Tag: Cass Business (page 1 of 3)

Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership at Cass

Nina and her cohort

My MBA experience is coming to an end. I am about to graduate this summer. Reflecting back, I can only say that my experience was mad – good and bad and crazy and intense and really like a roller-coaster. But I wouldn’t have changed it for anything, it was exactly how an Executive MBA is supposed to be. Except, my class had a higher proportion of men to women. Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion for a minute.

I am a proud recipient of the Women in Business Award by Cass. A few of my cohort members are. My school is extremely supportive of female leadership starting from a female dean, female board members and offering many scholarship opportunities to women applying to various programs. As with many schools, during the application process we are given an opportunity to apply for a multitude of scholarships, and us women have an opportunity to go for the diversity awards. Like in many boardrooms, business schools seem to struggle to entice working women to join the classroom part-time on top of their full time careers as professionals, and most likely even fuller time careers as mothers and wives. Therefore, many business schools will offer various awards to supports future female leaders and our prospect achievements in our individual fields. What a tremendous opportunity for us, but are we discriminating men? Who cares, you are thinking, women have been discriminated for years, it is our time to rise and shine!


Hey, I don’t disagree. Give me an opportunity to shine and I’ll take it, nobody can stand in my way. Except, I don’t see the world with ‘men vs women’ eyes. I see an opportunity to grow personally and professionally, perhaps competing against other people, but their gender doesn’t bother me. I see an opportunity to shine, not because I am a woman, but because I have a unique perspective, and unique experience and knowledge that I bring to the table. That is what others should see too. Those that are incapable of seeing past my gender are not worthy of my time, and certainly organisations that recruit me because I am a woman and they ‘lack female leadership’ are not the places I would fit in. Not because I don’t bring a female touch to anything I do, trust me, I am emotional and I don’t hide those emotions, but that is also my choice. These are not the places for me, mostly because they care that I am a woman, and don’t care that I am an experienced professional. That is where I want equality.

I recently read an article in which a personality scientist states that if you are a woman and you popularly ‘lean-in’ you will become a dysfunctional leader. This scientist further states that most people have little insight into their leadership talents, and those that believe that are the best leaders are in fact the most incompetent leaders lacking self-awareness. Statistically, those leaders are most likely to be men – whether women have chosen a different path, chose to stay at home or were just not interested in leading, we are still working in a male dominated business environment. So if we are to lean in, and mimic the behaviours of these dysfunctional leaders, won’t we become dysfunctional as well? That is not my goal. My goal as female leader is to be humble but also to utilise my strengths: communication, passion, endurance, emotional intelligence, empathy, the ability to listen and connect, and the ability to think about my bigger picture, but also to think about the picture of the people I touch and bring on the path with me.

Nina Kerkez (Modular Executive MBA, 2019)

Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani education advocate, who at the age of 17 became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, is a true inspiration in leadership for me. She has overcome adversity, she is standing up to her rivals and she is overcoming diversity, whilst fighting for girls to pick up the books and pens, and get the education that they deserve. There are many things we could all learn from Malala, but as I talk about diversity and inclusion, in words of this wonderful woman it is important for us to remember: “Dear brothers and sisters, I am not against anyone… There was a time when women social activist asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it for ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on the women to be independent to fight for themselves.”

So, in my view, my MBA class was extremely diverse containing people of all genders, many races and nationalities, and many professional backgrounds. It consisted of a group of 38 amazing individuals, each and every one of us unique in our own way. We have learned from each other and built relationships that will last us a lifetime. Perhaps, I am finding it harder than I thought to be at the end of this journey. But those connections built in the two years of classroom activity, travel and, let’s face it, pub activity together, give me the feeling that this is not quite the end.

Post-study drinks

Competitive advantage at Cass

Competitive advantage

Three months into the Executive MBA programme, a flurry of deadlines passed and now the frenzy of exam revision. The Strategic Leadership module with Professor Elena Novelli was a real highlight of our first term. Each lecture divided into theoretical concepts and rigorous application to an industry or company case study. Professor Novelli’s choice of case studies (wine, travel and online dating) certainly made the content stick.

