Green and pleasant land

In sumptuous grounds and sitting pretty atop league tables, Henley Business School shows how exceptional estates can be wedded to academic excellence

In this issue we take a closer look at Henley Business School, which is ranked third in the UK for Executive Education by the Financial Times. The school was founded just after the Second World War when it was known as the Administrative Staff College (later Henley School of Management). Since then, it has steadily climbed the academic league tables and merged with the University of Reading in 2008. Now it offers a full portfolio of business education, and its gorgeous grounds, world-class academics and regular events continue to offer inspiration and aspiration in equal measure.

Taking the lead 

Henley Business School is at the heart of England. It has two campuses: White Knights, which is in central Reading, and Greenlands, which sits just outside of Henley-on-Thames. But both campuses are geographically central – draw a line from the north of England to the south, or the west to the east, and chances are it would run near Henley. Culturally as well, this area has long been an orientating point in England’s culture. The River Thames, which drifts languidly through the Greenlands campus – known as ‘Old Father Thames’ in folklore – has been eulogised by writers as diverse as T.S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad, and even in Philip Pullman’s new book La Belle Sauvage.

The Henley Regatta – the so-called ‘Ascot with boats’ – is also a major attraction that is literally down river from the Greenlands campus. Taking place over four days in mid-summer, this rowing event features races, lashings of Prosecco and Pimm’s, and more striped rowing blazers than you can shake your college tie at. It is not necessarily a representation of the UK at its multi-cultural, egalitarian best. But for Henley’s many international students and staff, it is a light-hearted glimpse of eccentric British tradition.

It’s not just fun and games though. Henley takes its academic provision very seriously: its undergraduate degree in Land and Property Management is ranked first in the UK by the Sunday Times Good University Guide; its postgraduate degrees are ranked 33rd in the world by the Financial Times; and its MBA and DBA programmes are similarly respected: named third in the UK by The Economist and the FT. The diversity of its executive postgraduate programmes is also celebrated: its Executive MBA is second in the world for percentage of female faculty, first in Europe for female participation, and 60% of students are female.

This diversity reflects a welcome shift in the corporate world in the wake of the #MeToo movement, as governments and businesses alike recognise the benefits of better gender balance at the top of the business world. Henley’s approach pre-empted this shift – from its merger with Reading in 2008, an international, inclusive outlook has been stressed – but its alumni attest to its success. From Charlotte Seymour Smith, Trustee of Christian Aid, to Noxolo Hlongwane, a financial advisor and South African philanthropist, the success of its graduates, across a wide variety of sectors and throughout the world, has convinced Henley that when it comes to business: diversity leads the way. As Professor John Board, Dean, said: “Our international profile and physical presence outside of the UK remains critically important […] we strive to have a positive impact on business and society.”

Out of the ivory tower

Alongside its diversity, Henley prides itself on its real-world business credentials. Whilst it recognises academic achievement is an important aspect of successful leadership, an ability to apply that knowledge is essential. Its aim, as John Board tells it, is to foster “an environment that brings business to life. We apply academic theory to real-world examples, enriching our courses with up-to-date knowledge, interactive teaching and applied study projects.” For undergraduates, Henley emphasises the importance of gaining experience of the world of work, encouraging and helping students to find internships, placements and graduate positions. Each student is assigned a placement manager and tutor so that they do not feel lost or overwhelmed by what can be a difficult period of transition.

For postgraduate students, the emphasis is on future impact and transitioning to senior management roles. Many MBA students will have already have had lengthy (and successful) careers – the average age on their Executive MBA is 37. Grounding theory in reality is therefore even more vital. As Dr Stephan Gerschewski, Lecturer in International Business and Strategy, argued: “Often you hear from MBA students that they don’t want to hear about theoretical frameworks, they want to hear about real life. They expect lecturers with academic background and professional experience in industry.”

As part of their commitment to real-world value, Henley conducts research papers and events on current trends in the business world. A recent example was the White Paper on the ‘Side Hustle Economy’. Henley’s research found that one in four adults now has a ‘side hustle’ – a side business – alongside their main job, contributing an estimated £72m to the UK economy. Henley organised a conference to discuss this research with Henley academics and ‘real-world’ side-hustle experts, including Danny Harmer, Chief People Officer of Metro Bank and Emma Jones, Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of 5 to 9, one of the first books on side hustling; also contributing was Professor Green, musician and ‘side hustle extraordinaire’.

Nine to five: no longer a way to make a living 

The panel agreed that side hustling has the potential to invigorate the occasionally moribund corporate world, and that its benefits for employee wellbeing and satisfaction could be profound. Danny Harmer commented: “It’s important to consider the whole person. Colleagues who are happier inside and outside of work are going to look after customers and each other better, and ultimately that’s good for everyone.”

But the panel also cautioned that unless companies were supportive, and if side hustlers tried to take on too much, too soon, it could be disruptive. Professor Green argued: “Taking on a side hustle isn’t easy; it takes preparation, thick skin, ideas and commitment enough to execute them. Prepare for rejection, and to get things wrong.” Naeema Pasha, Director of Careers at Henley Business School, agreed. “Companies that used to offer steady ‘lifelong’ careers are no longer offering the security that previous generations experienced.”

Riding out the tempest 

John Board asserted, though, that Henley’s combination of academic rigour and real-world smarts sets up graduates “to lead businesses, especially in turbulent times such as these”. Businesses face unprecedented changes from automation, the shifting landscape of work, and a growing awareness that the nine-to-five, job-for-life mentality has vanished. But Henley is confident it can prepare graduates to thrive in this future; the old-world charm of its estates producing students ready for the brave new world of work.