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 all the banks be nationalised?
- What should be the key markets overseas for UK businesses?
- Should Amazon pay more tax in the UK?
- Are zero hours contracts acceptable?
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 ups starts such as Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae Sauce and Duncan Goose at OneWater or or Angry Birds creator Peter Vesterbacka. 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? I Should business worry about ethics? Are there more important things in life than profit? What opportunities do emerging markets create for UK businesses? 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 orthe leadership styles of Steve Jobs and his successor Tim Cook. What about Willie Walsh at British Airways?).
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 your 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 t, if you like the idea of buying shares, if you want to manage a business 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 tutor2u.net.
Who will teach me?
Andrew Gillespie is Head of Department and a senior examiner. He has written many business and economics textbooks. His particular interests in the subject: 'Business strategy and decision making – 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? There are many to choose from but the culture of Zappos is intriguing- how many companies would offer you $3000 not to take the job they have offered you? Why - to see how committed you really are!
Jon Young has a wealth of real-world business experience accrued in the leisure and events industry whilst he managed his own marketing and events consultancy prior to entering the teaching profession. He is a qualified Marketer from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Jon has been teaching Business Studies and Economics since 2010 and is currently in his 3rd year at d'Overbroecks College. Jon is a keen advocate of "learning by doing" and developing teaching styles that appeal to learners on multiple levels inline with Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory. In Business Jon a is keenly interested in the marketing aspects of business - "I am fascinated by the opportunities and threats for business posed by the emergence of web 2.0 and the subsequent growth of interactivity due to the multitude of social networks. It is amazing how these factors have affected the timing and content of business actions/responses"
Matthew Graham has come from a largely Economics based background and is particularly intrigued by how Businesses adapt to changes in the wider external environment in which they operate in. For instance how do some businesses manage to come through a recession, or even thrive in one, whilst others end up failing? Best book to read: Many good ones, but The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday machine by Michael Lewis is a fascinating look at both the causes of the 2008 Financial Crisis and how some businessmen made money from it. Most interesting business: Tough one, apart from the obvious big multinationals. More recently looking into the business models of banks and football clubs has really interested me. Both of these sectors have such differing ways of working. The divorce of ownership from control in the latter is of particular interest.
Clare Wildish came into teaching from a business background and therefore brings with much welcome real life business experience.
Her particular interest in the subject recently has been looking at scientific companies which have arisen from their connection with Oxford University. Oxford Instruments plc has grown to a leading company specializing in nanotechnology. Crowd funding for start up businesses is also an interesting area arising out of the credit crisis and is a new approach to raising finance for new business ideas. 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? I like businesses that will affect the quality of individuals’ lives such as the growth in Apps which can help people achieve their goals and in particular better health and fitness. Given my business background I also like watching the cosmetic companies such as L’Oreal, Estee Lauder and Unilever which is increasing its portfolio of cosmetic products.
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.