Monday, 3 June 2019

Book Bitz, Excerpt & Author Interview: MBA by Douglas Board

MBA by Douglas Board
Why is so much of the world managed by arseholes? When workaholic business school hot shot Ben Stillman is fired, he has the chance to find out. Not a guy to sit still, Ben jumps head first into turning his former business school into a world-class madrassa of capitalism.
Ben has ten days to rescue the launch of its spectacular glass tower, and his own career – ten days during which he will have to confront terrorist plots, undercover police, the extravagant demands of the super-rich, and the only woman who can save him from this madness.
A satirical thriller, a love story, and a wry look at modern management ideology all rolled into one – MBA is a piercing yet hopeful enquiry into the meaning of success.
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MBA” by Douglas Board

Why is so much of the world managed by arseholes? ‘MBA’ – the abbreviation for a master’s degree in business administration – is a farce set at an English business school run by globe-trotting American professor William C Gyro. When Ben, a high-flying graduate of the college, is suddenly fired for no reason, Gyro asks him to rescue the very imminent, star-studded opening of a spectacular all-glass tower.

Ben’s last boss, Alex Bakhtin, believed flying first class was a scandalous waste of money, so Ben’s never done it before. But Gyro swept him off to Heathrow in a flash. Here they are in a Boeing 747 heading for Hong Kong, Gyro spouting leadership bullshit while Ben realises that he has a problem with his underpants.
They both ordered bloody Marys as they picked at duck terrine. So this was why Gyro was building the tower. From being a well-paid consultant, Gyro was returning to the land of high academic ideas with a five storey idea of his own. ‘Every important concept of contemporary leadership is reflected in the tower’s design. The auditorium is all glass. You look up? Everywhere you see the sky. What will students at the college learn? The sky’s the limit. It’s all glass. So you look down – straight down, between your feet. You see the ground. Look, the supporting column is the diameter of a London tube train, so nearly everywhere in the auditorium you see the ground. What do you learn?’
Don’t be a leader if you get sick easily, thought Ben.
However high you go as a leader, make sure you can see the ground. Then, the walls are all glass. A perfect circle. Which means – ?’ Gyro looked at Ben expectantly.
Scan the horizon?’ said Ben tentatively.
Gyro’s eyes were glowing, and Ben was getting infected. The concept of the tower was uncanny, even mind-bending.
Normally the acoustics of a glass circle would be terrible,’ Gyro continued. ‘All boom and echo, no clarity - just like leadership in most organisations. But using nanotechnology to modify the glass panels, we will have the perfect acoustic for the human voice and the human ear. Speaking in a natural way, without amplification; and hearing the contribution of everyone in the organisation, wherever they are sitting. That’s another fundamental aspect of leadership. That’s how leadership should be all the time. And we will teach it right here.’
Gyro put on a pair of eyeshades, took a sleeping pill and tucked himself in for the night.
Ben got it, for a few minutes at least. In ten days he would help open the Sistine chapel of leadership. However the relentless, fragranced, air-conditioned cleanliness around him led him to realise something else. His suit would travel a large fraction of the planet’s circumference crumpled but serviceable. His shirt and socks, borrowed from Frank, had been clean this morning. But it had felt presumptuous to ask for the loan of underpants, and he had never made it out of the lounge to the shops at Heathrow.
He was wearing navy boxers with the word ‘Tangiers’ stitched down one side. These pants had already clocked up eighteen hours on Monday. Another thirty-six hours were now in view, since Ben would turn round in Hong Kong without leaving airside or touching Chinese soil. He could do without trying to think about Sistine chapels while feeling dirty down below.
A thought came to him. A cornucopia of complimentary items for personal comfort had already come his way. Eric the steward had insisted that Ben ask for anything which might make his flight more comfortable. Arguably Eric’s ingratiating tone was over the top, but at six thousand pounds a seat one can do over the top and then some. What if, contra Bakhtin, the airlines had got first class travel right? Six thousand pounds which removed a top man’s trifling discomfort was nothing at all, if the greater greatness of the thoughts consequently thought - for example beating malaria by giving away mosquito nets for free in Africa - could save millions from deadly peril. But how good was this first class service, really? He should experiment.

Douglas Board is the author of the campus satire MBA (Lightning Books, 2015), which asked why so much of the business world is Managed By Arseholes. Time of Lies, his second novel, is a timely exploration of the collapse of democracy.
Born in Hong Kong, he has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard and worked for the UK Treasury and then as a headhunter. He has also had a distinguished career in public life, serving as treasurer of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and chairing the British Refugee Council.
As well as writing fiction, he is the author of two applied research books on leadership, which was the subject of his doctorate. He is currently a senior visiting fellow at the Cass Business School in London. He and his wife Tricia Sibbons live in London and Johannesburg.

Twitter: @BoardWryter

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