My group chose to assess Nvidia’s competitive advantage. With my gaming experience limited to Donkey Kong and handheld games (now museum exhibits), Nvidia’s graphic processing units were revelatory. But sometimes not ‘knowing’ an industry can lend itself to objectivity. After mastering a slew of four-letter acronyms, I was gripped by this story: Nvidia leverage their GPU dominance to create strong footholds in complementary markets, such as data-centres, artificial intelligence and ADAS (that is Advanced Driving Assistance Systems – I now suspect those acronyms are a device to beat word-counts).

Over the short Christmas break, I headed to the in-laws in Sydney. At Bondi Icebergs bathing pools, I realised I had begun to integrate the EMBA content, as my fellow lap swimmers became a metaphor for competitive advantage. One well-aged Iceberg swimmer, who has swum for decades without a wetsuit, moves out of the mainstream to carve his own niche in a side lane. The MAMIL (‘Middle-Aged Man In Lycra’) then emerges as the dominant incumbent, powering up and down the pool in front crawl, competing at speed. New entrants with ‘Ironman’ caps and waxed chests signal their emergent prowess – you have to be bold to enter their lane. Others extend the technological frontier with hand-paddles and flippers. With aspirations to swim the bay, I needed coaching in new techniques to cope with the surf conditions.

What is Icebergs’ business? Swimming, the original core proposition, draws a key customer segment from the community. But in the summer months, the tourists arrive – intent on snapping their requisite selfie at the famous pool boost gate receipts. Yoga, gym, a cafe, massage and swimming school provide additional revenue streams. The pool entry price is a modest $7, whereas a poolside soy flat white will set you back $5 – a significant cross-sell.

The EMBA is creating the space and honing the skills to sharpen my professional competitive advantage. A career break for kids and the dive-in confidence that comes with taking time out, tempted me to compete on cost. Early discussions with the Careers Teams refracted my past experience through a new prism, revealing a consistent theme: innovation of commercial roles in organisations and industries points of change. A theme that will be explored further at the Achieving your Potential retreat.

What of Cass’s competitive advantage, then? Consistent performance in the MBA rankings is reassuring. When I applied, the real pull for me was the proximity of the campus and faculty to the City of London. The Cass faculty regularly work with industry, so discussions are always current and the Cass brand well-respected externally.  Those lecturers we met in the first term prioritised dialogue and debate. Time to catch my breath before the next wave of revision!


Hannah Gilbert
Executive MBA (2020)


What makes my MBA

“I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me” is blasting from my radio as I’m driving and all I can think of is Vietnam. Why, you ask? Well… that is how we closed our trip to Vietnam, in the dodgiest karaoke parlour in a private room, somewhere in the middle of residential Hanoi.

We are not really sure whose idea it was, but nights in Beer Street and endless amounts of beer or other alcohol will do that to you. It was a long week for all of us; our exam results came in just before Vietnam and thankfully, the whole cohort has passed.

We also just finished our International Consulting Week with various Vietnamese companies and we were ready for celebration. Not that we needed an excuse for it.

When you start exploring an Executive MBA as an option for the first time, nobody prepares you for what it truly is. You hear that it is the hardest thing people have done in their life. You hear that a lot, as well as that you need a lot of family support, work support and plenty of hours of study a week.

If you are exploring Cass, you also hear that you will get a lot of international exposure through International Consulting Week and electives. That is all true. You need plenty of time to work with your groups on assignments and you definitely need a lot of support from your surroundings.

Then, 38 professional adults get to go on a consulting week to Vietnam, supported by their families. You are placed into a new working group from your cohort, new country and new company, all you have to do is figure it all out within a week and deliver amazing results. Really, not much of an ask (sarcasm intended).

Vietnam – a country that we learned is struggling through high level of instability, a country that is culturally hierarchical and extremely different to our normal environment. With such differences from our world, we were not sure what to expect in the business environment or how to navigate it, but most importantly when we had expectations, the reality turned out to be completely opposite.

Not only are you navigating thousands of motorbikes on the streets of Vietnam, but you are also navigating the unknown working environment and language barriers.  But don’t let that dishearten you! All the difficulties we faced, proved to be a challenge that we all wanted, and we came out on the other side with a very positive feeling.

