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Preparing the Next Generation of Executives

November 2, 2022

Réal Jacob

People don’t become good leaders by accident. It takes more than a winning combination of personal traits: it’s about having the right skills, the right tools and the right experience. Chances are that this process is still very much in flux when someone starts climbing the executive ladder. Studies show that the majority of leaders didn’t feel ready to take on this mantle when it was first offered to them, admitting they were ill-prepared or altogether unprepared to transition toward the C-suite.

The Ascension program, the only program of its kind in Quebec for current and aspiring leaders, senior managers and executive committee members, aims to rectify this. Taught by five experts and eight senior executives, the interactive, intensive curriculum is a unique opportunity for participants to hone their strategic thinking, leverage a full range of innovative tools and expand their network as they make their way to the top. Over the years, the program has catered to the needs of organizations of all sizes.

Ready to learn, ready to lead

The idea behind this program emerged from a series of in-depth interviews conducted with Quebec’s 75 most influential business leaders.

“When I wrote Paroles de PDG with Louis Hébert, in collaboration with the Cercle des presidents du Québec, it was plain that the CEOs we talked to were convinced that things were changing at lightning speed. They said they needed better tools to be better people, better strategists and better leaders, but also to help up-and-coming leaders step into this role,” explained Réal Jacob, professor emeritus, who is also the faculty administrator for the Ascension program, as well as one of the instructors.

The program lets them take a step back and look at the big picture, refine their management skills and carve out a niche for themselves on their executive committee.

“Leaders are constantly being pulled in a hundred different directions,” said Jacob. “Hence the importance of making the time to reflect thoughtfully on their role and ask themselves the important questions, either while they’re on their way up or once they’re there.”

Companies have an upstream part to play in accelerating this process to keep pace with a fast-changing world.

Hands-on learning

The five-day Ascension program has been designed to help current leaders forge a bold vision and to equip those who are poised to follow in their footsteps with what they need to successfully move forward and upward. Rather than focus on specific disciplines (like finance), participants examine the mental patterns that will allow them to shift their perspective, hone their strategic vision, see things in a different light and pave the way for strategic change and organizational transformation. The final module examines some of the personal factors that make for a successful transition to an executive position.

Among the themes explored in greater detail during this course are:

  • Decoding new strategic challenges over a backdrop of uncertainty, volatility and complexity
  • Moving into a management team and making your new leadership role your own
  • Purposefully re-examining your company’s business model
  • Leading through change
  • Choosing what to keep and what to leave behind as you ascend the ranks
  • Identifying the personal factors that may get in the way of your success.

Experienced CEOs also contribute to the program in order to help guide participants through the process, with discussions that are inspiring but also action-oriented, with the tools to back it up.

“The CEOs work directly with the instructors, using analytic frameworks to support their assertions,” explained Jacob. “This helps participants assimilate what they learn, so they can put it to actual use once they’re back on the job.”

Anick Tremblay, Senior Director — Planning, Strategy and Expertise, Hydro-Québec, had this to say of the course after taking it:

“It’s an excellent program that gave us a closer look at the experiences of CEOs and leaders, in order to reinforce the theoretical concepts taught and make them really come alive. Now we can take this knowledge and apply it to our own careers.”

Sharing “been there, done that” experiences

Geneviève Fortier, FCHRP, CEO of Promutuel Assurance and Chair of the Board of Investissement Québec, is one of the eight prominent corporate leaders who guide participants through these challenges and help them embrace effective strategies to overcome them.

Geneviève Fortier

“Early in my career, I would’ve loved to have had access to people who had already made it to the top and learn from their hits and misses,” she said. “Sure, you can pick up a lot by reading about leadership and taking courses, but nothing beats hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth.”

Robert Dutton, adjunct professor at HEC Montréal, former CEO of RONA, and author of the book Mise à niveau, feels strongly that people with leadership designs should not only develop high-level knowledge and skills to take the reins but also sharpen their soft skills so they can achieve their goals and realize their full potential.

Robert Dutton


“The program is doubly inspiring: you learn from the people who are ahead of you on the journey as well as from the people who are right there with you,” he said.

Enriching at both a personal and a professional level

Three days out of the five-day Ascension program are taught in residence. The overall atmosphere is deliberately informal and conducive to sharing experiences of both the expert-to-peer and the peer-to-peer variety. The conversations and interactions throughout each day — during teaching activities, breakout group assignments and even mealtimes — only add to the ambiance.

The program also paves the way to an expanded network of experts and professionals of the highest calibre.

“When you choose the Ascension program, you’re choosing to be part of the HEC Montréal family,” said Jacob. “The instructors are here to answer your questions, which is incredibly helpful when you encounter a real-world business problem, for example, and make sure HEC Montréal’s entire breadth of expertise is available to you.”



1The CEO: A Personal Reflection - Adapting to a Complex World, Egon Zehnder, 2018.
1Ascending to the C-Suite, McKinsey & Company, 2018.



Learn more abot the Ascension program.


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