Q & A with an MBA: Howard Koks [MBA/02]
Transforming generosity into dreams
In celebration of 50 years of graduates since our first cohort in 1970, the Asper School of Business has launched the Q & A with an MBA story series. Throughout 2020 we’ll be profiling our Asper MBA students and alumni by celebrating achievements, highlighting the range of career paths and showcasing student and alumni impact in the local, national and international business communities.
Asper MBA alumni Howard Koks [MBA/02] has a unique role. As Executive Director of the Dream Factory, a charitable organization dedicated to fulfilling dreams for children battling life-threatening illnesses, Koks’ top priority is to put smiles on children’s faces.
Koks spoke with us about his role at the Dream Factory and how moved he is by the generosity of the Manitoba community.
Tell us about your role at the Dream Factory
As Executive Director, I’m responsible for day to day operations and report to a community Board of Directors. My day can change from hour to hour or minute to minute. But at the end of the day I have two primary tasks, one is to make dreams come true for kids and the other is to ensure there’s enough money to pay for those dreams.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Certainly it’s when a dream makes a family happy and gives them hope with something to focus on beyond the battle they are experiencing. Or in the great cases where it’s a celebration of beating a disease, that’s very rewarding.
The other thing I find rewarding is seeing first-hand the generosity of time and money that individuals give to this organization to help kids, who in many cases they will never meet. It is absolutely remarkable and heart-warming and nothing short of inspiring. I’ve been here over four years and I’m still shocked on an almost daily basis on the level of generosity we experience in this province. I find this absolutely astonishing.
Are there any unique dreams that you’ve granted?
That’s a tough question to answer as there are so many special ones!
One that was very powerful was when we sent a family to the Galapagos Islands several years ago as that was our grandest dream in some ways. It was for a 17-year old whose dream was to be a marine biologist and a photographer, so it made perfect sense but was a substantial undertaking.
Another one for me as a sports fan was when we sent a boy over to meet the Manchester United Football club. That one was really amazing, not just because it was Man-U but also because we weren’t sure how to make this happen. We ended up taking a shot by posting a message on Twitter asking for someone to help connect us to Manchester United and within an hour we received a call from now coach of Valour FC, Rob Gale. One of his former junior national team players played in the Manchester United development program so Rob knew some of the coaches at Man-U and connected us with them. And within an hour Manchester United called us back and the wheels were in motion.
The remarkable way people respond to help these kids is the coolest thing. We weren’t sure how we were going to make it happen and within a couple hours it came together with one of the biggest sports teams in the world.
Looking back at your time in the Asper MBA program, do any of the lessons you’ve learned still resonate in your current role?
The one thing I find that really carries over from the Asper MBA program is the case study method.
As part of the MBA program we did so many case studies, and I didn’t really think about it as I went through the program but realize now it was essentially training through repetition and practice. The power of habit if you will.
So now in my role when I encounter different scenarios, and as an Executive Director it can be anything from a very sensitive situation with a sick kid, a financial issue, an issue with a volunteer, or an HR issue, I instinctively use my training from the MBA program. I do an analysis of the situation and put the skills to work that I learned in the program. I really do find the MBA program took my management skills to a new level and I think it would be much more difficult to do this job without that training.
Can you recall any memorable moments from the program?
It’s not really specific memories as much as it was more of a memorable overall experience. I remember the interaction with other students and being around really ambitious, intelligent people and having to keep up with them in the program and in the work. To me it was that healthy environment of forcing yourself to be your best, work hard and be successful.
If you could provide an incoming Asper MBA student one piece of advice what would you say?
My number one piece of advice would be to not fall behind on any of your courses. Do all your homework weekly and study hard, especially in your financial courses. This coming from someone who didn’t enter the program with a strong financial background.