Vietnam is a very fast developing country, and with that so are the companies that we have worked for. With growth come challenges, and many of the things could have been addressed within businesses. Scoping our work was probably the hardest thing we had to do, but once it was agreed between us and the hosts, we embraced it and we delivered. With the pace of change in Vietnam, the scopes can change daily too, yet that is all part of the fun that this week brings to you.

The day before our presentation to the business’s directors, we had a sudden lightbulb moment and decided on a scope change at 4pm. When you are a part of an MBA group, you most likely don’t like to make things easy on yourself and embrace any challenges thrown your way, so we buckled up and continued working as a group till’ after midnight.

In the end, we delivered an extremely successful presentation the next morning, and our company loved us, they want to adopt us, or perhaps just permanently employ us.


But let me focus on my cohort for a minute. My friends, rather. The most amazing, the most resourceful and fun group of people I have ever come across with. It comes by no surprise that most of us share ambition and drive, but all of us have different backgrounds, and yet again most of us are very alike. We work hard and we party even harder – the quiet ones will always surprise you.

We also argue and disagree more than you would think, at times we don’t like working with each other and we think that we would get things done much quicker and easier if we could just finish them on our own. But, the reality of things is that we can’t. So we learn to be patient, be there for each other and love each other regardless of what happened five minutes ago in that team meeting where we annoyed each other.

My MBA friends are there when I need them, they are there for the highs and the lows on this crazy journey and we sympathise with each other as we are going through this collectively. If I had to pick one thing that made my Vietnam week, or even my first year of MBA, then it would definitely be the people around me. I thank Cass for bringing us together and placing us in the most random of places where we could go to the dodgy karaoke bar for a song or ten.

After all, we are all each other’s wonderwall.


Nina Kerkez
Modular Executive MBA (2019)



Can an MBA teach a lone wolf new teamwork tricks?

From the moment you walk into Cass as an MBA student, barely having exchanged a few platitudes and making the utmost effort remembering everyone’s name, you’re thrown into a team and before you know it, someone’s already shouting because you need to make a decision NOW before you all die on an alien planet. And then you die anyway. Have I lost you already? Welcome to induction week at Cass.

When I researched my MBA, I realised very quickly that teamwork would be a major aspect of it. Personally, I dreaded the thought of it. Throughout my professional life, I never had any problems working in teams but rather than real teamwork or collaboration, what I had mostly experienced were lone wolves that happened to sit next to each other, occasionally covering someone’s work during holidays.

Equally, in my personal life, my preference of working alone is well reflected in my hobbies: I write fiction, play classical piano and run marathons. There are ways to incorporate others in all of these activities but I have never actively chosen to do so.

When I applied for my MBA, I made the conscious decision to address this weakness of mine. However I didn’t realise just how much teamwork would be required.

At Cass, not only do you have a team of eight you work with for all projects in the first two blocks (including an integration week after each block which is an entire week of just your team and your project), there’s a team for your Strategy Project, a team for your leadership training at Sandhurst, a new team for blocks three and four, various teams you’ll be in for your electives and probably other teams I don’t even know about yet.

In summary: there are a lot of teams and A LOT of teamwork is involved.

So why is there such an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration?

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Corporate Recruiters Survey Report 2017, 4 out of the top 5 skills employers wanted from new hires could be grouped in communications skills , while teamwork skills such as adaptability, valuing others’ opinions, ability to follow a leader and cross-cultural sensitivity were all to be found in the top 10.
GMAC makes two observations:

  • Changes in today’s workplace occur faster and on a more global scale. To be successful, employers need business leaders who are solid team players and good managers: people who can both follow and lead, who can work with those from different cultures, who can quickly adapt to change, manage strategy and innovation, and make decisions.
  • Though employers place increased emphasis on teamwork and managerial skills this year, they still rank communication as an essential skill to have mastered (Graduate Management Admission Council, 2017).

This year, Cass Full-time MBA class is comprised of 73 students, 29 nationalities with no single region represented by more than 20 per cent. Students coming from so many industries, even the biggest group of finance professionals only makes up 23 per cent. It makes sense then to experiment and hone teamwork and communications skills in the uniquely diverse setting of this MBA.

