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Archive for May, 2008

e-Newsletter for May



Dear all,

They’re packing away the giant marquee on the main lawn in front of the building. Given the downpours over the Bank Holiday weekend, we were really lucky with the weather at Saturday’s graduation. The mix of sunshine and cloud was just about perfect for a Graduation – not too cold to be out on the lawn and not too hot to be dressed in cap and gown for several hours. It was my first ceremony where I got to read out the names, which was not as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be, and provided a really welcome sense of ownership and closure of the MBA programme.

One of the speakers remarked that the Henley MBA was not, should not be, an easy degree to get. I think just about all of you will agree with that, even if what is creating difficulty is not obviously part of the curriculum or mode of study. But I doubt anyone chooses Henley just to get the three letters (though don’t knock it!). That’s not to say that it’s always clear at the beginning. I think the meaning of the Henley MBA emerges with and for you over time. Happily, our new curriculum helps you capture all of that via reflection and personal development, so it will be interesting to see how those of you in the new curriculum progress as compared to the old.

There’s a lot to pack in to this newsletter, beginning with:

Results from the Board of Examiners

This is an occasional look at the sets of results presented to the Board, which has the task of passing the previous three months’ grades for assignments, dissertations and exams, as well as any interim or final awards. It is sometimes queried why we have such a long hiatus between examination and result, but this masks the amount of checking and double-checking by marker, moderator, administrator and external examiner. I think it is an indication of how seriously we all take the assessment process, though I can also remember the endless wait for the grade (and this was back in the pre-online days when Henley wrote you a letter).

I’ll outline the main pieces of assessment considered at the April Board of Examiners. Bear in mind that we are currently moving from one version of the MBA curriculum to another, so I will run through the older version first.

At Part One, only one Foundations of Management was marked in this time, and it passed. There were 11 Managing People and 18 Managing Information assignments. Two People assignments failed. The average mark on Managing People was C-. The average on Information was B+. One person sat, and failed, the Part One exam. Six re-sat this exam, of whom four passed. At Part Two, 98 Managing Marketing assignments were marked, with two fails. The average grade was B. 86 Managing Performance scripts produced no fails and an average of B, whilst in Managing Financial Resources there were 106 assignments, a B- average, and 3 fails. 88 people sat or re-sat the Part Two exam (plus another 8 in project management). The average overall grade for first-timers was C, and D for re-sits.

At Part Three, 223 Integrated Strategy Projects were submitted, with only 3 fails. The average grade achieved for ISP was B-. A lot of you sat the Part Three exam this time round (394!). All but 11 passed, and the average grade was C+. Of the 207 Dissertations submitted, 14 were failed by the Board. The average grade was B-.

In the new curriculum (Programme 5), 123 Dynamics of Management assignments were marked, with 7 fails. The average grade was C+. There were 126 Managing People and Performance/Managing Processes, Systems and Projects (quite a mouthful) integrated assignments, of which only one failed and the average passing grade was B-. Another 14 Project Management integrated assignments were marked, with no fails, and the same B- average. 111 Managing Financial Resources scripts produced 11 fails and an average of C+. At Stage One, exam one, there were 108 people, of whim 94 passed with an average grade of C-. 110 Stage One Personal Development Review and Plans were submitted, and all passed.

Home Straight

With graduation ringing in our ears, it is timely to reflect on the Home Straight Community. Richard Lacey noted that 29 of the 48 Henley-Based graduands in the afternoon ceremony had been actively engaged in the HSC. The event run at the College on May 18th was very successful, with interesting sessions on use of the Learning Resource Centre (e-Library) for research, and tips on managing your supervisor. The next event will be some time in the autumn. Its’ all gone very quiet on the Home Straight Blog, though, with no new entries since April. If you’re past your Dissertation Due date and would like access to this, a space to share experiences and tips, then email me.

Researcher’s Corner

There are several requests and enquiries about research this month. These are opportunities for you to participate or help with other people’s research. Sometimes these are faculty members, other times fellow Programme Members.

1. A colleague is looking to run 20-30 minute telephone interviews with managers responsible for making the property decisions in their company – the research is for the Investment Property Forum and is looking at the extent to which occupiers consider sustainability issues when deciding to buy or lease offices. Please email me if you know the name of the person in your organisation who deals with real estate issues (especially if it is you!).

