It is not many people who can reach 52 years of age, change their job, their country of residence and, to some degree, alter the sort of work they do. But Arnoud De Meyer has done just that.
This summer he was appointed director (dean) of the UK’s newly branded Judge Business School in Cambridge after 23 years working at Insead in France and Singapore (“I didn’t regret a single day of it”). There he held a variety of roles including that of director general of the Insead Euro-Asia Centre and was founding dean of the Asia campus.
From his balconied offices overlooking the Fitzwilliam Museum with its Henry Moore statue in the foreground, Prof De Meyer says he is “having a ball. I’m like a kid in a candy store”.
By all outward appearances this is certainly true. Prof De Meyer, as tradition demands, has become a fellow of one of the Cambridge colleges, in his case Jesus College.
He clearly finds the experience intriguing. “The discussions around high table are very interesting – archaeologists, nuclear physicists, lawyers. My personal belief about management is that we’re moving to a world where networks are more important. Students from here don’t want to work in hierarchical institutions.”
For Prof De Meyer, a Belgian by nationality, this is the first time he has worked in a business school that is part of a university (Insead is a stand-alone institution). “You discover the richness of ideas in the university, the richness of the ecosystem.” If you need a China specialist or a bio-engineer, they are all within the Cambridge network, he says. “The business school is a place where [people from] business, public policy and non-profits come over and discuss issues. The business school is a focal point.”
An electronics engineer by training and an art collector by inclination, Prof De Meyer says he likes Cambridge because it mixes cutting edge science and technology with 800 years of history and tradition. The juxtaposition is something he clearly enjoys after the modern efficiency of Insead.
With Cambridge’s business school a mere novice in global terms – it was founded in 1990 – Prof De Meyer’s
predecessor, Sandra Dawson, was critical to the initial development of the school.
“Sandra has done an excellent job of taking an embryonic business school and turning it into a very good one. It’s a great platform from which to build an outstanding school,” says Prof De Meyer.
Simultaneously bookish, yet engaging, Prof De Meyer believes Judge must do three things for it to rank among the best business schools in the world: invest more in research; increase the size of the programmes; and develop executive education.
“A top business school is, above all, a producer of ideas,” he says. With Judge being a relatively new business school, many of the younger faculty members are not used to publishing in the top journals nor have they publicised their research. “They have hidden their light under a bushel,” he says.
He also believes Judge should increase the number of participants, not only on its MBA programme (110 students today) but also on its MPhil (150 students) and PhD programmes (90 students).
On executive short courses, says Judge’s new dean, the school should develop programmes that build on its research.
Judge also has to increase the size of its faculty. At the moment there are five vacant chaired professorships, in management, corporate governance, marketing, health management and Indian business. Though many deans would be horrified at having to fill five such high-level chairs, the ever-optimistic Prof De Meyer sees it as a real opportunity.
“The positive spin is that I have the possibility of creating a cadre of top people.” To prospective new professors he says: “This is a great moment to enjoy this adventure, to build together a top business school.” The competition for top faculty is fierce in the south-east corner of the UK: London Business School has long held the accolade of being the UK’s top business academy but it is facing increasing competition for faculty from schools such as the Saïd business school at Oxford University and the London School of Economics as well as Cambridge.
But again, Prof De Meyer puts a positive spin on it. He points to Boston in the US, which is brimming with educational institutions.
“You can only have a top business school if there are other top business schools around,” he says, arguing that faculty members are more likely to be drawn to the area if they have several employment options.
The school now has 53 full-time faculty but that figure has to reach 60 or 65, says Prof De Meyer.
Once those three basics of research, growth and executive courses are in place, the rest is down to differentiation. Cambridge can do this in two ways, believes the dean.
In a similar way to its rival Oxford, Cambridge should build stronger links with the other departments in the university, says Prof De Meyer.
Second, he believes Cambridge has a real role to play in informing public policy and the relationship between public policy and business.
He is clearly relishing his role as dean at Judge, and believes he can make it one of the world’s top business schools. “I think the world needs 20 top business schools that create the leaders of tomorrow. I want to be on that radar screen.”
With the Cambridge University brand behind him and with more than 20 years of experience working in a world-class business school under his belt, he clearly has a far better chance of hitting the target than most aspiring European deans.
Economics – the electronic way
Cambridge students signing up for the Judge MBA in 2007 will discover that dusty old economics textbooks are passé. Instead, they will be taught the latest in both macro and micro economics using only electronic tools.
The Judge Business School will be the first MBA programme to adopt the LiveEcon electronic system of teaching economics, which creator Charles Jordan describes as turning economics textbooks “into a movie”.
The electronic textbooks are intended to cut down the time it takes to learn economics and accounting by using interactive graphs, computer modelling, annotated text and quizzes. The micro and macro economics courses have been designed for undergraduate economics students, but at the Judge School Jochen Runde, reader in economics, is using the material to teach MBA students.
The economics content of an MBA programme is by definition more superficial than the content of an economics degree, says Prof Runde. “The content is more discursive and there is much less in terms of mathematics.”
His interest is not surprising: he is one of the authors of the micro economics course and the lead author of the macro economics programme. He says that similar tools are available online but only as disparate elements. “The hard thing is to put it all together as an integrated package. It’s not too difficult to do some of these things, but it’s massive to do it as a suite of things.“
Mr Jordan believes LiveEcon will have a product packaged especially for the MBA market a year from now and versions of the existing products will become available for the US market from January.
LiveEcon has agreements with 14 British universities and the cost to students for one programme – the equivalent of a textbook – is about £20.
The question is whether electronic tools will supplement textbooks or replace them. Prof Runde has decided views. “I have argued that in the medium to long term we should be looking to replace textbooks. Other members of the team think we should be thinking in terms of it being complementary.”