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June 20, 2011 2:17 am

David Begg: Principal who has led his school to the centre of university life

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David Begg has never been one to blow his organi­sation’s trumpet. But now, with eight years as the principal of London’s Imperial College Business School under his belt, the 60-year old Glaswegian has something to shout about.

Prof Begg says he has always had the following main aims for the business school of the city’s pre-eminent science university: to build it into the “MIT Sloan of Europe”; to develop links between the engineering, healthcare and business departments; and to help commercialise innovation.

With a PhD in economics from MIT, as well as undergraduate and masters degrees from Cambridge and Oxford, he seems well qualified to do this.

But when he started out in 2003, he faced a tough challenge. Prof Begg says that, at that time, the rest of the university had little time or respect for the business school.

That has all changed. “Imperial now realises that having a business school is a huge advantage.”

The school, he says, is a “portal” to the outside world and faculty from the school interact at all levels with other departments in the university.

Prof Begg himself is on the management board and council of governors of the university.

He singles out one collaborative venture in particular: the decision by Microsoft to select Imperial College as the only academic partner for its collaborative innovation club, the Innovation Outreach Programme (IOP), a cross-industry community of multinational companies that work together to come up with business ideas that can be developed into products and services.

The school conducts the business-focused research and works with other university departments on technical proofs of concept and technology development.

One result of the respect that the rest of Imperial College now has for its business school is that it is expanding strongly.

It has 50 faculty, but the university has signed off for 30 more.

“I have hired 12 people since Christmas and I need to keep going at that pace for quite some time,” says Prof Begg. “We’re much the fastest growing part of Imperial.” Part of the reason the business school can grow is that the wider university has not just seen it as a cash cow.

It is not just faculty numbers that are growing, so too are the facilities.

The business school has an im­posing modern building designed by Norman Foster, the British architect, near the entrance of the main university. It is also getting extra space across the road in the grand red-brick Victorian buildings of Exhibition Road and additional lecture room in the main university.

With the exception of the MBA programme, where numbers are down slightly, applications to all of the school’s programmes are growing.

As well as working with the science and engineering departments to teach management skills to scientists and to offer joint degrees, the business school runs seven master of science degrees, including two that it added in 2011 in innovation and entrepreneurship and strategic marketing.

“We’re seeing very strong demand from the 21-year olds ... The market for rocket science with a layer of management on top is very strong,” observes Prof Begg

Three of the degrees are in finance: risk management and financial engineering; actuarial finance; and the MSc in finance, which is ranked as one of the top 10 pre-experience masters in finance degrees in the 2011 Financial Times ranking.

Over the past decade, there has been significant growth in international students, particularly from Asia, on the masters programmes.

Five years ago, the biggest group of alumni outside London were in Athens. Now, Mumbai and Shanghai have the largest concentrations.

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