Achieving’s one potential

As a kid, I was pretty spoilt. I grew up on the small island of Jersey with my grandparents who attempted to keep me sheltered from the harsh realities of the world and embedded the mantra that I could do absolutely anything I wanted too.

When I stood up at the age of seven during the annual ‘who I am and what I want to be’ school assembly and announced that when I was older I wanted to be an elephant, you can appreciate their stark but crucial realisation that perhaps telling their small and impressionable granddaughter that they can do absolutely anything (which equally includes changing species) was probably unwise. And that was the day seven year old Claire realised she was going to have some sort of desk / office job, thankyouverymuch.

Fast forward this 20 odd years and here I am with the same original mantra; I just now assume that I can do anything when it comes to business. Now please, don’t misunderstand the humility in which I write (as there isn’t any); but my ego is huge and I have more talk than the Bugatti Veyron. You can therefore imagine my excitement at the Achieving Your Potential weekend which Cass hosts every year in High Wycombe. Excellent, I said to myself, I’ll be the CEO of something by next week.

Enter the IPPQ, or more formally ‘the Science of Happiness at Work’. Their mantra is simple; happy people at work, maximum output and performance. Unhappy people at work equal… well… you get the drift.

Now this is a weird concept for me. My grandparents told me I could be anything – that I could DO anything. But they never mentioned happiness. Isn’t having the freedom to do anything you want equal to happiness?

Our coach Mark Nobbs was on hand to set the story straight. Before we arrived we were told to fill in a questionnaire which gave us a score out of 10 on how ‘happy’ we were in our jobs and lives. No one scored over 5. I didn’t even make it over 1! How had this happened?! How had we all been tricked into believing that having the job you always wanted meant you’d be happy?! What does being happy have to do with achieving your potential anyway?? WHAT WAS GOING ON!

It became obvious that this weekend was an exercise focused on challenging and changing the way in which employers enact and react with their employees. Using specially developed models and methods we assumed, concluded, revisited and re-enacted a whole multitude of processes which are there to enhance our life-work relationship. The MBA is a tool which will hopefully excel you into being a manager or more senior person (if that’s the role in life you choose to make). Mark was there to help us be BRILLIANT managers in our BRILLIANT lives and jobs. My dismal score of 1 was still exactly what it was – but I left feeling that at least I could make some changes to MY happiness at work, because I have that power.

Happiness in the work place is one of the most misunderstood concepts. Happiness, being such a personal reaction to your surroundings, can so easily be misjudged and misconstrued. It’s also incredibly important to recognise that it’s possible to manage your happiness, or happy your happiness, if you so wish.

The remainder of the weekend was spent frolicking in the bar and using our negotiation skills to try and persuade the bar staff from closing at midnight. Another thing I have also learnt is to not even attempt to out-drink Lorraine. If you value both of your kidneys’ longevity and partnership then leave that challenge well alone.

My grandparents’ generation had little access to the science which Mark and his team have, which makes their belief in me even more endearing. We assume that our friends and family are all capable of makings decisions, and with those decisions comes the responsibility and the happiness which we all deserve. The IPPQ think we should all try and be responsible for each others happiness and enable ourselves with the clarity and the tools to do so. Well done for Cass for being brave enough to support and mould the next generation of MBA students into well rounded CEOs and managers.

One thing became pretty clear from this weekend—if you’re happy you’ll most certainly achieve your potential, even if you’re still not an elephant.

Claire Georgeson
Executive MBA (2019)

From the class room to the board room

Diversity is a topic that is riding front and centre –being acutely debated in the corporate context– whether it be the gender pay gap or women, black and ethnic minority representation in the board room.

At Cass one of the most important threads consistently woven into every module by every Professor is, to draw on the privilege of having access to the diversity and depth of global experience from the cohort. An Executive MBA cohort size of 39, comprised of 18 nationalities, 33 per cent women as well as individuals from a range of industries –advertising to transport, private and public sector– certainly affords that opportunity; and was certainly one of the most compelling reason for me choosing Cass.

Coming from a non-finance background, I was surprised when the Corporate Finance module took a reflective turn. One of the sessions turned to the lack of diversity in the Boardroom having a negative impact on maximising shareholder value.

The value to bring people together –from different cultures, background and perspectives– to encourage diversity of thought is not a new concept. But it is Lord Davies report of February 2011 which resulted in a tacit target that women should make up at least a quarter of FTSE 100 board membership by 2015; and Sir John Parker’s review of 2014 on whether company boards were keeping pace with the UK’s diverse workforce which have continued to make deadlines.

By 2016, the Female FTSE Report written by academics at City, University London, Cranfield University and Queen Mary University London, showed the percentage of women on FTSE 100 and 250 boards had increased to 26 per cent and to 20.4 per cent, respectively.

Sir John Parker recommended that companies should implement structures to help promote black and ethnic minority employees to the top; and all FTSE 100 firms should appoint at least one director from a minority background by 2021, and FTSE 250 companies to do similarly by 2024.

It was therefore heartening to read in the FT this month, that 27 investors, with £10.5tn of assets, announced they were committing to “engage actively” with companies that do not make progress towards the 30 per cent Club’s target of 30 per cent of women on FTSE 350 boards and in senior management at FTSE 100 companies by 2020. The signatories include Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the world’s largest pension fund, and other leading global investors such as JPMorgan Asset Management and BlackRock.

