Volunteer board roles can take up every minute of your free time if you let them—yet knowing this, Douglas Schindel still volunteered to sit on the Athabasca University (AU) Board of Governors.
After having served two terms as the alumni representative, he will be inducted into the Order of Athabasca University at the reimagined virtual Convocation event Oct. 2, 2020.
While he is humble about whether his commitment to AU deserves this kind of recognition, he continues to speak highly of the impact AU’s MBA program has had on his life.
“I always joked that I should have been the poster boy for AU,” Schindel said. “I started my degree when I was 52 years old and took advantage of the things AU offered that other universities don’t.”
“There’s more to a career, more to running a company, than just making money.”– Douglas Schindel
Serving the community as a board member
Like so many AU learners, he couldn’t put his career on hold to earn a university degree, so AU’s flexibility was key. And without having a bachelor’s degree, having the option to apply based on his many years of progressively responsible managerial experience was critical for his success.
“There’s no way I could have done it if it was a conventional program,” he said.
Schindel said he probably first came to the board’s attention as a potential public board member winning the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011, which he was awarded in recognition of his business success as president of Weldco, and his service as a board member to organizations like the Edmonton YMCA, the Boyle Renaissance Development Association, the United Way, and Women Building Futures.
Corporate social responsibility
While he had been involved with volunteer and board roles throughout his life prior to completing his MBA in 2005, he said it was an idea he came across in his MBA studies that really clarified for him the importance of serving one’s community: CSR, or corporate social responsibility.
“There’s more to a career, more to running a company, than just making money,” he said. “You need to be able to provide support for other institutions, organizations, and people that can’t help themselves.”
When the opportunity to serve on AU’s Board of Governors came along, Schindel took it for that reason—he wanted to help—but also because of AU’s unique role. He said the university represents a way to help improve life, across the board for all Canadians, by providing educational opportunities not available through other post-secondary institutions and helping to increase the average level of education throughout the population.
“It became important to me, and certainly by this point in time we had the company on a very successful track,” he said. “It gave me time to volunteer to do some of these other things.”
Helping with the long-term success
He took on the board role in 2013, and in the next six years he helped to usher AU through some challenging times. But he is characteristically humble about his own role in helping put the university on its current trajectory.
“I think it has a lot to do with the fact we were able to attract Dr. Neil Fassina to accept the role of president. He was able to build an executive team with the experience and skill sets necessary to lead AU into the changing requirements of post-secondary education,” Schindel said.
While he left because his term expired, he said he didn’t have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. Rather, he sees board turnover like that as essential to the long-term success of any organization, as younger members with different ideas and different experiences can continue with the good work.
That said, he’s not hanging up his volunteer hat just yet. He will continue to serve as chair of the advisory council for the Faculty of Business, and he’s involved in local volunteer groups in his community. And perhaps most importantly, he’s making more time available to spend with his six grandchildren.