As one fellow classmate put it: “It’s the crucial part of an MBA to learn how to lead a team and prepare ourselves to use the same skills to lead people once we step out of the classroom. We need to understand our leadership style and make a conscious effort to readily change it based on different scenarios.”

So that’s the thought then. Learning by doing. Work in teams and polish your teamwork and communications skills. But how exactly does it work in practice? Does throwing a bunch of people into one room, calling it a team and making them do stuff really teach you anything?

Now that our first block is over, I took some time to reflect on my experience working with my team for eight weeks. I was also interested in how others perceived the experience and asked my cohort to participate in a quick survey.

Although we’ve been together for just two months, our team already developed a strong sense of identity and looking at others, we often said we were lucky with the mix of people. I for one, had gone into this with a healthy level of scepticism and defensiveness, so I am quite surprised to find myself in this rather happy position.

I wondered whether this was luck or whether at the end of the day, pretty much any group could be happy and perform to a level that made them believe they were better off than others. Asking my cohort, 70 percent of respondents said they felt lucky with the mix of people while 16 percent considered themselves unlucky but thought they still made the best out of the situation. Yes, people who sign up to an MBA are a particular subset of society already and perhaps there are not that many things to clash on but I still find this to be a respectable result.


Using Tuckman’s framework of Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing (Tuckman, 1965), I then asked my cohort to identify where they saw themselves in the team development process. The majority saw themselves either in the norming or performing stage; promising after just two months.  Of course, not everyone had gotten past the storming phase with one respondent considering themselves “floundering like a fish out of water.”

More significantly, the majority had gone through some difficulties to get to where they were now. That’s to be expected and a healthy stage in team development to get to the other side. Someone mentioned “avoiding confrontation” as a problem and I can see how that would suppress the growth of a team which may be a reason for some (38 percent) picking out groupthink as a problem. Many commented on these conflicts as minor and I would probably count myself in this camp too.

However, some voiced larger concerns over individuals dominating the team and taking over the discussions, warning that it stifled progress by causing the team to be stuck in minute arguments. Clearly some frustrations built up in some teams.

Given the demographic mix of our cohort, some of this is unavoidable but it did make me sad and made me reassess my own behaviour, looking for ways I could possibly make someone in my own team enjoy the experience more. After all, I already was someone who was benefitting from this. As one student said, “to work together you need to honestly care about each other’s opinion. Don’t formulate pre-conceived ideas. Sometimes genius comes from unexpected places.”











However, what was more surprising to me however was that 62 percent of respondents thought they were victims of free-riding (assuming they weren’t talking about themselves). The optimist in me wants to believe that this high percentage is rather a sign of miscommunication and a proof that teams may not have reached the norming or performing stage just yet. MBA students have made a lot of sacrifices for this experience, so why would you be here just to free-ride and upset the rest of your team, when you’d at least spend another two months working with?

An issue that often comes up is the differences in motivations and aims which may be a cause of what others perceive as free-riding. As one respondent put it: “Some want to get a distinction, others would rather save time and effort for networking and professional development.” In our team, we quickly developed very direct and honest communication which would usually be led by someone asking something along the lines of: “How do you feel about this? What do you personally want out of this? Are you OK with what we’re doing?”

Overall, as a team, we do have similar motivations and our work during integration week was rewarded with a grade we were all satisfied with. We could have done better, no doubt. But I believe no one regretted the outcome. In an MBA setting, motivations are much clearer and easier to discuss. Once we get into the real world again, individual motivations can be much more complex and may not necessarily be shared. You can’t just ask “what do you want out of this?” and expect a straight-forward answer. I’m not under the illusion that these few weeks of working through conflict have provided me with all the answers. Still, it has definitely raised my awareness around these issues and I will think more about individual motivations before making any assumptions about others based on what I want.

If you’d ask me today how I felt about working with a completely new yet-to-be-disclosed group in blocks three and four, I’d tell you that I still dread the thought. I am however in a minority. The majority (73 percent) in my survey are excited to work with a new group of people in blocks three and four. The reason I don’t look forward to it though is a different one than at the start of my MBA.