It appears that the business case for gender diversity has been made –investors are actively engaging to ensure that companies that don’t have sufficient representation of women and BME are making progress towards targets.

Adding to this fervour are the new rules requiring Europe’s largest companies to disclose their boardroom diversity policies. These polices have the potential to reshape investors’ asset allocation decisions, according to market analysts. There are investment products which are being indexed to companies’ equality criteria. This means that there is a real risk for investors not taking diversity into account; and companies need to be cognisant that diversity may have a real impact on their performance. And indeed, this is supported by a McKinsey study, published in 2015, of large publicly listed companies which found that those in the top quartile for diversity were 15 per cent more likely to produce better returns than their local peers.

Bringing this back to my cohort, we have debated and discussed challenges –as well as positive developments that we are facing in our workplace– to bring real examples to apply the theory to. Therefore, this has not been esoteric pontification about some abstract state that one cannot relate to. As a group of future leaders, we are testing and learning how to adapt and challenge confidently. It is our diversity that is our underpinning strength and we are gaining a richer EMBA experience for it.

Radhika Narasinkan
Executive MBA (2019)





Women break up groupthink, says champion of workplace diversity

Former mining chairman Sir John Parker wants a better gender and ethnic mix on boards

No rest for the wicked MBA students

Anyone who worked in Foreign Exchange as sales or trading on a markets floor will know that once you’re in it, there’s no break. From the New Zealand Open, on what is Sunday evening European time to the final closing on Friday evening, you live and breathe FX —alert to all and ready to react. On the weekends, you’ll be following the news on anything that might trigger a market gap open. And you’re loving it! People like me are picking up the phone (yes, phones!), heart-rates soaring, shouting over each other to emphasise the importance of our client and deal. But the world I described is without a doubt rapidly moving towards extinction as technology takes over and reaches new efficiencies. It’s good that way and a reason why I’m doing an MBA. But I’m unashamed in saying that for many years, that world and its people were my biggest love, passion and pride. One privilege that I gained working up the ranks was that by the time I became a senior team member, I could leave the juniors to hold the fort between Christmas and New Year to switch off during that short window when the FX market allowed itself to go to sleep. I don’t mean not going to the office. I mean completely switching off, following no news and having no idea where FX rates were —World War 3 could have broken out without me knowing it. Those were the days where my biggest achievement would be rolling out of bed to take my dog on a long walk.

This Christmas, as a Full-time MBA student at Cass, I looked back to those days with nostalgia. Because while life as a Cass MBA student may not require the sort of alertness that makes you bark out prices at a moment’s notice, it also doesn’t let you switch off. Ever.

The most obvious element dampening Christmas is the lingering dark cloud of exams. Can I step forward and use this as a public forum to express my grievance at exams being scheduled on January 3rd and 4th? Yes, we had six exams over two days with just over two weeks since the last day of university attendance. You can only believe someone high up hates us and wants to see us suffer. Or is this another attempt to challenge us and train our perseverance? My suitcase that should have been filled with Christmas gifts was a carefully crafted exercise of figuring out which textbooks and notes were worth taking up the weight. Moaning didn’t help either as all I got from my mother was “I don’t know why you do these things to yourself…” followed by a deep sigh as if I was the one who was spoiling Christmas for her. My stoic uncle only remarked how all exams in his PPE degree at Oxford followed the holidays to keep students on their toes and years later now, not being the one taking them, approving of this method of discipline. No sympathy here. So all I could do for some comfort was to turn to my fellow classmates, many of whom collaborated on exam preparation. I did partner up with my closest classmate to prepare for Strategy and had a couple of others who taught me how to get through the Analytics for Business once I was back in London. Without any results yet, I don’t know how successful their effort was but, whatever the outcome, I thank them for their patience in teaching this girl who’s allergic to the word statistics.

While that’s the immediate concern, there’s also the Strategy project that’s increasingly nudging and poking us from November onward. Unlike most of the projects I’ve worked on, this project forced us to face the outside world putting our networking skills to the test to source a business that wants to do a consulting project with MBA students. At the onset, the Strategy project is just another analysis piece set in the real-world. We quickly realise that the biggest task and challenge lies in the first step of convincing that one company to work with us. Panic spreads in the first week of December as many face rejections which may be better than the lack of response from companies others experience. We had to prepare how we would approach businesses and how we wanted to present ourselves. I prepared a Power Point presentation outlining our project including short bios of all our team members which I sent out to companies who showed the first signs of interest. Myself and my team were lucky enough to have narrowed it down to two good potentials by early December, providing enough meat for the first monthly report due on December 10th. The monthly reports, separate from the final report and analysis, are a good way to feel that constant pressure on our back.

After briefly exhaling having submitted our first report, we reminded ourselves to keep the communication with the companies alive because they couldn’t care less about our monthly report deadlines. And then we started counting. It’s five weeks until the second monthly report is due but in two weeks it’s already Christmas and no one does anything that week. And then we had exams and who was going to do anything in the first week of January anyway? So we really only had three weeks to create anything meaningful; two weeks in December and one week in January. We got in touch with those companies again,  politely courting them and slowly pushing them towards commitment. Of course they have actual work and may be planning the biggest shop opening of the year just when you think you only have three weeks to achieve anything. How many emails are too many? What exactly do they have to say so that you are sure of their commitment? When do you press for next steps? All of these things went through our mind during the cheerful Christmas period. And before anything is done, it’s Christmas and the corporate world comes to a standstill. And all we could think of was that we now only had one week to get anything done before that second report.

