Speech given at a meeting of Congregation of the University of Oxford, 7 May 2019

Dr Duncan Robertson, Fellow of St Catherine’s

Vice-Chancellor, members of Congregation. I look around this room and see privilege.  Every one of us here in the Sheldonian Theatre is privileged; every member of Congregation reading the Gazette is privileged.  We are privileged not by our past but by our present: we all have the power to share in the democratic self-governance of the institution that is the Collegiate University of Oxford.

But democratic self-governance is hard.  It is time-consuming and troublesome, and is most easily left to specialists.  Specialists with a track record of delivering strategic plans at high speed.

The Vice Chancellor warned us of the dangers of high speed in her 2017 Oration, and I quote: Over 2,000 years ago Tacitus pointed out that ‘Truth is confirmed by inspection and delay; falsehood by haste and uncertainty’.

It is tempting to react quickly to short term opportunities in order to gain transient rewards, but this is, as my strategic management colleagues will confirm, often at the expense of more attractive opportunities foregone.  We must, at the very least, be able to give ad hoc proposals the service of being fully inspected.  The proposal to establish a new Society – or is it a College? – is a significant one, particularly when it is to have a distinctive culture as was the case with Templeton College before it.

The reason that an ‘education priority’ within the Strategic Plan has abruptly become a press release announcing Parks College, without the knowledge of Congregation, is that such proposals are now increasingly made without such scrutiny.  While the Strategic Plan was put to Congregation for approval, the Implementation Plan referred to within the Strategic Plan was not.  This ‘Plan within a Plan’ is administered by Programme Boards whose agenda and minutes are secret.  In short, Congregation does not know what is going on, and its ability to give informed consent is subverted.

One of the strengths of Oxford that sets it apart from its ‘competitors’ is its self-governance.  This has allowed the University to evolve and adapt to a changing environment, and mercifully not be suffocated by the latest management fads and fashions.  It is bewildering that ‘Senior Managers’ do not appear to recognize the capabilities available to them within Congregation, preferring to operate in a more comfortable ‘command and control’, top-down fashion.  If strategy is imposed, we as a University lose the ability to adapt and to take advantage of opportunities that may emerge – opportunities that may not be visible from the board room but are visible from the diversity of perspectives that each one of us holds as a unique member of Congregation.

The combined organizational capabilities of Congregation – all members of Congregation, experts in their own fields whatever they may be – are truly awe-inspiring.  It is not always easy to find consensus, but that does not mean that this University should give up and follow the lowest common denominator of managerial hubris.

Congregation must be allowed to review and guide the Legislative Proposal to create Parks College prior to giving its approval. The Strategic Plan spoke of creating a new College by 2023, not a new Society in 2019.

The Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life was established 25 years ago.  The principles of openness and accountability which it set out are as relevant now as they have ever been.  I urge you to vote against the Legislative proposal while we still have the right to exercise that privilege.

The Most Competitive Airline Routes in the World

I am using airline data to construct a network of competition in the airline industry.  As part of this, I am listing the routes that are the most competitive – not necessarily the ones that have the most flights, but the ones that have the most competitors.

And here they are

Map generated from GCMap.com

HKG-ICN  Hong Kong – Incheon, Seoul (South Korea)

Not shown: EastarJet

TPE-NRT  Taipei (Taiwan) – Narita, Tokyo (Japan)

Not shown: Vanilla Air, Tiger Air, Scoot, Transasia

SIN-CGK   Singapore – Jakarta (Indonesia)

Not shown: Indonesian Air Asia, Scoot, JetStar Asia

SIN-DPS   Singapore – Denpasar, Bali (Indonesia)

Not shown: Qantas, Qatar, Indonesia Air Asia, Scoot (nb JetStar and JetStar Asia are different airlines)

Please note that these data are a few years old, are preliminary and not completely accurate, and airlines come and go on such competitive routes.

Journals for Analytical Strategic Management: Which Journals Should I Search?

For new scholars, or for practitioners interested in learning about strategic management, it can be difficult to know where to start.  The following is a list of the key journals in strategy together with some thoughts on their particular strengths.

Strategic Management Journal – perhaps the premier journal within strategic management.  This mainly uses statistical modelling to test hypotheses, although is open to other approaches.

 

Management Science – a very good journal, but one that covers many areas of management, and therefore can only devote a small number of articles to strategy papers.

 

Strategy Science – a new journal that combines the best of the above journals – and provides analytical approaches to strategy problems.

Agent-Based Models of A Banking Network

Agent-Based Models of a Banking Network as an Example of a Turbulent Environment: The Deliberate vs Emergent Strategy Debate Revisited is a paper that I wrote that uses an agent-based model to simulate the strategic positioning decisions of firms within a competitive environment.  It links firm strategy (particularly banking strategy) to the competitive environment: where should firms locate to gain most customers given that all firms are trying to achieve the same objective, that of maximizing market share / revenue / profits?  It is an interesting question, and one that is very suited to modelling the dynamics of an industry using agent-based models.

The Dynamics of Strategy

The Dynamics of Strategy

The Dynamics of Strategy is a book published by Oxford University Press (Robertson and Caldart 2010) and combines natural science models with strategic management.  Chapters on networks, agent-based modelling, and dynamic economic models are used to show how strategy can be treated analytically.