irish times

The Irish Management Institute aims to provide fresh ideas

It was established back in 1953 with the aim of training a new business elite that would lead Ireland’s economy out of the doldrums.

At the time, Seán Lemass had yet to assume power and TK Whitaker’s proposals to kick-start the economy had yet to be framed. The Irish Management Institute (IMI) is still alive and kicking but in an age when executive education courses are two-a-penny, does it offer value?

Now in its 62nd year and with a young and enthusiastic chief executive at the reins, the IMI is certainly talking the talk. Its national conference returned in 2013, after a gap of five years with a focus on game-changing ideas that can drive organisational growth. But,for all its upbeat enthusiasm about the opportunities that exist for Irish businesses, there is no doubting that the institute’s own fortunes are at a turning point.

During the height of the recession, when the IMI decided against holding a national conference, the organisation found itself busy dealing with financial difficulties, the prospect of a full merger with University College Cork (UCC) and criticism that it had lost its tongue at a time when Ireland’s business leaders were being widely disparaged.

As if this were not enough, a growing number of competitors are now offering the same type of courses that were once the sole preserve of the IMI.

Despite the challenges, Dr Simon Boucher, who joined the IMI in 2007 and served as its chief operating officer before taking over from Dr Tom McCarthy as chief executive in 2013, is adamant that the institute is as relevant now as it ever was.

“The mission when the institute was established was simple. Ireland had a long way to go to compete internationally and the standard of management was below that of our competitors. With training and development it was believed that Ireland could gain competitiveness,” said Dr Boucher. “The IMI exists for exactly the same purpose now and that is to improve the practice of management in Ireland. Our mission is as pertinent now as it was back in 1953.”

The IMI was enthusiastically backed by Lemass, the then-minister for industry and commerce at the time of its establishment and throughout the years it has been seen as being closely aligned to those who wield power. However, Dr Boucher is adamant that, while it may have received backing from politicians in the early days, the organisation has always strived to be independent of political influence.

“I think sometimes people perceive the IMI as a State body in some way but that’s not really the case. The institute was set up by an independent committee of business leaders and the State lent a limited amount of moral and financial support,” he said.

“We were established at a time when terms such as executive education were completely unknown and management in general was seen as something of an exotic concept. The institute was meant to reflect the needs of Irish business and to introduce best practice in management thinking. Out of that a number of other services arose, such as networking events, the setting up of a library and the first executive education programmes in the country.”

Crowded market

While it may have been the first centre of its kind in Ireland to offer courses solely for executives, the IMI now operates in a crowded market in which countless other schools are offering similar courses.

The rise of rival business schools, combined with the recession, dented the institute’s finances. Cutbacks on spending on training courses by firms affected by the downturn meant revenues at IMI declined by 50 per cent from more than €14 million in 2007 to €7 million in 2010.

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