In the midst of all of this, I was reminded that the deadline to submit my electives choices— that will determine all the things we do beyond Easter —was also on January 2nd. You panic some more because it hits you how two of your four core module blocks are already over and you’re nowhere nearer knowing what you really want to do. You also know that the electives build on what you’ve learnt in the first two blocks and while you’re leaning towards the topics that you really enjoyed in the first two blocks, you also think about the many things you might be missing out. You don’t know yet what Marketing or Corporate Governance is like as those core courses haven’t even started yet. Some consider committing to a concentration which then limits but also guides your electives choices. I intentionally went against that because I wanted to leave myself free to any option that I found genuinely interesting. In the end my choices were a colourful mix across disciplines just as I expected. My international elective will take me to Israel and Palestine, a learning experience I’ve been already excited about even before the MBA started. Once in the middle of Block 3, I changed one of my electives as my first experience with Marketing made me quickly realise the subject wasn’t for me. So although there’s a soft deadline on submitting your electives, the truth is that there’s still some flexibility around that if you ask Tony Whiteman, our course officer, really nicely.

So, here we are. Exams, Strategy project and electives. Anything else? Oh, yes, the Business Mastery Project, the Cass MBA’s equivalent of a dissertation. Similar to the Strategy project, around Christmas, it’s more of a approaching danger, like a stampede you see forming on the horizon heading your way with definite certainty. The first deadline on March 16th is for the submission of my academic proposal. Ideally, at this point you already have an idea and a supervisor.  To have an idea that’s valid enough to submit, you better have done some initial research beyond just having a vague notion of it in your head, to at least convince yourself that it’s viable before you go and convince others such as your potential supervisor. While most will go ahead and use this opportunity to add another strong credential to their CV, gaining industry knowledge and valuable connections in that universe, others take this unique opportunity to follow a personal interest.

I may be the only one among my cohort whose chosen that path, as far as I know. I’m looking to combine my MBA learning with my passion in creative writing (which lead to my previous MA), researching the changes in revenue models for authors stemming from the digitalisation in the publishing industry. I started to have an inkling about this in November and tentatively mentioned a much broader and different version of this to my creative writing workshop group. All I knew then was that I wanted to work in publishing and working with authors. Very clear, I know. Encouraged by their approval, I sporadically bounced the notion off a few other, including my MBA classmates. Articulating it to others and receiving feedback helped me define it further until I was ready to send an email to Paolo, our course director, who suggested Alessandro as a potential supervisor, on the basis that he recently co-authored an academic paper on digitalisation and Axel Springer. Being our Strategy project course lead, I knew I would love for him to be my supervisor therefore sent an email with the rough outline of my idea early January. One email and one quick meeting later, my proposal reached its current shape and I am about to start the literary review thanks to his suggested readings. And somehow in this process, it’s already February 1st.

So while 2018 is almost by default a very ambitious year, there’s a reason why I actually don’t have any clear New Year’s resolutions. Because for New Year’s resolutions to happen, you need that little break in between to stop and reflect. No such option for Cass MBAs (if you do have New Year’s resolutions though, here’s some Cass advice on how to keep them alive beyond January). I woke up in September 2017 and I know already now that the next time I blink and open my eyes, it’s probably already August and I’m graduating.


Full-time MBA (2018)

Exploring emotional intelligence

In business emotional intelligence (EQ) is what separates mediocre business executives from exceptional ones. Cass has found innovative ways to help MBA students better understand the importance of EQ and how to develop it.

Back in November, we were offered this rich experience during our continuous development programme. A full day of live workshop that measured our leadership potential and enlightened us on how to use our emotions to make a significant and positive impact on organisations where we work.

In my whole life, I have always trusted my emotions. I have always believed that by touching emotion you get the best people to deal with you, the best clients to inspire you, the best partners and most honest friends. I was always known among my friends and family as an emotional person, and I spent many years of my life digging deeply to find a way to channel these emotions and make them empower me in my work place,  social life and for my self-understanding. I joined the EMBA programme, which is a life transforming time for me, that’s when I am learning that emotions can be intelligent!

As an MBA student now, I have a great belief in the power of emotions in driving success in someone’s life. I know that emotions are not only to help me feel, but also think and act. The recipe I learnt is to use my emotions to inform my thinking and use my thinking to manage my emotions. But why and how?

Why? To be aware of who you are and what trigger you, to understand others and what triggers them, to excuse them, to manage your stress, to relate to others in any situation, to challenge with confidence, to manage your emotions, to manage people’s emotions, to relax, to succeed and most importantly, to accept who you are and be happy!

How? The first step is awareness. be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. Many people do not know much about their own selves; some are in denial of their weaknesses, others lack the confidence when they are strong in certain areas! When you are self-aware, you will not let your emotions control you. When you are self-aware, you are more honest with yourself and this will help you to work and improve yourself constantly. Get feedback from people you trust; a colleague, a boss, a friend, a partner or a subordinate. Be authentic and it will pay back!