“What has truly changed in the two months, is that I am comfortable telling people in my team when something doesn’t really motivate me or when I know someone else is better for the task.”

What has truly changed in the two months, is that I am comfortable telling people in my team when something doesn’t really motivate me or when I know someone else is better for the task. Equally, I’ve learnt to trust every individual’s performance and let them lead when it makes sense. For example, when you end up in a baking contest (yes, that happens in an MBA) and one person in your team tells you they’ve baked their own wedding cake. Then you can happily let go and just do what they tell you to. I am one of those who felt very lucky about their first team and , I can’t imagine it to be better or even just as good next time around.

Having said that, I approached my team for the Sandhurst leadership training last week with the same hesitations and was very positively surprised how much I enjoyed the experience working with this completely different set of people. In fact, several people in the survey commented on how good their Sandhurst teams were. Perhaps it was the different types of tasks that provided us with the right kind of stimulus after five weeks of academic study.

I am honest in saying that the outdoor tasks were an absolute nightmare for me. There were several occasions where I seriously thought about leaving this all behind and just head back to London and have a couple of quiet days off. I was paying for the pleasure of this torture.

What made me stay however was my Sandhurst team, who readily accepted the fact that this wasn’t my cup of tea and still recognised the effort I was putting into it. We don’t all get pleasure out of the same activities and knowing when someone is struggling, recognising it and acknowledging the effort they are making can go a long way. I truly appreciated everyone’s kind words that kept me going until the end. If I would have given up halfway through, I would have never known the sense of accomplishment I felt when I reached the end and for that I’m truly grateful to my team and a particular someone who told me how disappointed they’d be if I left.


“We don’t all get pleasure out of the same activities and knowing when someone is struggling, recognising it and acknowledging the effort they are making can go a long way.”

Sandhurt Team 8

That leads me to the final question of my survey: has all the teamwork you’re exposed to at Cass changed the way you feel about it?

Thirty-eight percent of respondents saw no change in the way they felt about team work of which 14 percent disliked teamwork to begin with. One respondent commented, “team work at Cass has reinforced my anecdotal rule that 30 percent of the team are good performers, 30 percent try but lack technical skills and 40 percent are substantially sub-par in skills and attitude.”

Two months of teamwork can’t convert everyone. What was encouraging however was that 57 percent of respondents said they saw more of the merits of teamwork than they had previously, and felt comfortable doing more of it.

As one student said “I have come to the realisation that working effectively in a team is perhaps more important than being individually brilliant for doing most jobs.” I’m certainly one of those who see teamwork in a more positive light. While I still dread working in a new team and having to face new personalities, I am likely to be more open and understanding to it than I ever was before. If that’s the result of just two months, I’m optimistic that while I may never be a teamwork-loving person, I will be confident to embrace any teamwork environment that comes my way in the future and be able to recognise the merits of it.


I’d like to conclude with a comment from one of my survey respondents that beautifully sums up the MBA teamwork experience:

“The biggest surprise for me was how often we actually operated as a team – where the total output of our work was better than what we (probably) could have done individually. I’ve yet to feel like I could have done better on my own (maybe the same, but certainly not better). We’re somewhere between storming and norming now – we see our flaws clearly but haven’t yet managed to overcome them. But we have a good group, and we all have each other’s backs. I’m nervous for my next groups – I feel like I’ve been blessed this time around!” (Anonymous,  Cass Full-time MBA, 2017).

Full-time MBA (2018)



Graduate Management Admission Council (2017) Corporate Recruiters Survey Report 2017. Available at: https://www.gmac.com/market-intelligence-and-research/gmac-surveys/corporate-recruiters-survey.aspx (Accessed: Nov 5, 2017).

Nilsson, P. and Moules, J. (2017) ‘What employers want from MBA graduates — and what they don’t’, Financial Times, Aug 31, 2017.

Tuckman, B.W. (1965) ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’, Psychological bulletin, 63(6), pp. 384-399. doi: 10.1037/h0022100.

