Our Dean, Professor Wendy Loretto (BCom 1990), reflects on the past and looks forward to our 100-year anniversary.

Wendy Loretto Dean of the Business School
Professor Wendy Loretto, Dean of the University of Edinburgh Business School. Photography by James Glossop

In 1919, 23 year-old Margaret Stevenson Miller walked through our classroom doors for a lecture in Accounting. A year later, she was graduating. Our very first graduate went on to get a lecturer position at Liverpool; her work on business finance and on women in finance was highly respected, featuring across academic journals and the Financial Times. But in the 1930s Margaret got married and was subsequently fired from her job – married women being deemed incompatible with professional work. Her story became a centrepiece with the ‘Campaign for the Right of the Married Women to Earn’, feeding heated debates through Parliament and newspapers.

Fast forward to 2008. The financial system of Iceland has collapsed, and alumna Birna Einarsdóttir (MBA 1993) is asked to step forward as CEO of Íslandsbanki. With no script to follow (‘solutions for a bankrupt nation’ is yet to feature in the curriculum) Birna invited every staff member – from retail assistants to investment bankers – to collectively devise the bank’s values. One weekend later, they had come up with a blueprint to regain trust from consumers and rebuild the bank.

Birna’s long tenure at the helm of Íslandsbanki is a testimony to the strength of her work. As well as balancing the books, she was committed to balancing pay between men and women. Through a range of initiatives, including the development of mentorship programmes for female employees, Íslandsbanki achieved full pay parity by 2015. Birna subsequently took her work to the entire nation, advocating for gender parity in her weekly meetings with students, teachers, employers and politicians. In 2018 the state of Iceland made the gender pay gap illegal.

The DNA of business studies at the University of Edinburgh is stacked with pioneers like Margaret Miller and Birna Einarsdóttir, who did not sit around waiting for things to happen.

They were keen to write the future.

In 1916, Edinburgh’s Chamber of Commerce approached the University pressing for education in commerce. The debilitating effects of World War One called for sound knowledge and training for the country to get back on its feet. Two years later business leaders in the city joined the Chamber’s agenda, with merchant and shipping companies adding their voices to the campaign. The Society of Accountants and the Institute of Bankers threw in their support. Collectively they raised £30,000, which they gifted to the University, resulting in the birth of our degree in Accounting and Business.

We are piloting some of the most ambitious projects the University of Edinburgh has set for the future.

Today we continue to honour the legacy of our early 20th century founders, who carved this entrepreneurial spirit into our Business School.

We are piloting some of the most ambitious projects the University of Edinburgh has set for the future. We are the first school to develop online learning at scale, through the launch in 2019 of a ‘MicroMasters’ in Business Analytics.

These MicroMasters can work as tasters to a full MSc degree or as standalone opportunities for professionals who are eager to boost their expertise in a particular field.

Our faculty have been extremely active in the first steps of the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI), a University-wide effort to find new answers to world challenges, as the old certainties in societies, democracies and the economy are pulled apart.

EFI will open on the site of the former Royal Infirmary to the west of George Square. We’re driving one of its very first projects, an MSc in Finance, Technology and Policy, created to address the knowledge-gap in the intersection between complex financial flows, ultra-fast high-tech and fairness in financial systems.

As a business school at the heart of a world-class university, we are uniquely placed to work collaboratively with areas as diverse as engineering, geosciences, informatics and public policy. As the world becomes more complex, we’re keen to contribute to better organisations, management practice and—a better future.

Professor Wendy Loretto, Dean of the Business School

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