2. David James reports that “O2 have a potential MBA Dissertation opportunity, exploring churn data and tipping points that actually looks really sexy and great fun.” Anyone who would like to know more can contact him directly.

3. Professor Abby Ghobadian writes: “Prior research shows that the processes by which resources are managed (e.g., how managers obtain, bundle and deploy tangible and intangible assets) have major effects on firm’s performance. This survey is designed to enrich our understanding of how different approaches to these processes work together to create value for the firm. Additionally, we seek to understand how other factors affect resource management processes. For example, how does the firm’s risk preferences and availability of slack affect resource management? Or how does the competitive context (external factors) influence the efficacy of these processes? Or how different functional managers approach resource management? To find answers to these important questions relevant to the practice of management we are conducting an international study in the USA, China, and countries where Henley has alumina.

I very much hope that you will support this important research by completing this survey. Based on the results of pilot studies, this survey should require approximately 12-15 minutes to complete.”

This one is also featured in the Alumni newsletter, which some of you will also receive. I assured Abby that no-one would fill it out twice…

4. Researcher Mollie Dickenson writes: “We’ve had an enquiry to do a small piece of research for a packaging company called Sonoco = in store displays. They’ve got some market research data which needs sorting, organising and following up with tel calls to produce a matrix/report (by the summer) of the companies analysed against a set of criteria, for them to consider in terms of making acquisitions. Small budget on offer. Do you know anyone who might be interested to do this?” For more details, contact Mollie.

5. Finally, our business development team have received some requests from potential applicants who are interested in speaking with current programme members who “initially struggled with the programme and then overcame these issues.” Quite possibly that is all of you – but if you’d be willing to chat via email with candidates about your own experiences, please let Fiona Smith know.

Dissertation Clinic

The next Clinic is coming soon, set for June 6th, and is being organised by Kim Harris. For those who don’t know, the Clinic is a day where you can get a refresher session on what the Dissertation is all about, followed by short one-to-ones with faculty members. It’s really for those who do not yet have a supervisor assigned. Also, I should add that wherever possible we try to allocate time for tutors visiting in the Associate Network locations to run similar sessions. I ran one in South Africa and it was exhausting and uplifting in equal measure – a kind of Brief Academic Therapy session.

Reading Merger

You should all be receiving regular up-dates on the merger, either via newsletters or on the elearning area for your intake. Up-dates are also posted to our main web site. If you do not, please let me know and I’ll see how we can let you know the latest. You’re probably wondering what’s changing here internally and the answer is still, ‘not a lot.’ We’re all focused on business as usual for the MBA (and we’re expecting to welcome new intakes in June – Henley-Based HB38 and Malta MT01 and Trinidad TR03). The date for the newly merged Business School to come into existence is August 1st, and we’ll be seeing out the College in style with celebrations (probably with a melancholic tinge) on July 31st.

PE Hub, MBA Forum Good news….bad news

Way back in January I was asked by some of you to approach a website called PEHub.com to organise access in the MBA Forum. You’ll be glad to hear that, in mid May, I got a positive reply and an access code: upperwest. However, this is an American site, with an American mentality, and it turns out that you also need an email address which ends in .edu to join. If anyone has any suggestions, I’ll listen.

Family Day

I’m looking out of my window here at Henley and it is raining, but I’m sure it will have stopped by the time we get round to the Family Day on Saturday July 5th, so here’s your monthly reminder to book early for the cream teas.

Finally, good luck to anyone who is going to sit an examination next week!

Chris Dalton
Director of Studies

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The Graduates

It’s been a hectic two days at the College, rounding off a fairly frantic week. On Friday we had a day-long series of meetings with the International Network, whereby the managers from the associate partners and subsidiary offices spread across the world come to Henley. They come in part for the graduation, and in part to catch up with the formal news and informal gossip from the preceding six months.

