Archive for March, 2009

Dear all,

in what seems to have become something of an annual ritual, this newsletter is coming to you from Johannesburg, South Africa, where last weekend we launched the programme to a new intake consisting of 80 people, and where this Thursday I’ll be meeting the class that began in 2007 to begin their Stage 3. I’m also pleased to announce that a new intake just started in New Zealand, so welcome to all.

This visit I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time speaking with some of the managers on the programme and it’s given some impression (though always dangerous to draw conclusions from so little data) of the effect of the worldwide recession here, too. The verdict? Aside from the usual (halt on house buying and selling, uncertainty around job retention and liquidity in the banking sector) the ability to emigrate has been reduced and though the idea is still a strong one, fewer seem to be leaving and some are actually returning. Crime, at least in some areas, has gone down and for the visitor there is a growing sense of expectation that the 2010 World Cup will make a difference to the way the country is viewed elsewhere. I’m really glad that the Henley name is promoted here. The calibre of candidate is diverse and consistently high, and Africa is a place which has so much to offer the rest of us, problems notwithstanding.


Those of you who are already on LinkedIn and members of the Henley Group will already know that this weekend we broke the 4,000 mark for group membership. It might also interest you to know that ours is now one of an elite number of “Supergroups” on Linkedin, and perhaps even more interested to hear that there is a group for managers of Supergroups, which shares ideas on how to use the site better and gangs up to lobby the people who run LinkedIn to improve the service. If you haven’t yet joined, or have not got a LinkedIn account, you can request to join. Please do make sure that your profile information about Henley is complete and accurate first, though.

Electives up-date

Last month I advertised the creation of bookable, guaranteed slots for DL MBA members on the elective workshops for the taught programmes. I managed to jump the gun by about a week, for which I am sorry and for which the admin team at Henley may possibly one day forgive me. But I’m happy to announce that this has been a huge success. We have now filled most of the slots, with two (Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management) full up. Thanks to Tracy Clyburn for all her hard work. We hope to repeat the opportunity later in the year (no details yet, though).

Also, a quick thank you to those who came to Hungary for the International Business Environment elective, which was a great success.

AMBA re-accreditation visit

Just so you know, one of Henley’s three MBA accrediting bodies, the Association of MBAs (AMBA) are conducting a periodic re-accreditation visit at Greenlands on April 28th and 29th. Though hard work (you pay a fee for the privilege of spending hours assembling everything you know about your degree) these events are actually very useful and the feedback we get should help us as we evaluate our new MBA curriculum and make appropriate revisions and innovations.

Home Straight news

Richard and Mike report that their numbers fell last month, due in part to people completing, which is great. But they also note that a very high number of people simply have not yet put in a proposal, and this is the critical first task in getting from dream of MBA to reality of graduation! It’s been a topic for Henley-Based programme members in the discussion on the Home Straight group on Linkedin. Don’t forget that the next Henley Home Straight event is on Sunday May 17th.

I know a lot of you are at the dissertation stage and are studying via an Associate Partner and are excluded from these Home Straight events and groups. Where it makes sense, we are looking at encouraging local versions to be set up for those of you behind schedule, and I may also set up another Linkedin group for mutual support, though this will not be tutor led. More info on those next month.

Events at Henley

Amanda Proddow has asked me to mention the following event: Emerging Markets and International Business – where next?

The Global Credit Crisis – Reforming Governance, Rebuilding Economies, Date: Tuesday 28 to Wednesday 29 April, Location: Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, London

Henley Emerging Markets and International Business Forum is delighted to partner with the Global Emerging Markets Summit to invite members of the Henley community – students, faculty and alumni – to the 2009 Summit to be held in the same month as the G20 in London. GEMS is brought to you by an independent not-for-profit research institute, Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI), and Perception Management International Group and supported by the London-based ASEAN UK Business Forum. The Founder & CEO Perception Management International is Ms Millicent Danker who is undertaking a DBA at Henley. One of the speakers will be Mr Arif Zaman, Co-Chair, Henley Emerging Markets and International Business Forum, a member of visiting faculty and Adviser, South Asia & Corporate Governance, Commonwealth Business Council. Henley delegates – who should cite ‘Henley’ in their booking – will be able to attend for only £160 for the full 2 days – a saving of £235 on the full price!

