1st Edition

Creating a New Management University Tracking the Strategy of Singapore Management University (SMU) in Singapore (1997–2019/20)

    358 Pages 51 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    358 Pages 51 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book provides an in-depth exploration of one of the most significant success stories of the development of an entrepreneurial university in recent times as well as its role within society and the economy. Written by leading business school Dean and scholar, Howard Thomas, and Alex Wilson and Michelle Lee, the book tracks the genesis of the idea of a third local university in Singapore to its fruition as Singapore Management University (SMU). It provides important insight and lessons for senior university and business school leaders, as well as regional and national governments.

    The increasing emphasis on the importance of innovative, entrepreneurial universities for social and economic growth has prompted this review of the strategy and impact of SMU. The book addresses the strategic evolution of SMU itself, from its origins as a single business school, into a multi-school, social science-focused school of management. It examines whether it has fulfilled its promise as an entrepreneurial university and a change agent in the context of Singapore’s strong economic growth and educational strategy. More broadly, it explores how investment in education, and entrepreneurial universities such as SMU, can facilitate and enhance economic growth.

    University leadership teams, policy analysts, faculty and students of entrepreneurship education, education management and policy in general, and business education in particular, will find this book an invaluable insight into building a genuinely entrepreneurial university.

    Part I: The Study of the Strategic Processes of Founding, Evolution and Transformation of a New Management University: Singapore Management University (SMU) Introduction: The Logic of the Study: A Processual Analysis of the Founding and Strategic Evolution of SMU. 1. What is an Entrepreneurial, Adaptive, Innovative University?  2. The Economic and Political Background of Singapore: Applying Models of Inclusive Growth in the Singapore Context  Part II: The Evolution of SMU (19972000)  3. The Era of Ferment (19972000): The Genesis of SMU  4. The Era of Evolution (20002008): How SMU Becomes a Multi-School, Social Science-based Management University  5. The Era of Growth and Identity (20082015): Achieving Asian Identity and Global Recognition  6. The Era of Growth and Identity (20082015): Strategies of the Six Schools  7. The Era of Imaginative Strategic Development (20152020): Realising Vision 2025  8. The Era of Imaginative Strategic Development (20152020): Strategies of the Six Schools  Part III: Reflections on SMU's Strategies and Strategic Evolution  9. Is SMU an Exemplar of a Strategic, Adaptive and Entrepreneurial University? Postscript: Where Does SMU Go Now? Future Directions and Uncertain Futures


    Howard Thomas is a highly cited scholar in the fields of strategic management and management education. His academic and administrative career has spanned at least three continents. He has held deanships In Illinois, SMU and Warwick and has chaired several business school professional organisations. He is currently the Dean of Fellows at the British Academy of Management and an Emeritus Professor at SMU.

    Alex Wilson is a Senior Lecturer in Strategy at Loughborough University. He researches both the role and purpose of business schools and open forms of strategy. He has held visiting positions at SMU and he was the Chartered Association of Business Schools (UK) Research Fellow.

    Michelle P. Lee is an Associate Professor of Marketing (Education) and Associate Provost (Undergraduate Education) at SMU. Her more recent research has been focused on understanding different models of management education, and the opportunities and challenges faced by schools of business/management.

    "This book deserves to be warmly welcomed by all who are interested in understanding how universities develop and grow, the challenges they encounter and the strategies they adopt to thrive. It renders visible the work of a vast range of individuals whose heavy lifting enabled the establishment of a university at the turn of the century in Singapore, and the continued imagination and efforts of many who lead and support its development and metamorphosis. The book will provide insights to scholars interested in higher education, as well as those interested in the study of Singapore economy and society."

    Lily Kong, President, Singapore Management University, and Lee Kong Chian Chair Professor of Social Sciences

    "Business schools have been the major growth area in higher education in recent decades. While their financial contribution is gratefully accepted, their growth has proved controversial. Their champions see them as a welcome source of modernization and entrepreneurship for the university while their critics see them as a cuckoo in the nest, undermining more traditional ideas of what a university should be. SMU is a unique development with management and social science at its core. The authors are uniquely placed to tell its story and to analyze its significance, for Singapore and as a global phenomenon. Business schools are likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. Understanding their growth and their contribution to the evolving idea of what a university should be is vital for understanding the current state of higher education and their potential in contributing to local and national economies. This book provides a major contribution to these debates and to the understanding of strategic change in the university context."

    Ken Starkey, Professor of Management and Organisational Learning, Nottingham University Business School

    "The strategic evolution of Singapore Management University, captured brilliantly by Howard Thomas, Michelle Lee and Alex Wilson in this inspiring book, creates a blueprint for tomorrow's management education institutions at the time where many of them aspire to profound transition. The changing role and purpose of business schools entrust them with multiple, at times conflicting, societal and economic roles in an increasingly complex global environment; roles that require innovative and adaptive strategies. Through a strategy process lens, the authors analyse the creation and growth of a world-class management university in Singapore’s unique and rapidly changing context.

