Business Alumni Update

On the cusp of new adventures as a mature student

Dr Alan Reddrop, Adjunct Research Fellow at UniSA

Dr Alan Reddrop
Dr Alan Reddrop

After spending nearly 60 years working in industry, university, consulting and government, Dr Alan Reddrop completed a PhD at UniSA in 2013.

Previously a family business adviser for the state government, Alan observed – at times - reluctance among family business people to seek external advice on business challenges. When he retired from his extensive career, he decided to help ‘do something about’ the problems he encountered by engaging in research.

Tell us about your decision to embark on your PhD later in life.

While working with family businesses I became emotionally aware of the phenomenon of those I called the ‘impervious patriarchs’; in particular the frustration and suffering they could visit on more junior family members, notably would-be successors. It was with the notion that something more could be done about this that I decided to engage in research – through undertaking a doctorate. Thus I had a mission, a wish to change a bit of the world. The scope of my studies, nevertheless, broadened to cover the nature and effectiveness of advice to family businesses.

Please describe your experience undertaking a PhD as a mature aged student.

The School of Management was led by inspired people, John Benson and Howard Harris. I established rapport with my supervisor-to-be at our first encounter. He recognised I had a mission and he was to impart the stratagems and necessary politics to enable me to discharge it. That wise man was Gido Mapunda, a continuing friend.

Mission or not, Gido soon taught me that a thesis was not a manifesto or a polemic. It was permissible to use the words ‘I’ and ‘recommend’ as long as they were fourteen pages apart. This proved to be no disadvantage. In academia I learnt there is no such thing as an untenable argument. Any idea that the human mind could conceive can be advanced and supported by countless peer-reviewed articles in A* journals: you just have to spend long enough in front of UniSA’s superb ‘Search the Library Catalogue’.

Undertaking a degree by research in the School of Management was hugely enjoyable. It was part of Benson’s genius to encourage the formation of a Postgraduate Students’ Association. Members met for seminars, for social events, for weekend retreats and above all for mutual support. We were a very diverse group, in nationality as in age. But it was plausible to talk about teamwork and mean it. It was truly collegial.

I got my degree in the allotted time. But then what? I was granted an adjunct research fellowship. This enabled me to cling on in the institution I had come to love, to remain in contact with friendly colleagues, to give greater exposure to what I had learned through my thesis, to write this academic article, to address that conference, to contribute to seminars. Also, initially, I was asked to run a professional development program to help colleagues extend their external engagement – with industry and government (too rarely pursued).

My fellowship has just been renewed, so that, at 82, I feel on the cusp of new adventures.

Please tell us a little about your background.

I spent nearly 60 years as a hired hand – in industry, university, consulting, governments (four) and quangos: a chequered, stimulating and satisfying career. My final paid work was with the government of South Australia where I advised family businesses (without the skill to run one my job was to advise others how to run theirs). I resigned at 73 to spare my employer from having to dislodge me in my 90s.

Why did you choose to make a bequest to the University?

Having this life-enhancing experience, my decision to make a bequest to the School was an easy one. This has, incidentally, given me membership of the Chancellor’s Club which recognises the support of all those who make a bequest as well as major donors.

What advice would you give to anyone else thinking of furthering their university education at a later stage in life?

Would I recommend re-entering academia at maturity? What might be the alternative – shifting into Shakespeare’s Sixth Age of slipper’d pantaloons? So, yes, I would recommend it. But in universities subjectivity abounds; they are chalk and cheese. So choose! Not any-old university, not any supervisor willing to take you on. For me, in UniSA, I have found my academic home – and more, a place where my learning enthusiasms were and are encouraged and where friendships can be sustained.

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