Aston 50th Anniversary: Derek Pugh Q&A

50 Aston Greats - Derek Pugh

Professor Derek Pugh

Professor Derek Pugh joined Aston (then a College of Technology) in the 1950s. Between 1961 and 1970, he led a group of organizational researchers - now known as Aston Studies - which made a lasting contribution to research in the management field. Professor Pugh was awarded an Hon. DLitt at Aston in 2009.

How did you first become involved with Aston University?

It was in 1957 (before Aston became a university) that  my wife, Natalie, brought to my attention an advertisement for a Lecturer in Human Relations at the Birmingham College of Technology, and urged me to apply. I now feel that it was the most important decision of my career. The College had recently been designated to be developed into a College of Advanced Technology. This meant that it would be able to present degree-equivalent courses and, most importantly, would be expected to develop its research activities. In the Department of Industrial Administration, where the management education took place, an internal promotion to the newly established Readership meant that a lectureship became available, and I was appointed.

What do you think is Aston’s greatest achievement? 

Always being at or near the top of the list of universities with the highest proportion of graduates going directly into jobs - a great tribute to the standards and relevance of its work.

What has your experience at Aston given you personally?

It gave me the opportunity through my leadership of the Aston Studies programme to make a distinctive contribution to research in the management field, and to establish my career as a British management academic.

How did Aston Studies come about?

When Tom Lupton came to be head of the largest department of management studies in the country, he brought with him a substantial research grant to study the behaviour of shop-floor workers. None of his previous researchers from Manchester transferred with him, and he was far too busy running the expanding department to develop the research. He therefore recruited me from an internal lectureship, and appointed David Hickson to a Research Fellowship. We then recruited Bob Hinings and Graham Harding, and retired to our “ivory tower” to plan our research. This would be an innovative comparative study of the factors which influenced organizational structures, and the impact which such structures had on the effectiveness of organizations. We wanted to go beyond case studies and move to systematic comparisons. We were able to do this because of the distinctive relationship which Aston had with local employers in the West Midlands. We were running courses for practically all of them, at all levels. So they were pleased to allow our researchers in to ask about how their organizations functioned, so that we could make comparisons and improve our teaching.  Our approach, which was taken up worldwide, became known as the Aston Studies.

What is your fondest Aston memory?

As a student I had acted in and produced plays, so I eagerly accepted the opportunity to produce the Staff Christmas Revue, working with my dear friend Bill Davies. We could laugh at larger-than-life characters and could even take pot-shots at the great Sir Peter Venables himself, Aston’s majestic first Vice-Chancellor. I remember watching him trying to retain his dignity and look unconcerned, while his wife, sitting beside him, was laughing her head off. Happy days.

What is the best advice you can give to today’s graduates?

My advice is that change is the only constant in the world of business and management. Don't just let changes happen to you unawares; work hard at understanding the inevitable changes in your environment and how to benefit from them by seizing all the opportunities for self-development that come your way in your working lives.