Vice Dean of Strathclyde Business School, Professor Eleanor Shaw
Only a handful of universities have been given a gold accreditation for their work with small businesses, as recognised by the businesses themselves. Vice Dean of Strathclyde Business School, Professor Eleanor Shaw, explains why entrepreneurs will always be the beating heart of the campus.
Eleanor Shaw is a busy, busy person. “My main responsibilities are around our external engagement, and, as head of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, our activities in entrepreneurship and enterprise.” she begins, “and, for a short period of time, I’m also acting head of the department of strategy and organisation!”
Just one of these roles would be enough to keep the average person busy, but Eleanor appears to thrive on the challenge.
Her career has taken her from academia to industry and back to academia again, and at Strathclyde University she’s found a home that shares her values about being on the ground, in the business community, with doors – and ears – open.
“As an academic, part of my role is engaging in research and the type of research I do is very much based in what is useful to the business world, research that has significance to business and to society. I’m a people person; I like meeting with and speaking to people. And all of that works really well at Strathclyde – as a university, there is a strong focus on ‘useful learning’ in both teaching and research.
“Strathclyde recognises the importance of research, but what it does – and this is something that not all universities do – is it looks at how it can translate that research into meaningful actions and behaviours for individuals, organisations, and wider society’s benefit. And that’s something I really value.”
Eleanor herself has an undergraduate degree in management and economics and social history from Glasgow. “When I graduated, I got a graduate job with one of the Big Five which I did for a couple of years. But I felt, as much as I enjoyed the work and the travelling, I missed learning. I’d really enjoyed that, and developing myself through learning, and I decided after a couple of years to move into a research post.”
She took a position as a research assistant with a previous professor, initially carrying out research for him on projects, but eventually she was asked to cover a couple of classes.
“And I absolutely loved it,” she enthuses. I can hear the smile in her face as she talks about a career that feels like a vocation to her. “I decided at this point that it seemed like a good area for my career – it allowed me to research, which I enjoyed, and to teach, which I also enjoyed. I love meeting people, and finding out ways I can help them on a learning journey, whether individually or with a company.
“So, at that point, I decided to take it seriously, and my way of taking it seriously was to do a doctorate. I realised that in academia, you do need to have a research qualification of some type, and I thought that would be a good way for me to really delve deeply into the things I was interested in.
“The PhD also allowed me to do a lot of work with small, local Scottish companies and in that way, I became really interested in entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship.”
Her PhD involved engaging with business directly: “I was out and about a lot, working with lots of local companies, and I was interested in what growth strategies they were using. That got me interested in the external engagement aspect. A lot of my research involved spending significant time with small businesses out at their places of work and I very much enjoyed that.”
Now, fifteen years in to her second stint working at Strathclyde University, Eleanor is very proud of the way entrepreneurs are embedded into everything the business school does, particularly at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, endowed by entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter.
“We have an open-door policy, if you like. We have organisations and individuals coming in and out all the time and we do provide some physical space for organisations within the business school. Across campus we have lots of entrepreneurial organisations with an office or a presence.
“Entrepreneurial Scotland is one of our strategic partners, and we have Scottish Chambers of Commerce in the business school along with Scottish EDGE. The Scale Up Institute, which is London based, works with us whenever they are in Scotland, and we do a lot of work with Founders4Schools.”
Founders4Schools is an online platform that connects entrepreneurs with teachers to help get them in to schools, and Strathclyde University provides them with their Scottish home.
“We also, as a university, have a network called Enterprise Partners who are specifically graduates and friends of the university who are entrepreneurial and running their own businesses.
“We bring them in for guest lectures, they provide internships for our students, they act as live case studies, and we run programmes that involve students being placed in their business for a period.” This idea of embedding students within businesses is central to the ethos of the business school.
“We’re really, really keen that when students graduate from Strathclyde that they understand the place of work; they understand what work is like and they’ve had experience of working.
“In our third year undergraduate programme we have a core management development programme, which all our students take. Embedded in that programme is a requirement for them to go and engage with businesses – through the business clinic which allows them to offer solutions to small local firms; and via volunteer work, because we’re keen to encourage the idea of giving something back.”
When the Chartered Association of Business Schools introduced the Small Business Charter, Strathclyde was one of the first business schools in the UK – the only one in Scotland – to be accredited at a gold standard. “That accreditation is important to us, because the evaluation was undertaken not by academics, but by entrepreneurs.
“Those entrepreneurs that we claim to want to help, that we claim to have an impact on, they’re reviewing what we do, and they’re saying we’re doing it well and at a high level.
“It means that when we’re meeting entrepreneurial clients, we can bring it to their attention – they know we’ve been through a rigorous process and it really helps our credibility when we say we can work with you and help you grow your business.”
Eleanor stresses it’s not academic peers making that judgement – it’s the business’ peers.
Strathclyde is, as might be expected, very forward thinking about learning and development opportunities – not just for the academic staff, but for everyone at the university. In that vein, the business school has partnered with MCR Pathways and encourages staff to take part in their mentoring programme for young people.
“The uptake has been phenomenal – our staff almost get more out of mentoring the young people than the young people do! But the outcomes are fantastic for the young people – they stay in school longer, they do better with qualifications, and they create opportunities they probably wouldn’t have otherwise had.”
The business school is keen to develop and build capacity to engage externally at the highest possible levels and in the most professional ways. “We’re ambitious; we want to be compared with the top North American and European business schools,” she says. And to that end, they’ve embarked on a new programme with an American partner.
“Babson is a Boston-based college specialising in entrepreneurship. They run a programme called the Global Entrepreneurship Educators Symposium. It’s about training the trainers, if you like, and it’s a three day programme to enhance the capacity of our faculty to deliver really high level executive education.
“What’s unique about the programme,” she continues, “is that of those taking part in those three days, roughly half of them will be faculty members and the other half will be entrepreneurs. We work with them, with a view to deliver more programmes for entrepreneurs and in partnership with them.
“It’s something which hasn’t been done much across the UK. The entrepreneurs who took part have developed our newest engagement network, our Founding Entrepreneurs network. We have twenty or so, ranging from the most well-known entrepreneurs to more social entrepreneurs… a really nice mix operating across all sectors, coming into the room, rolling up their sleeves, and learning how to deliver this type of education at the highest possible levels.
“We can learn from each other whilst having different strengths.”
They’re also dabbling in LEGO: Serious Play, a smaller capacity building workshop working with Northern European colleagues who are experts in their area using LEGO as a learning tool.
“It’s not just for young people, it’s actually a brilliant teaching tool for people at the top of a company who are making the decisions!”
“Anyone in a university involved in external engagement needs to understand that clients are different; listen to them, understand what they’re looking for and, given the expertise they have, find out what they are looking for. Doing that allows us to develop meaningful and valuable relationships with businesses.
Eleanor says working on development programmes and working with entrepreneurs is a learning process: “We don’t deliver off the shelf programmes. We sit down, we listen to what they need, and we iterate to make sure that whatever our recommendations are, they’re fit for purpose for that business. To be able to deliver that engagement means we must listen actively to businesses.
“If businesses come to us, they’ll meet an enthusiastic, experienced group of entrepreneurship researchers and educators, who can provide a toolkit and the know-how to release or enhance the productivity and creativity of their organisations. We can facilitate introduction, and access, to other entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial organisations… and best of all, we can introduce them to our students.”