Male deans come in all shapes and sizes. There are academic deans, all sweaters and in need of a haircut; administrator deans, in badly fitting suits and mismatched ties; and executive deans, those who obviously held down high-paying jobs in the corporate world. On the surface, silver-haired Mark Taylor, the new dean of Warwick Business School, fits easily into the last category.
Only on the surface, that is; although he began his career as a foreign exchange dealer in the City of London and rose in financial circles to become a managing director at BlackRock, he is also one of the most cited researchers in finance and economics in the world, for his work on exchange rates and international financial markets.
He has also been a professor in the wider university, standing him in good stead to introduce collaboration with university departments such as economics, psychology and the sciences – something on which business schools such as Harvard and Stanford in the US are capitalising as the world of business becomes more complex. It is a combination that ticks all the right boxes on the headhunters’ crib sheets.
But Taylor will undoubtedly be aware that he will have to do more if Warwick is to retain its position as one of the UK’s top business schools. Around the campus these days, there is a tacit acknowledgement that, while 15 years ago Warwick was certainly one of the best business schools in the UK, in the eyes of students, academics and the corporate world alike, that position is slipping. With the emergence of greater competition from Oxford and Cambridge, and more recently the London School of Economics and Political Science, Warwick’s position is being squeezed.
In particular, enrolment into the school’s full-time MBA programme, often seen as the flagship of any business school, has slumped. At its height the programme enrolled close to 150 students a year, but in the class of 2010 there were only 74.
All indications are that the new dean has plans to stop the rot, and to rebuild the MBA group up to 100. “It’s important to maintain quality. We would not expand at the cost of lowering entry standards; we would not expand just for the cash,” he says.
But the malaise has spread further than just the MBA. The final blow came in the announcement of last year’s government funding, based on the latest UK government Research Assessment Exercise, in which Warwick was trumped by both Cardiff and Manchester business schools, something that would have been unheard of a decade ago.
Rebuilding research is top of the agenda for Taylor. “We have to build on our strengths. We have to ensure that research informs teaching. What our students are being taught are the latest ideas in the field – relevant, applied research.”
Not surprisingly, given his background, he dismisses the notion that there is a dichotomy between being rigorous and academically excellent, and being applied and relevant. “What underlies everything is academic excellence,” he insists. He says the skills he applied in the City when he was explaining arcane mathematical and statistical trading modules to investors are the same skills that can be used with business school students, from undergraduate level to executives. “It’s the same skill you use in the classroom: taking the relevance and importance without being patronising.”
Another of Warwick’s undoubted strengths is its undergraduate programme, and Taylor intends to build on that to consolidate a range of masters degrees. Its MiM degree (too young to be listed in the FT ranking) and specialised masters-level degrees have been introduced to play to Warwick’s strengths: finance, marketing, information systems and industrial relations.
Although he has just been a few months in the job, Taylor has plans to build areas of expertise at Warwick, with a notion for it to become the European centre for behavioural science. In the US, the University of Chicago Booth Business School is the real star of behavioural science, in which economics meets subjects such as neuroscience, sociology, applied psychology and finance. “If you want to understand markets more widely,” he says, “you need to know about more than finance. In the real world there are no neat divisions.”
A further issue for the dean will be upgrading the somewhat tired facilities of the business school. He is looking for £20m ($30m) to extend the campus and to bring all the academics, students and teaching together under a single roof. He acknowledges that this could involve a naming gift.
Some of his aspirations are less expensive. “If I could get the money, I would like to appoint a writer in residence,” he muses, “to think about creativity as a process in itself.”