My first five weeks at Cass

So, you’ve made the jump. You’ve signed up, paid your fees, cancelled all social engagements hence and whence appropriate, deleted Instagram and invested in a Microsoft based laptop (curse Apple and their pesky social functionality apps). You’re ready! Either by self- narcissism, or by a sociopathic employer, you have been accepted into a one year Full-time, or two year part-time Executive MBA to improve and enhance your life and management skills, and have entered into engagement with other like-minded, intelligent people. You clever person you!

Cass was established in 1966; it’s pretty safe to suggest that they have a lot of experience in education and how to get the best out of people. Unlike other London business schools’ (no pun intended), Cass encourages development by engaging heavily with your cohort, as well as self-enhancement. This means working with groups. Of people. Like you, but not quite you. Yes, I did just type that. You must consciously engage with other people in order to achieve a portion of marks based on group coursework, and equally, reserve enough brain power to listen, learn, and enjoy lectures.

With that in mind; below is a snapshot of my first five weeks, which I hope you enjoy with as much merriment as I did whilst typing:

Week one:

With great power comes great responsibility. With extensive learning after many years of being educationally unchallenged comes a great sense of acute awareness to be near the closest outlet of alcohol (it served one so well for so many years). Fortune would serve that the ‘local’ carries very reasonable prices, including a bottle of prosecco for £20 (with up to 4 glasses and an ice bucket).

Downside of the week: Three hours of post-lecture dissection (drinking) on an empty stomach leads to multiple walk-around(s) of the Barbican roundabout.

(Lack of signs = impossible to navigate without SAS training).

Moral of the story: One must not rely on the skills established during undergraduate learning in order to pass said MBA.

Week two:

Upside: The lecturer knows my name (and therefore I am a valued member of this school).

Downside: The lecturer knows my name (and will therefore call me out when drawing an escape plan on lecture notes).

Week three:

Cognitive functions seem to be awakening. The learning process element of your brain has finally sprung back to life, refreshed after a long period of siesta, and seems ready to expand and dilute masses of information, ready to be processed into more tangible details.

Downside: That post lecture pub visit, in which you ordered the £20 bottle of prosecco with one glass, drunk on an empty stomach, and then spent 4 hours marching around the Barbican roundabout, trying to work out which exit to take (they really should signpost or number them).

Week four:

The windows look pretty triple glazed and probably won’t act as a decent escape route.

Week five:

The end of your two First-year lectures. Things slowly seem to be coming together, including financial accounting, and equally a sense of feeling smug at being able to express, in detail, the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement (although the person at the bar didn’t really seem to care).


The bar-lady knows your name and your pin code.

And we’re all still standing! And engaged, and very ready for a coursework review, submission, and onwards to the next assignment.

With all bravado follows humility, and mine very simply is that making this leap into Cass has been by far the best choice I have made in many years. One must consider the stresses and strains of the global economy and give praise to establishments that, even in such testing times, still retain the skills and strengths to envelop such commitment to people who want to learn. Cass employs an impressive collective of people who are at the top of their game; in fact, my first five weeks have been a sheer delight.

It is a true test of our freedom, democracy and fair sense of our need to improve which has, I do truly believe, led us to study at one of the best business schools in the world. For that, I commend you, you clever person you.


Claire Georgeson
Executive MBA (2019)


Lisa Sohanpal on her Executive MBA Experience


Lisa Sohanpal graduated from an Executive MBA programme at Cass Business School in 2008. She now runs her own business Nom Noms World Food. Founded in the UK, Lisa manages the business remotely from her home in Toronto Canada. The business came from wanting to feed her children authentic international cuisine that was aimed at kids but flavoursome enough for the whole family. Nom Noms World Food is the first family focused brands in the UK and every meal purchased feeds a hungry child in India. So far Nom Noms has served over 400,000 meals to school children in India, to keep them off the street and in school so they can gain an education.

Lisa says ‘‘Nom Noms allows families to be able to enjoy international cuisine together. We’ve secured a deal with 550 stores with Carrefour across France and a major international airline which is amazing for the brand’’.

