Wanda Costen is leading change in business education.

Wanda Costen

A tremendous change is underway in business. Technology is altering how organizations operate. COVID-19 continues to test governments, institutions and businesses. Companies are being called upon to address racial injustice and pressing societal issues like poverty and climate change.

Business needs are changing as a result. As the Dean of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, Wanda Costen is working to ensure that organizations have access to the talent they need to succeed. 

“At the end of the day, we’re providers of talent. As business needs change, talent must also evolve,” Wanda explains. “Business education must adapt its curricula, research and student experience to meet these changing needs.” 

Wanda is helping to lead that change in business education. She sees three key areas in which schools must adapt.

The first is recruitment. Are schools enrolling the right students to meet global talent needs? It’s an important question. The business world is diverse and graduates can expect to work with people from many different backgrounds, countries and cultures. The classroom experience should reflect that diversity—both in its students and professors.

“It’s not enough to simply graduate good corporate citizens.”

Second, schools must rethink how they teach. “We must focus on the competencies and skills that employers need going forward,” Wanda says. Core business skills are important, but students need to learn how to navigate the world, solve problems and engage with others.

Third, business schools must become leaders in making a positive difference in society. Through research and partnerships, business schools can contribute to solving the world’s biggest issues. At the same time, they must use their considerable resources—including faculty and student expertise—to improve their own communities.

“It’s not enough to simply graduate good corporate citizens,” Wanda says. “We must prepare students to be leaders who understand their role in society regardless of the sector: business, government, entrepreneurship or not-for-profit.”

The army life.

Wanda’s life and career make her well-suited to guide Smith through this evolution. 

As a child, Wanda moved every three to five years. Her dad was a U.S. soldier; her mom worked for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the military’s retail arm. Postings took the family from Texas to Kansas to Oklahoma, and back to Texas again. The family’s first significant trek was to Germany.

“It was a very different experience for a 12-year-old with two younger brothers, but we weren’t worried because my parents—working-class people from the Northeast—were excited about it. They fell in love with Germany. They embraced the language and told us to learn the culture. I think that taught us not to be afraid of new cultures and new experiences,” she recalls.

After high school, Costen attended the United States Military Academy at West Point.

“Most people expect to hear that I grew up in a military family and followed those footsteps, but that is not what happened,” she says. It was her Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. high school elective that inspired her to join the Army.

I took [JROTC] and was good at it. By the time I moved into my senior year, I was the battalion commander for the entire school, and I realized that all the people ahead of me who had been in that role went to West Point,” Wanda says. 

The experience taught me a lot about the evolution of a historic, traditional institution, how people’s experiences can differ, and what it means to be welcomed, invited in and treated equally.”

She was in West Point’s seventh class that included women. “The first class entered in 1976. I graduated in ’86, so we were the 10-year anniversary of women just being at the academy.” Wanda recalls “a lot of backlash against us from male cadets, and we didn’t understand why that was happening.” But she adds: “The experience taught me a lot about the evolution of a historic, traditional institution, how people’s experiences can differ, and what it means to be welcomed, invited in and treated equally.”

After graduation, Wanda served as a platoon leader and military police officer. Following that, she moved into business, working at PacTel Paging, Xerox, Pepsi, Greyhound and Aramark. “I developed a background in sales, moved into operations and then human resources.”

Her pivot into academia came while visiting universities in her role as an HR director with Aramark. “One of my responsibilities was to recruit new talent. I would be invited into the classrooms at Washington State University where I would guest lecture and meet the students. The director of the program kept saying to me, ‘We need people like you in post-secondary,’” she recalls. “The next thing I knew, I had an offer to teach as an instructor and get my PhD.” 

While earning her executive MBA from Pepperdine University, Wanda read a book called The Path that changed her life. “I’ll never forget it. It helps you write a mission statement for your life. At the end of the book, it asks: Are you living your mission statement? My answer was: kind of, but not really…so I just took a leap [into academia],” she says.

With teaching, she’d found her calling. “I fully believe this is what I’m put here to do. I loved every job I had, but when I got in the classroom, it just fit,” she says. “It’s about impact. It’s about passion. It’s about love. It’s about integrity. It’s about helping people achieve their best.”

A new vision.

Wanda joined Smith in July 2021 from MacEwan University, where she was dean of the business school. She’s now leveraging her skills from a 35-year career spanning the military, private industry and academia, and her lived experience of the challenges of lack of diversity in business and education, to contribute to Queen’s University’s strategic vision.

“I wanted to be part of an organization that is ready to do things differently, that’s ready to position itself for what I believe business education is for the 21st century,” she says. 

In her first year on the job, Wanda has spent considerable time talking to business leaders locally, nationally and internationally. A common theme has emerged: the need for talent that not only possesses strong core business knowledge, but also has an understanding of the importance of a business’ societal impact. Companies want proven abilities in teamwork, communication, cultural competence and social skills. 

“We have to recognize that today raw talent looks differently, presents differently, has different experiences.”

Meeting these new organizational expectations not only requires business schools to transform how and what they teach, but also broaden who is taught and who gets to teach.

“We have to recognize that today raw talent looks differently, presents differently, has different experiences,” she says. “Business education must be accessible to people from different backgrounds. In a global business world, students benefit when they learn from professors with varied experiences from around the world,” Wanda says.

Wanda notes that Smith is working from a foundation of strength, with faculty, staff and alumni who support her commitment to providing a transformative, innovative and inclusive approach to business education.

