It’s not every day that seven academics in the same school take retirement, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Aston Business School this summer. Dr Jill Jesson, Dr Doug Love, Prof Graham Hooley, Prof Stan Brignall, Dr Peter Burcher and Prof John Saunderslook back on their time at Aston University and share their fondest memories with Aspects. Prof Gordon Greenley is also retiring. Together they have a combined impressive period of service to Aston of 143 years!
1. Why did you choose to work at Aston?
DL: Aston had a great reputation for working closely with industry and as a highly applied institution. The Production Engineering department was the biggest in Europe and I spent 20 years in it before moving to ABS.
GH: I was impressed with the Business School and the opportunity to develop the Marketing group.
JJ: I started a PhD here and have been here ever since!
SB: After 19 years as a lecturer at Warwick it was time to move. I wanted to continue my research and had heard of Aston as I had been attending the MARG (Management Accounting Research Group) conferences for years. I was given a Senior Lecturer post in 1998 and five years later I became a Professor.
PB: I joined Aston after working as a Management Consultant. Consultancy was stressful as I had a new family, was away from home during the week and would spend all weekend doing more work!
JS: I joined Aston as the Dean of ABS and so I had the opportunity to operate ABS in the way I thought was appropriate.
2. What were your key milestones while you were here and did you achieve all you wanted?
JJ: Obtaining my undergraduate degree, a PhD, gaining a high reputation in pharmacy research and being appointed by the Privy Council to be the Lay Representative for the Royal Pharmaceutical Pre-Registration Examination Board.
GH: Appointing Gordon [Greenly] as the second professor of Marketing was key and led to the group taking off. There were also good appointments in the mid 90s which put the group in a strong position. I spent six years developing ABS and when John Saunders arrived in 1997, I became the Research Director. I headed up the doctoral programme and research. Following the RAE I became Deputy Head of ABS with the responsibility of faculty. I was delighted to be appointed Senior Pro Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor.
JS: There were clear milestones and a clear set of objectives for ABS. One was triple accreditation and the other was moving away from a low base of state funding. At the time there were no international students. The MBA and MScs were quite small. Increasing the income per student allowed us to fund what we were doing more effectively. The conference centre under Lynne Snow has been very successful and one of the most profitable aspects of ABS. We had RAE targets, QAA and Accreditation to achieve but all this was underpinned by growth.
SB: Taking over the annual Management Accounting Research Group conferences. The conferences are important as a meeting place for practitioners and academics in Accounting. I was well known on the international conference circuit but this role put me in touch with Management Accountants and Practitioners around the world.
PB: Obtaining my PhD and then getting a promotions to Senior Lecturer, Course Director and to Head of Group.
DL: My research and the interesting things I could do in teaching. Was my teaching effective? It’s difficult to say the feedback I get from students is terrific. I hope that my journals are read and that they affect thinking.
3. What has been your biggest triumph?
JJ: My PhD
DL: My prize from the Institution of Engineers for an idea of how to plan and manage factories.
SB: My appointment to Chair.
PB: My PhD and becoming Head of Group for the first time.
JS: Setting out the ABS strategy based upon straightforward precepts and achieving this in terms of financial base, goals, RAE, QAA and Accreditation. Part of the formula was to get a robust Professoriate and appointing Mike West was key. This was followed by a new flush of strong research orientated Professors. In addition, finding people in the school who were stronger than they had been recognised for was a triumph, for example, John Edwards and Helen Higson. I wanted to develop leaders.
GH: The Marketing group by the end of the 90s and also bridging the gap between business and academia in my current role.
4. What is the one thing you still want to accomplish?
JJ: I’ve never had a clear path mapped out. I am going to be a trustee on the board of a voluntary organisation and will continue with my research but at a slower pace.
DL: I have developed a technique for graphically searching engineering databases. The system allows you to sketch a design and it will then search all database drawings to find a match, saving time and money. It was patented at the start of this year and now that I am retiring I can spend time seeing whether the system is commercially viable.
