Andrew Likierman has taken on what might seem a veritable poisoned chalice. He has been appointed dean of London Business School after a troubled 18 months that culminated in erstwhile dean Robin Buchanan moving to the newly created and part-time role of president. All of which makes Sir Andrew the fifth dean in 11 years, at the UK’s most well-known business school.
Although Mr Buchanan is taking on what the school describes as an “ambassadorial” role, it is clear that Sir Andrew, 65, is very much in charge, not only of the day-to-day running of the school, but of external relations as well – including the critical role of fund-raising.
At LBS a change of dean also involves more than just a change of offices. Sir Andrew has moved swiftly into the impressive dean’s house, which overlooks Regent’s Park in north London. “I intend to use the house to bring people into the school,” Sir Andrew says. “It [the house] is an asset to the school.”
Though certainly older than the average dean, Sir Andrew intends to stay for a full five-year term. He certainly knows what he is taking on, having been interim dean at the school for eight months in 2007, in the interregnum between Laura Tyson leaving the school and Robin Buchanan joining. He describes the period as “very frustrating because I was just handing over from one dean to another”.
The faculty and staff at LBS also know what to expect, which is a novelty in itself. Not since Peter Moore was appointed principal in August 1984 – nearly 25 years ago and when many of today’s faculty were still at high school – has LBS appointed a dean from within its own ranks.
Above all, Sir Andrew, softly-spoken and accessible, is very different from his predecessor.
Mr Buchanan was dubbed “Mr Strategy” by some of his staff because of his approach to developing the school along the well-tested lines of a management consultant (his former profession), and Sir Andrew might well be called “Mr Performance Measurement”.
It is the primary research interest listed in his faculty profile and something in which he is clearly an expert. While Mr Buchanan talked of “strategic positions” and “reputational relationships”, Sir Andrew talks of “frameworks to meet long-term goals”.
Though the topic has little of the apparent glamour of leadership strategy – arguably two of the most over-used words in business school – it is an approach with which the faculty are clearly comfortable. And one that Sir Andrew intends to apply to himself, as well as to others.
“I wouldn’t want to go on if I wasn’t effective. I am doing this job because I care about the institution,” he says. “I expect to be judged by the way I have handled things. I expect to be measured against other deans…I feel comfortable with that.”
Sir Andrew will certainly be given a period of grace by faculty and staff alike, but the economy and those students graduating this year without a job offer are likely to be less charitable.
He is unwilling to predict what will happen to the graduating class this year in terms of numbers employed. “I wouldn’t be wise to come up with a figure,” he says.
A shortfall in executive short courses would be particularly damaging to the school, which made more than £29m from these programmes in 2008, more than 40 per cent of LBS’s fee income. Sir Andrew believes that 2010 will be difficult, but points out: “We’ve always had to pay our way.”
There will also be increasing fee income this year from the Masters in Management degree, to be launched in September, which got the green light in January. “There is no doubt at all that it should go ahead,” he says, adding that applicants are of excellent quality.
Although Sir Andrew has taught on all LBS’s significant degree and executive programmes, he is not the thoroughbred academic that typifies many at LBS, being a professor of management practice (business school code for someone without a PhD).
His career straddles the world of government and industry: he has run a textile plant in Germany and been managing director of the UK Treasury. These days he is a non-executive director of the Bank of England and of Barclays Bank. He was knighted in June 2001 for his work in the UK Treasury.
It is perhaps ironic that he defends business schools against the charge that they are responsible for the current economic mess, saying they have been just one player in the economy. There are a “panoply of scapegoats”, he says, listing consumers, banks, regulators and government – all areas in which he has operated – as possible culprits. His defence of the business school, however, is robust.
“This [the blame placed on business schools] implies there is a business school view: shareholder return. This is an academic institution; we don’t have a ‘London Business School view’. We are about new ideas and some will be successful and some unsuccessful. It is our job to generate views.”
It is this sense of creating new ideas that he hopes will continue to attract participants to LBS programmes.
“This is a hub where people come and meet and go away feeling stimulated. We don’t just make statements about ideas, this is not just a place that has pretensions. My feeling is that we can excite people by the quality of what we do.”
It is certainly a position that will rally the troops in north London. They will all hope it rallies the business as well.