“We can impact the global business education sector, and as such, impact global business. I intend to take us there.”

Meet Tyg Davison, a former model and founder of CITIZEN AGENCY.

Tyg Davidson

Tyg Davison is a former model and founder of CITIZEN AGENCY, a full-service model and talent management agency based out of Toronto. With a modelling career spanning over a decade, Tyg has worked closely with some of the world’s most prestigious and revered designers, like Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs, and has shot campaigns for brands like Miu Miu, Maison Martin Margiela, Zara, Saint Laurent, Adidas Y-3, and Rick Owens. After gaining invaluable experience and perspective as a model, Tyg wanted to manage and empower the next generation of models and founded CITIZEN. 

 

My first job ever was… at 15 years old, assisting the Recreational Director of a retirement home. I helped facilitate the activities for seniors living there which was so much fun. I made wise friends, always eager to impart advice, listened to Elvis CDs on repeat, and learned how to play Blackjack from a fiery group of women. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… although starting a company comes with risks, I feel so much more secure and confident in my life and in myself by building something that I am responsible for and rely on. 

As a model travelling alone internationally, I became independent very quickly at a young age. I was represented by many modeling agencies around the world, but I was self-employed. It is a misconception that models are employed by modeling agencies. When I took my first position as an agent with an agency as a full-time employee in Canada, I realized how much I missed the feeling of building something with my vision that I can shape and take ownership of — and also making my own schedule!

I founded CITIZEN AGENCY because… after having modelled for a decade and then working as an agent, I had the rare opportunity of experiencing both sides of the business. I saw so much room for change and evolution in the way models are managed in the industry. I truly believe that to properly represent models, to protect them, to empower them, and to teach them everything they need to know, you need to have lived that experience. 

“I truly believe that to properly represent models, to protect them, to empower them, and to teach them everything they need to know, you need to have lived that experience.”

I’m passionate about creating opportunities for the future generation of models and talent because… I say it often, but modelling changed the course of my life. It brings me such a sense of accomplishment and joy being able to facilitate that for others. It’s a difficult industry to navigate, but with the right team of agents behind you, it teaches you so much about yourself and how to navigate the world with independence and confidence. 

An international modelling career forces you outside of your comfort zone, immerses you in new cultures, challenges you with language barriers, and introduces you to talented people you would have otherwise never crossed paths with. I am so passionate about creating those special moments for others.

One of the most important things I learned about myself during my time as a model is… that I can do hard things. It’s a simple statement, but even now when I’m faced with a difficult situation, I say to myself, “you can do hard things” over and over. I will get through it — whatever it is, it will pass. 

There’s so much rejection in the fashion industry that I learned not to internalize as a model, people to stand up to, uncertainties and lessons to learn, and I had to take care of myself as a self-employed teen girl travelling alone.

My proudest accomplishment is… My proudest accomplishment has been developing a roster of models and talent who really are beautiful humans — inside and out. I feel like I’ve connected with everyone I represent and am so grateful to each of them for trusting me with their management. I’m really quite proud and humbled that they chose CITIZEN so early on in the agency’s story.  

My biggest setback was… My biggest setback so far has only been financial. Money does not buy happiness, but it does buy opportunity! I started modelling when I lived in a women’s shelter with my mother and sister, and it sent me across the world. I’m so passionate about what I do and am committed to making it work because I wholeheartedly believe it will. However, bootstrapping every business move on your own sometimes makes you move at a slower pace you’d like. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t give up! I think deep down, we know if it’s going to work or not. If your idea or company is all you can see yourself doing in life, then it’s worth the risk. I often ask myself, “if I don’t do this, will the 99 year old me regret not trying?” Also, surround yourself with people who inspire you and support you. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… “Just relax.” 

The thing I love most about what I do is… The fact that there are no two days that look alike. I’m dealing with different people every day. All creatives, all inspired to collaborate, all interesting humans I feel fortunate to meet.

“I think deep down, we know if it’s going to work or not. If your idea or company is all you can see yourself doing in life, then it’s worth the risk.”

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… The reason I am where I am today is because of the people I have in my life. My partner is so incredibly supportive and pushed me to start CITIZEN AGENCY regardless of the uncertainty. I am beyond fortunate to have had someone so encouraging enter my life. He is exactly what I — and CITIZEN — needed. My family has cheered me on at every step and celebrated my growth. My friends have loved me through every doubt and dread. I am held up by my circle, and I owe everything to them. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… If you Google me, you’ll come across interviews in several different languages and good and bad photos of me in various states of undress, so it’s hard to come up with something that can’t be Googled! I suppose there are stories behind each of them: stories of hilarity, frustration, and often, absolute chaos! Those stories definitely can’t be Googled. 

I stay inspired by… Creating new opportunities and watching people grow, and it’s not just for the people I represent, but also for the community. I serve as a council member for Covenant House in Toronto, which I hold near and dear to my heart. Having stayed in a women’s shelter as a young teen myself, it’s so important for me to contribute ideas to an incredible organization like Covenant House for youth experiencing homelessness. 

The future excites me because… The future excites me because I work in an industry that is constantly evolving. I have so many ideas that I want to introduce not only in my agency, but the fashion industry here in Canada as a whole — but who knows what the industry will look like, even in the next year? That’s the exciting part, the inspiring part, the scary part. 

My next step is… My next step is a surprise. It’s phase two of CITIZEN AGENCY that I can’t wait to start working on when the time is right.