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There are not many business school deans who can boast that they had British novelist Ian McEwan as one of their teachers. In fact there is probably only one: David Allen, the new dean of the faculty of management and law at the University of Surrey, in the UK.
A New Yorker by birth and in attitude, Prof Allen may not seem the most obvious choice to work at a university set in the leafy suburbs of Guildford, county town of Surrey, one of the most affluent districts in the UK. But Prof Allen’s eclectic past may help him breach the perception gap.
For the past 15 years he worked at IE Business School in Madrid and before that in a Spanish banking consultancy. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing as well as a doctoral degree from the University of Ohio. But he is swift to acknowledge that while he is an experienced business school professor - he was the catalyst for turning IE from a teaching organisation into one that also focused on research - he is no legal eagle. “I have always been an amateur fan of law,” he ventures.
At the moment Prof Allen has two offices: one in the business school and one at the other end of the building in the much smaller law department. Nonetheless, he sees a real synergy between business and law - “lawyers make the rules, business makes it happen” - and although he has only been in the job since the summer, he has real plans for new areas of research and teaching. In particular he is considering a programme based on law, business and society - probably a masters degree. “People thought law and government didn’t apply to business but they REALLY do.”
As to the business school, it has a small MBA programme, with just 38 students on the MBA and EMBA programmes on the Guildford campus, but around 20 MSc programmes, which enrol around 720 students a year. In total there are 1,400 undergraduates.
“The business school environment is definitely the most competitive because it is so tied to the economic environment,” says Prof Allen. “MBAs are relatively expensive products. They are revenue generators, which means there is very strong competition. There is huge student demand and very strong competition, so you have to be good.”
He acknowledges that the MBA is the flagship programme of many business schools and therefore Surrey has to get it right. “What it’s about is having a wonderful product that you can sell, not selling something and then deciding how to make it fantastic,” he says. “We’ll be sorting this out over the next few months.”
Though highly regarded in the business school community - Surrey has accreditation from both the London-based Association of MBAs and the US-based accreditation agency the AACSB - it is less widely know in the market. Prof Allen says there are real strengths in some areas of teaching and research, most notably hospitality and tourism and health management. The difficulties, he says, are in getting the message out. “Strategy is not the issue; blocking and tackling is the issue. Execution is the difficulty.”
He will be hoping to draw on what he learnt at IE in helping to promote Surrey. ”It is as good a marketing organisation as any I have seen in any industry. Their attitude to communications is like that of a business,” he concludes.