The new head of Newcastle University Business School has big ambitions for it, as he explains to Peter Jackson.
PROF John Wilson declares himself to be a big believer in the power of networking, but I’m not sure he has made a good start.
For the new director of Newcastle University Business School innocently tells me: “I was born and bred in Preston and was a devout Preston North End follower. I used to go to every single game but in 1968 we played Manchester United and it’s something I’ll never forget, with the likes of Best, Charlton and Law – a legendary team that had just won the European Cup – and I fell in love with Manchester United.”
I am, of course, only joking and I’m sure Prof Wilson will have no problems making fruitful contacts in the region despite his footballing allegiances. Indeed, he is a friendly, down-to-earth man with a friendly down-to-earth Lancashire accent.
We meet in an office high in the business school’s headquarters opposite St James’ Park where he explains that his love of Manchester United was such that when it came to choosing a university, he opted for Manchester so he could watch the team regularly.
Prof Wilson has come to Newcastle from the University of Liverpool where he was professor of strategy at the management school. His new job is a big one, with 2,800 students, 110 academic staff, 48 professional services staff and an annual turnover of about £25m.
He is 56, has taken a flat in Ouseburn where he lives with his partner and has a grown-up son who works and lives in Leeds.
He is a business historian and edits the academic journal Business History and he is currently working on the third volume of his history of electronics giant Ferranti and also a history of the Co-operative Group. Both volumes will be published next year.
After graduating, he stayed on at Manchester to do his PhD, then became an associate fellow before taking up a full time lectureship.
He was in Manchester for 21 years, leaving in 1996. During those years he developed an interest in, and acquired an expertise in, contemporary or recent history and industrial legacy.
“I was looking at related issues, like why are we de-industrialising in the North West and what’s happening to our business culture which isn’t engendering a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, which put me more in the business school line than it did in the historical line,” he says.
“Increasingly I was engaging with the Manchester Business School and indeed I ended up writing the history of Manchester Business School and from that moment on I never looked back, I was bitten by the business school bug.” So much so that his move in 1996 was to Leeds University Business School as a senior lecturer where he specialised in longitudinal studies, which, he explains, is business-school-speak for the study of events over the long term.