Month: February 2018

From the classroom 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)

 

References:

https://www.ft.com/content/a22a4906-fb77-11e7-a492-2c9be7f3120a

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/11/02/ftse-100-boards-do-not-represent-ethnic-diversity-in-the-uk-park/

https://www.ft.com/content/c81d422c-05a3-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5

 

More:

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)

 

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