Grigor McClelland [1922-2013] A Man for our Times

Grigor McClelland, the first director of Manchester Business School died last week [Nov 8th 2013] after a long illness. On April 8th 2011, Manchester Business School celebrated his career and contribution to business and management education. A personal tribute is republished below

My own involvement in the story began in early 1974. I was on the point of becoming a research fellow. Grigor had been appointed first Director of the School some years earlier. In the spirit of those days, an informal meeting had been arranged to confirm the arrangements.

Mutual interests of two Geordies?

Leadership is often portrayed as a journey of exploration, an idea as old as the first recorded accounts of heroic ventures. In that tradition, I will try to offer an account of his remarkable leadership journey spanning over half a century of service to management and the community. Other speakers will address his glowing career, and I will offer a personal tribute. I do this on behalf of many others who shared that journey.

Grigor, the leader

In preparing for this event I began wondering about Grigor the leader. Leadership suffers from many definitions, and almost as many theories. Students proceed forward from the early great man theories. These tended toward hero worship despite Carlyle’s observation that no man is a hero to his valet.

More recently, universal trait theories have been replaced by stylistic ones in which the key is what leaders do rather than what they are. Perhaps leadership students would find evidence that Grigor demonstrated an entrepreneurial style. This would fit with his enthusiasm for ‘broadband’ appointments for faculty, like himself, who were reluctant to pursue careers down any particular academic silo.

My stay at MBS turned out to be rather longer in duration than anticipated. Sometime in 1974 I was invited to meet the Director shortly after learning that I was to be appointed a research fellow within the R&D Research Unit founded and directed by Alan Pearson.

Grigor had been appointed first Director of the School some years earlier. I was ushered into Grigor’s office which was, as far as I can remember, in the corner office of MBS West, petty much where the current director and staff are still located.

I was welcomed by Grigor in a charming and (dare I say it?) a rather patrician manner. We found we shared interests in entrepreneurship, innovation and retail product development. My understanding had been that the meeting was a courtesy call, but I began to wonder whether I had misjudged the situation and that I still might have one hurdle to cross before my promised appointment would be ratified. Was this really some kind of low-key interview? If it was, it ended amicably and he escorted me to the door. Yes, he added cheerfully. I would enjoy working at Manchester Business School. And, he added, mistaking my residual Welsh accent for something else, it would be good to have a fellow Geordie on the staff.

Laws Stores and Tesco

In 1975-6 Grigor took the unusual step of taking a sabbatical to return to his family firm, Laws Stores which was running into difficulties. As a consequence, he was able to return with considerable experience of a corporate turnaround. Coincidentally, the action permitted several decades later the firm being taken over by Tesco, run at the time by Sir Terry Leahy, a Manchester School of Management graduate.

In his period of director (1965-1977) the School had been engaged in an innovative structure and approach to management education which became known as the Manchester Experiment. Students of management will recognizse many of the principles in its design efforts of structures for supporting innovation. A multi-disciplinary approach to business, and a loose organisational structure to avoid professional ‘silos’. It may have worked well in theory but the radical ideas were not easily implemented. As Rosabeth Moss Kantor was to remark some years later, every innovation seems a failure in the middle.

Political battles were being fought with only the whiff of grapeshot reaching junior faculty engaged with their own often entrepreneurial activities. On reflection it was all a bit 1960s in culture. One colleague noted for pony-tail and attitudes from a stay in a Californian university, went on to become a somewhat more conventional Dean.

Scholarly exchanges

Among those engaged in seeking some kind of consensus were a group of distinguished academics who had been pioneers of MANSMA, (the Manchester School of Management and Administration) precursor to MBS and an earlier influential grouping in the University. They included Douglas Hague, Teddy Chester, John Morris and Alan Pearson. In addition, there were those who might be described as Beerites, influenced by the charismatic figure of Stafford Beer, and Luptonites who suspected that guidance of a more grounded form might come from heeding the advice of such as Enid Mumford, and Tom Lupton who actually was to succeed Grigor McClelland as Director. That is not to say that Tom was a traditional academic. His highly respected academic work was firmly grounded in anthropological observation ‘on the shop floor’ suffice it to say that scholarly, and at times less scholarly exchanges occurred as the School struggled to work out its identity. The process was to continue long after Grigor had handed over the mantle as leader of the institute.

The period of pioneering development in the 1970s certainly seemed to be generative of creativity. Perhaps too much for many in and beyond MBS who were conscious of the more traditional approach which was reaping such great rewards internationally for LBS, the other school founded in the UK at the same time as Manchester.

In recent years, the School has become associated with The Manchester Method, an approach to experiential learning. Contrary to internal belief, this methodology was certainly not around in the early 1990s when John F Wilson wrote a definitive history of MBS. The Manchester Method was briefly described by Professor Burgoyne as a project-based approach to experiential learning. I would suggest the debate still goes on. It deserves a mention here, because whatever it is, the accounts seem to lead back to the principles advocated and inspired by McClelland many years earlier. As feedback from students indicate, one of the most significant positive differentiators of the MBA programmes turns out to be The Manchester Method, whatever that means in theory.

Creativity and leadership

We are now in an era of ‘post-heroic’ leadership. One aspect of this is the idea of a servant leader. Another is of a ‘level five leader’ who is (relatively) ‘humble’ yet of ‘fierce resolve’. Yes, there may be some elements of Grigor within these concepts. But if I may speak on behalf of organizing group for this day of celebration we would say that Grigor contributed, revealing his skills influencing within a system of distributed leadership. Grigor, you made many powerful suggestions we followed, and a few perhaps we didn’t.

Grigor does not, and never did, fit into a box labelled with a leadership style. One possibility which is very much part of his legacy, is that of creativity in leadership. It is no accident that innovation and enterprise was important themes today, illustrated with exciting plans for the future outlined by Dr Lynn Shepherd in her University-wide courses and venture projects.

It is my belief that Manchester Business school has had, and will retain a culture in which it is a ‘living case’ for creative leadership. Grigor, we thank you for the pioneering role you played in the past and its influence into the future.

2 Responses to Grigor McClelland [1922-2013] A Man for our Times

  1. […] A personal tribute by MBS’ Tudor Rickards has been re-published here >> […]

  2. […] A personal tribute by MBS’ Tudor Rickards has been re-published here >> […]

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