I recently spoke at a stimulating seminar on ‘Leveraging a Business Career into Academic Success’ run by the Foundation for Management Education (FME). Being asked to speak about this was a great opportunity for me right at the beginning of my new job as Dean of the Bradford School of Management.
I had a story to tell about my first faltering steps as a Senior Lecturer at Faculty of Business and Law, Kingston University and how I battled my way over an 8 year period to Director of Postgraduate Programmes at Kingston, then on to the post of Head of MSc programmes at the School of Management, University of Bath and now the greatest challenge of all – the Deanship at Bradford.
This all represented a dramatic change in career trajectory as I had previously had 23 years’ management experience in international roles in Shell – so I speak personally when I say I’m particularly keen that we look outside the strict boundaries of academic achievement to provide the very best business education. I am really passionate about how important it is for business and management schools to bring business leaders on to their teaching staff in order to give real value to our students.
The three barriers business leaders face
I’m very pleased that one of the FME’s key objectives is to encourage business leaders to make this career transition from the business mainstream into business school academia. In fact, it funds training fellowships and development programmes, and helps to find initial funding for new research initiatives. It also provides a fantastic network for the FME Fellows who are mid-career business managers who have moved into academia.
So why is it that business leaders with a wealth of business and management experience behind them feel they are at a disadvantage and lagging behind? These are the three main hurdles they face:
- The lack of published academic work – they have real hands-on experience but no academic credentials.
- They are leaders in their own field – but if they switch to academia, they have to start from scratch or at least way down the pecking order compared to what they’re used to.
- While trying to teach, they also have to play catch-up, working on their PhDs or DBAs in their spare time.
What we gain from extending our business reach
By erecting these barriers, we are missing out on a huge amount of experience:
- Research with business relevance – blending the theoretical with the practical
- Competitive edge – in the jargon of a business strategist, “sustainable competitive advantage for the School”
- Strengthened relationships with the outside business community
- Students with real insight into the realities of the business world they’re about to join.
Ask a student which is more important to them – someone with a huge back catalogue of scholarly articles or someone with hands-on, real-life, relevant business experience and I think we can guess which they’d choose.
Of course, the rigour of academic excellence is important. The high-quality, peer-reviewed research, the structured analysis, the intellectual debate. But does this have to be INSTEAD of business experience. Can’t we have both?