In my parallel-universe-Henley, this event is run along the lines of a mafia convention. The real-world reality is somewhat more mundane, but is still imbued with a whiff of ‘Sopranos’ family tension in that the associates operate and deliver the Henley MBA in a very diverse set of markets, and it would be fruitless to believe that a one-size fits all mentality will work. This leads to some interesting debates.

The one thing that unites them all is the same emotional attachment to Henley as an institution that I have alluded to in previous posts, especially those which refer to the Graduation ceremony. For me, 2008 marks a new chapter in that at today’s Graduation it was my name in the printed programme indicated to read out the names. This fact, exacerbated by the tongue-twisting complexity of some of the names of those collecting their diplomas, has had me in in a nervous funk all week. But that angst was wiped clean the moment I stood up to ask the Principal to admit the graduands named in the programme to the College. Only 8 years ago, it had been me lining up to have my name read out, my hand shaken and my picture taken on the stage. Now I was running that programme. I have to admit; I felt very honoured, and very pleased for every one of the new MBAs. For now, I wear the same green gown as they do, and that is another source of pride. I hope that, eventually, I will don (pun probably intended) the robes of my own PhD.

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It’s called Terminal for a reason

Here I am in Terminal 5 at Heathrow. I was here yesterday afternoon and evening too, thinking (foolishly) that I had beaten the curse of BA by having no bags to check in. I am trying to fly to Budapest.

Everything went well yesterday until about an hour before boarding, when a delay was signalled. OK, not too serious, and a gate allocation duly appeared, and we all duly appeared at the gate. To wait. And wait. About 50 minutes after the new departure time, with no boarding and no announcements, the sign went blank and then blinked “Gate Closed”. The five members of BA staff at the gate clearly did not have the full picture of what was happening. Terminal 5 is not short of BA staff, as I found out on my depressing journey back through the arrivals area after (finally) the cancellation of the flight was announced. They pretty much lined our route, handing out bottles of water (a la London marathon drink-stations) and leaflets telling us that BA were unable to arrange any hotel accommodation. The reason for not being able to set people up with hotels was basically that London is full of people watching Wimbledon (that’s what it said!). The silver lining in this cloud was the BA staff member on the customer service desk, who was polite, empathic and able to book me on to flights the next day. I’ve been up-graded, too, which means instead of paying £1 for 10 minutes to surf the net outside the omnipresent Starbucks, I am in the BA private lounge watching the departures board – which is now showing my re-booked flight as delayed!

At least I can do some reflection. And reading (I’m reading “Mind & Nature: a necessary unity” by Gregory Bateson, which will be worth several Blog postings in its own right. And surfing, of course – I’m now fully up to date with all my Scrabulous matches and I’ve seen my book jump in the Lulu rankings from 99,326 to 44, 885 (a seismic move that even Henley would envy). Not bad what 8 copies sold can do for an author.

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The Reading away game

We had our first faculty-to-faculty meeting with soon-to-be-colleagues at the University of Reading this week. In preparation, I had a quick look at the Wikipedia entry for UoR. I found a several interesting facts, and here is my top 10. See if you can work out which ones may have played a part in the merger:

  1. The Whiteknights campus name was taken from the nickname of John de Erliegh IV, a 13th century knight
  2. UoR was founded in 1892 as an extension of Christchurch College, University of Oxford
  3. They attained Royal charter in 1926, the only new university created in the UK between the World Wars
  4. It is one of the ten most research-intensive universities in the UK, as well as being considered one of the top 200 universities in the world.
  5. It is one of the highest financially endowed Universities in the UK, at 9th position in the most recent table
  6. In -2006, UoR closed its Physics Department, which caused a bit of controversy at the time, and even led to questions being asked in the Houses of Parliament!
  7. The Chancellor of UoR is John Madejski
  8. The University library has over 1 million books
  9. UoR has a world-class reputation in research in a number of areas, including archaeology, psychology, English and climate change
  10. The University announced in 2007 plans to spend 250 million GBP on its estates

[Funnily enough, the Henley Management College Wikipedia entry has already changed to read Henley Business School at the University of Reading, which somehow feels a little premature.]

