The Man Behind the Moustache

Photo by Jeff Christenson.

[I]nspiration is a fickle friend. Sometimes it’s there when you least expect it. Other times what you want more than anything in life is inspiration, and it’s nowhere to be found.

But then it comes to you at the right moment.

In my opinion, the greatest source of inspiration is the inspiration that we find in other people. We might have had a mentor that changed us, that have forced us to look differently at the world. Even more importantly, they might have inspired us to view ourselves in a new light.

What perplexes me is how inspiring people get to where they are. What process does one go through in order to become inspiring? Is there an instructional video that I could watch? If so, where do I get it?

The answers to these questions came to me in my first semester as a business student because of Professor David Schlanger. Schlanger is in the business of inspiration. He has been at the helm of BUS100 for many years now at Ryerson, and tries to reach out to students with his entrepreneurial background. His class, Strategies For Success, is a cornerstone for the business management, accounting and finance programs. It’s in the pursuit of inspiring young business minds to become “master students.”

Starting in 1978, Schlanger began his teaching career at Ryerson as a sessional math teacher. Before the Ted Rogers School of Management existed, Schlanger was a temporary replacement. He had no prospects of a permanent position.

“There was serendipity involved,” said Schlanger. A chair from the University of Toronto (UofT) referred Schlanger to another at Ryerson. After teacher’s college at UofT, Schlanger planned on getting his master’s of education. In order to keep his job full time at Ryerson, he later switched to a master’s in business administration. He came for the opportunities, but stayed for the students.

“I became what I would call a Ryersonian, I started to love this place, because of the practical, the applied, because of the spirit of the students and the growth of the place, I was a part of some exciting growth,” he said, when asked why he chose to stay at Ryerson. Schlanger was made regular faculty after three years of sessional teaching and received tenure 1984.

The key concept that Professor Schlanger emphasizes in his course BUS100 is positivity. In other words, to always find the silver lining, or how he puts it: find the pony in the pile of shit that life can often be. A huge part of this silver lining mentality comes across in his way of teaching business.

“The whole theory behind entrepreneurship is optimism, [and] looking for opportunities,” he said, when asked how he integrated positivity into his life. Schlanger stressed that in the past, when he has reached for the unplayed keys on the metaphorical piano that is life, the results have always proved to be fruitful. He wants students to learn that there is always a bright side, and when we learn how to find it, opportunity awaits.

“Any time you have a problem, you need a solution and a solution can be an opportunity,” Schlanger said.

Another part of Schlanger’s positive outlook is through his fulfillment. Sir Ken Robinson, renowned researcher of creativity and education as well as the mind behind the most viewed TedTalk of all time describes the Element, as the place where talent intersects with passion. The ability or skill that one excels at as well as loves to do leads to a fulfillment like no other. To Professor Schlanger, teaching has brought him this fulfillment.

“Once I was here, I started to really enjoy the teaching because that was my passion, I knew I wanted to a teacher from high school,” Schlanger said. “If you enjoy what you are doing, you got it made, if you can make a living at it… that’s the best. I’m blessed, because I’m able to make a living doing what I love to do.”

In terms of business as a passion and direction of teaching, entrepreneurship has always been a part of his life. Growing up in a family business, and then owning a small business with his wife when working sessional as a professor allowed him to get an insight into the business world. Schlanger’s zeal for entrepreneurship, once again, is rooted in opportunity.  After several years at Ryerson, Schlanger was given the chance to innovate. In the 1980’s there was no real curriculum for business ownership, and so this opportunity to create and educate a fresh and new topic appealed to him. Aside from being a professor, Schlanger is also a executive consultant. This entails coaching managers the same way he coaches students when teaching.

“What I am actually doing outside of Ryerson is a lot of the same things I do with the students. The whole discovery and intention that BUS100 is about is basically what I would do with any client I’m coaching, to discover where they are at and where they want to be,” he said. “No matter where you are, it’s a matter of self awareness. Self awareness is the key. So coaching is still helping anybody say: Where am I? What’s going on? And how do I take it to where I want to go?”

The last question that I had for him just so happened to be the first question that I had sitting in BUS100. As a student, listening to Schlanger convinced me I need to change my outlook. What inspires Schlanger to be who he is? His answers, at first, weren’t entirely exactly revolutionary. We all find inspiration in our families and friends, as Schlanger first explained. But what came next gave me insight into how inspiration truly works.

“I’m inspired by students who give it their all,” he said. What inspired Schlanger was the very students that he set out to inspire. To complete the cycle, Schlanger told me about his high school math teacher that took interest in him, and how he was moved to be a teacher by his efforts.

“The truth about teaching students is that they are all the same, they all have the same kind of aspirations, but of course everyone is unique, everyone has their own experiences.” His goal and challenge as a teacher is to reach every student on a personal level, even though he lectures in such great numbers. This is what inspires him. To reach out to as many students as possible, and having student’s lives change, which is truly the purpose of education.

After receiving several teaching awards in statistics, entrepreneurship and BUS100, becoming assistant chair of the school in student affairs and growing as an integral part of the Ted Rogers community, Schlanger continues to inspire students. In my view, he is a exemplary professor, and educator that has inspired many. I have no doubt that he will be an integral part of many students’ future success stories.