Family Day 2009

This year the Members Day at Henley will run on Sunday July 5th. Irina Woodford writes:

“As this event will run on a Sunday, we have decided to start the fun earlier, with gates open from 11.00 am. Boat trips and cream-teas will be booked on a first-come, first serve basis, with the first boat trip leaving Greenlands at 11.30 am. Please visit our website on http://www.henley.com/alumni/membersday2009 for a full Programme of Events and to download a booking form.

EIU MBA rankings – your chance to vote

You may know that EIU Economist produced the first ranking of DL MBA Programmes in 2008, and we were ranked 6th in the world and 2nd in the UK. The ranking is due for up-date in 2010 and they are collecting data now. I hope you will have some time to complete the survey. I am convinced that we can boost our place in the ranking, though the 10 schools on the 2008 list were not exactly comparing apples with apples. Certainly I think we should be ranked 1st in the UK!

Stephen Lee, Faculty Director, Strategy, writes: “It is now ranking survey time again by the Economist. I therefore invite you to take part and contribute your views to the survey. The Economist has asked us to forward the attached online questionnaire which needs to be completed by 22 May 2009 at the latest.

The rankings provide external testimony to the quality of our programmes and therefore the value of your MBA particularly against other MBAs in the market. I would really encourage you to spend just five minutes completing the survey to ensure you provide the responses that both accurately record your views of the programme and reflect how you expect your MBA to be viewed by the outside world – now and in the future. The questionnaire can be found at: [removed from blog]

I would be grateful for your assistance in helping us to achieve even better results than in 2008. Remember that responding to the survey is one of the only ways you have to influence the reputation that the Henley MBA has in the employment market. Please could you also confirm to Margareta Koter when you have completed and submitted the survey, so that she is able to check that we have received sufficient responses.”

A Bull elephant in Pilanesburg National Park. Not going anywhere.

A Bull elephant in Pilanesburg National Park. Not going anywhere.


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We all know how important first impressions are – so much is communicated, even if it is never surfaced. It’s funny how, after a period of absence, re-acquaintance with a place or a person can re-form that first impression and allow you to contrast it (albeit from memory) to your second or, in this case, third impression.

So here I am once more in Johannesburg, bleary eyed after a day spent awake after a night spent awake on a plane. But through the bleariness I can see that in the last 12 months plenty has changed in many ways since March 2008.  The airport is well on its way to 2010 readiness (big clue: the World Cup) and the route of the planned fast-link railway to the commercial centre of Sandton is under full construction. There is actually construction everywhere, and somehow the roads seem less , though still just as congested. But even these choked highways are being widened, and there is  a sense of greater order than my last visit.  I’ll see whether this feeling is substantiated or countered over the coming week or so.

Tomorrow we launch the third MBA intake with the new curriculum here in South Africa, and we are expecting somewhere between 70 and 80 managers to turn up. It’s going to be quite a challenge to deliver a memorable day one!

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The group made their short presentations yesterday. A lot of work had gone in to them, as is generally the case on these trips, and perhaps a few blind alleys explored, more than a few coffees consumed and opinions frankly but fairly exchanged. The result? Pretty good, I thought.

It’s tempting to fall into several traps on an elective study trip such as this. One of them is to react to the mix of nationalities present within the group on the level of national stereotypes, and this group investigated those rather than adopted them. Another is to get so much into the “view” of the organisation being visited that you never come back out and see the wider business environment – or that you never see it from any other than the mindset of the company you visit. What follows then is just a Strategic Direction analysis and this invariably falls short because in the time available no-one in the group can become expert in the internal environment of the company. What made the three presentations stronger was a conscious effort to ask the question “in what business environment does this organisation work?”, before asking “what is the strategy of this organisation?”.

As for Budapest and Hungary, I think everyone learned something new – even those who had visited here before. They’ll be reflecting on that for a few weeks before the assignments are due in.

I am now better informed on the macro-economic realities for Hungary, particularly the way that the National Bank is pretty much at the mercy of the FX market (interest rate setting only has impact insofar as it limits movement vis-a-vis the Euro) for managing inflation.  I also learned that a crazy number of Hungarians have loans in CHF and EUR, though it turns out that they’d be even crazier to have them in HUF.

On a personal note, it has been great to see family and friends and to catch up.  And, for those of you who have done the ‘tourist’ thing here and would like some tips on a different way to explore, check this out on YouTube.

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Yesterday we spent the greater part of the day today visiting two companies in a town with the almost unpronounceable name of Szekesfehervar. Tongue-twister it may be, but it’s a good chance that there is a household gadget in your home, component of the computer you’re using, or a bit of the car you drive that was built or assembled there.

