As someone who has devoted his adult life to teaching and researching the business of management I am, routinely, challenged by journalists and by management executives as to my experience of the ‘real world’ and whether I have ever held down ‘a proper job’. These days I meet this sort of challenge head-on. If I am honest I am altogether too old and just too Scottish to indulge this sort of question. So I now respond to this inquiry by asking another question, ‘How might we know if something is real?’
And when this is greeted by a quizzical look I add, ‘If I had spent the last 27 years working within a large corporate concern such as, say, Coca Cola you would be impressed and would not trouble yourself to ask such a question. You would readily acknowledge that I had, indeed, held down ‘a proper job’ in the ‘real world’. But what makes the production of a syrupy carbonated liquid somehow more real; more useful; indeed more noble than a career devoted to researching and teaching within Universities which are, after all, large, complex and often highly politicised organizations?’
As I’ve said before: you don’t looks sideways at your GP and say, ‘So you’ve never been anything apart from a doctor!’ I’ve dedicated my adult like to researching business, to understanding the complex problems that managers face every day – last I checked, Universities, too, had managers; struggled with strategic change; had to think about policy and profit. It takes a long time to become an expert… and I’m still working on it.