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It is more than 6,000km from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the US, to Manchester in the UK. But the cultural distance may be even greater – not to mention the difference in the weather.
None of which seems to perturb Michael Luger, formerly chairman of the department of public policy and professor of city and regional planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This month, he took up his new job as the director of Manchester Business School. But leaving the hot climate for one of Britain’s rainiest cities has not deterred the 56-year old. He is keen to play up the school’s location strong points: Manchester is close to the Lake District and Snowdonia, two of Britain’s most beautiful national parks, he says. Prof Luger knows the UK well, having worked in London in the 1970s.
Perhaps more significant, though, is that Prof Luger is taking on a school with a troubled history. The newly-formed Manchester Business School (MBS) has been created through the merger of the original Manchester Business School, founded in the 1960s, with the school of management at Umist (the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) as well as the school of accounting at the University of Manchester.
Prof Luger will now take charge of a business school with a powerful undergraduate programme, a well-respected MBA, a small portfolio of executive education, a distance learning subsidiary and a huge doctoral programme, ranked this year by the Financial Times as the best in Europe and second in the world.
The school now has a faculty of almost 200, nearly double that of any other top-ranked business school in the UK and only a handful fewer than Harvard Business School,
And the number is growing all the time. A group of academics from Manchester University’s School of Informatics joined MBS this month, strengthening the school’s offering in informations systems and IT management.
Prof Luger is well aware of the potential difficulties involved in taking over a school that incorporates several different cultures. “The challenge is to get past the legacy,” he says. “I’m not interested in where people came from. We’re all in it together.”
He has been politically astute when appointing his top team. Two of his deputy deans, Ken Green and Jill Rubery, worked at Umist, while Martin Walker, an accounting professor, worked in Manchester University. The fourth, Peter Naude, is an MBS man.
Faculty will be relocated across discipline groups to ensure that the four buildings that make up the business school will be populated by professors from each of the three former entities. Improving the physical infrastructure of the business school will also be top of the list for the new dean.
The business school currently feels like a traditional undergraduate university. Converting it into a meeting ground for business will be a priority.
In particular, Prof Luger believes there is a real need to build a high-class executive education centre – similar to the Rizzo centre at Kenan-Flagler in the US – to attract executives on to the school’s short non-degree programmes. “The university [Manchester University] will be happy to help if there is a business plan,” he says.
Increasing the number of open enrolment and customised programmes is a further priority, and Prof Luger is looking for a head of the executive education division, possibly from the US.
Unlike many recent appointments at European schools, Prof Luger is an academic dean who is putting a high premium on MBS as a centre for academic research. He hopes to increase both the school’s rating in the UK government’s research assessment exercise and the amount of sponsored research done at the school.
Sponsored research is just one area of fund-raising the dean envisages for the school. Prof Luger sees raising funds as a pivotal part of his job: “I see my role very much as cheerleader and backslapper.” MBS, he says, has to increase its annual income – currently £31m-32m. He will look to build contacts with alumni and seek other routes for donation. “It is increasingly hard, even in the US, to get people to give unrestricted gifts,” he says.
Prof Luger is also setting up a high-level advisory board of corporate figures – the old advisory board was dismantled in 1999.
Last but not least, he is turning his attention to the MBA programme, on which MBS enrolled just 91 students last year.
“We need to increase the size of the MBA,” he says.
“I see that as our flagship programme. One of the differences I have detected between MBS and other European schools is that we have a longer MBA programme – 18 months. We can use that to ‘product differentiate’. It’s a really nice model.”
Prof Luger will hope to play to MBS’s strength as a member of a large, comprehensive university. Indeed, he has already identified one area in which he wants the business school to participate: a programme run by Harvard professor Robert Putnam in conjunction with Manchester University on the challenges facing contemporary society.
As to the challenges facing business schools, he argues that the nature of business is changing, faced with developments in globalisation and technology: “The knowledge economy has a whole set of different requirements to the industrial economy,” he says. The question is whether MBS is ready to heed his message.