What is Business Studies A level about?
- How did the founders of YouTube manage to create a business worth over £800m in less than two years?
- Should Burberry have moved production to China?
- Why is Toyota one of the few car companies to make any profit?
- What should tobacco companies do to maintain sales if smoking is banned in the UK?
- Should the banks be nationalised?
- What should be the key markets overseas for UK businesses?
These are the types of issues you might consider when studying Business at A level. You will look at a number of different organisations facing different problems.
You are expected to analyse the key factors involved and have to recommend the best course of action for a business given its existing position: should it launch a new product? Should managers increase staff pay or give more to investors? Should a business recruit internally or externally? How should you raise the money need to start up your own business – should you borrow from a bank or friends and family?
Essentially the course is about debating and decision-making in a business context and as such it develops invaluable skills whatever you want to do next.
What does the course consist of?
Richard Branson, Stelio Haji Ioannou and Bill Gates are all highly successful entrepreneurs – not forgetting more other start upst starts such as Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae Sauce and Duncan Goose at OneWater. Not surprisingly we want to know how they came to be so successful – what makes an entrepreneur? Why do some business start ups succeed but many others fail? What makes a successful business idea? These kinds of questions form the basis of the first unit at AS when we focus on business start ups.
The second AS unit takes an established business and puts you in the position of the manager of that organisation. Your aim is to improve the effectiveness of the business by making decisions relating to marketing (how do you differentiate your coffee shop from everyone else's?), people (how do you select the right staff), operations (how do you make sure your products work properly and are not returned) and finance (how do you make sure you make a profit and have money in the bank when you need it?).
At A2 we look at bigger businesses and focus on the broader environment such as the economy, social trends and technology. What is the impact of the inflow of employees from Eastern Europe on UK firms? Is the growth of China a threat or an opportunity? How bad is the credit crunch for your business?
At A2 we also consider the importance of managing change (a lesson the music companies and book publishers are grappling with at the moment with the rise of downloads) and the importance of leadership (think of how Michael O'Leary the chief executive at Ryanair has made this business so successful or how Terry Leahy the managing director of Tesco turned this into the UK's most successful retailer- although under new leadership the business appears to be doing less well).
For Unit 3 you need to analyse a particular business situation and recommend what the firm should do next – should you try to double the size of your business? Should you sell your stores and move online? Should you try to enter the Indian market? To do well on this paper you need to be able to demonstrate the skills of a business consultant and come up with a plan that would really work. The final unit has a research task where you study an important contemporary business issue such as globalisation or the effect of the internet on business; you also have to write an essay on a major theme such as business culture (why does Microsoft have bean bags in its offices?), information management (what does the supermarket do with the data from its loyalty card holders) and growth (why did Unilever buy Ben and Jerry's?)
The subject therefore involves
- Understanding customers and why they buy products so that you can meet their needs effectively. Most people buy flowers on a Monday – why do you think that is and why is it significant?
- Understanding how to raise the money you need for you business (should you a. beg b. steal or c. borrow?) and how to manage the money effectively so it is not wasted (remember Nick Leeson who gambled so much of Baring bank's money that the company ended up being sold for £1)
- Understanding where to base your business (different for a rock festival than a music store) and how to produce efficiently and effectively (remember when Cadbury's products had salmonella, or when Dell's PCs started to explode? How was this allowed to happen?)
- Understanding how to manage people – how can some of the best players in the world be put together in the England football team and end up with an average performance? This must be an issue with selection, team building and motivation – all key issues in managing a business effectively.
- Understanding how businesses relate with their external environment – what happens to UK firms if the UK economy crashes? Why do exchange rates matter to firms such Rolls Royce that sell mainly abroad?
Whom does the subject suit?
Business Studies suits students who like business! If you enjoy watching the Apprentice or Dragon's Den then this is the subject for you. You need to want to know more about why people set in business, what makes them successful and how can they do things even better.
To do well at Business Studies you have to develop the ability to analyse issues and decide on how a business is most likely to react in a given situation given the various constraints, threats and opportunities it faces. The exam is often in a case study format. To do well you must consider a given business would do in a particular situation rather than repeat textbook theory. This means you need to be flexible in your thinking- your need to understand the concepts and theory but be able to apply this to different situations rather than just repeat your notes.You certainly do not have to have done Business Studies at GCSE and at this stage don't have to read the business section of the newspapers but soon after you start the course we hope you will! A good grade at GCSE Maths is always welcome but not essential – certainly not for the AS. The ability to construct an argument is important and at A2 the final paper does involve two essays so essay writing skills are helpful by that stage!
How is Business Studies taught at d'Overbroeck's?
