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Business / Marketing

Designing Woman Learns Business Side First

by: Mark Toljagic

“Operations management” is not one of those careers that comes easily to mind.

Nobody is watching dramatic TV shows about production managers, at least not in the way doctors or even forensic investigators are glorified on television these days. Despite the profession’s low profile, former college student Ruth Adu Poku believes operations management is a rewarding career field and one that’s surprisingly commonplace.“It encompasses all the things that are the operations of a business – the finances, marketing, human resources, production and inventory. It ties everything together,” says Adu Poku, 23. Not surprisingly, she didn’t grow up wishing to become an operations manager.

Instead, Adu Poku had an intense interest in fashion design. But rather than apply to the many overcrowded design programs she took a different tack by learning the business side of fashion first.
Her newfound interest in business studies brought her to college, where she enrolled in Business Administration. As a college co-op program, Adu Poku had the opportunity to spend three semesters working for three distinct employers, learning on-the-job skills and putting her business knowledge into practice.

Her first placement was with Covenant House youth shelter, where she worked in finance, accounting and purchasing – giving her well-rounded exposure to the operations of a non-profit organization.
Adu Poku puts to rest the misconception that co-op work is little more than sweeping floors and operating the photocopier.“I learned everything from handling purchasing invoices to using ACCPAC (popular accounting software), all of which reinforced my college lessons,” she says. College co-op placement typically pays $10 to $13 per hour.

Her second work term dispatched her to AlarmForce, a home security company, where Adu Poku performed data entry, filing and plenty of customer service. While it was repetitious, she appreciates the fact it exposed her to live customers, experience that means a lot when you’re contemplating starting your own business.

Her third co-op job was the most challenging. Working for an IT consulting firm whose major client was the federal government, Adu Poku learned how to write responses to Requests for Proposals (RFPs), essentially bidding on government work contracts.She got so good at it that when her director left the company, Adu Poku remained to run the Toronto office – alone. Despite the abrupt change, she was able to continue writing proposals and winning contracts for the Ottawa-based company.

As if her work assignments weren’t consuming enough, Adu Poku found time to volunteer at a charity called Dress Your Best, which helps people dress and prepare for job interviews. She also sews her own clothes during the few hours she has for herself. When she completed her three-year Business Administration diploma, Adu Poku discovered she needed only a few more credits to earn a second major in Operations Management, which she is currently completing this semester.

“The program is perfect for expanding the fields you can go into, especially if you want to start your own business,” she notes. Despite her excellent co-op experience, Adu Poku hasn’t forgotten her original plan to work in the fashion industry. After graduating, she intends to start a business venture with her cousin to make a unique line of women’s T-shirts. But, knowing her, Adu Poku will probably continue to work with other dynamic companies, and pursue a university degree, too.In her characteristic understated way, she concludes: “I’m very confident I can do something with what I’ve learned.”

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