Christopher Loch
Christoph Loch: 'The mission is to build a research-based business school' © FT

The three successive directors of Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge have had little in common, apart from one thing: they have all cycled to work.

“This is the first time in 20 years that I can walk or cycle to work,” says German-born Christoph Loch, who joined the school as director from Insead in 2011. “I see this as a privilege.”

As business schools go, Judge could hardly be more different from Insead, the powerhouse standalone business machine with campuses in Abu Dhabi, France and Singapore, 1,000 MBA graduates a year and more than 140 faculty. In comparison, Judge resonates with more gentlemanly pursuits. A 20-year-old business school in an 800-year-old university, it has 55 faculty – and is situated in a city where cycling is a way of life for students and professors.

“It is very exciting because we have the chance to build something very special,” says the dean. “It’s exciting but a little bit scary.”

He reckons that the business school is two-thirds of the way towards becoming an institution that will truly rival the Ivy Leaguers. “The rule of thumb is that it takes 30 years to build a top business school,” he explains. But with a target of 75 faculty in the medium term, Prof Loch is adamant that he has no plans to turn Judge into another Insead.

“The biggest business schools are not necessarily the best. We will never have 1,000 MBAs.”

In fact, his decision to join Judge was because it is a different kind of business school. “Part of the reason I came is that you can do things as part of a great university that a stand­alone business school cannot do. We need to build on those [university] assets. The strategy is simply different from a standalone school.”

Quietly spoken and thoughtful, Prof Loch articulates a clear view of what the school needs to achieve over the next 10 years.

“The mission is to build a research-based business school,” he asserts. In particular he is focusing the school’s research interests around the “Cambridge phenomenon”, the cluster of high-tech start-ups that have become an intrinsic part of the university city.

Such aspirations are meat and drink to 52-year-old Prof Loch, the former dean of Insead’s PhD programme who has taught and published widely in areas of technology, operations management and corporate innovation. “What will make us unique is being [part of] the Cambridge phenomenon,” he continues.

Working with organisations in the cluster will help the school develop its research acumen, the tech specialist believes. “Research is motivated by real questions,” he says, so investigations that will be important to these high-tech companies will include, for example, why early-stage enterprises cannot get finance, or how to identify the barriers to entrepreneurship.

The dean is the first to admit that it has taken him some time to understand how a business school in a university works. The first year of his appointment has clearly not been plain sailing. “I’m an unknown quantity. It will take time,” he concedes.

“Why should anyone believe me coming in and making big statements? People want to be brought along. I hope in two years’ time there will be a buzz of excitement.”

One issue with which the dean is still juggling is how to achieve a balance between inclusion and independence at university level.

“The business school needs to have its own identity to compete in the business schools market, which is quite cut-throat. At the same time it [the university] has research excellence that we don’t want to be detached from.”

And the idiosyncratic Oxbridge college system introduces an additional layer of complexity. Professors and students belong to academic departments – economics, modern languages, engineering, business etc – and colleges where faculty staff and students from different departments mix.

Prof Loch is a convert to the college system. “In the colleges you get mixes of nationalities and subjects – the mix across areas of expertise is absolutely crucial. You have people in the university that think completely differently [from others] .. Ideas are being sparked by the college system.” This is critical as academics try to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems, such as climate change, the dean continues. “The answers will not come from any single discipline.”

This kind of research will also inform Cambridge’s non-degree executive education portfolio, which has a strong focus on China. In November Judge will launch its Global Business Strategy: China programme with Beijing-based Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business.

Collaboration may lead to future joint courses – Cheung Kong is looking for a partner with which to run its executive MBA in the UK, for example. But Prof Loch is cautious. “Eighty per cent of alliances and acquisitions don’t work,” he says. “Alliances work when they are really focused.”

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