Month: June 2016

My Anti “5 Lesson Blog”

Act 1: “I Declare the Symposium Open!”

On the morning of April 25, 2016, Cass’s 3rd MBA London Symposium was declared open by Dr. Sionade Robinson, the Associate Dean of MBA Programmes. The Symposium is undoubtedly the school’s flagship event of the MBA calendar. Over the course of a week, Cass showcases the impressive network the school has within London industry and academia circles and brings together MBA students and leaders for a mixture of keynote speeches, workshops and tours.

The date, as Sionade had deliberately pointed out in her opening address, also coincided with the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, which occurred on the 23rd of April, 1616. Exactly why this was important to highlight however I didn’t immediately recognise.

Fortunately for me, Sionade went on to explain that the connection made between our Symposium and Shakespeare was to actually highlight the work of his close friends, John Heminges and Henry Condell, without whom, she argued, the work of dear Willy would have been largely forgotten. You see, Shakespeare, as brilliant as he was, never got around to publishing any of his work. That responsibility was actually picked up by his friends Heminges and Condell, who put in a considerable amount of hard work to published the now famous First Folio. Sionade used this example to highlight the often forgotten role of teammates and indeed followers in a leader’s success.  It was a fair point I guess, however, was there more to this Shakespearian plot than merely that?

As you may presume, I wasn’t entirely convinced with this parallel. Sure, if one of my cohort was upstanding and delivering a moving soliloquy every other week I’d make certain that I was uploading it to YouTube for history’s sake, but other than that….?

I digress. Sionade’s reference to good old Bill the Bard had obviously captured my attention so I planned to investigate it further. Except that this Symposium week ahead looked to be very busy, and also promised to be so interesting, that my curiosity on this particular subject would need to remain parked for some time. I would do it later I told myself.

Act 2:

During the week I was privileged to hear from and engage with a variety of leaders recalling their steps as they challenged their own attitudes, honed their craft and ventured onwards into unchartered territory. Indeed, Explorers and Discoverers was the central theme of this year’s Symposium. And, in keeping with that theme, we also heard from experts in emerging trends such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, disruptive FinTechs who are taking it to the big banks and also from traditional businesses who are reinventing themselves to suit the new complex business world.  It was incredibly interesting and at stages was truly inspiring. (If you would like to see the actual agenda and full list of speakers click here.)

However, it wasn’t exactly that straight forward.

After my MBA I plan to return to Australia and take on a leadership position at the company I was working at prior to coming to London. In that context, the experience during the London Symposium was, as I said above, enlightening and yet at the same time, somewhat overwhelming. With so many different speakers, experiences and differing points of view it was sometimes difficult to make sense of the key lessons or messages so that they could be applied to myself and my own experiences. Like a good wine, perhaps these lessons just needed more time for me to fully come to grips with them. It was a pretty intense week!

Act 3: 

It was at this academic impasse that I got a chance to return to Sionade’s original Shakespearian metaphor. (I was procrastinating from real work at this stage, so obviously my research on this tangent was particularly good!)

I learnt that Heminges and Condell published the First Folio in 1623. It contained a total of 36 comedies, histories and tragedies generally accepted to all be written by William Shakespeare and remains to this day the only reliable text for the majority of his work. As Sionade had pointed out, without their passion, commitment and knowledge, this publication simply would not have been possible. Characteristics that were all held by the speakers we met during the symposium in fact, but still, this didn’t help me totally contextualise the week. So I dug a little more.

I soon realised that it wasn’t just their hard work, passion and talent that made it all happen. There was more to their success than that.

In 1623 the paper industry in England was still in its absolute infancy. At the time, the majority of the rag paper used within England was imported from a few specialists in France. There were also only a handful of printing organizations within London that had the technology and capabilities to handle the intricate typesetting and quantity of printing. To put this into context, the Bank of England developed the technology to print banknotes in 1694 – 71 years later!

