Posts Tagged ‘Henley MBA’


Autumn is by no means truly here yet, but the warmest days of a warm summer are now behind us, and all the wheat and barley have been harvested. Gone too are my long days devoted to writing and to preparation (and, only in memory now, vacation).

In fact, as the air shifts in the south-east of England, it is just the precursor for the marking of a phase in a cycle of change ; a sign we’re about to see at Henley the busiest MBA period for new intake starts, new stage restarts and graduating ceremonies.

For me, these few weeks have been the calm before a storm of workshops, and there’ll be something happening just about every day now until the end of the first week in October. We have quite a few changes to the PD module and the curriculum to work into the routine, it’ll be a real test.

It has been a really great year professionally, and I still have several more goals I would like to achieve before it closes, so.. Deep breath…. Here we go…

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With great sadness, over the weekend we received the news that the former director of the Henley office in South Africa, Fran Connaway, has died of pancreatic cancer. Fran had been ill for some years, and to those who knew her it is perhaps little surprise that she had defied the prognosis of a few months to live that was given to her by the doctors at the beginning. Fran being Fran, she found a way not just to exceed that prediction but benefit from various sorts of ground-breaking treatments that, while they may not have restored her to a very active lifestyle, at least made sure that no-one should forget that she was still around.

Fran was a founder member of the group that set up shop for Henley in South Africa (long before I joined the College), and was its heart as well as much of its character up until her illness. I first met her at Henley a day after I had been appointed to my job in 2005, about a month or so before I was officially to begin, at a clan gathering of the somewhat eclectic bunch of international partners and subsidiaries that the school then maintained. It was clear that she was a force of nature, a whirlwind of opinions (often forcefully put), ideas and a collector of ribald anecdotes.  She also had an encyclopedic knowledge of who was who and what was what in the education and business sector in South Africa, and I think she saw the wonderful potential in the place as being worth the constant hassles and worries.  Above all, she was dedicated to the success of the students; and woe-betide anyone who stood between them and their learning! She was particularly fond of taking aim at bureaucracy and nincompoops.

I’d say that Fran was utterly loyal to those she thought competent or like-minded, and completely dismissive of those she felt were in it for their own ego or simply just not up to the job; with Fran there were no half-measures. She didn’t suffer fools gladly, and was often right not to, but she had a big, big heart. She also loved to gossip, and always wanted to know the latest from the UK, and she made going down to Johannesburg a pleasure not a chore. I still recall on my first visit out there that she insisted on driving me (she drove like a southern-European in a hurry, and tended to talk non-stop while doing so, with ideas and opinions bursting out to the surface all the time) to a craft market to pick out some small souvenirs and gifts for my family.

It won’t be possible to replace her, but the good news is that the school she set the foundation for is now really blossoming into a major player in the market under the leadership of Jon Foster-Pedley and Frempong Acheampong, and the continued guidance of Vivien Spong, who was also Fran’s “right-hand” for many years.


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I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of pathologies in management. It’s an interesting thought, but not one often dwelt on in the context of an MBA. I think this is a mistake because it’s always the pathologies that throw light on the day-to-day normal functioning that would otherwise be camouflaged from us by the fact that, frankly, there is just nothing noticeable going on.

The term ‘pathology’ conjures images of morgues and psychiatrist’s couches, but the definition also has other meanings and applications (see below). The one under discussion here is as “a departure or deviation from a normal condition”. This  seemingly spare definition is linked, of course, to the others and it should be of interest to managers and leaders for the following reasons:

1.  Although it is suggested that there is nothing to be learnt from “a normal condition”, actually it would be better to say that there is nothing that’s easily learnt. In fact, the normal is where most of us operate, most of the time. We just do it without thinking about it. We are somewhat hard-wired to seek equilibrium and place into our sub-conscious minds as many routine aspects of behaviour as we can.

