Transforming Lives: Learners at AU is a testimonial series written by Athabasca University (AU) learners and alumni who want to share how AU has helped shape their lives.
I’m a second-generation trucker, having entered the industry full time after high school. My parents ran the Winnipeg branch of an interprovincial carrier, so I was exposed to the people-side of the business at a young age.
While I didn’t mind driving truck or handling freight, there was always a yearning to pursue a higher education and purpose. After some time as a class-1 driver trainer, I moved my young family west and began a career in operations with Mullen Trucking in Aldersyde, Alberta, first as a dispatcher and eventually growing into a middle manager role.
Beginning my educational journey
I learned a lot at Mullen and was part of the first group to graduate from their business management certificate program in 1995. It provided a good platform to build on for further education that I hoped would position me for a general manager role, perhaps one day as a business unit leader within Mullen Transportation’s growing company portfolio.
My mentor, Bob Baldwin, was an accountant by trade and became our quality program expert at Mullen Trucking. We worked closely on operational improvements. I heard about the novel online learning environment at AU and pursued the online Graduate Diploma in Management. (The program doubles as Master of Business Administration (MBA) Phase 1).
Because of my management experience, I could apply for program admission without an undergraduate degree. My boss, Murray Mullen, endorsed the application with the caveat that I needed the flexibility to step back if the program conflicted too much with my work. To the contrary, the fact that I could relate much of the course material to my job actually enhanced it.
“Because of my management experience, I could apply for program admission without an undergraduate degree.”– Jim Little (Master of Business Administration '03)
Mentorship and working toward an MBA
I was thrilled to be accepted into the program for the fall 1999 intake. AU MBA alum Tom Stirr, who had worked in heavy truck sales, reached out to me given our common industry and was very helpful as mentor in the early going. I’m a visual guy, so printed off the program structure (see left) and kept it displayed in my study area, updating it after each milestone to track progress.
I was fortunate to be awarded a couple of academic scholarships as I worked through the program, staying in lockstep with my cohort for the first two phases. I decided to give myself more time for Phase 3 after being promoted to head office as vice president of quality and training in 2001 (replacing my retiring mentor), as I had new work responsibilities to learn with oversight of human resources and safety for our business units.
MBA, promotion, and lifelong learning
I finished my applied project, Total Quality Safety Management, (supervised by Dr. Anshuman Khare) around the time many from my cohort were graduating in 2002. That fall, my employer Mullen Transportation acquired 2 rival fluid hauling businesses based out of Lloydminster.
I completed my final MBA course, The Human Side of Mergers and Acquisitions, facilitated by Carol MacKinnon and Dr. Deborah Hurst in December 2002, and the last assignment on merging the safety culture between these 2 companies. Ironically, my next promotion 2 years later was president of Heavy Crude Hauling Partnership with the initial task of completing their integration.
My wife, children and father attended the AU convocation ceremony with me in June 2003. While earning my MBA degree was a proud moment, having done so begged the question, “What is next?”
Shakespeare wrote, “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” So it should be no surprise that I enrolled in 3 AU Leadership and Management Development courses in subsequent years as part of my continuous learning journey.
Mentoring the next generation
My wife Tammy and I retired in 2016 after more than 30 years in transportation. That’s when we resurrected our family company, Little Diamond Enterprises, to perform consulting work. I became immersed in a family research project, culminating in the 2019 self-publication of a biography book on the grandfather I never knew, Searching For Connection – The C. E. Little Story. With 3 young grandchildren of our own, it’s important that they know about their heritage, plus their ancestors’ involvement in the First World War
The development of the people I worked with was of high importance to me and still is. I’ve helped mentor 4 colleagues who have undertaken the AU GDM/MBA program. One of those individuals is now the president of his company. As an AU alum, I keep in touch with my network and encourage lifelong learning.
The higher purpose I’ve discovered for myself is similar to Stephen Covey’s The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. In it, Covey writes, “Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.”