We went to see Visteon, which was spun off from Ford Motor company and which makes various automotive components, and Videoton, a former mass-producer of electronic equipment and TVs for the eastern bloc, and which re-invented itself post communism as a very entrepreneurial subcontractor for (among others) household names in electrical assembly.

In the evening the group took some time out to listen to a concert at the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy in the much more pronounceable capital city. It was a quintet of returning former students and they were really outstanding.

Today the three groups have been working on their presentations tomorrow. The mood all week has been excellent, and several members (who come from different intakes in different countries) have remarked on the twin benefits of meeting others from the MBA and immersion (even if only for a brief, Budapest spa dip) in the culture that the companies we are visiting live in all the time.

By coincidence, there is a world MBA tour fair here in the city this evening, and Henley is being represented there, so hopefully we may see some more Hungarians enrolling, though given the current pressure on the Forint, and the unpredictable nature of domestic politics, it might be a tall order to recruit here.

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 Today we had visits to two companies, Trigranit and CIB Bank. Trigranit is a privately-owned commercial (mostly retail) property developer with projects in several Central and Eastern European companies. CIB is a commercial bank, amazingly (since its parent Instituto SanPaolo has more deposits than loans) not one suffering too badly directly from the banking crisis. It’s been very interesting hearing more about the economic conditions in Hungary and how they are inextricably linked to those in the European Union (and vice versa).

It’s St Patrick’s day, so most of the group are planning to visit the big Irish pub here, Beckett’s. Hope they remember that tomorrow we have an early start!

In other news, I have just found out that this blog has been listed among the “100 best blogs for MBA students”, which you can find here.  Also,  the Financial Times yesterday ran a listing (not a ranking, except by declared number of enrolled students) of DL MBA programmes, in which Henley Business School more than held its own in a very wide-ranging field. In the same supplement, there is an article about the use of Web 2.0 approaches in online learning which has some quotes from me.

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I’m here in Hungary with a small group of DL MBA programme members on a week-long investigation of the macro-economic business environment of Hungary, as seen through the “eyes” of some of the businesses and managers here.

Today we heard from Dr Istvan Magas, of the CEU Business School, and had a tour of the city. Budapest is a place I am quite familiar with as a former resident, so it’s a little like Alice through the Looking Glass to see it purely from the visitor’s perspective. I have quite a view of the Parliament building from my room (pic 1), and we’ve been hearing all about the ups and downs of the Hungarian economy. The technical term is, I believe, “b*ggered”.

The group is great, everyone’s friendly and quite diverse in terms of location and/or intake, so they’re enjoying meeting others on the same strange, long journey through the MBA.

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Wikipedia defines learning as “acquiring new knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, preferences or understanding, and may involve synthesizing different types of information. ” 

One wonders what pattern the list of things following the word “new” are supposed to form; is there a particular connection? Could one insert any concept after ‘acquiring new…’ and still have a valid definition?  

Well, one probably needs to be wary of any definition on Wikipedia, and despite this one contains reference to the synthesis of information, I would be reluctant to accept that learning is really about “acquiring” a list, or, in fact, about “acquiring” at all. ‘Acquiring’ suggests possession and ownership, and a greediness – ‘the more the merrier’.

Other definitions one might find in any online search mention ideas such as ‘change’, ‘behaviour’ and ‘cognition’.  For many researchers in this area it would appear that the adoption of any one (or all) of these definitions has resulted in an inevitable process of breaking something whole down to its constituent parts. There, for me, may be the error and the reason why learning remains so difficult to define, and yet so widely understood.

Our understanding of any phenomena or thing, be it the physical universe, or emotional relation with a fellow human being, can never be the thing itself. The thing and the name of the thing are what Bateson would, I think, describe as being of different logical types. You can only map a phenomena onto a receiving surface, which necessarily contains its own distortions and limitations.

For one thing, our senses confine for us our maps of the world. And for another, whilst not possible to know things ‘as they are’, it is possible to know how you interact with that thing. The discovery that this is so is a higher level of learning.

The differentiated world, or the world of differentiation (of news), is what we experience via those senses. Without differentiation there is no possible way to experience anything and all description consists of making distinction. Epistemology is the systematic classification of differentiation. We are inseparable from and exist within this state of differentiation and distinction – it is life.

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I’m not sure how many of you know that two of our leading experts in Corporate Finance, Dr Giampiero Favato and Dr Carole Print, have co-written an e-book entitled “Corporate Finance Decisions in Volatile Times”, which, for the time being at least, is available as a free download. You can access it here.

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