In recent years, business schools have been under heavy fire for turning out MBAs ill-equipped to survive in the corporate jungle. The campaign forced England‘s Henley Management College, for one, back to the drawing board.
The result, says Ray Wild, professor and principal of Henley, is a program designed, taught, and attended largely by corporate executives with an emphasis on management development, problem solving, and analytical skills.
“Resilience and flexibility, confidence and courage,” says Wild, ticking off the characteristics both executives and business schools will need to thrive in an increasingly competitive, global environment. “Not syllabus stuff.”
From the school’s headquarters in a 14th century estate near Henley-on-Thames, Wild and his faculty continue to refine their curriculum. Among the most intensive of Henley‘s offerings is a “total immersion” program, in which teams of students resolve business situations and conflicts. One group even traveled to Italy to observe first-hand a family-held company’s transition to public ownership. Wild, 51, encourages these educational excursions.
“The whole ethos of what we’re doing is to provide management development by putting people in touch with the situations they’re going to have to work in,” he says.
Henley‘s programs are structured in consultation with corporations such as Intercontinental Hotels and Grand Metropolitan, and taught by an untenured faculty that includes many former executives. A typical student is a 34-year-old corporate hotshot, whose education is being bankrolled by the company.
Barry Gibbons, a 1975 alumnus of the program and now CEO of Burger King, recalls sitting near classmates ranging from investment bankers to public sector executives. “What we learned was that we could approach problems from very different viewpoints,” he says. “You come out with a much more balanced attitude toward business situations.”
With globalization and Eastern Europe the latest corporate buzzwords, Henley has fielded a rush of inquiries from U.S. companies lately. The attraction? “I think they take the view that they cannot study developments in Europe at a distance. They want to be here to feel they’re a part of it,” says Wild. He notes that the school’s joint MBA programs in 16 countries-including the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and most recently, St. Petersburg-ensure that almost half the 3,500 executives, and increasingly, the faculty, who pass through Henley’s U.K. campus each year come from abroad.
Wild’s own career reflects at least one component of the Henley credo-flexibility. “I think I’m the only engineer who is the head of a U.K. business school,” says the educator, who also authored a popular series of children’s books on technology with such whimsical titles as “A Car Called Maurice.”
And don’t forget his marketer’s hat. Wild insists that Henley clients must be satisfied customers. Says he, “They know what they want, and if they don’t find it here, they’ll go somewhere else.”