The meeting and evening meal with the Reading faculty went on at several levels, as all communication does. I’m glad to say that it went pretty well on the person level, the personal level. It turns out that there’s a lot of respect at UoR for the Henley reputation and I think, as we discussed how we see ourselves, that they formed an impression of us as being focused on practical application and on the customer. There was an acknowledgement that there may be a lot for them to learn from our approach (and a hunch that it won’t be easy).

For our part, I think we gained a sense of their expertise and of their commitment and belief in research, and there was a hint of their ‘maverick’ attitude to authority. One thing they weren’t expecting (apart, I suspect, from all of us being there ready to start the meeting on time…) was our sense of sadness at the change in status. I have to add that we have other feelings, too, such as excitement and anticipation.

Anyway, we’re waiting now to see what the details will be about the new structure of the Business School from August. Before then, of course, there will be more meetings like this one. The next will be the return fixture at the College on May 21st.

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Mornington Crescent

We all have voices in our heads. I don’t mean just our own, though that’s a voice, too. I mean that some people by dint of tone, use of language and principles they live by have a recurring influence on how we think. In the mind’s eye they can be conjured up to talk to us, even when they are no longer around. Last week the jazz musician Humphrey Lyttleton died at the age of 86, and his was one of the voices in my head.

His death was big news here among a large but particular section of British society. For many, it wasn’t so much as a musician that he was being mourned, though he was a very talented player and band leader. ‘Humph’ also had a long career as host of a brilliantly witty radio programme called “I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue”, the self-styled ‘antidote to quiz shows’. Humphrey was the wry, dry and double-entendre (ring)master overseeing two teams of equally witty comedians. The show was a series of activities and radio party-games that were irreverent, playful and often had a ridiculous take on the language and habits of the British.

One of the most surreal parts of the show was a game called ‘Mornington Crescent’. The rules of Mornington Crescent were never explained, though they were often obliquely alluded to. The game appeared to be simply a sequence of to-and-fro namings of London streets and underground stations. The game was won when one team managed to outwit the other by somehow navigating to the last stop, always Mornington Crescent; the place in question being a part-time tube stop on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line.

I loved this game at first because it seemed to be played with absolute authority and adherence to a set of esoteric rules. I suspect I was not alone in that for a long while I actually thought it to be a real game with real origins, and I’ve no doubt you can Google for both. But your belief will be false and your search will be in vain, for the beauty of Mornington Crescent is the fantasy that it is real.

I love Mornington Crescent precisely because it illustrates the way that meaning is ascribed to something not by it being ‘true’ in any objective, factual and empirical way, but via the space created by the idea of its existence. You can be in on it either by believing it, or by not believing it – it’s just as much fun whichever way.

I suppose this is partly on my mind now because of the voice that introduced it and and partly because I am reading around systems theory at the moment. With that in mind, of particular interest are the ideas of the anthropologist and social scientist Gregory Bateson.

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Apparently, publishing used to be a pretty direct business. Somebody set about writing something themselves, or caused something to be written, and went either to talk to a publisher or published it themselves. Only from the late 1800s, with the arrival of the literary agent and the explosion of mass production in books, did it become either too labyrinthine or unacceptable as vanity for a writer to publish simply through their own efforts.

I grew up in a house surrounded by books. But I read very little and was untouched by them; I felt that they had nothing to offer. I eventually did start to read only in my late teens and, since arriving in their world, I haven’t looked back.

Often what affected me every bit as much as the content (the language and the words that transported me away from myself) was the tactile fact and temporal permanence of the book as an object, especially when also a possession. The construction, the look, feel and smell of a book were an integral part of reading and my newly discovered world of books was one bound by loyalties not only to certain writers but also to certain publishers.

Technology has put paid to many things, but not – one trusts – the human need to tell stories, and thankfully not also to the equally human need to hear and read them. With this in mind, and in the context of an almost instantaneous World of connections, I have decided to behave as a very modern author to return to the days when an author published directly.

All of this may simply be a long-winded introduction to a short-lived project, or hobby, which is my own book of fiction.

The work in question is a collection; a novella, short stories and poems, and is my small contribution to the imaginations of others. So, you read it here first! “The Messenger’s Falling” is now available from Lulu.com and, when I work out how to do it, from all good virtual bookshops such as Amazon.co.uk, as well.

buy this book on Lulu.

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