Author: Thomas Narraway

The Cass London Symposium: New Directions

When the theme of “New Directions” was set as one of the cornerstones of the Cass London Symposium, minds in the UK were focused on Brexit and the uncertain future of the capital, but speakers and attendees took the theme in their stride.

The London Symposium is now in its fifth year. Whilst it was initially launched for students ordinarily based outside of London, many London-based students now also attend the week-long programme to gain insights on their home city and some of the brilliant business minds within it.

The beauty of an MBA is learning from diverse industries and cultures. The beauty of the London Symposium is to bring those industries and cultures together in one of the most diverse and open cities in the world.

London Symposium Cohort – April 2019

The week started by looking back over the history of London through the eyes of the late Lord Mayor Charles Bowman, the 690th person to hold this position. The trip back in history highlighted how modern-day problems will be a minor blot in the landscape— a message we heard several times during the week.

The enigmatic Vernon Hill took us through the meteoric rise of Metro Bank, a success story following the outstanding success of his previous venture Commerce Bank in the US. Vernon and his team have certainly delivered new directions for the UK banking industry: when he launched Metro Bank in the UK, it was the first new bank to hit the UK high street in over 100 years. In the short time he was on stage, Vernon created a new fan club with dozens of students queueing for autographs of his book!

One of the starkest (but most accurate) messages of the week came from René Carayol – adapt or die – among other short and sharp messages on themes such as agility and innovation. The speakers were fantastic and their presentation styles were interesting to observe. We have long been taught not to rely on PowerPoint and witnessing great examples of the Ted Talk style approach in action was inspiring.

René Carayol – motivational speaker/coach


Day two was no less frenetic and covered how technology is taking over the planet, both in our professional and personal lives. For example, EY covered how Artificial Intelligence will undoubtedly take over some professional industries within our lifetime , and more so for our enjoyment the advance of creative visual effects was examined by the CEO and founder of Framestore. Hearing Sir William Sargent speak was one of the highlights of the week for me. He is an incredibly modest man despite creating one of the world’s largest CGI behemoths with a starting team of only four in Soho in the 70s. Now, he divides his time between different branches of the 2,500 strong company across multiple continents. Branding and customer service were addressed during the sometimes light-hearted and sometimes serious approaches of Rebecca Robins (Chief Learning and Culture Officer at Interbrand) and Matt Watkinson (author of award-winning “The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences”).

Sir William Sargent – Framestore

I greatly enjoyed the link of alumni involved in the programme. No less than four presenters were Cass MBA graduates, which is a testament to the draw of Cass and its network.

The varied locations were also a big plus of the programme. The Symposium brought us from the depths of the Tate Modern to the Royal Institute of Great Britain and the National Gallery. The week included 16-odd backstage passes to some of London’s greatest companies ranging from a 300-year-old insurance institution in the heart of the City to a Premier League football club.

My personal favourite visit was a curated tour and presentation from the property and real estate company Cushman & Wakefield. Their analysis of the regeneration of the King’s Cross area was a perfect embodiment of the week’s “new directions” theme. As pretty much a no-go area less than 15 years ago, it has now magnificently transformed into a campus-style hangout for tech giants Google and Facebook, while providing inviting public spaces too. I was also intrigued by their discussion about the future of real estate and their suggestions as to what companies will need to do to survive and thrive, pivoting their way through one of the City’s oldest industries. I took particularly detailed notes here seeing as I work in the real estate industry!

Model of ‘Pancras Square’, with the new Google HQ on the right. C&W

Embracing authenticity was discussed by alumna and successful entrepreneur Davinia Tomlinson, who launched rainchq with the vision of empowering millions of women to take control of their financial future through education, qualified advice and events. Charlie Guenigault, one the heroes who confronted the London Bridge terrorist attackers, was one of the most emotional presentations I have ever experienced. He delivered an uplifting message of overcoming adversity. As an unarmed police officer, Charlie put himself in the face of danger to help others and received five stab wounds in the process. I was privileged to shake his hand afterwards and to be able to say “thank you.” These kinds of discussions remind you to appreciate what is truly important and determine what your values are as an individual.

