Deans Columns

October 24, 2011 12:28 am

Dean’s column: a moral force

Superlatives are scattered freely today. High praise is given for successes that soon diminish in stature and people are lionised for achievements that fail to stand the test of time.

Grigor McClelland is the antithesis of this tendency. He is a remarkable man who, guided by a moral compass that has never wavered, has changed the landscape of British business education in the past 50 years. His life and accomplishments are such that they need no exaggeration.

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As founding director of Manchester Business School (MBS), Prof McClelland laid the foundations from which the school grew into the renowned establishment it is today, and of which I am proud to be an alumnus. As founding editor of the Journal of Management Studies (JMS), he established a title that, 50 years later, remains among the best in the world.

Andrew Likierman, now dean of the London Business School, knew him at Balliol College, Oxford, when Prof Likierman was an undergraduate and Prof McClelland a visiting fellow. “At a time when most managers believed in the ‘University of Life’ and few thought management could be taught or researched, Grigor was well ahead of his time,” he recalls. “He understood that academics and practitioners could usefully talk to each other and that the best management education would come from a combination of theory and practice.”

It came as little surprise when I learnt that Prof McClelland served as a Quaker relief worker in Germany in the aftermath of the second world war, helping the dispossessed and the needy at a time when many in Europe shunned a nation whose actions had caused so much bloodshed. The experience had a profound effect on him.

He always maintained that clear moral compass. Decades later, in 2003, he handed back his CBE in protest against Britain’s involvement in the war in Iraq. Yet he is probably not as well known in the UK as he should be.

Prof McClelland held the role of founding director of MBS from 1965 to 1977. It is important to remember that British management was not in the best of health in the 1960s, and that this was attributed in part to the absence of graduate business schools. The London and Manchester business schools were created in response to this problem. Under his direction, the seeds were sown that would see MBS develop into the significant player that it is today in business, education and the wider economy of the north-west of England, as well as nationally and abroad.

Prof McClelland believed that his business school had a responsibility to improve society. It would graduate managers who, armed with the knowledge and expertise they had acquired, would be more effective bosses. Their companies would in turn generate more wealth and jobs.

It was before he took up his position at MBS, that Prof McClelland created the JMS. In 1963, he believed that a UK-based journal of academic research would contribute to the effectiveness of management as a profession, as well as to social and economic welfare. He initially involved senior members of the business community, but soon turned the journal into a primarily academic publication with an eye towards informing business and management, either directly or indirectly through management education. It remains hugely influential.

Prof McClelland is now 89 years old and the JMS will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2013. It has strong connections to Leeds University Business School, another leading academic institution. Joep Cornelissen, professor of corporate communication at Leeds and a general editor of the JMS, has been involved with this year’s launch of the inaugural Grigor McClelland Award. The award, which recognises the highest standards of academic excellence, went to Jean-Philippe Vergne from HEC Paris for research on reputational dynamics. It seems a fitting tribute.

When he was asked earlier this year why he had worked so tirelessly to develop management education and to make a difference to business and society, Prof McClelland said simply that he had been fortunate enough to make a contribution.

Superlatives are overused today, but I think some could be applied to Prof McClelland. He is hugely generous, talented and charitable. His achievements have not diminished with time, and his successes remain as impressive today as they were half a century ago.

Peter Moizer is dean of Leeds University Business School. He was a reporting member of the Competition Commission and is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

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