Inventor’s life could inspire business schools worldwide

“His passion for education and inspiring future generations to take a chance was legendary”

Trevor Baylis left school without any qualifications but went on to become one of Britain’s most renowned inventors. Kamal Bechkoum, head of business and technology at the University of Gloucestershire reflects on the mark that Baylis left on the world and what higher education institutions can learn from his genius.

I was tremendously saddened to hear of the recent death of Trevor Baylis OBE, creator of the wind-up radio that helped millions in the developing world access essential and life-saving information.

His passing marks not just the loss of a great inventor; it also offers an impressive life story that business, science and technology schools across the globe can learn from when encouraging their students to fulfil a need, doggedly protect one’s own intellectual property, or face down the seemingly impossible. 

I am lucky to have counted Trevor as a friend after interviewing him several years ago ahead of one of his many well-deserved honorary degrees. His passion for education and inspiring future generations to take a chance was legendary. He would frequently lecture domestic and international students on the excitement and challenges faced by inventors.

In 1991, having seen a program about the spread of AIDS in Africa, he set about developing the world’s first wind-up radio, and, by 1997, the Freeplay radio rolled off the production line in South Africa. 

So what can we learn from this when it comes to the activities and character of our UK business and technology schools?

Embrace the impossible

Trevor regularly demonstrated how the seemingly impossible should be embraced and overcome. Whenever speaking to an academic audience he would proudly show off a typed letter he received from a UK Design Council scientist, explaining in great detail why his idea of a clockwork radio would never work.

 The sender had calculated that a dynamo-powered mechanism would need to weigh at least 40 pounds. At this point in his speech, Trevor would produce a pocket-sized radio, proving that you shouldn’t always listen to the advice of so-called experts.

“He believed that the key to success was to think unconventional thoughts”

Adopt a caring strategy

Many of the world’s business schools have become home to students who have been re-categorised. They are no longer learners but customers. This is often clearly seen with competing marketing materials that emphasise financial gain and professional advantage. 

Of course, we all appreciate how employment and economic achievement is deeply interlinked with education, but how many universities – and particularly business schools – encourage opportunity where ethnicity, social status, housing, and mental health play a central role? We need to do better at promoting social conscience as a value-add.

“Graduates need to complete their studies having learnt that there is more to the future than a narrow focus on profit and loss” 

There is no better way of rebelling against the current era of self-serving ‘Trumpian’ economics than by demonstrating how universities can act as a force for good and positive social change. 

A necessary protection of ideas

As well as his delight in uncovering solutions to a problem, Trevor was a determined protector of ideas and would frequently highlight the importance of patenting any new product.

This was rooted in his own experiences and strongly-held belief that he had not received a fair return for his inventions after having them repeatedly ‘adapted’ and sold at a great profit by others.

He argued that all school children should be educated about inventing and patents, and that intellectual property theft should become recognised and treated as a criminal offence.

There is justification to this and, I believe, higher education institutions must take a lead in picking up the mantle of the work begun by ‘Trevor Baylis Brands’ which started in 2003 and has supported over 10,000 inventors protect and develop their ideas. 

Trevor’s greatest genius was to show that science and technology can be truly exciting. This is a legacy that I am determined the University of Gloucestershire and, I hope, many other higher education institutions will continue to convey.