The second step is managing these emotions. Control your emotions, do not allow your impulses to take control. Imagine yourself leaving your body, witnessing the incident before it happens and anticipating the consequences. I do this very frequently and I am better the more I practice. If you know what triggers you, you will recognise the moment of impulse from the very beginning and then, take control! It’s very effective.

The third step is motivation! do not let any result or reaction hold you back. Always look for a long-term success. Have your own drive because, believe me, no one will motivate you more than yourself. Love what you do and do it with love, because LOVE is the most powerful emotion of all, the most positive, the most empowering, and the most effective life-saving drug. When you do things with love, you do them 100 % and that’s the key of motivation!

The fourth step is empathy! Understand people’s needs, feelings, motives, drivers, and points of view. Many people do not show their real feelings and it’s your job to try to unpack how they really feel. The secret is to stop judging people.  I learnt this the hard way and I guarantee you that it brings a lot of peace into your life when you stop judging others, the way you do not want to be judged!

The last step is social skills! Help others to develop and transfer knowledge, support your subordinates, let them shine, let them find the easy way of doing things, focus on them and communicate more. Tremendous amount of energy will fill your soul once you do that. Nothing can make you happier more than helping others; it pays back very fast.

One technique I learnt to manage my stress is breathing and I have taught it to my kids; a very powerful technique that helps you be more grounded when you are frustrated or having any negative surge of feelings. Breathing is the only vital life process that can be conscious and subconscious at the same time. It’s what connects the body with the soul. Scientist discovered that by breathing consciously (deeply and intuitively) you can bring your emotions in control and immediately change your status to a more positive one.

Every emotion is associated with a certain pattern of breathing. For example, when you are under stress, your breathing becomes shallower and faster – you can witness it. Since you can’t press a button and control your emotions, the best way to do that is to change your breathing pattern. So pause and try to change your breathing, make it deep and long and imagine the air flushing your body parts. When you do this, the negative feelings that you had will change immediately, and you will feel much better in just few minutes. Trust me, I always do that.

Scientists have defined stress as the fluctuation of the mind between the past (when there is guilt, pain or sadness) and the future (when there is worry and fear). Breathing brings you to the now – the only time when you will not be under stress, that’s why it’s called the present.

“It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head – it is the unique intersection of both” – David Caruso

Lawra Hasayen
Dubai Executive MBA (2019)

Adventure of a lifetime

“President, I have the honour to present for the award of an Executive Masters in Business Administration… … Dominic Graham” my name was read out as I ascended the stage to in turn shake the hands of the Lord Mayor of London, the Dean of Cass Business School, and collect the certificate of my graduation as an Executive MBA.

While a climb of a mere five steps, it evoked the summiting of Everest. Doing so in the company of my cohort, and witnessed by family, friends, and fellow graduates from City, University of London, made it all the more momentous, and a fitting recognition of a significant milestone.

Nearly three years since I began my MBA journey, and what an adventure it’s been: travelling as far afield as Chile, China, Dubai, and Las Vegas; learning about everything from accounting, analytics and HR, through to corporate strategy and M&A from some of the world’s leading experts in their fields. Not to mention my MBA colleagues with whom I’ve worked to deliver innovative and exciting coursework assignments including designing a casino for Las Vegas Strip (it was Formula 1 themed), and redesigning operations and marketing strategy for a zipper manufacturer.

Looking back now, time has flown by so fast, and it’s almost surreal how much I’ve learned and experienced during the process – truly the adventure of a lifetime, and which is already helping me to pursue career opportunities. But most of all it was the people that made the difference, from the friendships forged with my fellow MBAs, to the Cass academic staff and team, who have designed and delivered such an extraordinary experience for us. You have all helped to make this a life-changing experience, and I close this chapter with fond memories of the times we’ve shared.

And speaking of Everest, as a member of the Cass MBA Expeditionary Society, our challenge is to climb the 8,800 meters, or so, height of Everest between our collective expeditions in 2018. And thus, the adventure continues, as I look forward to ever more peaks to scale!


Dominic Graham de Montrose
Executive MBA (2017)

Work like a captain, play like a pirate

September 2016, Madrid. From our office, we could perceive the hectic pace to which the capital was retrieving stepwise after summer vacations.

In the meeting room, a few seniors and I were helping to organise the new working groups for the upcoming projects. It was curious how all the managers fought over the same juniors to join their cluster. Surprisingly, even though they were well qualified, the most resounding names were not the most technically skilled ones.

I will never forget the response given by one of the managers when asked what was the most desirable qualities these juniors shared.

“Technique is easy to teach, and it is professionalised with practice. The firm offers training courses to cover these matters. However, attitude, emotional intelligence, and leadership are virtues that cannot be learned easily. Many resources are required to convey these capabilities and for this reason, we need people that already have them, especially in a job like this, where team work is essential and thus, coexistence is intense.”

Globalisation has created a highly competitive work environment and technology forces companies to constantly adapt to change. Therefore, nowadays employers need people that can learn at the speed of change and develop a disruptive mentality while knowing how to manage information and time. Employees must be able to work in different environments and to adapt to diverse people and contexts.

Studying the MBA can be a little intense  but after some crazy weeks of studying everything that I should have studied during the course (I hope my teachers don’t read this), and surviving exams (I hope so), I had some days to step back and think.

