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Professor John Powell

Professor John Powell

Professor of Strategy


+44 (0) 1392 725966

Streatham Court, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4PU, UK

My early career was in the Royal Navy and I joined British Aerospace at the age of 30 as a system engineer, working initially ion the early versions of Typhoon. I specialised in avionic system modelling. I was identified as having some business capability and soon took up a series of project development leadership roles, including NATO and European-wide intelligence systems.

My most senior posts were at board level, running a division at Filton, Bristol specialising in underwater and submarine projects, again responsible for the setting up of multi-firm mega-projects such as the Astute class submarine.

I moved to the academic world in 1996, gaining a PhD in strategic conflict at Cranfield. I have been fortunate to win two academic medals, namely HM The Queen’s Gold Medal for academic excellence and latterly, the President’s Medal of the OR Society. I am also the holder of a 6 year funded Fellowship from South Africa (NRF).

Nationality: British


MA, PhD, CEng, FIET, CMath, FIMA

Research clusters

Research interests

  • Knowledge in strategy
  • Knowledge management and behaviour
  • Systems modelling of strategic situations
  • Scenario planning and modelling

My  research is in the area of strategy, particularly in the analysis of strategic situations, to which I apply essentially formal mathematical methods, scenario building and systems  modelling. The models I build are not numerical; they focus on the structural characteristics of situations rather than attempting to predict, in any narrow sense, what will happen. I am more concerned with what MAY happen (in order to plan robustly) than in any brittle, specific prediction of the future.

Recently I have concentrated on establishing formal mathematical treatments of the behaviour of knowledge, particularly in networks. Understanding how knowledge flows around a network is critical to our ability to manage it, particularly strategically. Without such a dynamic theory we are attempting, to draw an analogy with electricity, to build a telephone network without knowing Ohm’s Law or how a battery works.

Current research activity

I am seeking to take on fulltime students for PhDs in the area of knowledge behaviour, management and strategic use. I have one FT student at present, who is researching a knowledge topic in entrepreneurial cognition.

Details as at

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Awards and Honours

  • HM the Queen’s Gold Medal
  • The President’s Medal of the OR Society

My main teaching is in Strategy where I teach a general approach, focusing more on the analytical aspects of Strategy as distinct from strategy as process. I place great emphasis on critical thinking in strategy and approaches utilising concepts such as robustness and adaptation, albeit within an analytical framework. My extensive board level strategic experience has led me to adopt a highly practical perspective on the teaching of strategy, but one which respects and mobilises theoretical positions.