Clearly then, Heminges’ and Condell’s responsibilities in delivering their Folio for little Billy extended far beyond the mere verifying of text. They had to manage the entire complexity of the operation too. An operation that included the long supply chains throughout Europe, the application of innovative printing technology and the careful co-ordination and motivation of publication teams to realize their final dream. (All of this without a mobile phone and an email account too I might add!)

Success, I now know, is complex. Its not just leadership, and not just management – there is a logical but probably unexplainable mix of the two in my opinion. I don’t know what I’m talking about really but I believe Stefan Stern, who was the MC for our Symposium and a regular commentator on leadership, would agree with me. In a recent review for the FT of another leadership book he stated that “By and large we speculate a bit too much about leadership, and worry too little about management.” (Read more here but lets for the moment at least just assume his opinion vindicates mine!)

So with that revelation now embedded within me, I now understand that just like the experiences we discussed during the Symposium, there was a lot more going on behind the scenes untold that helped bring about, in this case, Heminges’ and Condell’s success. Theirs, and indeed those we heard of during the week, cannot be understood in terms of a 5 bullet point post, such as “Lesson 1, 2 & 3….,” although we seem to always try. This was what I was trying to do with the Symposium. Its futile.

Of course, authors of LinkedIn articles would often have you believe that success is easily understood in “5 Key Lessons”, or something similarly benign, but these are extremely crude interpretations and simplifications of the facts. Rough simplifications often leave inexperienced students of the game, like myself, dumbed down and ill-equipped to handle greater responsibility. I’m sure (or hope?!) the authors of these articles understand this problem and assume that we wouldn’t take their “5 Step Plan”  as gospel. However, inexperienced readers seem to eat these news feeds up all too quickly with recklessness.  Its a 1st World Problem I know but these bite sized “How-To’s” pose a real and genuine risk to both future leaders and those that they lead.  My advice for any new students young or old is to read with responsibility and take care out there.

And it is responsibility that I argue is the message (rather than the lesson) one should take take from the 3rd Cass MBA London Symposium. The volume and variety of speakers, who in their own right all delivered meaningful ‘tips’, as a whole allowed me to understand the sheer breadth of a good leader’s responsibility is wide, very wide. And Shakespeare’s death, surprisingly, reinforced that idea.

As a leader and manager, everything becomes your responsibility – not to micromanage and control but rather to look after and ensure you are getting the best out of the resources available. And given my immediate plans after my MBA, it is timely message to receive indeed.


The whole gang. There was heaps of us. You get the idea.


Dame Barbara Judge, absolute professional, delivered a thoroughly insightful and entertaining address about her varied and distinguished career to date.


FTMBA Student Nakul Ruparel is known for his ‘original’ contributions in class, but sadly was not asked to speak at the Symposium. Maybe next year as a graduate? (great photo though!)


Kate Philp, Royal Artillery Officer, now explorer and philanthropist, hiked to the South Pole (as an amputee without a leg). Now what’s your excuse? Truly Impressive.


Like Nakul, Steve Duttine (FTMBA Student) has a formidable reputation within Cass and will always ask the questions no-one else dare. His contributions during the Cass London Symposium were invaluable and kept #Cassls2016 trending. Follow @SteveDuttine

Dr Helan Sharman delivered a very reflective speech about her experience as Briton's 1st Astronaut.

Dr Helan Sharman delivered a very reflective speech about her experience as Briton’s 1st Astronaut.

Myself and Matt Johnson (right) at The Savoy. The ample supply of champagne ensured many great soliloquies were delivered. Sadly, and fortunately, none were recorded.

Myself and Matt Johnson (right) at The Savoy, the closing ceremony for the Symposium. The ample supply of champagne ensured many great soliloquies were delivered by each of us during the night. Sadly, and fortunately, none were recorded.


Pushing the envelope; a postcard from Palestine

It was with a little sadness when, last year, I decided that my formative career in photojournalism should come to an end. I was leaving behind a varied and often exciting industry for a course which bills itself as business administration. Now, Cass may just be letting me down gently, but in the last few months, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised at how misleading this course title is.