It is hard to believe that we are nearly at the half-way point of the course. Suddenly we realise that already five months have passed, and now our main concern becomes the job search. Now I wonder: “What is a company expecting from a potential employee?”, and the story I have shared comes to my mind making me question: “Is Cass conditioning us to become adaptable? Can the MBA transfer all those skills that are so desirable? Am I now able to think in a disruptive way? Am I able to lead, to follow the change, to work with different people? Can I now say that my working attitude, the way I relate with people, and the way I manage resources have improved?”

I remember my first teamwork at Cass with nostalgia. It was a gymkhana-like competition during the first week of the course in which we had to face various challenges, each one in a different place in London. I must admit that I enjoyed it like a kid.

At the time, I wasn’t familiar with those who were soon to become my team members for the next two blocks. Max, a British doctor and one of the cleverest guys in the cohort. Ziko, an investment analyst from Trinidad – a great dude. Aishu and Tom, from India, with experience in pharma and marketing respectively. Qays, from Malaysia, with a strategic and business development background. And Yanyi (Or Amanda, for western people), from China, with experience in sales.

As you see, in a group of seven, we had six different nationalities, and each one of us had a very different background. That day we dressed up like pirates to make the competition funnier. We were seven crazy pirates running around the city. We won.

During the course, teamwork has been constant, but the hardest part comes at the end of each block – what Cass people call “the integration weeks”, when we must implement all the knowledge gained in each of the subjects that comprises the block. Each team must solve a different case.

In the first integration week, we were supposed to advise a company, as if it were a consulting project. Particularly, we had to re-define strategy for a very well-known British armaments firm. But for better or for worse, the company was doing very well; increasing sales and profits every year, loads of cash and a high level of investment, and no alarming leverage indicators. It had been a long time since I have seen such a solid company. What was there to be done or changed? Obviously, our recommendation couldn’t be “you are doing great, keep going”.

It was Wednesday night, we only had one day left before the final presentation. The room was flooded with sheets of brainstorm papers, the three blackboards where covered in illegible scribbles, and the table full of junk food scraps. By that moment we felt defeated, but suddenly we came up with an idea – “Let’s send them to space”. It could sound as a mad idea, but actually, made sense. After Brexit, government budget for space projects is about to increase significantly. It was not only a great opportunity to adapt to a new demanding trend as a flagship British company with no strong national competition, but also a way to improve relationships with its major customer – the British Government. The company actually had enough resources, infrastructure, knowledge and technology to face a project of this size.

“Great, now we have something to work with, but still we only have one day left to shape it, elaborate an action plan, and commit it to paper.” That night we slept soundly, at last. The day after, we shared the “to do list” and each of us undertook the work in which we were better skilled, so that we could be finished by night and ready to present on Friday. And that is how we won, again.

I also remember that other day when they took us all to a big hall in Cass. Each team had an assigned table with some ingredients and kitchen tools on it. We were to participate in a cake competition. Time was limited, and so were the resources each team had.  Furthermore, phones were not allowed, and we had no internet. At least, there was a chef willing to share cooking advise in exchange of some ingredients or kitchen tools. We had to organise ourselves very well as a team as well as our cooking resources and, at the same time, we had to interact and negotiate with the rest of the teams, to trade ingredients and tools. It was like playing ‘Catan board game’ in real life. This time we didn’t win, proving our questionable cooking skills, but still we had a great time, and most of all, we learned new ways of managing people and resources.

Yes… that was our cake

There was even a week when we all went to Sandhurst military academy, where we spent some days of physical and mental overcoming. We were always guided by a coach, who gave us continuous feedback about our personal performance, and advice on how to improve our teamwork skills and how to better manage time and people.

It is difficult to align the pieces that comprise a group, and to create an outperforming team. It is hard to breakdown preconceptions and to think outside “the box”. It is not easy to think in a different way and to learn how to bring out the best of each team member and cover each ones’ deficits. But it all begins with the process of coming to know oneself and the ability to understand others, and yes, Cass teaches us how to do it every day.

From the beginning Cass has invested a huge amount of resources into studying our profiles, our preferences and our personal weaknesses and strengths. Throughout the whole MBA we have rotated among different teams set thoroughly based on our individual capabilities, combining different profiles in a programme where diversity is especially celebrated.

We have been pushed into adapting and adopting diverse roles according to the circumstances and resources available. We have been guided on how to be flexible, adapt to different work methods and ways of thinking, and how to deal with conflict. For this reason, we have not only acquired technical knowledge which will probably change in the course of time, but also, we have acquired an attitude and a character that will remain forever.

Tristán Oriol Lapetra 
Full-time MBA (2018)


Number-haters anonymous

Hi, my name is Tara, and I’m not good at numbers.

Numbers have always felt like another language. A language that somehow I wasn’t programmed with. I definitely missed the genes from my mum, whose favourite subject at school was calculus and whose first degree was Medicine, and my sister, who is an accountant. They love numbers. My sister collects calculators and has an ‘I love maths’ t-shirt. Really.

I love maths a whole lot less. Working on a spreadsheet has always had the magical effect of making everything else on my to-do list suddenly seem in need of my urgent attention.

One of the reasons I signed up for the MBA was to once and for all silence the voice that’s always told me that numbers just aren’t my thing. Surely these are just self-imposed limits, right? Anyone can learn anything, if they put the effort in. And if an MBA is all about challenging yourself, then I was up for it.

So imagine my delight to discover that our very first class would be nothing other than financial accounting.

