2016 Best EMBAs: Louise Richer, McGill University & HEC Montréal

Louise Richer McGill

Louise Richer

McGill University & HEC Montréal

“From day one, Louise stood out in our program. She studied psychology. She used to be a stand-up comedian. What could someone like her contribute to the learning of her EMBA classmates? A lot!”

Age: 63

Location: Montreal (QC), Canada

Family Members: Théo Lepage-Richer (son)

Education: McGill University & HEC Montréal, Executive Masters of Business Administration; Université du Québec à Montréal, completed 12 credits toward a master’s degree in psychology; Université du Québec à Montréal, B.Sc. Psychology

Where are you currently working?  Founder and director, École nationale de l’humour (National Comedy School)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:

  • Appointed to the Order of Canada (2016)
  • Recipient of the Leadership Germaine-Gibara Award, awarded by the Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec) (2015)
  • Recipient of the NPO Businesswoman Award, awarded by the Quebec Businesswomen Network (Réseau des femmes d’affaires du Québec) (2014)
  • Co-founder of the interdisciplinary research center on humour, the Observatory of Humour (Observatoire de l’humour) (2012)
  • Recipient of the Excellence Award (Prix Reconnaissance), Université du Québec à Montréal (2010)
  • Co-organizer of two conferences called Humour as a Mirror of Society (Humour, miroir de la société) (2008 and 2013)
  • Vice president of the board of directors, Professional Association of the Comedy Industry (Association des professionnels de l’industrie de l’humour) (2007-present)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Overall, the various honours I was recently awarded as well as my successful completion of the McGill-HEC EMBA are a great source of pride for me. They testify to my newly developed proximity with the business world; I was mostly peripheral to that sphere for the first 25 years of the École nationale de l’humour (ENH; National Comedy School).

In terms of the program itself, writing my final thesis was a great source of stimulation, and its completion engendered a lasting feeling of accomplishment. My research explores the perception of various senior executives on humour as a strategic management tool. I had the pleasure to discuss with important high-level managers, men and women, from different industries, and the results of these exchanges confirmed the fundamental role that humour plays in establishing proximity, softening organisational hierarchies, solidifying an overall sense of humanity, ensuring team cohesion, and supporting creativity and healthy communication.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My greatest achievement is without a doubt to have founded in 1988 the first art school directly targeted at creators in the field of humour and comedy! Over the years, I have passionately defended the relevance and legitimacy of this institution in a number of forums. Recognized by the Ministry of Education, the ENH is now at the nexus of Quebec’s comedy industry, with 75% of its members (comedians and comedy writers alike) having graduated from our school. I can affirm that the ENH has evolved not only into a pillar of Quebec’s comedy scene, but of its cultural scene in general.

Favorite MBA Courses? Macroeconomy, Ecology of Organizing, and Synergic Collaborations.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? McGill University and HEC Montréal’s joint EMBA was especially attractive to me, as it brings together two of Quebec’s greatest universities to offer incomparable expertise and resources.

What did you enjoy most about business school? As a young 60-something, I was looking for a new challenge, and, coming from the cultural field, business school emerged as the kind of (nicely) unsettling endeavour I was looking for! Truly a stimulating shock! Setting foot in this new world initially made me feel like an impostor, but the great team behind the McGill-HEC EMBA seemed to have anticipated this reaction among its students and actively facilitated our integration, for diversity quickly appeared as a founding value of this program. And what values! I was instantaneously impressed by the program’s structure and pedagogical vision. Through an approach addressing both the brain and the heart, this program exposed us to a wide range of visions focusing not only on the know-how, but also on the know-how-to-be.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? That a nonprofit organization (NPO) is actually a full-fledged business. My initial assumptions toward the management of a NPO were deeply challenged when I realized that core social values could actually be at the cornerstone of a proper growth-driven, ambitious business plan. Managing an NPO is not that different from managing any other type of business.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? I was surprised to see how leadership models had evolved recently! A leader today is first and foremost one who can solidify and distribute meaning within an organisation. Bill Gates’ now famous claim that “as we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others” exemplifies very nicely this ongoing transformation of leadership. Authenticity, coherence, and transparency are among the core values of today’s leaders. The importance of these values among today’s management models truly surprised me … or pleasantly surprised me, I should say!

What was the hardest part of business school? Going back to university 40 years later, while I am myself the director of a school! I felt some discrepancy at the beginning, for I was far from familiar with some of the core topics of the program. Yet, this initial gap soon became a source of stimulation, and the biggest challenge was actually to juggle the workload associated with the EMBA and my responsibilities as the director of the ENH. Balancing everything was very stressful!