Our students say that what they enjoy about Business Studies is that we make it relevant and they can see how it applies to the real world. It also acts as a great bonding experience between students and their parents as students realise quite how much their fathers and mothers know about business and decision making! Our lessons are highly interactive because we want to know what you think – how would you solve this business problem? Why would you do it like that? Everyone has a chance to air their views and defend them. Perhaps most importantly we help you to develop a critical approach to business issues – to think why something happened, to consider what really matters and to look for the best solution in any given situation.
What books can I read to get a sense of the subject?
The books we use are listed below so why not have a look at these?
- AS Business Studies, Wolinski & Coates (Hodder)
- A to Z of Business Studies, D Lines et al (Hodder)
What websites are useful to look at?
Obviously lots – but to look at resources visit BizEd or tutor2u.net
Who will teach me?
Andrew Gillespie is Head of Department and a senior examineras and has written many business and economics textbooks. His particular interests in the subject: 'Business strategy – I am fascinated by how organisations end up doing what they do. To what extent is it planned? Or accident? Luck or genius?'
Best business book to read? 'Lots to choose but a great textbook is anything by Kotler on marketing; John Kay always has some interesting insights and Barbarians at the Gate was a fascinating look at a takeover (since been made into a film)'
Most interesting business? 'It's a pretty standard choice nowadays but Innocent is a tremendous business with real character – I have visited the company and met their marketing director. It really is an extraordinary business in terms of its innovation, its humour and its very strong underlying values.'
Clare Cameron came into teaching from business having worked both in the UK and the US. She has worked in the team developing case study revision material for AQA exams.
Her particular interest in the subject is new product development: 'Having worked as a buyer for Innovations there is nothing more exciting than watching a new invention launch successfully and on occasion, completely change people’s lives.'
Best business book to read? 'Tom Peters is not one to hold back on prescribing change for better business. In Search of Excellence, co-authored with Bob Waterman, demanded a fresh look from businesses at the start of the 1980s and he has continued to produce a string of best sellers that are all worth look at; in particular Search, claimed by a number of critics to be one of the top business books of all time. His newest book, Re-imagine, is a great collection of 'rants' and 'visions' for businesses today. Any of Seth Godin's are also worth a look and the CYAN books, investigating great brand stories such as Innocent and Guiness, are very readable.
Most interesting business? All businesses Are interesting in some way- either becauise of the problems they have (look at JJB recently), their culture (look at Richer Swounds customer focus) or the big changes going on within them (think of how Kodak and Nokia are trying to change their business models).
Clare Wildish came into teaching from a business background and therefore brings with much welcome real life business experience. Clare also teaches Accounts at the College.
Her particular interest in the subject recently has been mergers and acquisitions and the role of private equity in this area. 'The recent stock market boom can be attributed partly to the availability of credit and the willingness of private equity to buy up companies in different sectors of the market. The massive profits of private equity companies have now attracted unwelcome publicity and a call for their regulation.'
Best business book? 'Some of the best business books to read can be business biographies which show 'real life' decisions being made by entrepreneurs like Estee Lauder and Richard Branson. It is also interesting to read about the personality characteristics of successful businessmen. Biographies may also describe their business decisions and highlight a particularly unusual or exciting era.'
Most interesting business? 'At the moment Tesco is a very interesting company to follow as it has become such a large and diverse organisation. Tesco is very innovative in bringing new products to the market as well as tapping into smaller markets, such as garden centres and niche markets ie. riding equipment. It is very aggressive in the market place and attracts controversy, for example, its policy of building of new stores. Tesco also has a world wide presence and was one of the first to enter the Chinese market years before other businesses.'
What do the students say?
'I have thoroughly enjoyed Business Studies. I found it is relevant to my other subjects and to every day life. Business has opened my eyes to the financial world, and increasingly, I have become interested in reading newspapers to track the business world' Jed Cunningham (2007 grade A)
'I enjoy studying Business Studies because it is relevant to the world we live in. It is a challenging subject involving theory but it is also highly interesting. I think that studying business will open up a whole range of opportunities in the future for me.' Emma Cherry (2007 grade A)
What might the subject lead onto?
The A level provides a good ground in many subject areas and provides a breadth which enables students to go on to a range of degree courses including Marketing, Public Relations, Sociology and Law. Many of our students enjoy the subject so much they want to read it at university. Last year's Business Studies students went on to a variety of courses including Business and Management at the universities of Aston, Cardiff, Exeter, Manchester and Nottingham. (Note however that you do not necessarily need Business Studies A level to study Business at university)
A very limited universities prefer students not to study A level Business Studies and Economics (mainly Oxford, Cambridge, and Bristol) but students who have studied both have gone on to leading universities such as Exeter, London School of Economics and SOAS.
Last year’s students
Out of 10 students taking the subject at A2 we had 4 grade A*s and 1 grade A, 2Bs and 3Cs. These students have gone on to universities such as Birmingham, Reading and Exeter as well as Central St Martins and the New York Film School or taking a year out.