A Conversation with Maury Peiperl - IEDP
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A Conversation with Maury Peiperl

Director Cranfield School of Management, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Cranfield University


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Connecting Thought Leadership to Business Practice

Professor Maury Peiperl, having taken up post in February 2015, is already firmly established with a very clear view of the future direction for Cranfield School of Management and the opportunities it has to make a significant impact on the future of business and the wider world.

Starting his career as an engineer at IBM, before moving to Merrill Lynch and LEK Consulting, Peiperl came to the conclusion that consultants, being one himself, had become too narrowly focused on projects and problem solving and did not have the time or motivation to step back, reflect and gain a comprehensive understanding of the bigger cross-industry picture. In order to give himself this perspective he took a major career shift into academia, becoming a research fellow at Harvard Business School (where he still sits on the Alumni Council), and later becoming a professor at London Business School and then Professor of Leadership and Strategic Change at IMD, where his areas of expertise have been in organizational development, executive careers, change management, HR strategy, and global mobility.

Having focused on the practical aspects of industry and business at the start of his career, he became a leading thinker and teacher and a prolific writer; co-author of an important textbook on change management, Managing Change (McGraw-Hill), as well as books on executive careers, and many academic papers. The theme of connecting ideas and though-leadership to practical business is central to Peiperl’s philosophy and his aims for Cranfield School of Management.

The School of Management is part of Cranfield University – a postgraduate research-based university recognized as a powerhouse in science, engineering, and technology. For this reason the School’s connection with the practical side to business and industry goes without saying. The aim now and in future is to emphasise the reflective/thinking side, which is already well established at the School, and to build on this to create a business school that is a font of ideas and idea generation, but critically is able to connect this with the practical needs of its stakeholders from multinationals to mid-caps and SMEs, to individual young entrepreneurs.

The University was originally formed in 1946, at the Cranfield RAF airbase, as the College of Aeronautics, providing education and training for aeronautical engineers. From the start aspects of management were a feature of Cranfield programs and the Work Study School which evolved to become the School of Management opened in 1953. So from its inception the School has been firmly linked to the practical and operational side of business and management.

“Business schools should provide a place for moving from ideas to ventures…” and a place where “people meet and connect,” says Peiperl. It is the business school’s role to stimulate academic research and innovative thinking, and at the same time to keep in touch with the realities of business and help in the development of new ventures and new leadership talent.

Although originally focused on managing operations, the School is well known for its   emphasis on leadership and management development, and on people as much as strategy. This aspect is spearheaded by The Praxis Centre, a specialised centre at the School which is dedicated to the personal development of individuals: identifying psychology and neuroscience as drivers of behaviour and understanding that deeper personal awareness transforms a leader's approach to their role and relationships at work.

In today’s complex business world, leaders need to hold up a series of mirrors to be able to see themselves and their organizations from as many perspectives as possible, and according to Peiperl it is a key role of the business school to help provide these mirrors. He points out that, the traditional ‘command and control’ leadership model only worked in a world where organizations could predict the future and where people were willing to be managed - ceding power in return for security. Both of these prerequisites are gone in world of disruptive change where employment contracts cannot offer unrestrained security. Today, business schools have a role in being able to build sustainable corporate cultures post-‘command and control’.

Participation in Cranfield programs at the Bedfordshire campus give executives a bit of distance and emersion away from the day-to-day. But at the same time a key driver for the School is a desire to offer real practical value and ROI a desire underpinned by its need to pay its way and not to rely on public funding.  To differentiate themselves business schools need to ask how executive education should fit into the school; looking at the IMD, Harvard and LBS models each follows a different route and a different level of involvement of full professors. In the case of Cranfield there is no question that executive education is central to what the School is about, and it is Peiperl’s ambition to enable all faculty to be active in executive education as well as academic research and the School’s graduate programmes –

Using the aphorism “You don’t know what you don’t know” Peiperl points to the School’s ability to help executives see the world in “other ways”, and to be a trusted advisor, able to mentor CEOs and guide board-level transformation, helping senior executives accelerate learning and keep developing themselves and their organizations after and beyond participation in a program.

Considering how the School can offer support deeper into organizations, Peiperl says that it is a matter of “developing trust at the top.” When this trust is established there is real scope to be the transforming space across the organization. The School can be the ideal partner for companies who need an advisor that is independent and can be a mentor or coach without being compromised, as a consultancy might be, through contract.

The  school is currently addressing the need to develop the leadership capabilities and support the career paths of executives from the ‘millennial’ generation. Maury Peiperl is at ease with a generational out look that “does not want to be told how to run their lives,” and sees business schools’ role as enabling people to pursue their own interests, but at the same time shouldering the task asked of them by companies and governments to build a potent talent pipeline. He believes that as organizations cannot realistically offer long term career prospects in so fast a changing world, that they should accept the implications of uncertainty which mirror reality. As CEOs’ tenures are short, it is unreasonable not to encourage team members to be adaptive and when necessary to move on in order to develop themselves.

For Cranfield School of Management the most evident areas for growth are in the oil and gas, energy, aerospace, and defence and security sectors with leadership programs to the fore. The School also sees growth opportunities working for government departments and for senior civil servants. And the percentage of programs offered to non UK businesses is increasing significantly.

The principal challenge for Cranfield School of Management is the need to stay relevant. To ensure this relevance the School needs to be distinctive in the space in which it can make a difference and to develop its faculty to be both practice and academic orientated, recruiting faculty who are comfortable in the ‘sweet spot’ between thought-leadership and practice, able to engage in academic research and to participate effectively in executive development programs.

Taking this further Peiperl sees a role for the school in moving closer to other parts of the University where it can connect with the many entrepreneurial and enterprise partnerships being developed between the university and business.

Meeting with IEDP the day after the Governor of the Bank of England spoke of banks having to operate under a ‘social license’. Maury addressed the questions: should business have a social purpose? And how does business answer the objectors to short-sighted capitalists? In his view it will always be “a dance between principle and pragmatism.” But a balanced position where business can be a force for economic and social good is absolutely achievable.

Part of this can come from seeing the world as an interconnected whole. A business perspective that sees being ‘international’ as going ‘out there’ is all wrong. The initial concept of globalization as spreading the largely US corporate model overseas never came to pass, and business leaders today must embrace and engage with a truly diverse global business environment seeing themselves as part of the whole.

Because of the enormous power of communication we now possess, a “one-world future could be within our reach” achieved by mindfully linking parts of the world to a meaningful whole. Peiperl is dedicated to promoting the role of business in sustainable global development and in the resolution of cross-national conflict. As he said on the Cranfield website prior to joining the School: "Cranfield’s strengths are broad and deep, and its opportunities to make a tangible difference in the world of practice, across a variety of sectors, are manifest.” With his deep and broad experience, and as the only non-British person on the board, he is well placed to ensure the school seizes these opportunities in the years ahead.

Transforming knowledge into action through the unique Cranfield Experience

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