Mauro Guillén on taking Cambridge Judge Business School to the next level of success
Hours before becoming the fifth Dean of Cambridge Judge Business School, Professor Mauro F Guillén gave a speech to the Rotary Club of Cambridge in which he expressed his delight at the challenge, his appreciation of the architecture (and the weather) at his new place of work – and why at this point he has more questions than answers.
Cambridge Judge is the business school of the University of Cambridge. Established in 1990, it is a world-class provider of management education and is consistently ranked as one of the world’s best, with the Cambridge MBA programme ranked among the top global courses by Bloomberg, the Financial Times and Forbes magazine.
Speaking at the Gonville Hotel on the eve of his directorship, Prof Guillén said that even in the few days he has been resident in the UK – his previous tenure was as Zandman Professor of International Management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania – he has felt very positively about his new role.
“For someone born in Spain, being able to come to Cambridge as a professor [he takes up a Professorial Fellowship at Queens’], it’s like a dream come true,” he told his audience after being introduced by Cambridge Rotary Club president Jenny Chapman-Hay. There are similarities, he added, between the Cambridge and Pennsylvania schools – and not just the weather, which he likes because it is “varied”.
“The Wharton was founded not in 1325, as was the University of Cambridge, but in 1881, and is the oldest business school in the US at a university founded in the 1700s by Benjamin Franklin. I was there for 26 years as a professor before coming to Cambridge last week. And people were saying this is an ancient, 800-year-old university, how come it has a business school and it’s only 31 years old? So a large part of my job is to tell people about the business school and what we teach at the business school.”
What is being taught has expanded hugely in the last decade: the number of research centres established has tripled, addressing wide-ranging issues including alternative finance, strategic philanthropy, growth support to start-ups and SMEs, leadership, gender diversity and the circular economy. This month it was announced that the Executive MBA is to be taught in China.
At the Gonville’s outside dining facility, Prof Guillén referred to the week’s national talking point – the British and US withdrawal from Afghanistan – by stressing the crucial role of strategy, in business as in war.
“I’d like to offer a quote by the Duke of Wellington,” he said. “Wellington was one of the greatest military geniuses of all time, famous for defeating Napoleon, but he was also an innovator and he was pragmatic, and he knew that you have to be realistic about the forces you can bring to bear on a particular problem. Of Afghanistan he said: ‘A small army won’t hold it and a large army will starve’. Right now we’re witnessing a tragedy but the lesson, I think, is that you’ve got to be realistic about what you can accomplish.”
Spanish-born Prof Guillén’s expertise includes a deep understanding of globalisation and global market trends, including the impact of AI and climate change. He is respected as an author and public speaker, as the Rotary Club audience – celebrating ahead its centenary year in the city – found out.
“Another quote I’d like to offer may seem surprising,” he continued. “It’s from Pablo Picasso in the 1960s, in the days when a mainframe IBM had far less power than today’s smartphone. Picasso said: ‘Computers are useless. They only give you the answers.’ Maybe he will be proved wrong with AI, but his point has profound implications in every field, including education.
“Giving an answer is not that difficult. Any scientist will tell you that they spend way more time thinking about the right questions and that’s true for business too: I want to be able to ask questions myself, it’s far more important than providing an answer.
“The third point regarding starting my new job tomorrow is to make the Cambridge Judge Business School the best business school in the world if we possibly can. I want to quote William Faulkner, who wrote: ‘You cannot swim to new horizons until you lose sight of the shore.’ If you really want to accomplish something big, and see something through, you can’t get there until you lose sight of the shore.
“As human beings we always find it very difficult to stop doing what we’ve done before. If you think how that plays out on an organisation, say Cambridge Judge Business School, with 800 people, if you want to take it to the next level you cannot just keep doing what you’ve been doing for a very long time. So firstly, you’ve got to be realistic, second you’ve got to ask the right questions as opposed to rushing to find answers, and thirdly you’ve got to have the courage to do something new, to lose sight of the shore.
“So okay, I’m now working for an institution that is 800 years old, so if you’re 800 years old you should have the self-confidence to lose sight of the shore,” he added to laughter.
In the Q&A session that followed questions were asked about the number of Nobel laureates.
“Cambridge has perhaps more Nobel laureates than pretty much any other institution, except one or two, in the world. But if five or six Nobel laureates happen to work in a school, that’s not particularly useful as a metric. It’s such small numbers, to me it’s firstly the students. Are we offering them the best possible learning experience? Will they be a positive force in the world, help make the world a better place, perhaps through entrepreneurship? The other [metric] is research. Again, it’s difficult to measure what is high quality, but the business school has some rules – if the research is well received, if other people use your research...”
A gentleman from Cambridge Rotary Club then asked about league tables for business schools.
“Forty years ago if you wanted a really good education in business you’d go to the US,” responded Prof Guillén, “and within the US in my opinion only about five places stand out.
“Now things have changed – Europe and to some extent Asia have business schools that are really good, so there’s a choice, and the Cambridge Judge Business School is one of those in Europe. And Cambridge Judge Business School is about Cambridge and benefits from the university, and to some extent from Silicon Fen. Can we improve? Yes, but I’m convinced it won’t be by growing but by improving in quality. It does take time, 31 years is almost nothing, it can take 50 years, 70 years, and we’re not there yet – but you see that’s exciting, that’s one reason I wanted to get here.”
A Rotary questioner asked what, if anything, Mauro would miss about the US.
“You fall in love with places, especially as an immigrant,” he replied. “I think it would be that things are open 24/7 in the US. There’s a saying: ‘The business of the US is business’. So opening a bank account here took me four visits – about five and a half hours in total. I’ve done a lot of research into banking, and of the following three things only one will survive. One is banks, the second is banking, and third is bankers. They say ‘banking’ is the one that will survive and I think that’s probably true.”
Jenny Chapman-Hay said: “It was a really great evening with Rotarians and friends and we all wish him well in his new appointment.”