Suffolk Business School Graduation 2017

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School, spoken at the Suffolk Business School graduation ceremony at 11:00 on Tuesday 17 October, 2017

Graduation day!

Sharp suit.

Expensive shoes.

Elegant and carefully selected accessories.

And a stylish haircut ruined by a stupid hat.

But enough about me…this is your day and I have something that I wish to share with you:

I love graduation day. I look forward to it. I enjoy it, I think, because all of the normal routines of daily life are temporarily suspended. All the hum-drum routines that signal and which are necessary to everyday life are set aside.

I rose early this morning.

I put on fancy clothes – Does anyone else feel like they have wandered into a Quidditch match?

I consumed a full English breakfast. And much of it did not make its way on to my tie.

If I’m honest I’m feeling pretty happy; rather content. In fact I’m feeling a bit festive.
You see the suspension of my daily routine makes today feel a bit like Christmas morning.

Charles Dickens – the soppy old fool – was a big fan of Christmas. And in his writing Dickens makes it very plain why he loves Christmas so. On Christmas morning, he tells us, people try just a little bit harder. They speak warmly; there is softness and kindness in the voice. There are no strangers on the street. Everyone is saluted. All are welcomed. Dickens loved Christmas, I think, because on Christmas morning we meet and become our better selves.

This has been my experience today. It is my better self that I think of when I turn my mind to graduation day. This is why I feel all festive. I hope that this has been your experience. I hope that like me you are feeling festive.

With warmth in my voice therefore I will take a moment to highlight the achievement of Helen Cook. Helen is the very first PhD to graduate from the University of Suffolk. Helen we are very proud of you. And at the risk of breaching protocol I will say congratulations Dr Cook!

And with softness I would like to speak now not only to the graduands but to your families and to my colleagues: I hope that today feels a bit like Christmas day (or Eid or Hannuka) because you have worked hard and you deserve to have your achievements recognised. Today you deserve words that are warm; speech that is soft. You deserve to have you achievements celebrated.

In a moment my colleague Dr Thomas will call you to the stage and in time-honoured fashion will acknowledge and honour your very substantial achievements by mis-pronouncing your names. Before this I simply close by asking that you stay in touch.

Don’t forget about us. Don’t forget what it took to get here today.

And as you go on to build your careers be ambassadors for the University of Suffolk.
Be role models for your communities. Meet and become your better selves. Don’t pull the ladder up after you.

Honour and keep the festive feeling that we share today.

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Make America Great Again: The Excellence Project 35 Years on

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

On the evening of Thursday 16 February I will offer what my children term ‘a quote-unquote master-class’. This event is one of a series of lectures designed to show-case Suffolk Business School’s unique three location, triple internationally accredited EMBA that is offered in partnership with the University of Maastricht. Since my parenting skills are, patently, nothing to blog about and because you are probably becoming just a little bored of my childhood reminiscences it might be useful to offer a little taste of what I will speak about on Thursday.

In my (ahem) master-class I will talk about Donald Trump. I will use words to talk about Donald Trump. It will be great. I have great words. You will be so proud of my words. My words are great (that’s enough now – editor). In my talk I will discuss Trump’s election; his promises and, more generally, our prospects. And I do mean all of our prospects!

But my presentation is not really about Trump. In truth – if we are still allowed to call upon such quaint things as truth – my talk is really a vehicle prepared to allow me to offer reflections on managerial storytelling. Why do I keep coming back to this? I always find myself back at storytelling because managerial work is essentially about talk. That’s why, as Head of Suffolk Business School, I now spend so much time in meetings!

Why must I spend so much time in meetings? Trust me, I do often ask myself this question! Yet while I grumble about the quantity of meetings I must attend (my calendar has just pinged to remind me to attend another in 15 minutes) the plain truth is that managers need to spend a lot of time talking to colleagues because work requires social co-operation within and across the boundaries that define our organizational arrangements. Talk – orders, commands, requests and exhortations – shape and define the activities that constitute managerial work. But if you really want to do something useful you will need to find a form of talk that goes beyond simply telling people what to do.

UCS Question mark (8)
University of Suffolk Waterfront Building, photograph (C) of the University of Suffolk

If you really want people to change; to commit; to do something extraordinary you will need a special form of purposeful talk that a) frames the activities that need to be undertaken and b) explains why these actions are actually useful and commendable. I call this special form of talk, ‘storytelling’.

Keen to learn more about the nature and – crucially- the limits of storytelling within a managerial context? Interested in a postgraduate degree that will prepare you for future leadership and executive roles?

Come along to the University of Suffolk Atrium on Thursday 16 February at 5:30pm and participate in my quote-unquote masterclass.

Introducing Professor David Collins, Head of the Suffolk Business School

david-collins-smallMessage from David Collins, Suffolk Business School

It has been suggested that I should take a few moments to introduce myself. I am, of course, more than happy to do so. Yet I will confess that I am not quite sure what I might usefully share on this my first ever blog post. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and while I have no wish to appear, either, secretive or aloof I genuinely don’t want to over-share…so mindful of the tight-rope walk that is blogging I offer the following.

I am – the Vice Chancellor informs me – the founding Head of the University of Suffolk’s Business School. This is, I tell the Vice Chancellor, a great honour since it carries with it a real opportunity to share in the future of the institution and the School.

In November last year the University invited me to prepare a short press release to announce my appointment. In this press release I made two observations which, since they signal something about my preferences and orientations, may be worth re-visiting.

In the press release I claimed that I am ‘an academic’s academic’ and I stand by this statement. I do however recognise that it is potentially problematic and more than slightly ambiguous. For the record therefore the claim that I am ‘an academic’s academic’ should not be taken as signalling to the uninitiated that I am poorly dressed and have personal freshness issues. Rather my suggestion is intended to convey an understanding that while I am keen to work with business, and while I am keen to prepare graduates for careers in business and beyond, I remain at root an academic who has devoted most of his adult life to researching the complex problems and dilemmas that managers face. Yes, that’s correct I have always been an academic. But I don’t apologise for that fact. I mean to say, you don’t looks sideways at your GP and say, ‘So you’ve never been anything apart from a doctor!’

The truth is it takes a long time to become an expert…and I’m still working on this project. That is why I am ‘Professor in’ rather than ‘Professor of Management’.

My second observation relates to jargon. I don’t like jargon and I try not to use it. I do use ‘big’ words of course and sometimes I have to write in long sentences. But I like my writing to be crisp, clear and elegant. I acquired this conviction from a local boy named Eric Blair. You may know him better as George Orwell.

Many years ago Orwell published two rather important essays that have had a profound impact upon how I write. These are entitled ‘Why I write’ and ‘Politics and the English Language’. If you have an essay or a report to write in the near future you might like to read one or both of these.

Thanks to President Trump’s focus upon ‘alternative facts’, Orwell’s ‘1984’ is now topping the best sellers lists again. If you haven’t read this book you really should. It is in fact the first novel I ever read…but then I never actually started reading seriously until I was 16. I might talk more about this in a future blog.