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.
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.
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”).
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!
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.
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.