What is your best advice for juggling work, family, and education? My main advice would be to prepare everyone around you for what you are about to live. Your colleagues, your team, as well as your family will become active partakers in this endeavour — whether they like it or not! They all need to know what it is going to represent in terms of support and assistance.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? Anyone embarking on this journey needs to know that it is going to be a challenging, collaborative one. They will have to involve their colleagues from day one, as most of their papers will directly address the company they work for. Everyone needs to understand that the program has great value not only for its students, but above all for their company.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” I was invited to give a conference in 2014 for a business audience and realized that I was recognized by them as a fellow entrepreneur! That was a first for me, as I had never considered myself one before! This led me to revisit the ENH’s mission and future from this new perspective. During that same event, I discovered the existence of the McGill-HEC Montréal EMBA program, and it naturally appeared as the perfect avenue to explore new ways to push my organization forward. I then decided that establishing a dialogue between the ENH and the business world would be my last gift to that school that is without a doubt the greatest accomplishment of my career.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” Stuck with the biases, blind spots, and assumptions that I gradually left behind throughout the program. I wouldn’t have been able to renew the ENH’s strategic vision and elaborate the school’s new vision for growth.

What are your long-term professional goals? Translating the ENH’s great expertise in the field of comedy into management lessons and opportunities for the business world. Humour and the workplace, as well as humour and leadership, are hot topics right now. And the momentum is definitely there for the ENH to benefit from the growing urgency to revisit the human capital management models within the private sector as a whole. I strongly believe that we are heading toward a strategic use of humour in the workplace, and the ENH already offers training sessions and interventions to various early-adopters of this vision. I now intend to apply my new knowledge to the refinement and deployment at a larger scale of this unique offer.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I am especially thankful to my classmates for their solidarity, support, generosity, and great insights. We were very different from one another yet all united by this common endeavour. Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses contributed to catalyze and shape our collective learning process. We created for ourselves a space favourable to experimentation and learning, which allowed us to transform our mistakes and vulnerabilities into opportunities to grow, both as professionals and human beings.

Fun fact about yourself: Before founding the ENH, and episodically throughout my career as its director, I worked as an actress … and performed mostly in dramas! While I did perform in some comic roles, my biggest part was in a huis clos, auteur film with a highly tragic storyline!

Favorite book: My favourite book of the moment is Le quatrième mur (The Fourth Wall), by Sorj Chalandon. This fiction novel narrates the story of a French play director who tries to stage Anouilh’s Antigone with actors of various religious faiths during the Lebanese civil war

Favorite movie: We All Loved Each Other So Much by Ettore Scola (1974), or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry (2004)

Favorite musical performer: I listen quite a lot to Belgian pop-artist Stromae these days, but Robert Charlebois remains my lifetime favourite! He revolutionized Quebec’s music scene at a crucial period of its history

Favorite television show: “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver, HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and “Série noire” (an exceptional series from Quebec that I would recommend to anyone, anywhere!)

Favorite vacation spot: Mexico

Hobbies? Having my son keep me up-to-date on the latest ideas, trekking, kayaking, cinema, reading, mentoring, chatting with my friends, drinking, travelling, cooking healthy food, and above all, not tidying up my house. That being said, I haven’t been able to do most of these things during my EMBA!

What made Louise such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

Louise Richer is, quite simply, an exceptional human being. That’s clear from all the awards she’s won, including the Order of Canada, which recognizes her outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and contribution to our cultural heritage. Leaving that aside, what sets her apart is her drive to keep learning and keep challenging herself. Few people at her level will say, in their early 60s, “There’s still a lot I want to learn.” Coming into the program, she was already on top of the heap, being the founder and director of Quebec’s École Nationale de l’humour, a Quebec gem that has graduated some of Quebec’s top comedians. She has a special combination of humility and drive, which led her to the EMBA.

“From day one, Louise stood out in our program. She studied psychology. She used to be a stand-up comedian. What could someone like her contribute to the learning of her EMBA classmates? A lot!

“Louise brought a very different perspective from the other participants. She’s a very dynamic, very curious person. She can understand and analyze complex problems from different perspectives and that’s because of her background; humour is about understanding things from a different angle. However, she wasn’t the class clown. She was serious and dedicated. She’s generous, interested, enthusiastic, and a quick thinker. She’s extremely skilled in understanding people, and better yet, in helping them to understand themselves and each other; she really helped the class evolve. We’re looking forward to seeing where she will take things next. Her capstone paper for the program was a fascinating study of the role of humour in organizations, so we have no doubt we’ll be hearing, and learning, more from her.”

Alain Pinsonneault

Co-Director, EMBA McGill-HEC Montréal

Imasco Chair of Information Systems and James McGill Professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University

Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a Fellow of the AIS


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