Now, ‘normality’ is, of course, a loaded term; what, exactly, is “normal”?  It is anything we don’t pay attention to, either because we don’t have to to get by, or because it has become so routine, so habitual as to be impossible differentiate.  This routine world is not open to examination because what we wish to examine and the means we have to examine it are one and the same. Only when we have at our disposal a new lens, a means of differentiating the normal, only then can we draw its outline.

2. So the study of a pathology is important as it shows us what we cannot see in the “normal”, and therefore shows us the nature of what we take for granted. To understand what we do as managers, we have to find or provoke situations which are deviant, or perhaps just a departure from the everyday. The psychiatrist Oliver Sacks has illustrated this phenomenon very well in his numerous books on deviant psychological conditions. The whole medical profession, in fact, has relied on pathology as a source of information about what must, necessarily, be the case in the world of the non-deviant.

The question of what are the pathologies of management is important not in order to validate the deviation but to show us how we work when we don’t have any problem at all. In Personal Developmnet on the MBA, I think this could be a valuable, if theoretical, starting point for all incoming managers. The challenge in education, aside from documenting cases of managerial pathology, is safely to provoke enough deviation in the course of the degree to let leaders and managers see for themselves how this works.

n. pl. pa·thol·o·gies

1. The scientific study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development, and consequences. Also called pathobiology.
2. The anatomic or functional manifestations of a disease: the pathology of cancer.
3. A departure or deviation from a normal condition: “Neighborhoods plagued by a self-perpetuating pathology of joblessness, welfare dependency, crime” (Time).

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It had been my intention to blog every day while in South Africa. I had wanted to capture the ongoing thoughts and impressions of being there and of running the workshop. But the days were just too long, the workshop too tiring and the evenings not necessarily with easy internet access (when will hotels stop milking the access to WiFi for cash?) and I’m rather ashamed to say that I gave up on Day One.

Now back home, here are the highlights (and one low point):

1. One is always mindful that what one is seeing is not the whole picture, not by any means, but what a great place South Africa is! I know that Johannesburg has serious problems to deal with, and that the country has a great deal to work out regarding its political and social problems, but if the diversity and attitude of the MBA programme members is any clue, then the energy to do something about these barriers is not in question. On top of that, I love the light in Johannesburg – it seems to open up the mind to all sorts of thoughts and possibilities.

2. The workshop ran with about 115 participants, the largest group I have ever had to deal with on the MBA. We held Day One more or less in plenary and then split the group in two streams, running repeat parallel sessions. Hard work, and kind of odd creating our own deja vu scenarios (once or twice I really wasn’t sure whether I’d already told the group I was with what I was telling them now), but also really good fun. I arrived still nursing a Spring cold, so my voice was threatening to desert me, but luckily it held in there. We were working at the JCC (Johannesburg Country Club), which is a relaxing and swish conference facility surrounded by a pristine green golf course. Golf does nothing for me, I’m afraid, which is probably for the good as there were therefore no distractions.

3. I think we got our points over. Many of mine were designed to “hole below the waterline”, in  a sense. I had hoped that I could offer some level of frustration, as well as surprise and interest, for the new participants to get them into a reflective mood. We’ll see shortly whether that worked, and frankly I never know until there is some feedback or reaction. Personal Development is a strong idea on the Henley MBA and I really think we’re developing a distinct and effective approach to it which is neither too faddish nor too dogmatic.

4. On day three came the devastating news of the death of a former, much-liked and admired colleague, Emilio Herbolzheimer. Emilio retired last September, having taught international business strategy and macro-economics at Henley for 13 years, but that does not do justice to the experience one got in the broad sweep of his workshops, nor to the lively nature of his discussions one-to-one. Quite simply, in workshops he moved with smooth brilliance through a kind of narrative, littered with humour, aptly chosen anecdotes and occasional political incorrectness (delivered so silkily that you forgave him instantly), across a range of subjects and ideas. I don’t think his was a style that could be easily imitated. He was also a charming colleague, quick to offer support, gracious in giving thanks when he saw the work of others (something not all faculty do) and  He could be cantankerous, too, of course, and no-one could accuse him of being a technofile. He would never shy from saying exactly what he thought. Occasionally, but not often, he would be off the mark. More usually, he was right, so it paid to listen to him. Above all, I’d say he was liked, respected by everyone with whom he interacted. We all have our Emilio stories and memories, and we all wish we could have some new ones.