    Global disruptions and challenges, so painfully exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue to impact our societies, and the competitive management education landscape will not cease to evolve. There is great strength and lessons to be learnt from a strategically adaptive, innovative and entrepreneurial university such as SMU. With this book, leaders and their organisations can delve into the unique strategic development process of SMU that brings a wealth of reflections and inspirations in the pursuit of novel differentiation strategies."

    Professor Eric Cornuel, President, EFMD Global

    "There have been relatively few published research studies on strategic decision-making in the field of management education. This book is a welcome addition as it provides a well-designed analysis and detailed case study of the evolution of a still relatively young school – the Singapore Management University (SMU) – in the Asian culture and context.

    The book provides a detailed description of strategy process models, applying these as frameworks in analysing the evolution of a unique, social science-focused Asian management university over the last two decades. I believe that this book will be valuable and insightful for leaders of universities and management schools as well as research scholars in management and higher education, particularly those who are interested in Asian management universities."

    Jikyeong Kang, PhD, President and Dean, Asian Institute of Management Chair, and AACSB Board of Directors

    "This book provides a very interesting analysis of strategy development, formulation and implementation in the sector of higher education, one that is relatively rarely studied by scholars in strategy. This is not your usual case history of the creation and the development of a new university. It is an in-depth case analysis, firmly anchored in the strategy literature, leading to interesting theoretical insights about strategy formulation and adaptation. This analysis is all the more interesting as it describes almost 25 years of the evolution of a university, from the early steps to create a new university in the late nineties till the shock of the pandemic. And through their interviews the authors could rely on the first-hand views and insights of nearly all relevant actors. Thus, it analyses in a very rigorous way how they have contributed to the development of the university, how they brought their own views and experience, but also how they were influenced by the organisation and the team.

    As one of the many actors in this case, I couldn’t refrain from wondering whether my actions and those of my colleagues were guided by the concepts formulated by our colleagues who research the process of strategy development and implementation. Indeed, I was often influenced by the ideas published by my colleagues. It often helped a lot in managing the institution. Yes, there were successes but sometimes also mistakes. Again, theory helped me to adjust quickly and avoid mistakes that would grow into real failure. Therefore, this case analysis is so valuable: I hope that the more theoretical insights developed by Thomas, Wilson and Lee may help other leaders to anchor their action in these well-researched concepts.

    And by the way, I am convinced that SMU was and is an adaptive and entrepreneurial university. I wish that it may stay like that for a long time to come."

    Arnoud de Meyer, Professor Emeritus and former President of SMU

    "Thomas, Wilson and Lee provide a deep, rich, and insightful process study of the innovative emergence, evolution, and growth of Singapore Management University from 1997–2020. This 23-year longitudinal study is an outstanding example of how to conduct process research on the co-evolution of organizational context, strategy and structure over time. It also provides many important learning insights for educational administration professionals."

    Andrew H. Van de Ven, Professor Emeritus, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota

    "Thomas, Wilson and Lee provide a forensic account of the development of Singapore Management University from concept to reality over the past 25 years. From first-hand experience, the authors look for the patterns in a stream of decisions over that period which brought about SMU’s present structure driven by a desire to be daringly different. The authors also identify alternative decisions that would have created a different institution, noting that nothing was pre-ordained at the outset in 1997. The book provides a unique and fascinating study in institution-building from the ground up and the various actors involved in SMU’s evolution to date. As a processual analytic case study, it is one of relatively few such studies in the management education field and merits careful scrutiny from university leaders, educators and strategic management scholars."

    Kai Peters, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Business & Law, Coventry University

    "This is a novel, important and accomplished book by Howard Thomas and a team of scholars always at the centre of scholarship and practice in the field of strategy and change in higher education. The authors use a familiar and credible framework to examine the evolution and development of strategy and change in one of the most entrepreneurial universities in Asia.

    The book explores patterns of leadership and change, cycles of change and disjunctures of strategy development in the political, economic and social context of Singapore and beyond. This is a notable contribution to a literature much dependent on empirical examples from North America and Europe. The book usefully offers one of the first published accounts of the response of a university to the current COVID-19 pandemic and some of the lessons that can be taken from it. This is yet another high-quality publication from Howard Thomas and colleagues who have already done so much to contribute to and build the literature on strategy and change in higher education."

    Andrew M Pettigrew OBE, FBA, Emeritus Professor of Strategy and Organisation, Said Business School, University of Oxford

    "This insightful analysis of Singapore Management University provides a fascinating account of SMU’s rise to prominence. The authors go beyond the deft deployment of rigorous processual analysis to explain SMU’s development in the context of Singapore’s economic, political and educational strategy. They invite the reader to translate their findings across time and space to any business school seeking to become more innovative and entrepreneurial."

    Nicola Kleyn, Dean of Executive Education and Professor of Corporate Marketing, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University

    "A very important book from a trio of exceptionally qualified authors. This is no armchair speculation about why Singapore Management University (SMU) became such a success in our increasingly competitive global industry. All three authors have been and remain deeply immersed in the real-world practice of entrepreneurial business education.

