Professor John Edwards joined the Management Centre (now Aston Business School) as a Lecturer in Operational Research and Systems in 1978. After weathering many challenges during the 1980s, he rose to the position of Senior Lecturer in 1991, followed by Head of Group, Deputy Dean and Dean. Today, as Emeritus Professor of Aston Business School, he looks back on a raft of changes, to both his subject and the campus as a whole.
I first came here at the back end of 1977 to be interviewed as a final-year PhD student. I started off as a lecturer, so that covers the 1980s, which were a tough time in British education. We had tough times locally, too, because I joined a group that was headed by Professor Steve Cook, and I had only been here a short time when he died.
The most obvious change is physical. When I started, my office was up in Maple House [on Corporation Street], above a furniture showroom. The campus wasn’t all that coherent. You had Aston Street running right through the middle, so the Main Building was basically cut off from the rest of the University. It was an absolute nightmare because you might have, say, a lecture in the Main Building, followed by a tutorial up in Maple House, and you would have to sprint like mad to get there. We’re now in a position where we’ve got the one, coherent, pedestrianized campus.
In terms of what makes me smile the most, I think of John Saunders. In the era in which he was Dean, we started to go for external accreditation [EQUIS], and this involved more quality inspections from the UK authorities. So what happened was, we would have a successful visit, and we would have a celebration afterwards. I don’t really know who had the first idea, but someone would cut John Saunders’ tie off. It made everybody laugh. It may sound like a stupid thing, but it was all part of the celebrations. John didn’t mind at all, although I was quite relieved that the tradition seemed to end once John finished his term as Dean because we had a couple of successful accreditations during my time as well, and I’m quite happy that my ties survived.
Personally, it’s got to be getting the Chair. Not only is that recognition from your academic peers but “Professor” is the one thing that people who know almost nothing about universities recognise. But in terms of the other side of that – accomplishment rather than achievement – it’s down to individuals where I’ve been able to make a difference. It can be a long time before any research that you do has a real, visible impact but you can have an impact on a student quite rapidly.
It’s taken me into different areas personally. It’s also given me the opportunity to meet so many interesting people. If you ask me who I’d put at the top of that list, I’d say [former Chancellor] Sir Adrian Cadbury.
To sum it up in two words: “be flexible”. You have no idea what it’s going to be like in the 40 or 50 years of your career. Also, network yourself well with your contemporaries. Yes, you need to be well networked with people who can help you along, but you also need to be well networked with your contemporaries, because you will rise up through whatever career you’re in together.
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