I did the reading. I did the pre-prep online Harvard maths course. I prepared myself mentally for the onslaught that was to come. I was ready. Bring it.

And Cass brought it. Seventeen straight weeks of it. Accounting, followed up with financial markets and instruments and business analytics as the chaser.

Slightly more than I bargained for. I was struggling.

There’s nothing quite like that feeling when your calculator flashes up the message ‘maths ERROR’ – in capital letters just for extra effect. My calculator’s way of telling me that the formula I entered was apparently an attempt to break the rules of maths.

Or that feeling of sitting in a business analytics tutorial on a Sunday, looking at the first question, and spending the next five minutes wondering if I was the only person who actually has no idea where to start. Then accepting defeat and asking the lecturer to re-explain the concept he spent two hours describing in the lecture three days ago.

It felt uncomfortable. It felt disheartening. It felt hard.

Why couldn’t I remember how to calculate net present value, or explain the function of a yield curve, or find the z score without looking at the formula?

But I told myself the only way was forward – kind of like swallowing cough medicine. Best to get it over and done with as quickly as possible, equipped with the knowledge that there must have been many a brave number-hater who has gone before me.

So I soldiered on. But that approach just made business analytics taste like cough medicine. So I switched tactics.

I hunted out the maths lovers I know. I asked them why they loved it. I absorbed as much of their enthusiasm through osmosis as possible.

Then I went back to it, and this time framed it as a chance to discover why there are indeed maths fans out there everywhere. I stopped telling myself I wasn’t good at numbers.

And it helped.

Turns out there’s nothing more satisfying than solving an equation right first time. Seeing a question, remembering the rules and applying what you know. The first time I managed it I felt genuinely deserving of a gold star, or at least a ‘you did it!’ message from my calculator.

We laughed when as a joke a classmate wrote ‘well done’ to himself on his worksheet. But actually, self-talk is powerful.

It’s not the topic but what you tell yourself about the topic that matters most.

Well. Who knew this numbers stuff would have an unexpected lesson.

In the end there were actually at least one or two moments when I found it fun. Ok that might be an overstatement. More like, satisfying. Proving to myself that it wasn’t impossible.

My name is Tara, and I can do numbers. I’ll just probably never love them enough to buy an ‘I love maths’ t-shirt.

Tara Anderson
Executive MBA (2019)



Corporate culture, personal branding and authenticity – What the right MBA can teach you

Corporate culture, personal branding and authenticity are just a few of the many buzz words you’re likely to hear if you’re seeking a career change or new role, and, words you’ll never be able to un-hear if you’re doing an MBA. Personally though, I found these concepts often too abstract and hard to grasp.

What does it mean to be “authentic”? It’s not the same as not lying, apparently, and also doesn’t mean you should just be an ass because you’re being honest. And what is your personal brand? It’s what you want to be known for. Easy to say. But when asked what it is for them, most of my fellow students would come up with answers such as being trustworthy, a team player or being authentic (back to that again!). Don’t we all want to be that (or at least appear to be that)? Do we all want to be the same then?

Throughout my MBA experience, I’ve been preoccupied with this and tried to make sense of what any of these things mean. Recently, I’ve turned to look at Cass Business School itself for answers. After all, shouldn’t a business school that is teaching us to become better leaders, be a role model for such things?

I started to think about what makes Cass special. What is it that makes it different from all other schools. Sionade, our Associate Dean, will tell you about the “explorer mindset” Cass tries to instill in its students; Paolo, our newly appointed Course Director will tell you about learning from Professors who are at the forefront of their research; and the latest FT European Business School ranking backs this all, with a ranking 11 positions higher than previously to 15th.  But if you asked me what makes Cass unique, my answer would be completely different. What I have experienced in my three months here is a culture of inclusion that fosters a family-like sense of community, care and dedication.

Perhaps it’s the size of our cohort that makes it possible. Saying our faculty is accessible would be an understatement. There’s a sense that each of us is known to our Professors. I remember in my third year as an undergraduate, walking into a programming class and being told by the Professor each week, “Sorry, this room is booked for a class.” At Cass, we are encouraged to be known by our Professors right from day one with our big name cards on display. Half of the class learning relies on interaction and our Professors listen to us as well as push back when it’s needed. There’s banter with Professors on Twitter. Sometimes it would just be funny comments and yet other times, it would be a full-blown discussion over corporate strategy to be continued offline.

On the day I came to Cass for my interview, I had prepared several pages of notes, thought about the right things to say and the right things to ask. The interview itself ended up being a much less formal experience than I had anticipated and if anything, one of the most stimulating and fun conversations I had in a long while (fellow students confirmed having a similarly pleasant experience with other members of the faculty in their interview process). But when it was done and dusted, my mind was all ready to leave. That’s when the Admissions Officer stopped at the  sixth floor MBA office and introduced me to Tony. Tony is our MBA Course Officer. Tony is important. I know that now. But frankly, when I was there on interview day, I was rather confused as to why I was being introduced to this person and how this interaction was relevant. Wasn’t he some sort of admin person? Now, four months into my MBA, I recognise the importance of Tony. Tony knows it all. Tony fixes problems. Tony is your man for absolutely everything. Ask any Cass MBA student and they’ll tell you Tony is amazing. Because he is. When you say “goes above and beyond,” you should have a picture of Tony next to it. He may send around the silliest pictures of our group endeavours or most important updates about exams. He is there for us. There to share the fun but has your back when you need it. Ok, you might say, that’s just Tony. That’s how he is. And I’d argue, yes, it’s definitely a personal trait but it’s also the Cass culture that seeps through every level of the university.

