School profile: Tanaka Business School

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Makers of name plates in the South Kensington area of London must have been thanking their lucky screwdrivers after David Begg arrived at Imperial College’s Tanaka Business School.

Since he became principal in 2003, no less than 37 – or 70 per cent – of the faculty have left and 38 replacement academic staff have been hired.

Prof Begg stresses that every departure was voluntary, but does say that nonetheless he “wasn’t able to be everybody’s friend; sometimes I wondered who I’d bump into in the loo!”

Before Prof Begg started his job it had been decided that Imperial would “invest heavily to raise its business school to the standard of its other…faculties”.

The faculty changes were part of this “ambitious restructuring programme”.

Four years on, the focus has changed from rebuilding to growth and Prof Begg is looking for another 10 academics.

There certainly must be worse places to work. It is hard not to feel energised by the buzzy feel of a new academic year that permeates the huge airy lobby in early October.

Students are coming and going, stopping to look at the flat-screen TVs, chatting in the coffee shop or focusing on their timetables.

The school is in the process of assimilating some 450 new students on all its programmes, which include full and part-time MBA degrees and Masters programmes in subjects such as management, financial engineering, and actuarial finance. It also has a PhD programme and offers joint degrees or business modules for undergraduates.

All the programmes are informed by Tanaka’s four over-arching research groups: Finance and Accounting; Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Organisation and Management; and, the latest addition, Healthcare Management. The business school is also proud of the excellent scientific and technological credentials of Imperial College.

However, in the case of its full-time MBA programme, the school has been working to change a perception in the market that, because of the Imperial connection, it is a very technology-focused degree.

Simon Stockley, programme director, notes that an MBA ought to be a generalist degree and that any top-flight programme must deliver a broad-based business education. He has been keen to stress to prospective students that Tanaka can do this; that the technology element is there in buckets for those who want it, but that it is not an obligatory part of the MBA.

He feels that this year’s class mix offers clear evidence that the message is getting through – last year only 16 per cent of full-time participants were women, this year this has climbed to 38 per cent of the class of 49 students.

Tanaka’s executive (part-time) MBA offering is a larger affair: it consists of a weekday or a weekend study option and some 120 new students have just embarked on the programme.

Ebrahim Mohamed, the school’s EMBA director thinks it is the most important programme for Imperial in many ways.

He explains that this is because the participants are often senior and high-profile employees and fee income is significant (the entering class of 2007 will pay £32,500 or £34,500 depending on the mode of study). He also thinks the weekend programme, in particular, has spawned innovation in teaching at the school.

Tanaka’s weekend EMBA is relatively new (the first batch of students started in 2006). It combines monthly face-to-face group sessions with online preparation and learning. The “cyber-study” element, in particular, has been developed and refined to make it as interactive and engaging as possible.

Tanaka has instituted a monthly evening get-together for the weekend students. So if you walk into a west London restaurant and see a large group of assorted finance directors, medical professors, senior engineers and diplomatic staff there is no need to back away fearfully. It is just a group of Tanaka business school EMBAs enjoying some perfectly innocent networking.

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