When you hear about the location of the Henley Business School, sat proudly on the banks of the River Thames in fields just outside Henley on Thames, you imagine something fairly grand. But nothing prepares you for the peace and tranquility of its setting.
One of the UK’s oldest business schools, Henley was founded in 1945 to support the post-war economic rebuilding plan and boost the quality of UK management. A school within the University of Reading, Henley is in the top 1% of business schools, holding triple-accredited status from the leading UK, European and US accrediting bodies. Its full-time MBA is now ranked second in the UK and 22nd in the world (The Economist 2015 rankings).
It just so happened that our visit was timed to coincide with the 177th Henley Royal Regatta, for which the school had arranged a riverboat cruise up the Thames. But prior to this, there was work to be done…
We received a warm welcome from Professor John Board, the effusive Dean of the Business School, who talked about the scope and reach of the school, which now has campuses and offices in 16 countries. Established in South Africa and Germany for over 20 years (the former campus just surpassing 1,000 students) and Hong Kong and Finland for 30 years, the Henley Business School also attracts students from more that 100 countries globally and counts 41 different nationalities amongst its faculty.
As you’d expect, the hot topic of Brexit was never far from the surface and John Board counseled that it was the regulatory changes which would provide the biggest challenge. He also perceived that business schools in the future would serve the economic and business sector differently: “Rather than ‘serving’ the industry, we will be much more a part of the professional communities we serve, with higher interaction,” he added.
The day was intended primarily to show the audience the variety and depth of the research projects currently underway at Henley. It was interesting to see how business information, international strategy and finance sit alongside real estate planning and leadership, behavior and reputation issues, all under one roof.
To keep it pacey, we heard snippets from a number of Professors and Doctors at the school, keen to provide a brief insight into their current work. One such expert, Professor Andrew Godley, gave us a whistle-stop tour through China’s shadow banking system and the potential financial problems stored up for the future. Meanwhile, Professor Peter Hawkins talked about ‘Tomorrow’s leadership challenges’, addressing the issue posed by so called Millennials or GenY (those reaching adulthood around 2000), now making up 50% of the workforce, the impact of digitalisation and game-changers for tomorrow’s CEOs.
The assembled audience (mostly a group of media professionals from across education, business and employment) then rolled up sleeves to take part in an interactive session hosted by Professor Gavin Parker and Dr Anupam Nanda from the Centre for Intelligent Places. While the session looked at the viability of an imaginary bicycle hire scheme in Gotham City, the real point was to show how communities need to adapt and work with all stakeholders to thrive.
Of course, having the River Thames and a top-class rowing regatta on your doorstep is a positive draw for many a student, academic and visiting journalist. The visit was completed with a tour down the world-famous race route (braving the elements) and the chance to meet more of the teaching professionals at Henley, including those now running a very successful Executive Education programme, ranked second in the UK for course design.
We left the school with the sentiment that Henley is not afraid to tackle some large and tricky issues in today’s business world head on – and is making a real impact on the economic leaders of tomorrow in the process.