Bank Underground station – new central line tunnel


As one of the “locals,” I was hoping to experience more of the city that I have called home now for the last decade, and I was not disappointed. Seeing first-hand the external realities that future leaders will face opened my eyes. The week ended with two extremes: deep in the underground tunnels of the future extended Bank station (literally creating New Directions) to high above the City in Heron Tower for the closing celebration. Rather aptly for me, in a past life I was involved in the construction of the building. They were kind enough to let me back in to reminisce on a week well spent, reflecting on the contacts and connections made.

Find out more about the speakers here.

Reflections on the first month

Within a blink of an eye, the first month of our Executive MBA at Cass is complete. It therefore is an appropriate time at ‘reflection week’ to look back across our first two modules.

In that first month, as a group we have experienced a vigorous but rewarding induction, and have already completed five-week block lectures. In such a short space of time we have bonded as a collective group and within our coursework groups of five or six, are fully immersed into our first group submission (Financial Accounting), as well as extra-curricular activities such as executive presence and media skills training. The cohort is very diverse with regards to background and experience, which is one of the key reasons I chose Cass.


What more could one need to survive the next 2 years?!

With Cass regularly mentioned in the wider press (only this week moving up the FT Executive MBA rankings) it feels like a very topical time to be completing an MBA. It already feels like the correct decision in selecting Cass and I know the reputation of the institution was a key reason in gaining support from my employer (I am a sponsored student), along with the optional real estate investment modules which can follow in Year Two.

The recruitment sessions at Cass are definitely worth exploring and are a great indication as to how professionally run the programme is too. I personally attended a breakfast seminar, which took on the format of an informal roundtable discussion with past and present students and senior members of staff. It was very informative and welcoming and was also a great chance to experience the excellent facilities at 200 Aldersgate. The location is fantastic for me as my office is on the same street; but it is worth travelling for, trust me!

There are also many opportunities to attend lectures as a guest, which is another option I took and one I would also thoroughly recommend (we have already had our first prospective future students join us in a lecture to consider an application for next year). If an institution doesn’t offer them, then what are they trying to hide?

There are people who applied for the programme nearly a year in advance, or others like myself who flirted dangerously close to the deadline date. Another piece of application advice I would offer to candidates is if they are looking for sponsorship from their employer, is to start the conversation early. I am somewhat fortunate that I work within a small team (but in a large organisation). It is not uncommon for companies to have several layers of approval for further education requests and each stage can require multiple conversations.

Cass is mindful of this too. I found the published document about asking for financial assistance from your employer very worthwhile. It is certainly not a conversation you can go into without preparation.

Another great perk of the programme is the number of digital and physical subscriptions you have access to, which are already proving useful for wider reading. From the FT to Orbis (a global online companies archive), along with Bloomberg terminals, it really is top of the range. The library is still in existence in a physical form, but much changed from my days as an undergraduate; my back is certainly thanking me for the number of books available electronically!

A cause for celebration! The opening weekend induction


Now the first block of modules are completed it feels like the momentum is building, and the lecturers are warning us of the uptick in assignments. We have several weekend sessions coming up and with the first exam timetable published it is certainly now feeling ‘real’. It certainly felt that way this week when I finally got around to updating my LinkedIn profile!

It’s also great to be receiving the amount of support that I am experiencing too, both professionally and personally both inside and outside the programme. Without both the entire process would definitely be more of a struggle. As it stands I am thoroughly enjoying the programme, but I would be lying if I wasn’t a little bit apprehensive about what is around the corner. Fortunately we have been paired with some great former students as our mentors who have proved invaluable already.

The group work begins – it is more exciting than it looks honest!

Here’s to the next month!

Thomas Narraway
Executive MBA (2019)


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