BY ANTHONY KILA
Anthony Kila is a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development. He is currently Centre Director at CIAPS; the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies, Lagos, Nigeria. He is a regular commentator on the BBC and he works with various organisations on International Development projects across Europe, Africa and the USA. He tweets @anthonykila, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Students or delegates who attend or have attended Ivy League Business Schools will find it normal to see their lecturers rub shoulders with leaders of industries and public policy makers. They will even find it normal for their teachers to be themselves public figures and board members of blue chip companies, as well as being senior and authoritative advisors and consultants to governments and other international organisations. Some of these teachers might be so rich and famous that they cannot play down, let alone, hide their profile; and this will all be normal to students or delegates who attend or have attended Ivy League Business Schools.
It was, however, not always so. There was a time not too long ago when teachers were teachers with the rewards awaiting them in heaven, and others were others with their fame and fortune deliciously and freshly served right here on earth. One of the principal figures that changed all that and led teachers into the same league of sharing fame and fortune right here on earth, by heralding the way of teachers into the art and process of leading in boardrooms and ballrooms with their classroom ideas, and also bringing the boardrooms and ballrooms into the classroom with their worldly experience and practice, was Sir James Ball.
Born on 15th July 1933 in Norfolk as Robert James Ball, he died on 15th January 2018 as Sir James Ball. In circa 84 years of living, Sir James Ball established himself as a man of ideas, successful leader of industry, writer, teacher and economist. He was known for his confidence, rigour in planning with attention to the most minute of details; and the nurturing of, and surrounding of himself, with bright minds. He died as an Emeritus Professor of Economics. It is safe to say he put the London Business School on the map and gave it authoritative relevance by turning it into a place that government and businesses turn to for valuable ideas and value adding solutions. This was at a time when the concept and essence of Business Schools were viewed with more than a bit of suspicion in the United Kingdom (UK). Suffice to say here that, for a long time, the London Business School was not even considered rateable like other schools of the era.
In 1982, Sir James Ball had the courage and vision to launch the first Executive MBA in the UK and whilst at it he coordinated the fundraising for the LBS’s Plowden building. He also served as a member of Board of Governors for the Centre of Economic Policy and Research and he was a trustee of The Economist and served as directors of many major companies such as Barclays Bank, Ogilvy and Mather, TI Group, National Freight Corporation and was chairman of Legal & General Group, as well as the Royal Bank of Canada. And yes, he was also Knighted by the Queen in June 1984. All these as he continued to teach and administer his school.
Yes, a remarkable life, indeed, and these feats are enough to elevate Sir James Ball into the hall of The Unforgettables, but even equally, if not more remarkable, is the academic contribution of the man to the studies in the field of econometric modelling as we know it today. Alongside the American economist, Lawrence Klein, Sir James Ball invented what we are taught to be the Oxford Econometric Model or simply, the Oxford Model, which is the genesis and the foundation of most of the modern macroeconometric forecasting we read and use in our classrooms, boardrooms and many private and public decision-making centres. If we are today able to represent our economic models in the form of statistical equations or a set of equations that make it possible to use statistical methods of data analysis for estimation and inference, such as testing the model assumptions, estimating the model parameters, and computing forecasts, it is because the ‘King of Forecasting’ pioneered the studies and applied them to real life cases in the business world.
It is difficult to overemphasise the import of scientifically backed forecasting or prediction in the business of policy formulation. As we were taught and most of us have discovered, economic models are mini versions of the economic ecosystem, a sample of the world, with all its players representable; with which we can test possible outcomes without exposing the real world to the jeopardies that can easily come with untested ideas or principles.
The real world, it must be added here, could be taxpayers and voters or the environment for public policy makers and it could be consumers or investors for policy makers in corporate boardrooms. In all of these cases, like it is done in the laboratories of natural sciences, wherein we are able to test before applying and we can even isolate factors and variables, manipulating, controlling and isolating interactive elements till we get to an optimal situation for an optimal, or at least, an acceptable level of risk, economic modelling allows us to scientifically analyse and predict the consequences of ideas and positions before turning them into policies. Sir James Ball dedicated himself to the scientific formulation and application of macroeconomic policies for both the public and private sectors and we dare say, he did it not in a shy way.
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