Former WBS Dean Howard Thomas led the tributes to Robin Wensley at the memorial event
Warm tributes at a memorial event for former Dean Robin Wensley were capped by an announcement that the British Academy of Management will create an annual lecture in honour of the London-born Professor.
In an event littered with humorous tales and opened by Professor Wensley’s granddaughter Jess’ reading of Kathy Henderson’s poem Today I Read a Bus Stop, Katy Mason, President of the British Academy of Management, unveiled its new Wensley Memorial Lecture.
Professor Mason said: “Robin did amazing work for individuals in academia and for the business and management community. We are really proud to have an annual lecture in his name, which will be an inter-disciplinary event, something Robin pioneered.
“He not only invested in the management community, but championed women and gave women courage - he stopped my exam so I could leave the room to feed my son.
“He was a great academic and a great man, loved by so many and this annual lecture will be a fitting legacy.”
Professor Wensley, who died at the age of 77, was Dean of Warwick Business School from 1989 to 1994 after joining WBS in 1986 as Professor of Strategic Management and Marketing.
Former WBS Dean Howard Thomas taught Professor Wensley, who was known for his colourful and eccentric dress sense, as a lecturer at London Business School.
“We became good friends at LBS,” said Professor Thomas, who was Dean at WBS from 2000 to 2010. “As a pupil he was always intellectually curious and very creative. I looked forward to the tutorials where l often learned more from him than he probably did from me.
Touching: Former WBS Dean Howard Thomas with the late Robin Wensley's daughter Helen
“He then became a lecturer at LBS and was late every day. I saw students writing a sweepstake on Wensley’s wardrobe; the colour of his jacket, shirt, and tie, and trousers. I decided to go in to see what happened. Once Robin arrived, I had never heard so much laughter, guffawing and enjoyment in a marketing lecture. It reinforced to me how important it was as a teacher to connect with students and make lectures more engaging.
“Robin persuaded me to apply for the Deanship at WBS. As my deputy, Robin was so much fun. He re-enforced the WBS culture with a love for ideas and conversations.
“He had many conversations on the number 11 bus to campus, Robin used it as an auxiliary office. He mentioned multiple conversations with Nick Chater in the psychology department. He was interested in anything and everything, and it was he who pushed to add behavioural science to the capabilities of WBS.
“Robin believed in public value, public good and inclusion and felt they were as important as corporate good. He believed research was not just about finding out the way the world is but the way it ought to be.
“He was a pioneer in the growth of management education in the UK and a one-off character. His priorities were not focused on status, he genuinely wanted to make a better world. Memories of his values and personality should embolden us to do great things in our family lives as well as our academic lives.”
Happy memories: Robin Wensley was admired and loved by students, staff and academics
Professor Wensley gained one of the highest profile positions in management research in the UK, when taking over as Director of the Advanced Institute of Management Research (AIM) in 2004, with AIM tasked by the UK Government to improve how business leaders operated to boost productivity and innovation.
Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at the University of Cambridge, was Deputy Director at AIM and said: “Robin was the driving force behind AIM. He was tremendous fun to be with, enjoyed playing with ideas and had an incredibly well-informed opinion on everything. He was a kind-hearted, generous man; I never heard him raise his voice despite the pressure of the role.
“I get a warm glow when I think about Robin. He had a wonderful way with people. He had the ability to push people to think more creatively and differently but in a way that never undermined their confidence.”
Professor Wensley had three children with wife Sue, and daughter Helen revealed many hilarious tales of her father from family holidays and trips.
“Having established himself in the academic world we left our house in London with three children aged five and under to go to LA and live for a sabbatical year,” said Helen. “Unbelievably we got on the flight without knowing where we were going to live and spent the first month with Gran in a motel while looking for accommodation.
“All turned out well so that was proof that pre-planning wasn’t essential. Little prior planning remained a feature of many future holidays, Dad was an expert at completing things at the last minute.
“When he was a keynote speaker in Toronto, and my uncle and aunt went to pick him up at the end of the day he was walking very oddly – sort of sideways with his back to the wall. Turns out he had split the seam on the back of his trousers. Typical Dad - brilliant mind and unreliable wardrobe.
“His work was his hobby, and he would often get dressed in his office at home. He was a loving and supportive Dad. Always encouraging without ever pushing his children to do things they didn't want to. His grandchildren, Jess, Maya, and Iris brought him great joy.”
Honoured: Katy Mason, President of the British Academy of Management, announces the Wensley Memorial Lecture
Professor Wensley’s niece Megan Ryburn fondly remembered his “silly antics” with her father Murray and how he presented her with a book before she embarked on a PhD, stressing the chapter on How to manage your supervisor.
“When my sister Caitlin was five, Robin’s efforts to teach her maths and his white hair and beard earned him the title Professor Polar Bear,” said Megan. “And many years later, when Caitlin’s undergraduate graduation was cancelled due to COVID-19, Professor Polar Bear stepped into the breach. In some slightly alternative robes, he officiated at a very personal ceremony, drawing on his long experience at Warwick.
“Robin was a brilliant uncle, brother-in-law and friend to all of us. We all miss him, but his genial presence and the many stories will always live on.”
Several of Professor Wensley’s PhD students attended, indicating the great bond they built with him as their supervisor and how much he supported their careers.
Sally Dibb, Professor of Marketing and Society at Coventry University, was Professor Wensley’s first PhD student in 1986 and they remained great friends.
“He inspired me and believed in me right through my career,” said Professor Dibb. “He was a natural mentor, charming and fun, with a booming laugh that would fill the corridors - you could always tell when Robin was in the building.
“His natural inquisitiveness would often lead to surprising and novel solutions. He was inter-disciplinary long before it was trendy.
“Robin’s office was a health and safety nightmare, covered in towers of books and chocolate wrappers, but he had an amazing ability to navigate the chaos.
“When he stepped down as head of the marketing group to be Chair of Warwick Business School, we brainstormed all the characteristics a head would need, but when we looked at the blackboard, we realised we had just written down all the things we loved about Robin.”
Read more tales and tributes about Professor Wensley or add your own to his online memory book.