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It is often difficult to identify trends in business education. But there is one trend that has grown into a veritable fashion in Europe: the appointment of non-academics as business school deans. And not just any non-academic will do. What schools are looking for are managers that have worked their way to the top of professional services firms.

At Insead it was accountancy; at London Business School (LBS), management consultancy; and at the Cass school at City University, a career banker, who more recently moved into the civil service, has been appointed as dean of the school.

Richard Gillingwater looks every inch the City gent-cum-Whitehall mandarin. Aged 50, it is easy to imagine him wearing a bowler hat and carrying a rolled umbrella. Softly-spoken and amiable, Mr Gillingwater joined the school on a part-time basis this month but will take over the reins fully in April.

Although he is still taking what he calls a “high level” view until he gets his feet firmly under the dean’s desk in the spring, he is clear about what he can do for the school and what he cannot. “Being realistic, my role is going to be an out-facing one. I know my limitations.”

One of his primary roles will be in fund-raising, where he is likely to compete head on with LBS’s incoming dean, Robin Buchanan, who is joining the school from Bain & Co where he is a senior partner. Ironically, Mr Gillingwater says the two men know each other well, having met frequently in a business context.

Although he is not an academic researcher – but does have an MBA degree from IMD in Switzerland – professors at City can rest easy about the value he puts on their research.

“The thing that makes this place tick is the academics,” he says “Cass has huge strengths in the finance field and is one of the leaders in finance in Europe. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the whole management [research and teaching] piece here. There are real pockets of expertise. We have very high-quality faculty who are real stars in their own right.”

While the City of London is the clear stamping ground for Cass, the new dean believes the school can develop beyond teaching just finance. “Can the management side be developed?” he asks. “That is one of the big challenges.”

He believes a lot can be done to promote a high level of general management in the City – in, say, personnel management. General management is also important in multinational companies, many of which have headquarters in London, he says. He himself is on the board of retailers Debenhams and the vehicle parts maker Tomkins, both of which have their head offices in the capital.

Developing professional management for City firms is something he learnt the hard way. He recalls when he was working in banking and was sent off to set up a division with two others. “I had no great training to do that but I had an MBA from IMD, which meant I was doing better than my two colleagues.”

What is clear is that Mr Gillingwater knows the City of London like the back of his hand. He worked for a decade at Kleinwort Benson and then in 1995 was made global head of corporate finance for BZW, a division of Barclays Bank. When BZW was taken over and became Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) he was made chairman of European Investment Banking. These days he will be drawing on his City contacts to persuade those in business to talk to students at the school. “There is a huge pool of practitioners to draw on,” he says.

It was while working in the City that he was involved in hiring people from business school and sending people there. At CSFB, for example, they hired up to 100 graduates a year for investment banking, many of them MBAs. “That certainly put the spotlight on business schools for me.”

The new dean will not just be managing a portfolio of MBA degrees, though. The school, in the heart of the City of London, is home to 1,350 undergraduate students, PhD programmes and one of the largest portfolios of specialist masters degrees in the UK – 25 in total, ranging from finance and shipping to real estate and financial crime.

Mr Gillingwater also has links with Whitehall and experience of the public-private sector through his role as chief executive and later chairman of the Shareholder Executive, which manages the government’s day-to-day shareholder relationship with government-owned businesses, and which he joined in 2003.

He says that when he decided to leave the Shareholder Executive he had considered going back into the City. Then he was approached about the job at Cass. “This was far more exciting ... and challenging.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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