The entrance to Henley Business School’s Greenlands campus is reminiscent of a Jane Austen film, with its sweeping driveway leading to a stunning white country house. Indeed, once inside, most corners of the 19th-century building are conducive to afternoon tea. Oversized sofas and armchairs face each other, windows overlook the river Thames and nearby tables are stacked with selections of hot drinks.
Queen Elizabeth I is known to have visited the house on more than one occasion. But today, those most likely to be found drinking tea at the now triple accredited business school, founded in 1945, are students and faculty from the its executive education programmes, including the three-year flexible MBA which blends online learning with optional face-to-face workshops.
Since merging with the University of Reading in 2008, there is also the Whiteknights campus in Reading – a former country estate of the Marquis of Blandford – where Henley’s undergraduate, postgraduate taught masters, professional management and PhD programmes are delivered.
For those tuning in online, there are opportunities to study in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, South Africa and Trinidad.
“Some participants actually take the trouble to travel to different workshops,” says Elena Beleska-Spasova, programme director of the Flexible MBA, “We have one couple running a business in Toronto who are making their way to each of the campuses ... They are planning to go to Hong Kong next, for our marketing workshop.”
Launched in the 1980s as the distance learning MBA, the Henley MBA by Flexible Learning, as it is now called, prides itself on being one of the first to capitalise on the virtual space, offering support online as well as through on-site workshops to mid-career professionals. “The great phrase then was electronic-MBAs,” says Richard McBain, head of postgraduate programmes at the school, who did one himself. “People learn best when they have support both online and in workshops,” he says.
Now, with other schools expanding their online offering, Henley has attempted to move another step ahead with the launch of a specialised MBA in the music industry.
“Henley has been at the forefront of innovation since the second world war,” explains Mr McBain. “First business school [in the UK], first MBA, first music MBA.”
The Henley MBA for the music Industry is directed by Helen Gammons, an MBA alumna from Manchester Business School with more than 25 years in the music industry working as an author and publisher. Launched in September 2012, it is integrated into the flexible MBA programme, giving all part-time students a chance to get involved.
“I read Helen’s book The Art of Music Publishing and felt the course would be brilliant for me,” says Polly Bhowmik, an MBA student at Henley. A former lawyer, she had been looking to change industries for a while, but could not decide which direction to take until then. She is now using the music industry electives to help with the development of an artist management consultancy she recently co-founded with a friend: A&P Artist Management.
“The flexible format works perfectly for the music industry,” says Ms Gammons. “It’s probably the only structure that really works for these busy full-timers in fact.”
The school is also considering an expansion of its South African campus. “South Africa is a big growth area, we are close to full capacity now,” says Prof Beleska-Spasova, emphasising the popularity of its non-profit project for executive MBAs. Linking with different charities each year, the project has helped create a strong community that Prof Beleska-Spasova would like to extend across the whole mainstream MBA network.
However, budgets are tight for some students so a parallel scheme has also been developed at the UK campus for the full-time MBA programme, by Helen Stride, professor of reputation and responsibility at Henley. “We need to be seen to be supporting civil society, whether it is here or in South Africa,” she says.