Today, for example, I’m on a bus heading across one of world’s most controversial and disputed borders. We’re on our way out of Israel and heading to the West Bank, Palestine. Its hard to think of a starker contrast between this and the events a few weeks ago at the Cass London Symposium.

Fitting my current circumstances, was the core theme running through this year’s Symposium: explorers. Numerous speakers over the week peddled the same underlying message: the world is changing at an astonishing rate, and, if you’re not creating the change, you better be prepared to adapt to it.

The Symposium is the biggest and most varied event in the Cass MBA elective calendar. An impressive line up of speakers in the mornings followed with more bespoke group site visits to businesses in the afternoons.  Alongside many of the London cohort and alumni, the Symposium also welcomes attendants from all over the world, including LUISS Business School in Rome, Germany’s Mannheim Business School, GIBS from Pretoria in South Africa, and our own Cass MBA students from the Dubai campus.

Having opened with a former Lord Mayor of the City, Sir Alan YarrowKate Philp, we knew the speakers were going to be impressive, and Cass likes to set the bar high; I’ve met three ambassadors and dined with a president in the last few weeks. Yet, alongside the big company names you might expect from an event such as this, including Accenture, TFL and PwC, were inspirational individuals from beyond the corporate world. These included Antarctic explorer Kate Philp and the UK’s first astronaut Dr Helen Sharman whom, to the captivated audience, reflected on their incredible experiences with challenges and changes, and the lessons they had drawn from them.

But the Symposium also offered even the most native of Londoners amongst us a chance to access parts of the city few are privy to. Morning talks took place in unique venues across the city, including private access to the discovery hubs of the Science Museum and the Wellcome Trust and, perhaps most prestigiously, a true birthplace of innovation, the Royal Institute. It was here on the final day, we listened in captured awe to the incredible Dame Barbara Judge, whose anecdotes about her rise through the business world are both brilliantly funny and utterly fascinating.

Alex Wolpert East London

Alex Wolpert, East London Liquor Company

The afternoon site visits equally saw the discovery of both new and varied areas of our city. On the Tuesday afternoon for example, I found myself in the rather enviable position of quaffing studying gin in the cellar of the East London Liquor Company, to the backdrop of numerous casks housing their recent foray into whiskey. We heard how this small company is managing to shake up an age old industry by challenging the established behemoths. And they are not doing this, how we might assume, with boutique high priced products, but by going head to head on the middle ground with, given the current lack of scale and production in London, an improbable offering: ‘high quality gin at competitive prices’. Yet, under the stewardship of Alex Wolpert, they’re gaining traction in the gin market and have expansion in sight. We also heard from Jullian Sawyer of Starling Bank at the Science Museum’s IMAX theatre, who talked of their ambitions to reshape the banking industry by reimagining a simplified, whittled down mobile offering, more suited to the digital generation.

For me, it was ultimately these emerging players and individuals whose messages resonated the most. There was an infectious confidence in their desire to change and challenge the status quo. This mind-set seemed even more pertinent in the last few days in Tel Aviv, where almost universally, the ambition of start ups appeared to be selling to an industry giant. Whilst this is undoubtedly tempting, it reinforced the respect I felt for the entrepreneurs I’d heard and spoken to at the Symposium. Whilst they may very well go on to form billion dollar unicorns, there seemed a deep drive behind their innovation. They wanted to be an agent of change of a better way.

As we cross over into Palestine, the need for a better way seems never more apt. There is also an uneasiness about the stark contrast between the challenges faced

Steve Duttine,

Steve Duttine,
Full-time MBA 2015

here and the luxury of the Symposium finale at the Savoy, or the midweek evening bash atop Tower Bridge. The challenge, privilege, and importance of seeing both ends of the spectrum is something I hadn’t expected to be witnessing a year ago. Speaking with other MBA students, both at the Symposium and over here, it seems this unique approach to teaching is admired and envied. Right now, I feel very privileged to be part of a school practicing what it preaches by doing its own bit to explore a better way.

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