Pursuing Your Passion
Career Opportunities Ray Muzyka, Co-Founder of BioWare, sits down with Mediaplanet and lends his expertise and advice on finding the right career path and the education to help you get there.
Question: Could you briefly describe your work and educational background?
A: I received a Bachelor of Medical Science degree from the University of Alberta in 1990, a Medical Doctorate from the University of Alberta in 1992, and a Masters degree in Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario (Ivey School of Business) in 2001. After graduating from medical school I practiced medicine full-time for two years—primarily emergency room and rural family medicine 'locum tenens'—then medicine became part-time over the next seven or eight years as BioWare ramped up. I co-founded BioWare in the early 1990s, incorporating in 1995.
After selling BioWare to Electronic Arts in late 2007, in addition to my CEO role at BioWare I became General Manager/SVP of EA’s BioWare Label, comprised of eight BioWare studios and ~1400 full-time staff worldwide. In October 2012, I retired from BioWare/EA after nearly two decades in video games. In my third 'career chapter,' I'm now focused on mentoring and impact investing with new entrepreneurs in information technology, new media, medical innovation and social entrepreneurship, at Threshold Impact.
Question: You graduated from med school, then proceeded to cofound BioWare — how were you able to make that transition?
A: The type of medicine I specialized in—rural family and emergency room practice—enabled me to serve as a 'locum tenens' (temporary replacement) for other physicians at rural hospitals; I had privileges at a dozen or so hospitals across northern Alberta and would practice on weekends initially—then once a month, then every couple months—over the late 1990s, as BioWare scaled and grew. I quite liked emergency room medicine, and only gave it up, reluctantly, when BioWare became too busy for me to be able to practice in rural ERs on the weekends. In the first five years of BioWare post-incorporation, my co-founders (Greg Zeschuk and Aug Yip, both also physicians) and I didn't take any salary from BioWare, so being able to practice as a medical doctor was quite helpful, in that it allowed me to make enough money to pay my mortgage, credit card interest and interest on personally guaranteed bank loans to BioWare!
We didn't have any external investors until 2005, when we had a large private equity investment in BioWare from Elevation Partners, so our background as physicians allowed us to get some small bank loans at the start and enabled us to be able to personally finance the company at the outset. Further, working as an ER or family medicine doctor forces you to work in multidisciplinary teams—both specialists and generalists, in your local hospital and also across other referral centers. This means that your team communication skills and networking abilities are essential for success—attributes that are also very important as an entrepreneur or CEO.
"I've always had a great respect for education, probably because of my parents, who were both teachers—they instilled a lifelong thirst for knowledge in me I think—and also because of what I learned in medical school and medical practice."
Question: You decided to get your MBA after founding a successful company, what type of benefits did you see in seeking further education?
A: I decided to go back to school and get my executive MBA from Ivey (University of Western Ontario) in 1999 after several years running BioWare because of a desire to learn more about business, and to apply everything I could learn back to my work at BioWare. I've always had a great respect for education probably because of my parents, who were both teachers—they instilled a lifelong thirst for knowledge in me I think—and also because of what I learned in medical school and medical practice. I learned that to be a good physician, you have to remain humble, willing to learn and partner with specialists and other team members. Medicine, particularly ER and family medicine, is very much a multidisciplinary team endeavor, and it's very dynamic, so you need to continue to upgrade your skills and knowledge. Basically, I realized that I had a lot to learn and I wanted to attend a strong business school so that I could learn more about business!
Question: How did attaining your MBA aid you in your current and future business endeavours?
A: I've always thought of myself as a generalist—basically a country GP knows a little about a lot of things—and I've always enjoyed the generalist role, both in medicine and in business, since CEOs need to know about all aspects of their business, but they have experts with deep specializations in different aspects of the business across their team. So I knew that the MBA I wanted to take should likewise be a general MBA, with coverage of all the different fields of knowledge in business, including organizational behavior, strategy, marketing, finance and operations. In my exec MBA at Ivey, I was able to apply all of my classes directly back to real world problems that I was facing with my team at BioWare—using the frameworks and knowledge to help us solve challenges we ran into as we continued to rapidly grow.
