Mergers and acquisitions are the stuff of business school lectures but rarely the stuff of business school organisation. Not so at Reading, where the merger in August 2008 of the University’s finance and real estate groups with the management school at Henley, some 10 miles away, was designed to establish a fully fledged university business school - Henley Business School at the University of Reading.
It is still early days for newly-appointed dean John Board, a finance professor from the University’s Icma centre - Icma stands for International Capital Markets Association - and the man now in charge of with making the merger work. Not only will he have to bring together two previously independent departments at the university with an external organisation, but with an external organisation - the old Henley Management College - which was itself divided, concentrating about half its energies on teaching distance learning MBAs and the other half on short courses for executives.
“Inevitably there is a restructuring that will emerge, but these things are fluid,” says Prof Board. Today the school is divided into three academic departments - four if you count the additional executive education faculty, who teach non-degree programmes on the Greenlands campus, on the banks of the Thames. The biggest department is management, with 60 faculty - essentially the old Henley management college - while the other two, real estate and finance, have less than 60 faculty between them.
Though clearly a tough challenge, Prof Board believes that the financial backing of the main university signals its commitment to make the merger work. Some £3.5m has been invested in refurbishment at the historic Greenlands campus. But it is the Reading University campus that has benefited most: £40m has been spent there on a new business school building for undergraduate, masters and real estate students and on the Icma centre.
The business school will teach everything from undergraduates to doctoral students and, in line with many university-based business schools these days, Prof Board says Henley intends to take full advantage of the expertise in other university departments - meteorology, agriculture, food sciences and psychology are departments with particular strengths at Reading.
This is perhaps unsurprising. A former LSE professor, and an academic through and through, Prof Board’s strength lies in the academic rather than the commercial. As he himself says: “I have not been brought in as a fund-raiser.”
That said, it is on the flagship MBA, rather than specialised finance or real estate degrees, that he his pinning his colours. “We have to build on the strength of the Henley MBA,” he says. “Under my watch the brand will be enhanced but not changed. A flagship is a statement about what defines an institution, in the way that a masters degree does not.”
The Henley MBA will always be a general management programme, says Prof Board - there will no MBA in finance, for example. That said, the MBA curriculum is under continuous review, with topics such as risk management becoming more fashionable since the recent economic crisis. “We’d be criminally negligent if we continued with the programme people took in the 1980s,” says the dean. “I don’t want this to be about heritage or a nice building on the Thames.”
While most business school deans are concerned about the the shortage of able business schools professes, Prof Board is quite relaxed about Henley’s ability to attract top-notch faculty. “Good faculty like to work in good institutions,” he says simply.
The journey towards an integrated full-service business school may be protracted and will inevitably be littered with stumbling blocks - as other merged schools can attest. Prof Board may have already hit the first of these. Part of Henley’s marketing has focused on its triple accreditation - it is accredited by AACSB (the US accreditation body), Amba (the UK MBA accreditation body) and Equis (the European organisation). Though the former Henley Management College held a five-year accreditation from Equis, the recent accreditation of Henley Business School gave the institution its seal of approval for just three years. Reversing this train of events may well be top of Prof Board’s list of priorities.