When early in the MBA year, an email came around asking for students to volunteer to write for the Cass MBA blog, I seized the opportunity. I saw it as a way to engage more with Cass members, to reflect on my own experiences and to expand on my passion for writing. When I signed up, I knew I’d be writing a blog, send it for proof-reading and someone at the other end would do whatever needs to be done before it can be put up in the public domain. In theory, it could have been a very faceless interaction. Just wanting to put a face to a name and to have a better sense of expectations, I asked the person on the other end, Khus, our Marketing Manager, to a quick coffee. He happily agreed and ended up having so many questions about my MBA experience, asking me what my thoughts were on the individual courses, my cohort and my Professors. He cared. In my ten years of Professional experience, I’ve come across plenty of marketing people and none of them were particularly bad nor did I ever think that they did an inadequate job. But they were all marketing people who remained in their marketing domain without any visible real passion for the product itself. I know that Khus cares about Cass and us. At some point, I sent a piece that was over 2,000 words. I thought I’d get some feedback on it via email, some changes maybe. Instead, Khus set up an early morning meeting with me to discuss the piece in more detail and handed me a printed version with line by line edits by Khus and team member Mai, respecting all my ideas, only improving the language and structure. I never expected this level of engagement. It’s even deeper than the interaction I had with some of my editors when I was a reporter and I’m loving it.

When looking at companies to work for, we’re often told to talk with people there to see whether the culture they are trying to portray is truly the culture they are living. Come to Cass and you’ll see the culture of dedication is not only lived by the faculty but is reflected through all other teams that support this institution. When I look at my next job, I’d love to see this sort of culture and I know that it is one of the things I will take away from my MBA. A good culture can exist and be lived through the entire company.

Working your way down from corporate culture, personal branding comes next. There’s no one better to teach you about that than Paolo Aversa. Paolo has personal branding down to a tee. By the end of term one at the latest, you will know what Paolo stands for, what he’s passionate about and what he wants from you. Whether you like his style or not, you’ll learn to respect it because you can see that he’s all in 100 percent, all the time. He’s passionate about Formula 1, strategy and teaching strategy. When you sign up to his course and login to the course page, you’ll discover a Spotify playlist students can contribute to and a filmography of strategy-related movies. He’ll encourage you to get engaged with him on Twitter, talking about the lectures, talking about strategy, talking about anything to get us all involved beyond just the classroom hours. Some of it may seem silly to you. You may even think all you want from your Professor is to teach you strategy and nothing else and it might just not be your kind of thing. But there’s something about Paolo’s energy, coming at you every day that you won’t be able to deny. What’s driving him is his deep-rooted desire to make Cass better. And you’ll find it in so many of the Cass faculty. They have their own individual style, unique to them and yet fitting the Cass family, whether that’s Laura Empson, the face of professional women in finance or Arthur Kraft, the most laid back accounting guy.

And what makes it really work is their authenticity. I don’t always think Paolo is right. We do have our fair share of confrontations but at the end of it, I still respect him because I know he comes from a place of personal conviction. That’s a trait that’s visible in so many at Cass. I saw Sionade in an interview on YouTube for the very first time when I was deciding about applying. She struck me as very kind and open. Marianne, our Dean, is always buzzing with energy when you see her walking down the corridor, always a smile on her face looking straight at you. Everyone must have some sort of a welcome dinner at the start of the MBA with some speeches and there’s nothing special about that. What was special about both Sionade and Marianne, was that I felt like they were opening up their heart to us. The vision they shared with us about Cass and our future came from a place of love and hope. When you love something, you are authentic.

I often get asked by friends who are intrigued by MBA courses, what we actually learn from it and what the classes are about. I sometimes have a hard time telling them the full story. I could list all the courses I did in Block 1 and 2 and it wouldn’t even reflect half of where my learning comes from. Teaching and learning in an MBA goes way beyond what you learn in the classroom. It comes from the institution as a whole and from everything everyone shares with you each day. Experiencing concepts such as culture, personal branding and authenticity is another part of the learning that will never be found in any of my textbooks. I didn’t actually look too far for my MBA and rather got lucky to have ended up in the midst of all these dedicated people who are teaching me so much. If you look for an MBA, look out for that. Don’t just check league tables but rather look at the people and think about whether you could learn more from them over reading books. Look at whether they are the people you want to tell your family and friends about. If you’re lucky enough, they’ll become people you want to stand up for and defend in front of others because you know they’ll do the same for you. They will be a second family you’ll invite to your Christmas party. Learning what a good company can feel like; therein lies a lot of the value I see in my MBA.


Full-time MBA (2018)

Cass Modular EMBA: starting block two

The last six months has flown by and I can’t believe that I have started block two of my Modular Executive MBA!  Everyone is feeling more assured that they know what to expect in terms of reading, coursework and exams.  As a cohort, we have bonded making it feel like I have 39 friends that I can count on to support me, have fun with and stretch me academically. Cass seems to have some magic formula or perhaps the equivalent of the ‘sorting hat’ from Harry Potter that enables them to attract and bring together exceptional individuals who complement each other.

