Mark Taylor has taken over running Warwick Business School at a tricky time. The institution has slipped down the rankings in recent years, the glory days of funding for public universities are over and the financial crisis has caused a rare bout of intellectual introspection among business schools which, as a group, have been professionally optimistic. However, Professor Taylor, who started as dean in April, is calm and collected.
He brings extensive and impressive credentials to the job. Since 1999, he has held a chair in international finance at Warwick. Before that, he has – among other diversions – been a currency trader in the City after graduating from Oxford, has worked for the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund, held a fellowship at University College, Oxford, and occupied a clutch of chairs at City, Liverpool and Dundee universities. Most recently, he put this into practice as a managing director of BlackRock, the world's biggest asset manager.
You feel, however, other qualities may have been important in earning him the Warwick job. A well-built and carefully dressed man of 52 with smooth, light grey hair, he seems more like an investment banker than the obligatory rumpled academic. The calm, collected manner is part of the package. Here is a man who weighs things up, takes decisions and implements them, you suspect, politely but with determination.
His vision for the school is "to become Europe's leading university-based business school." The mission is "to create and disseminate world-class, cutting-edge research that is relevant in the sense of influencing organisations in the way business is done; to create world-class business leaders who are responsive to change and innovation whatever the size of the organisation; to provide a return on investment for students and alumni and inform the way they think over their entire careers".
Few business school heads would demur. The question is how you do all this better than your peers, especially when Warwick has not been performing so well as in the past – the MBA class, for example, has fallen from a peak of 150 to just 74. At this point, he becomes a little bolder. "One advantage we have over other business schools is that we have a great university on our doorstep.
"I don't think that the business school has leveraged enough the university. So I'm speaking to economics, politics, engineering – the usual suspects – to try and form bridges. But I also want to broaden that and try to talk to the arts faculty as well, to see whether there are synergies", he says.
Taylor has already turned some ideas into action. His experience at BlackRock during the financial crisis taught him that many forces, such as herding instincts (the tendency of market participants to copy each other's actions), psychology and organisational behaviour operated in financial markets apart from traditional macroeconomics.
Along with other business school leaders, he has also become concerned about how the disciplines which constitute the conventional curriculum have solidified into silos, impeding the cross-fertilisation of ideas.
The immediate upshot is the establishment of a new behavioural science research group headed by the Warwick economist and student of happiness, Professor Andrew Oswald.
Beyond that, Taylor has ordered a review of the whole MBA curriculum, including the sensitive area of corporate social responsibility, the teaching of which at Warwick and elsewhere appeared to have little effect on bankers' behaviour leading up to the financial crisis.
He has also streamlined responsibilities in the business school, creating a new post of chief administrative officer.
Taylor is cagey about where the review might lead. He says he will consult with MBAs and "other stakeholders" about the curriculum: "It's not going to be Springtime for Hitler", he cautions. Then he is suddenly animated by the thought of appointing a writer in residence to encourage business students to think more creatively. Extolling creativity is one of the more recent fashions in business schools, but Taylor defends it neatly. "I like to quote WB Yeats: 'You can give a few twigs for an eagle's nest'."
The literary reference is a valuable clue. Taylor is almost a local boy, educated at Byng Kenrick Central School in Birmingham, successor to the famous Central Grammar School. A comprehensive, Byng Kenrick sent few pupils to Oxbridge, but Taylor was interviewed at Oxford for both PPE and English, having already been offered a place by the LSE. His headmaster told him that he was "too clever to study economics", but that is what the young Taylor did after turning the LSE down – having to learn French O-level in a few months to qualify for entry to St John's college.
He retained his interest in English, however, and while holding a chair at Liverpool took an MA in English romantic and renaissance literature for a little intellectual variety.
And there is another surprise. Taylor is keen on clocks and owns about 20 dating from 1660 to 1830. "I stumbled into collecting antique clocks about 20 years ago", he says.
Being reluctant to pay dealers' prices, he started going to auctions. But the clocks needed restoring, and he found a professional restorer in Market Bos-worth in Leicestershire. After a while, the restorer could not cope with all the work he had and suggested that Taylor come in at weekends to learn the art.
"For the last 10 years, I've spent Saturday mornings working as a clockmaker. It's a different aspect to life. You suddenly have to work with your hands as well as your head. It's totally absorbing," he says.
Warwick Business School can be sure of three things: it has cool-headed new leadership, the intellectual atmosphere will change appreciably, and the dean will definitely be on time.Reuse content