model could benefit private sector businesses.
“There's much that employers can actually learn how Laurier and other post-secondary institutions keep in contact with their alumni. They think about those alumni as part of their family for life and create opportunities to engage with them — businesses can do this with their employees too,” Chan said. “People don’t work at one employer for their entire career anymore. I think we have to open up our minds to new models to think more like a university around how can you create potentially alumni networks of graduates or people who have been part of your workforce and keep them involved.”
Chan said that while innovation often only gets mentioned in terms of business, it is education where innovation can have the most impact. He added that Wilfrid Laurier University is the perfect place for him to give back and help shape the future.
“I really wanted to find an institution to volunteer at that my heart was with. I started with the Wilfrid Laurier Alumni Association to look at how we could re-engage alumni. Then the opportunity with the Board of Governors came up and I thought that's a great way to get involved to help the institution evolve.”