BioWare was a rapidly growing companyand is in a very dynamic and fast-paced industry with video games at the nexus of both information technology and entertainment; so we faced all kinds of interesting and fun problems over the first two decades of the company—marketing and PR issues, human resource policy needs, organizational structure questions, production and operational constraints, strategic planning opportunities and financing requirements as we scaled. I learned from my professors, who were uniformly excellent, from the case studies, which had great relevance for me as an entrepreneur, and especially from my fellow students, who had tremendous business experience and knowledge. The synergy of having fantastic professors at Ivey, with great case studies and coursework in the Western MBA and amazingly talented and smart peers with me in class was incredible. I learned a tremendous amount from the MBA and still find the lessons from the courses to resonate today, even as I focus on angel and impact investing at Threshold Impact with early and mid-stage companies in information technology, new media, medicine and social enterprise. It turns out that the lessons learned in a general MBA are relevant both to operators and to investors too!
"I've always thought of myself as a generalist—basically a country GP knows a little about a lot of things—and I've always enjoyed the generalist role, both in medicine and in business, since CEOs need to know about all aspects of their business."
Question: Would you recommend further education to individuals already established in their careers?
A: Yes, provided you have the time to dedicate to the classes! You can expect 20 to 30 (or more!) hours per week spent on lectures, coursework and self-study in an executive MBA program; and the work is intellectually challenging. That also makes it incredibly stimulating and fun. I found being able to apply my case studies directly back to my own business actually energized me even more about my business, as it encouraged me to think of new growth opportunities and allowed me to more quickly solve problems that would have otherwise presented barriers to our success.
Frankly, I enjoyed my MBA more than I did medicine—even though I enjoyed that too. It was mainly because I did the MBA later in life, when I had more business and real-world experience; and thus, could relate better to the cases we studied. Medicine also tends to involve a lot of memorization of facts, especially in the first couple years of a medical degree - e.g. anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, etc.; whereas an MBA, particularly an executive MBA, challenges you in different ways—less memorization, but instead more application of frameworks to problems and thinking through the issues from the eyes of the people referenced in business cases.
"Frankly, I find I learn as much from the mentorship with entrepreneurs as I personally give back to them—so it's definitely a two-way exchange of information!"
Question: Do you have any plans in the future to further your education or the education of others?
A: Yes! I'm involved in a number of mentorship programs at a few incubators (Startup Edmonton, TEC Edmonton locally in Alberta and also the Ashoka Support Network internationally, which focuses on social enterprise), and regularly attend network education sessions in the Young President's Organization, which I've been a member of since 2004. Furthermore, I'm now Chair of the advisory board of a new exciting initiative at the University of Alberta, the Venture Mentoring Service (VMS), which is based on the MIT VMS program. The goal of the U of A VMS program is to volunteer to mentor and uplift U of A students or alumni entrepreneurs. I also mentor companies where I've angel invested or where venture capital groups or entrepreneurs reach out to me for advice with my background in IT and/or medicine. Frankly, I find I learn as much from the mentorship with entrepreneurs as I personally give back to them—so it's definitely a two-way exchange of information! I've learned that always being open to learning is stimulating and fun; so my hope is to never stop learning and to strive to continue contributing meaningfully in the next few decades to education for the next generation of students and entrepreneurs.
Question: What type of advice would you give someone looking to start their own business or switch industries?
A: I'd tell new entrepreneurs to remain humble—always be learning, always try to find folks who are smarter than you are to bring onto your team, always respect your employees, customers and business partners. I'd also say that you aren't trying hard enough if you don't make a few mistakes along the way. Risk is part of the game for entrepreneurs, so be cognizant that you need to manage your risks carefully but you need to take chances and place careful bets to be successful. Try to make small mistakes frequently, acknowledge them with your team and learn from them. Always be learning and striving to apply the lessons learned to meaningfully improve your business, your products, your workplace and everything else about your business, every single day. Definitely focus on enjoying the journey! Being an entrepreneur is definitely challenging but it's also incredibly rewarding and fun; and a big reason why is because it's satisfying to collaborate with smart people in a team and to work together to solve tough problems. Don't be afraid to ask for help along the way—and good luck!