MBA Ashley Lawrence Finds Her Place With Hospice HalifaxCharlene Boyce, Sobey School Communications
Hospice Halifax has a calm, peaceful, beautiful property on the Northwest Arm, near the Atlantic School of Theology.
As you enter, the candles in an alcove by the elevator serve to underline the hushed, reverential tone. This could be a day spa or a monastery.
Ashley Lawrence explains that the candles are a hospice feature that, when lit, quietly communicate that a patient has passed away, and honour their passing.
This close presence of death and the lived realities of palliative care are not typical characteristics of an early post-MBA career.
Ashley came from a background in telecom sales and development, but, meeting her in this context, you might be forgiven for being surprised by that.
Armed with a Sobey School Bachelor of Commerce degree in Economics (and three courses shy of an honours economics major), Ashley accepted a role in sales at a large telecom company and found her natural facility with sales, along with her degree-honed attention to data and aptitude for process improvement propelling her up the corporate ladder. From sales leader, she became a sales coach and finally Development Manager.
Along the way, she decided to pursue a part time Sobey MBA, recognizing the value it would add to her career. She got her sought-after last promotion before completing the program.
As Development Manager, Ashley implemented a major innovation that significantly increased the effectiveness and output of the sales team. After this, though, “I felt like a hit a ceiling,” Ashley says.
Responsible Leadership was the MBA course where Ashley connected with Hospice Halifax.
Dr. Margaret McKee introduced the class to Gordon Neal, CEO of the Halifax Hospice. It is Halifax’s first Hospice residence, welcoming 150 patients each year. Generally, a city the size of Halifax would require thirty hospices to meet the demand of the population. The residence opened in April of 2019. Neal challenged the class to work on three projects, a new social enterprise retail development, a planned fundraising hike, and a strategic plan.
Sixteen students in the class divided up to work on planning the projects. The retail development would be a large consignment shop, mostly volunteer-run, which would provide a revenue stream for the Hospice. The hike was intended to raise funds, but also to make more people aware of the Halifax Hospice facility and the need for palliative care resources. The strategic plan could provide a road map for Hospice Halifax to grow and expand, with a goal of eventually opening one or more other much-needed residences. The projects provided a good scope of challenging work for the MBA class.
"Working with the Sobey School of Business MBA students was a great experience. It was fun, engaging, and they provided Hospice Halifax with excellent work for all three of their projects."
Gordon Neale, CEO, Hospice Halifax
In late fall, 2018, cancer patient Audrey Parker brought the issue of palliative care and end-of-life issues to the forefront of public awareness as she fought for the right to die on her own terms. Her struggle inspired donations to Hospice Halifax through a Christmas tree fundraiser run by the Nova Scotia Mental Health Foundation, where Ashley Lawrence volunteered. When Gordon Neale presented to the class, then, Ashley was one of the students who had heard of the work of the hospice.
Ashley, with her sales background, chose to work on the retail development project. She found herself enjoying this new challenge, and inspired by the meaning behind it.
Gordon was pleased with the experiment of engaging with service learning, saying, “Working with the Sobey School of Business MBA students was a great experience. It was fun, engaging, and they provided Hospice Halifax with excellent work for all three of their projects. A lot of their work will be used this year in our strategic plan and events.”
“I'm also thrilled about the connections we were able to make with the students and faculty. We look forward to working with the MBA class, other students, and Saint Mary's faculty more in the future. “
After graduation, Ashley chose to leave her promising executive career, stepping off the telecom corporate ladder. She tried out a few new positions and found that, although she was quickly promoted in each, none of them really felt right.
Meanwhile, Gordon Neal recognized that he needed someone to take on the coordination of stewardship and development at the Hospice. During the service learning projects, Ashley and Gordon had connected in an effort to help engage her telecom boss in working with the Hospice.
Gordon called Ashley for a meeting.
Ashley laughs, remembering. “I sat down and – plunk!- he puts down this stack of paper in front of me and says, I have a job opening. Know anyone who might be interested? And I read it over, and said, 'why not me?' He thought because of my past role, maybe I wouldn’t be interested. But this felt good. I left that traditional corporate climb purposefully. I don’t regret it at all.”
The job was posted, but sure enough, after the posting expired, Gordon called and offered her the role.
It turns out, she is just one link in the chain of connection between Hospice Halifax and Saint Mary's University. Gordon points out that the Hospice board members include honorary doctorate recipient (and Order of Canada member) Jack Flemming; Bob MacKinnon, CEO of Nova Scotia Gaming Corp., who, like Ashley, holds a BComm and MBA from Saint Mary’s; and Paul Bent, BComm’78, recently retired from Grant Thornton.
Today Ashley’s job sees her utilizing her skills developed and honed in her undergraduate and graduate Sobey degrees, along with her work experience in outbound sales, customer-facing relationship building, statistical analysis, the organization of and safeguarding of private data, process analysis and business improvement. She finds the work challenging and feels satisfaction that she is able to make a difference for patients.
During a tour of the Hospice, Ashley points to a bereavement space with a wide set of doors leading outside. “This is where our patients leave.”
It takes me a minute to realize what she means. She describes a metal tree she would like to place in the space, designed to hold glass memorial ornaments, a lasting but organic-feeling reminder of the patients who have lived at the Hospice.
It is fitting to compare these hard, durable materials – metal and glass – to the skills Ashley brings to her job, and the light, compassion and joy the tree will bring to the results of the work Ashley does.