    One of the startling aspects of the business school community is how little research has been done into its own industry. It did not begin with Wharton's foundation in 1881. Likewise, there has been little research into its global expansion since WW2, especially since the 1970s. Now around 1 in 4 university students are taking some form of 'business studies'.

    This book sheds light on what SMU has achieved and might yet achieve. It will be contingent on Singapore's particular situation and approach. The analysis here will offer other Deans deep insight into balancing government support and direction against the school's own entrepreneurial ideas and activities.

    In spite of the vigorous literature of complaint about business schools and their potentially problematic impact on the student body, they are thriving–stupendously. Business education is often the most vital of a university's activities, yet the business school community is unable to explain why. In contrast, this book goes a long way to explaining how SMU flourished and, so, what managing a successful business school is about.

    The authors offer a carefully structured analysis, not a mere institutional history. The framing is the successive school leaders' choices about 'strategic models' to be adopted, whether to emulate, for instance, the London School of Economics (LSE) rather than Wharton or HBS. But perhaps most crucially, to be always on the move strategically. The Postscript covering SMU's responses to the pandemic is very revealing of the interplay of external change and internal re-alignment."

    J-C Spender, Professor at Kozminski University, Warsaw and Emeritus Research Fellow at Rutgers University, USA

    "For 20 years working at AACSB, I made a habit of visiting newly established universities and professional schools (of medicine and engineering as well as business and management) whenever possible. I was seeking insights about transforming schools as well as starting them, but a short visit was never enough to penetrate the surface and learn what was truly driving the institution’s development. That’s why this book matters. Creating a New Management University: Tracking the Strategy of Singapore Management University (SMU) in Singapore is more than an account of SMU’s first two decades. It is a thorough, theoretically-grounded, case study that considers the people and processes, as well as the context, that shaped the institution’s founding and evolution. And, because SMU has been particularly entrepreneurial and adaptive, the book is highly relevant to leaders in a higher education environment calling for more innovation and change."

    Dan LeClair, CEO of the Global Business School Network, Washington, D.C.

    "The book offers thoughtful insights into the dynamic and adaptive journey of Singapore Management University (SMU) through the lens of its innovative strategy formulation, evolution, and transformational process as it continues to navigate different uncertainties and adapt to local and global changes. The authors describe in an analytical and seamlessly chronological way how SMU established to become a world-class higher education institution to develop responsible business leaders, entrepreneurs, and change agents––had gradually evolved since its inception, despite the fiercely competitive business and management education landscape, into a strategically adaptive and entrepreneurial university with solid implications on disseminating the entrepreneurial culture across Singapore. Furthermore, they demonstrate how moving forward SMU––through its vision 2025––aims to cement its position as a global exemplar of a university at the crossroads of the East and the West and serve its local community while having a growing and effective global footprint. The book addresses the strategy shifts coupled with the gradual changes in the curriculum offering, program delivery, and organized activities, as well as the growth strategy implemented in faculty and staff recruitment and students’ enrolment. For those interested in understanding the organizational dynamics in establishing a globally competitive and agile university aiming to shape tomorrow’s business leaders and entrepreneurs and impact society, Creating a New Management University: Tracking the Strategy of Singapore Management University (SMU) in Singapore (19972019/20) serves as an invaluable read and informative reference."

    Sherif Kamel, Dean, School of Business, The American University in Cairo

    "A powerful analysis of the complex and inter-related factors contributing to Singapore Management University’s global status as a strategy-oriented, adaptive and entrepreneurial institution. This book is unique in many ways: it combines strategy process theory with rigorous, multi-layered analyses including government policies linking universities to inclusive growth; the incorporation of international advisors; the relative independence and lack of bureaucracy; and the actions of university leaders who dared to do things differently. The miracle of achieving Asian identity with global recognition, and the successful adaptation of the University in the midst of a global pandemic makes for absorbing reading, particularly given current calls worldwide for more cosmopolitan education and research for local and global impact. This book is essential reading for government policy makers, university leaders and scholars of higher education in emerging and middle-income countries who wish to understand the role of universities in building knowledge societies; as well as to those in high income countries with concerns for the future of higher education."

    Rajani Naidoo, Professor and Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management, University of Bath

    "This book addresses a crucial gap in our understanding of educational leadership and strategy. It is most unusual in providing a systematic insider-account which clearly exceeds the hallmark requirements of both rigour and relevance that underpin top quality social science. The analysis is conducted using a processual framing which means that the level of detail and nuance of insight is both distinctive in enhancing our theoretical understanding of strategy and usable in deriving lessons for leadership practice. It traces the development of the Singapore Management University over nearly 25 years and this produces a contextualised and precise thesis which will inform thinking and practice on higher educational leadership in times of change for years to come. This is a must-read for university and business school leaders and for the research community in education, leadership and strategy."

    Professor Nic Beech, Vice-Chancellor, Middlesex University and President of the British Academy of Management