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The discovery that the FT operates a free tea and coffee policy for its staff animates Maury Peiperl as we sit down to talk over a complimentary cuppa.

One of his first acts after taking up the post of pro-vice-chancellor and director of Cranfield School of Management in February was to re-instate an identical perk. Unlike the FT, which offers its staff free drinks in kitchen areas around the building, Prof Peiperl insisted that Cranfield’s offer only be made available in the business school’s central meeting area.

“The idea is that we have that to support the connecting, the networking, the internal building of a strong team, a strong culture,” he explains.

“Most organisations, particularly large, established, and especially public sector organisations or universities, tend to be relatively structure or planning focused.

“But the cultures that we need are energetic and flexible, and these don’t get built by roles and rules, they get built by experience and by interaction, you need to provide a place, an environment where that can happen.”

Such theorising feels like something Prof Peiperl might deliver to students on one of the leadership, strategy and change management courses he has been running since taking his first faculty role at London Business School in 1992.

However, Prof Peiperl, who first studied electronic and computer engineering for his bachelor’s degree at Princeton University, claims he learnt most of the practical leadership lessons during his early years of work in industry.

He recalls the company motto at LEK Consulting, a global management consultancy business that gave him his first taste of working in the UK: strategy is what happens, not what is planned to happen.

“I always thought that was a very practical and sensible way of looking at the world,” he says.

A morale-raising initiative like free coffee at Cranfield could be helpful to establish support among staff for Prof Peiperl, who is the institution’s fourth head in 12 years.

Cranfield is one of the oldest and most prestigious business schools in the UK, but its place in the FT’s MBA ranking has slipped from 38th to 45th in the last three years. The school was 10th in the Custom executive education ranking this year, down from seventh in 2014.

Prof Peiperl’s strategy is to build on Cranfield’s strengths in combining one of the first schools of management in the UK with an engineering-led teaching institution.

The university to which the business school was attached was built on part of a former RAF base and still has an operational airfield next door, used by Cranfield-owned aircraft in the course of aerospace teaching and research.

Driverless cars is another area of research in Cranfield’s engineering departments. “We’ll have some on the campus within a few years time, with any luck,” Prof Peiperl enthuses, adding that his faculty and students aim to support this by developing workable business models for those building the new technology.

“We’ve been, in some sense, industry’s university for a very long time. Now the interesting thing is that history still finds us [providing] quite a lot of relevance and value in the world.

“If you talk to anybody that works on aircraft design, air accident investigation, air traffic control, whatever, they will have been to, very likely, Cranfield, or they’ll know of it and regard it very highly.”

Executive education is an area that holds particular potential for Cranfield, according to Prof Peiperl. He has proven experience here, having designed and taught numerous executive education programmes as part of his last job at Switzerland’s IMD.

“I think we’re going to be distinctive by connecting our expertise in management research and teaching,” Prof Peiperl says. “We would aim to be the place where companies can get, and individuals can get, leaders developed for technology.”

Another focus will be to build on Cranfield’s international links, such as its collaboration with Nanyang Technological University, one of the premier universities in Singapore.

As an American citizen, who has taught, researched and consulted, by his estimate, in some 30 countries on five continents, Prof Peiperl feels well qualified for this task.

“Cranfield’s actually pretty good at this, but we could be better, to inculcate global thinking,” he says.

It is no good having such strategies, however, if they are not well executed. “Culture eats strategy for lunch,” he notes.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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