The challenge of becoming the first Dean of the University of Leicester’s new School of Business, as well as becoming an externally appointed head of school, were both attractive reasons for Professor Zoe Radnor to make the move to Leicester.
The target she has set herself is ambitious. Her vision is to put Leicester in the top 20 UK business schools in the next five years.
Her appetite for creating and developing new ventures was whetted by her previous role at Loughborough, where Professor Radnor was involved with establishing the university’s postgraduate campus in London.
The days of the big, expensive on-campus MBAs are gone and the future is about how you create something that is different, novel and exciting – Professor Zoe Radnor, first Dean of the University of Leicester’s new School of Business
“What drives me is my experience working at some of the top business schools in the country and seeing what good business schools look like, but also recognising that it is a different world from what is commonly assumed,” she said. “The days of the big, expensive on-campus MBAs are gone and the future is about how you create something that is different, novel and exciting, and that meets the needs of students and employers.
“What attracted me to Leicester was the opportunity to be able to create a strong vision for a business school that is relevant for these changed times and having the leadership skills to bring people into that vision and take them along with me. That is reflected in our strategic plan which has contributions from 40 members of staff.”
One of the elements of the former School of Management that will be retained is its focus on critical management. According to Professor Radnor, this fundamental ethos gives the new business school a distinctive character which sets it apart from other schools, many of which are essentially concerned with application and practice.
Our undergraduates will leave us as thinking managers and thinking accountants, not just versed in the practice – Professor Zoe Radnor
“One can argue that it is quite an interesting time to have a critical management approach, given the recent high profile failures of management from the banking crisis to labour relations at Sports Direct,” she said. “Our undergraduates will leave us as thinking managers and thinking accountants, not just versed in the practice but also skilled in the ability to be reflective and critical.”
The plan is to update this approach by offering a range of options to ensure the school is producing grounded business graduates.
“We want to make our distinctive approach even more relevant and also offer more traditional business school options, so our undergraduates can, if they choose, go to work for big consultancy houses for instance,” she said. “Part of that is building into the curriculum ideas about employability and getting students to reflect on their own skills and ability.”
Professor Radnor also aims to strengthen ties with the wider community to ensure exposure to a range of organisations, building the placement year option to give students the best and broadest opportunities available and also to build on the internationalisation that is at the heart of the university’s vision.
Linked to this exposure is the aim to develop the School’s research profile. Professor Radnor has an enviable and award-winning research portfolio. Her research is practice-based, first in manufacturing production and in the last 15 years in public services, where she has undertaken significant projects for HMRC and the Department for Work and Pension (DWP).
She believes Leicester has great potential and will, in time, be able to compete with the likes of Warwick Business School, which she joined in 2003 as Lecturer in Operations Management, and where she was promoted to Reader; and also Cardiff Business School, where she was Professor of Operations Management and Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning in 2011.
“The University of Leicester delivers high quality teaching and research and its reputation should reflect that,” she said. “The establishment of a successful business school can really help to position the university where it should be. Around the country there are many established business schools but this is a real opportunity to build and create something fresh, distinctive and great.”
The University’s commitment to gender equality, characterised by its championing of the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign and the strong support for Athena SWAN was also a factor in the decision to join Leicester.
“When I came out of one of the interviews, I noticed a huge wall in the Charles Wilson Building which is covered with pictures of all the outstanding women achievers from the university. I was really impressed with that and with how strong Leicester is on the equality agenda.”
With her appointment in May, Professor Radnor joins a select group; according to 2015 figures, only 21 of the 121 business schools in the UK are headed up by women.
The mother of three, who was brought up in London, is used to operating in male dominated environments. After an engineering degree at Nottingham University, she become a production engineer and then a management consultant before beginning her academic career at Leeds in 1994 as an ESRC Management Teaching Fellow.
With a range of senior roles at successful business schools under her belt, including Warwick and Cardiff, the Dean is well placed to create and build the new School of Business.