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The real imperative is people

By David H. Brown of Imperial College Business School

David Brown is the Director of Executive Education at Imperial College Business School. It is a role that he has held since 2018, helping to pioneer innovative programmes for organisations and individuals around the globe. But David’s journey in education and training began much earlier, as a teenager working for his father’s business in his native Birmingham, England. It was here that he discovered the true value of leadership development. The success of every part of the business, said his father, be it product selection, marketing, sales, delivery, and post-sales customer care, was built on just one thing: the capabilities of its people. And it’s a lesson that has held and found reaffirmation time and again throughout David’s 40-year professional career in insurance, management consulting and education, on both sides of the Atlantic. As he says, the greater the exposure, working with diverse companies around the world, the deeper his belief became that “the real imperative”– was the people part; the leadership development capabilities within any organisation, the ability to grow and renew, to attract and retain talented individuals and teams.

This experience and understanding coalesced in February of 2018 with an invitation to lead Executive Education at Imperial College Business School. David welcomed the challenge, not least because of the unique position that Imperial College Business School occupies in the world of education.

Imperial is one of the world’s foremost science, technology, medicine, and business institutions, with more than a century’s tradition of pushing the boundaries of knowledge and application through its research and its commitment to experiential learning. Founded following London’s Great Exhibition in 1851, Imperial is the fullest expression of the kind of collaborative thinking and endeavour that the Exhibition’s creator, Prince Albert, envisioned. This founding “story” of collaboration across disciplines, art, business and government and commitment to help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges continues to shape Imperial. It is a culture, says David, that seamlessly facilitates dialogue between different academic departments and between the College and industry. And it is a culture that promotes a holistic understanding of business – and that sets Imperial apart from other business schools.

Clients come to the School looking for better questions, for answers; for a solid understanding of different technologies and how combinations of technologies may help them solve problems or pursue opportunities within their team, function, business, organisation, industry or even at a system level.  And most important combine these ideas with the ‘how’ individually and at ever wider levels.  David commented “we are encouraged to keep doing this by our clients who generously observe we seem to be the only institution that can deliver a truly holistic solution.”

Collaboration takes practice, the right culture, and the right structures. Examples of these three elements in combination are the College Institutes, such as the Data Science Institute, the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, and the Institute for Global Health Innovation. The Institutes bring together academics from across departments and disciplines to find innovative solutions to complex, multi-faceted challenges and to support business and organisation through executive education.

Addressing complex challenges is at the core of the College’s academic strategy to 2025. Specifically, a focus on the development of a Sustainable Society, Smart Society, Healthy Society, and a Resilient Society. As David observes these are “common challenges” shared by every business organisation, country, and region on the planet. For example, climate change will affect how we work, organise, finance, deliver and consume products and services. It will affect business models, education, and government. These are new challenges that the current generation of leaders will need to grapple with. Firms cannot afford to get some of these complex challenges like sustainability wrong. Otherwise they risk losing their licence to operate. Our role is to help current and future leaders to understand and act effectively in these new environments.

What is exciting, says David, is that Imperial is conducting ground-breaking research in every area of these complex challenges, from new forms of regulation and business models to sustainable finance through to next generation batteries and the Future of Cities. Imperial faculty are among the most trusted scientific, business, and economic and regulatory advisors working with companies, governments, NGOs, and central banks across the globe.

Through its Executive Education efforts, Imperial partners with companies to help them define their own route in addressing the challenges of technology transformation, sustainability, climate change, building a stakeholder society and the more “traditional” leadership challenges. Imperial offers a full portfolio of innovative programmes, including face-to-face, virtual and online courses, continuously enriched and updated by faculty research and feedback from industry. A major priority for the School and its clients, says David, is to deliver programmes that empower leaders and organisations to navigate change at scale, at speed and at reasonable cost.

To date, Imperial College Business School has enjoyed a strong presence in APAC, with many thousands of alumni, including Beijing Mayor Chen Jining and a slew of strategic partnerships. These include the Singapore Green Finance Centre, in partnership with the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Singapore Management University, and the MBBS, a five-year medical degree jointly awarded by Imperial and Nanyang Technological University.

The School is also at the forefront of change in Asia, helping leading energy companies make the transition to net zero, and collaborating with the region’s largest telecommunications companies to advance the next generation of digital innovations. In Executive Education, Imperial delivers a diverse range of customised programmes for regional APAC clients, for example, supporting Hong Kong-based construction companies to embed digital practices into their approach to project delivery as well as helping global agriscience businesses to engineer growth across different markets of varying levels of maturity in the region.

Partnership is at the very heart of what Imperial does, whether it’s research and co-authorship of academic papers, industrial collaboration, and joint research centres or degree programmes.

There are so many exciting opportunities emerging in Asia, says David. Before choosing his university, a History Professor advised “Go West young man, go West.”. Today, perhaps they would advise “Go East!”









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