After, what feels like a long break since exams, we launch into block two on a high and with much to look forward to. We have been informed that the 2017 Modular MBA cohort will be in Vietnam for our consulting week in March 2018. As part of the consulting week, Cass is offering students an optional professional development opportunity – a leadership expedition day in Sa Pa. The aim is to build and test our resilience, determination, collaboration and personal leadership: all of which are sought-after qualities in MBA graduates. The consulting week is a highlight that we are all looking forward to; and many of us have also put ourselves forward for the leadership expedition to test ourselves outside of an office environment. Personally, I can’t wait to immerse myself in this experience.

But coming back down to earth and block two itself. The first two modules, Human Resources Management and Business Economies dive straight to the heart of what makes organisations successful. Understanding the people – any firm’s most important resource – exposing us to economic principles that shape competition and firm performance in the marketplace.

David Macleod gave a compelling account of employee engagement as a way of improving a firm’s performance

Professor Nick Bacon organised three visiting speakers who gave fascinating insights into some of the fundamental components of managing people: David Macleod gave a compelling account of employee engagement as a way of improving a firm’s performance; Linda Holbeche illustrated linkages between HR to Business Strategy; and Marc Meryon introduced how to manage industrial relations.  Three eminent speakers in their field added depth to this module that you cannot achieve from a text book.


Linda Holbeche illustrated linkages between HR and Business Strategy

In Business Economics, Professor Andres Hervas-Drane brought to life concepts around prices and perfect competition by getting everyone involved in pit market trading. Simulating a scenario where some of us were sellers and others were buyers led to organised chaos with hardcore negotiations and deal making to rival the traders at the London Stock Exchange.  More fundamentally we experienced how the firm determines the market price.

Marc Meryon introduced how to manage industrial relations

November takes us to Corporate Strategy and Corporate Finance, both of which build on modules in block one. With more guest speakers and an interesting syllabus to look forward to: roll on next month I say.


Radhika Narasinkan
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

Exploring Leadership at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

The Cass Full-time MBA cohort at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

As I approach three months at Cass, one key pillar of the School’s philosophy continues to become more and more apparent. There is some education that requires that you leave behind your textbooks and go out into the world. What’s more, some of the most impactful learning can happen when you go to the places where that learning is most valued.

Take, for example, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the venue of Cass’s  professional development week.

Sandhurst is the training academy for all British Army officers. With the motto “Serve to Lead,” the Academy develops military leadership that is grounded in the service of others. If you are first discovering Sandhurst in this blog post, I do suggest that you read further about the Academy’s unique value system and its transformative impact on leadership. Or, you could just enroll in Cass’s Full-time MBA, where you can experience Sandhurst’s ethos firsthand.

The ‘Achieving Your Potential’ professional development week functions more as a leadership retreat than as a traditional professional development workshop. While we participated in lectures and discussions that focused on fundamental themes of leadership and followership, what made the three-day trip incredible were the many opportunities to put these themes into practice on the grounds of one of the world’s most celebrated leadership institutions.

I must admit I am sworn to a certain degree of secrecy regarding the details of the week. Cass’s partners at the Inspirational Development Group (IDG), who designed and led the week’s activities, made us guarantee that we would not give away too much about the individual activities, for the sake of future Cass MBA students. What happens at Sandhurst must stay at Sandhurst, if you will.

But I can say that IDG does an outstanding job of integrating Sandhurst’s military leadership roots, storied history and breathtaking grounds into a series of experiential learning opportunities that illuminated our strengths, weaknesses and potential as leaders and team members.

We were placed into teams at the start of the week, largely with cohort members whom we had not yet worked with in our studies. This allowed us to start afresh, with no team roles established or expectations to build on. We could be aspirational when approaching each activity, experimenting with the sort of leaders and team members that we wanted to be.

As one might expect from a retreat at a military academy, we were asked to stretch ourselves both physically and mentally. There was more than one hill to climb and heavy thing to carry.

But these challenges developed a certain camaraderie within the teams and the cohort at large that we simply could not have built in a lecture hall or study room.  We had to lean on each other in ways we normally would not need to in an academic setting.

Aside from the real leadership development that I gained through our trip to Sandhurst, this sustained period of cohort-wide camaraderie was also an outstanding chance to see how we function as a group when we are together around the clock. With international consultancy week and the international electives looming in the spring, it has been great to see that we can depend on each other from sun up to sun down (as well as toast our successes at the hotel bar after hours).

Although I am sure it is impossible to fully espouse Sandhurst’s “Serve to Lead” ethos in just three days of professional development, I do think our ability to depend upon each other was strengthened by the fact that it was acquired at an academy so committed to selflessness. It is also a learning you do not usually associate with leadership development workshops.

Such workshops usually focus on I, rather than we. How can I be more influential or motivating or respected? That simply is not how the Royal Military Academy views leadership, and they know a thing or two about how great leaders work in some of the most challenging of situations.

The ‘Achieving Your Potential’ week was one of my favorite experiences provided by Cass thus far, because I was able to explore this powerful and unique perspective on leadership at an institution I may never have been able to visit otherwise.

Cass recognises that such opportunities are some of the best for real, transformative learning. I look forward to seeing where the programme takes us to next.

Joseph Cassidy
Full-time MBA (2018)

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