The title ‘Mr’ has become a badge of honour among Europe’s business school elite – no more so than for Robin Buchanan, who became dean of London Business School in September. Like Frank Brown at Insead in France and Richard Gillingwater at Cass in the UK, Mr Buchanan was plucked from the world of professional services to head the UK’s leading business school.
Talking to Mr Buchanan, 55, it is easy to understand the appeal of a polished professional manager as opposed to a traditional professor. Impeccably groomed and with a fearsome intellect, his approach to running the school is straightforward. In spite of his penchant for the most hardline management-speak, it is hard not to admire his logical approach.
Before he accepted the job, he applied all his expertise as an accountant and management consultant to analyse the role. “The first thing I wanted to ask myself was do I believe in what [LBS] is doing and, second, does it have a strong strategic position,” he says. The answers follow swiftly.
LBS is producing and disseminating “breakthrough insights” and his helping to develop leaders on a global basis. “I completely buy into the mission,” he asserts.
Does LBS have a strong strategic position? Yes, he says. The school is clearly world class, it has students and faculty from round the globe – which distinguishes it from many top schools – and it has the uniqueadvantage of being in London. “We’re here” he says gesturing around him in. “London is increasingly the financial capital city of the world. London is run by Swedes, Indians, Americans as well as Brits. It’s incredible what’s going on in this city. It gives us a unique competitive position.”
His challenge, therefore, is to exploit those advantages. Mr Buchanan is clearly setting out to run an inclusive ship, with both faculty and staff members on his newly created board. He seemscompletely unperturbed by the often-used expression that running a business school is like “herding cats”. Indeed, behind a somewhat austere exterior, he gives the impression that he thinks this job will be a lot of fun.
Management consultant to the fore, he explains that he has a five-point plan for the school already honed with his top team. The first point comes under the heading of “reputational relationships” – of building strong relationships with recruiters and with the A list of the business world, the executives and entrepreneurs who visit London. Some 75 per cent of Fortune 500 companies either have their headquarters in London or their international or European headquarters in the city, he points out. “If you’ve got the advantage of being here in London, you should use it,” he says.
Like every business school dean of any repute, Mr Buchanan is on the hunt for faculty – the second prong of the attack. “One thing that is absolutely crystal clear is that our faculty are the platform on which we build. We want to have an even higher retention and we want scale in every area.”
Today LBS has 92 core faculty, with a further 60 or 70 associate or visiting teachers. The plan is to increase the number of core faculty by at least 15 over the next five years.
Next on the list is programmes. In a move that will send shivers down the spines of lesser European business schools, LBS is considering launching a one-year master of science in management degree for those with no work experience, to run alongside the two-year MBA, executive MBA, and one-year masters in finance and Sloan programmes. On executive education, the dean has appointed a new team of managers who plan to double the school’s income from executive education by 2012.
The campus needs further development, says the dean and, like a true accountant, he is looking at how to raise money for that and other ventures.
Fundraising is a critical aspect of every dean’s job but is particularly important at LBS, which has an endowment of just £7.9m compared with Harvard Business School – the master of fundraising – which has an endowment of more than $2bn. Given such a huge difference, Mr Buchanan is surprisingly positive, pointing out that the annual giving of the MBA graduating class increases every year. The MBA 2007 graduating class gift was £621,000, for example. “One of the most encouraging things for me is that the alumni say ‘we’ve got to get the endowment up’.”
Today aAbout a third of the school’s income comes from executive education, another third from donations and grants and the last third from degree course fees.
As the fourth dean in the past 10 years at the school, Mr Buchanan is clearly aware of the contributions made by each of his three predecessors.madeand he is generous in his praise of them. George Bain, he says, was the dean who recognised that world-class faculty were needed to build a world-class school; John Quelch was the dean who built the relationship between the school and the business community; Laura Tyson, Mr Buchanan’s predecessor, “did wonders for the school’s reputation on the world stage”. Mr Buchanan will hope that his strengths as a strategist will earn him equally high praise.in the future.