Our plans for the future

Published: 25 February 2016 at 14:36

Prof Gary Packham

Anglia Ruskin University's Lord Ashcroft International Business School is a fertile breeding ground for the next generation of entrepreneurs. Matthew Gooding spoke to its dean, Professor Gary Packham, about the school's plans for the future.

As a professor of entrepreneurship and enterprise, Gary Packham knows a thing or two about growing a business, so he's well placed to assess the progress the Lord Ashcroft International Business School (LAIBS) has made in recent years. "We're two years into a five-year plan, and we've already achieved quite a lot," he said. "I'm fortunate to have some very good people working in the School and fortunate to be able to educate a group of highly motivated students. It's a very rewarding job." Professor Packham became dean at Anglia Ruskin University's business school in 2014, having been part of the team at LAIBS since 2012. This career in education represents something of a change of direction for a man who started out in banking.

"I held a few positions in finance before I saw the error of my ways," he said. "I initially thought I'd take some time out to do a degree at the University of Glamorgan with a view to going back into banking, and once I finished my studies I had a few interviews with big corporate finance companies. "But at the same time I got offered a scholarship to do a PhD, and I decided to take it. I've never looked back. "I've always been interested in the concept of entrepreneurship and the calculated risks it involves, and for my PhD I studied a lot of fast-growing Welsh firms, looking at how these very entrepreneurial businesses put management policies and structures in as their organisations grew." After receiving his doctorate, Professor Packham worked at the University of Glamorgan, and was head of its business school before ARU came calling. He was deputy dean for research and enterprise before being promoted to the top job, and he is also the university's Pro Vice Chancellor. "When I was appointed I was asked to transform the business school's research profile and improve our external engagement," he said. "We didn't really have a research profile to begin with, but we can now proudly say that 50% of our research is rated as world leading or internationally excellent.

"It's taken a lot of investment and support to get to this position; we've employed some great people and more than 80% of our staff now have PhDs. You also have to put a structure in place to ensure these staff are motivated and producing the best research they can." Ultimately a business school is there to serve its students, and LAIBS now has more than 6,000 of them from more than 100 countries. ARU was named Entrepreneurial University of the Year in the 2014 Times Higher Education awards, and continues to offer undergrads opportunities to develop their own business ideas through initiatives such as The Big Pitch ideas competition. The university has also launched a new Enterprise Academy to help students develop their business concepts. Professor Packham said: "We've seen big improvements in both student satisfaction and student performance, and we've got to keep that going because we have aspirations to be one of the country's top business schools. These things take time, but the foundations are there and the quality of our students is already excellent: I'd put them up against any students from anywhere in the world." 

Back to that five-year plan, then, and the professor, who lives in Cambridge with his wife and two children, is well aware that his job is far from done. He said: "There's a lot more to come; we know how good this business school can be and we're all motivated to move it forward, with great teaching and research at the heart of what we do."

This article first appeared in The Cambridge News, 25 February 2016