When famous speakers on campus don't know why they are there
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Some private British business schools are known for enticing big-name speakers to their campuses in a bid to bolster their reputation.
Last year the London School of Business and Finance broadcast an exclusive interview with Tony Blair about the future of education.
Hult International Business School, which has seven campuses around the world including one in London, has mastered the art of attracting high-profile guest lecturers, including President Clinton, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
But guests may not always be on message, as Hult found out when it invited Bob Geldof – the recipient of an honorary knighthood in 1986 – to speak to students at its London campus on "making a difference."
He was to discuss "leadership and entrepreneurship," the school informed journalists before the event, part of its Executive Speaker Series. However, when asked by Times Higher Education in a press briefing ahead of the lecture about the topic of his speech, he appeared unsure. "Dude, I haven’t a fucking clue," he said.
Luckily, Geldof warmed to the theme when asked whether such attributes could be taught by a business school. "In a group of five people, one will emerge as a leader type but only because the others allow them to," he said, a process he said he had experienced as frontman of the rock band the Boomtown Rats.
But "leadership is only a temporary role," he cautioned, because a leader will be disposed of by the led as soon as he ceases to be useful.
"Now I’ve thought about that I’ll waffle on about that for an hour [for the lecture] and that’ll be it ... what was the other thing I was supposed to be talking about?" he said. Asked why he became involved with Hult, Geldof explained that he had been approached by the school to speak but had "never heard of the place."
"I got swamped with brochures and things and so I said: ‘Give me a free M.B.A. degree or something, or an honorary one, and I’ll pitch up.’ I’m biddable," he joked.
Geldof proceeded to regale assembled journalists with his thoughts on climate change, globalization, the nation state, debt, the financial crisis, capitalism, the welfare state, the Second World War, Marxism, trade unionism, feminism and the Industrial Revolution.
His monologue over, he warned: "Never come to the pub with me." He added: "I’m just going to repeat the whole thing [in the lecture]."
His claim was not far from the truth. Opening his talk, Geldof said: "One of the guys at the press thing said, ‘Bob, you’re going to talk tonight about leadership and entrepreneurialism.’ Really? That’s news to me but I suppose I will."
He may have caused further consternation for his hosts when he argued that while Africa would some day become a big player in the world economy, "I’m not sure what you’re being taught [at Hult] will equip you for that."
Nonetheless, he was personally thanked for his work combating famine in Africa from a Nigerian Hult alumnus during a question and answer session, and received a standing ovation from the audience.