SB: I will be trying to use my academic writing skills to write fiction and have my first novel published!
JS: At Loughborough I became a Professor at the same time as becoming Research Director. In a sense I was always begrudged for not focusing on research. Therefore, I would like to succeed at getting into the top journals and producing research of significance.
5. What is your fondest memory of Aston?
JJ: All the people who have helped me in my career.
DL: The people I have worked with. Freedom has been key as have been able to do the projects, research and teaching I wanted to. John Saunders and Mike West pro-actively support staff and that is what sets this university apart.
GH: A research symposium at Aston. I was p art of a group looking at the future of Marketing in the early 2000s. Approximately 20 leading scholars attended and it was so enjoyable to brain storm ideas and develop agendas.
JS: Getting the first EQUIS accreditation. Before this ABS did poorly in the RAE, teaching was satisfactory and international accreditation was sparse. EQUIS gave the School courage and made it a member of an International community. Soon afterwards we got 24/24 for teaching quality in the QAA.
SB: Being promoted to Chair as this is the pinnacle of any academic’s career.
PB: My PhD - it took seven years part-time. I have so many nice memories that I cannot pick just one!
6. How would you sum up your experience of Aston in one word?
DL: Freedom (intellectual freedom to think, read and do what you want)
PB: Friendly- it is a small supportive University where things get done easier.
7. How will you be spending your retirement?
JJ: Voluntary work in schools, gardening and reading books.
GH: I am a member of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archaeology Society and will be doing research on the history and archaeology of the Lake District. I plan to write a novel on the 5th and 6th centuries, walk, travel and continue to learn to play the Irish fiddle.
SB: I will be travelling to New Zealand and Australia to meet various colleagues that I have met at conferences and who have said “when you’re over my way I’ll show you around”.
PB: Travelling (Cyprus, New Zealand, and Australia this year), golf, swimming and generally staying fit.
DL: Photography and IT. I would still like to be involved in projects at the University such as KTPs.
JS: I am still a visiting Professor at Audencia and I will continue with my PhD supervisions which are based on my research. I will also continue to work on two International projects in research.
8. What would you like to be remembered for?
JJ: As somebody who people liked.
DL: As a teacher, to be remembered as approachable and demanding, and as a work colleague, as someone who was good to work with and who added value.
GH: The success of ABS in the RAE 2001 in which we narrowly missed getting 5*. At a university level a number of things: a clearer view of the medium to long-term strategy of the University and in particular the research strategy. There is now a lot more collaborative work across Schools and it feels good to have been part of this.
SB: A good colleague who supported my colleagues.
PB: Conscientious and a good Head of Group.
JS: I feel it is not what you are remembered for but the fact that you can feel proud you helped others.
9. What would you like to say to those you are leaving?
JJ: Thank you for giving me a chance right at the beginning and also throughout my career.
DL: When I first came to Aston I felt an outsider as I was a ‘Southerner’ but now there is so much diversity and this has been a truly enriching experience.
GH: A great university with a great future. Aston needs to be focussed and should choose what not to do as well as what to do.
SB: I would like to wish everyone a continuation of the success that has prevailed since I have been here.
PB: Thank you to all I have known over the years and to those who have made every day enjoyable.
JS: It is going to be a tough period for all Universities. It is critical people think globally and aim for excellence. We need to stop thinking about UK systems and look at the World leaders.
10. Any final words for Aspects?
JJ: You can begin your studies at 32 and still make a contribution!
GH: Aston is open and responsive and I encourage people to persevere with their suggestions as they do get through. It is a flexible and fun place to work and as it’s relatively small, every individual can make a difference.
JS: All great people can be given the chance to lead.
SB: I joined as the ninth member of my research group. 12 years on the Accounting, Finance and Law group has over 30 staff. This is exemplar of the School’s growth over the period. More staff, more research and more students is all part of the School’s success.