But, we can’t, and I will really miss him.

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I’m on my annual pilgrimage to South Africa for the MBA Starter Workshop, so I’m getting my fill of “what’s changed since last time” impressions.

The first thing I noticed as the plane came in on approach to land was that the road congestion had gone. Normally, one observes queues of traffic on the various highways and junctions, but there seemed to be little held up. It wasn’t until I was actually out of the airport and on the way to the hotel that I remembered it was Sunday! Oh well. They have completed the new rail link from the airport to Sandton City, and the road widening works on the city’s arterial routes looked just about complete as well. My driver reminded me that this work was prioritised for the World Cup last year, often at the expense of other, less publicly visible public works – such as the development of more decent housing in Alexandra Township, an 8 square km sprawl of shacks and home to nearly half a million people.

The TV in South Africa is quite different from the mainstream UK. For a start, there are a lot of sports channels, where there is meticulous dissection of cricket, rugby, soccer, swimming and just about any sport you care to think of. This morning they were previewing the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, mainly by reliving the glory year of 1995 when South Africa won it (that winning team have legendary status similar to the 1966 England world cup team). Interesting to note that Mandela’s charisma and humility formed a big part of the tournament and win making such a difference.

Anyway, on this morning’s transfer from hotel to Henley office, the traffic jams had returned with a vengeance. So tomorrow we kick-off the new intake, likely to number around 115 people! It’s going to be an interesting challenge, for them and for us.

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It was quite a productive February. Aside from the progress made on the PhD, the conference paper in particular, I delivered several PD workshops at Henley and learnt a lot about the structure and flaws of the material. I have now started to think about a re-vamp (I won’t say re-write) of the PD materials. The trick will be to bring in some more contemplative or reflective ideas on self without sacrificing the practical and structured element of planning that many people seem to enjoy. But some of the material is frankly now getting a bit long in the tooth. One immediate success this week was completion of the first draft of a new “Values Questionnaire”, which will now need some road-testing.

The PhD is moving up a gear. My supervisors are suggesting I work on two of the chapters as part of presenting for an up-grade in th early summer. I shall also need to crack on with data collection. This is the scariest part, because a] I ave no idea if people will volunteer and co-operate, and b] if they do, there’s no slacking off.

I am enjoying browsing through the Learning Journal entries in the various online learning areas on the MBA. I know a lot of people never bother, or never pluck up the courage, to write, but often those who do are clearly getting something worthwhile from it. Some of them are actually quite moving!

Completed a half day workshop on “Building Career” with a portion of intake 41 today. I had to apologise to the group because there was just too much stuff to get through in half a day, but I think the main points were made. I know that I am trying to twist their brains a bit and challenge their patterns of thought, so I’m grateful they took it in good humour.

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Attended a really interesting half-day session on Systemic Constellation Coaching today as part of the Henley Coaching Forum. John Whittington was the facilitator, and not only was he really good, the concept shone through as being a way of reaching something very fundamental about the relationship of (invisible) patterns within organisational systems. There were some memorable one-liners from the session, which was suitably experiential. “There’s only what feels true”, for example, rang nice-sounding bells for me.

This was on my mind anyway this week, following the preliminary recommendations of the mysterious “Reshaping” project that the School of Management has been the subject of by the powers that be at the University of Reading and the Business School.

I see the use of the principles of the idea of systems constellations (which I have covered in various ways in some previous posts) as being a really exciting opportunity to improve my practice, so I’m eager to know more. Exploring “stuckness” is close to my heart.

Other highlights of the day included spending time with some of the lovely Exec MBA students, who are in for their Managing Financial Resources module. This has been a bit of a stressful time for (many of) them, with their first graded assignments only recently submitted, and the pressure of the MBA hitting home. On the other hand, I hope that they feel that this whole experience really does work on several levels.

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