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Curriculum 01: faculty commentary

London Business School faculty comment on the original MSc curriculum and the programme's evolution over the last 50 years.


The first programme


Sir Andrew Likierman, Professor of Management Practice in Accounting

“We are in a very different world 50 years on and the curriculum changes match that. Business schools were very new and the curriculum reflected traditional subjects, what people could teach and the need to prove academic respectability. So theory was fine, numbers gave answers, manufacturing in big firms was the dominant subject matter and the focus was on techniques for individuals. The focus today is on teams, people skills, application of the theory, startups, as well as established firms and a wide range of (mainly service) industries. One outlier – numbers are back with Big Data. And one thing that hasn’t changed over 50 years - the search for excellence…”

Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics

“Clearly some courses have been dropped and many added, but of the ones that have lasted the course what is striking is how much is still taught. The course descriptions on Economics, Finance, Accounting, Marketing and Psychology contain chunks of text that could still be used today.

However, there are no mentions of:

  • Global – Economics has one line on trade but offers nothing on exchange rates

  • Technology – although one course offers “use of electronic computers”. We were making our students code then – ahead of the curve!

  • Entrepreneurship.”

Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice in Organisational Behaviour

“What extraordinary faculty who were able, with such small numbers, to create an MSc programme of such breadth. So much has changed: more social scientists (this was before Charles Handy and John Hunt); a greater variety of electives; a wider international range; and, of course, female faculty and students. But what a great aspirational foundation they built.”


Derek Bunn, Professor of Decision Sciences, Management Science and Operations; Chair, Management Science and Operations Faculty

“Members of the first graduating class were astonishingly well-trained quants, having received 240 hours of quantitative lectures in the core programme. They could solve problems by hand for which we must now resort to computers.

“In part, this reflected the lack of credibility that business studies faced within traditional universities. LBS was a child of London University and the MSc needed Senate approval. It also reflected a view from the first Dean, as noted by William Barnes in his book The Story of London Business School 1964-1989, that LBS should emulate MIT rather than Harvard and take a scientific, quantitative approach to management.

“Computer programming was taught but in those days it meant punching holes into paper tape. The quant geeks of the time sought to impress by apparently reading the perforated reels.”

Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics

“Maths I, II and III and Statistics I and II. There are some serious technical requirements in these courses. These are in the main no longer taught. These more analytical courses aimed at producing a technically competent professional have made way for a growth in courses aimed at developing individual capacity for leadership, change and entrepreneurship.”


Stephen Schaefer, Professor of Finance

“I remember someone saying that if you did a Masters at the School you did more operations research (now a semi-extinct phrase) than you did in a one-year Operations Research MSc programme. A visitor from Harvard once gave an elective on Bayesian decision theory that would be challenging stuff for our PhD students now. So having a highly technical course (probably) wasn’t an LBS idiosyncrasy, it was what people thought was really useful at the time.”


Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics

"There are, I suspect, more mentions of ‘management’ than ‘leadership’. The focus is on professional skills for organisations rather than developing individual capacity for leadership, change and entrepreneurship. There is more focus on government and the workforce collectively rather than individually, very much reflecting a tripartite world of business, government and labour. The deregulation of intervening years has seen much more of a focus on just business. It will be interesting to see what the next 10 years brings.”

Nigel Nicholson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour

“What jumps out is that there is no individual psychology at all – even though occupational psychology (where individual differences were studied) was thriving at the time. Industrial psychology, which focused on selection ratios and ergonomics, is also absent here. Instead there is a heavy dose of Industrial Relations, again reflecting the predominant culture of sharply divided industrial life and patterns. In the 1970s I was part of a revolution bringing psychology into industrial relations, studying the psychology of strikes and trade unions – obsessions in that age, and by the time I arrived at LBS I’d left that far behind. However, this syllabus embodies the overwhelming predominance of economists and ops people in the School which prevailed until I joined, and how strategy, marketing and organisational behaviour really grew after the arrival of George Bain as Dean in 1989. The ‘individual behaviour’ part of the syllabus here is simple psychology, no more no less, with nothing about organisation, teams, decision making, leadership, job design, power, culture, careers, negotiation, communications etc. Those were extant in the literature, so this was not just a historical trend but reflects the particular bias of the founders of the School.”

Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship; Deputy Dean (Programmes)

“The course on Business Policy and Organisation is what we call Strategy nowadays – but the description of what it covers is remarkably similar to what we talk about today.”


Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship; Deputy Dean (Programmes)

“Students could only take two electives! We have come a long way: from the paternalistic days when the School told its students exactly what they needed to learn, to the flexible, customer-oriented approach we take today.”