Nom Noms World Food launched in February 2017 with the world’s largest online grocery retailer Ocado, and sold out within 50 minutes of going live. The brand has gone on to win 18 global awards including the Great British Entrepreneurs award 2016 for the small business category and is sponsored by BMW, Natwest, Diageo  and AXA insurance. Lisa credits her family upbringing, extensive international business experience complemented with the Cass Business School, London’s Executive MBA as a factor in her business  and career success.

How would you describe your overall experience of the Executive MBA?

Overall it was excellent. It was workload intensive, but that is to be expected from an MBA. The programme is open, collaborative and the professors are very approachable.

The course began with an intense team building activity at HMS Bristol, which involved saving your team members from a sinking ship and it allowed us to get to know each other. Among our cohort it felt like a family including academic staff. When you go into an MBA you know that we are all here to achieve similar things so we supportive of each other.

What made the Executive MBA the right choice for you?

I chose the Executive programme because I wanted to improve my business knowledge and move into a more senior leadership role. The EMBA also enabled me to continue working full time while studying. This worked really well as I was able to take the things I learned from lectures and apply them immediately to my day to day work.

Are there any life lesson you have taken from the experience?

One key lesson I learned is how important time management is. With so many deadlines and the time pressure to achieve everything, you find you are just constantly on the go trying to meet every deadline. Going through all this whilst managing a full-time career meant that when I became a mum to three children in three years I was able to adapt to the fast paced demanding role and I now believe that anything is achievable for me and my business.

Do you still keep in contact with members of your class and what do you think is the value in maintaining those relationships?

I do yes. We all got to know each other really well during the programme. I feel like I can always pick up the phone and call friends from the MBA and it doesn’t matter if we haven’t spoken or seen each other for years. In terms of the value, well one of my MBA colleagues is the CFO for a major retail brand and that brand is one of our targets to get our products into. There is an immediate connection from the programme that could prove invaluable.

What was the most rewarding aspect of the MBA for you?

At the time of starting my MBA I was quite clear on my goal, and that was to triple my salary and get into a business leadership function in a highly reputable and credible global organisation within the medical devices industry. The most rewarding aspect for me is that the Executive MBA enabled me to achieve this goal. It is an extensive programme especially if you are self- funding, I wanted to make the most of it and I feel proud that I have achieved my return on investment.

What advice would you give to someone considering to do an Executive MBA at Cass Business School?

One of the biggest reasons for me choosing to join the programme at Cass was that they were very encouraging for women to join. The cultural, gender and sector diversity among the cohort was strong.

My advice would be to look for a programme with strengths that align to your goals rather than your current position. You have to expect that when you embark on an MBA programme that you will be expected to step out of your comfort zone and be challenged many times over. I would also advise going to the information sessions and speaking with alumni from different and similar industries to your own. This will allow you to hear about what previous students have achieved and the value they’ve received from their own Executive MBA experience.


A bit about us:

Embracing my MBA with Cass

What makes you want to press pause on your career and choose to study for a full-time MBA programme? An increase in salary rise; change in industry; or change in job function? What will you consider when you choose an MBA course? Ranking, location or tuition fees? In the face of all these questions, I was happy about how clear my thoughts were before I decided to come to Cass Business School.

About me:

I studied in Sydney, lived in San Francisco and I worked in the retail B2B business of a multinational oil and gas company in Beijing. As a Chinese national with over four years of experience in bridging the interests of Chinese national companies with those of global organisations in my previous roles, I have always been driven to succeed in my career and I was glad that I had a position within an organization that could utilise my skills and knowledge. I had great fun too and a sense of achievement with all my colleagues. However, with a curious mind, I kept wondering what was happening in other sectors of the business world and what other people were doing in an international city like New York or London.

Why an MBA?

Having an MBA degree had always been at the back of my mind. Frankly speaking, I did not think of it as a career or salary accelerator, rather I knew my knowledge and skill gaps and I needed to fill in those gaps to make myself a better employee to any of my future employers. Besides, I love learning about people from diverse backgrounds and I love the dynamics of a group of passionate experts and what I could learn from them. As my parents always tell me, “your happiness does not come from anyone else or anything else”, I know that having the experience of an MBA in a world-class programme is for my own benefit. In other words, sometimes you really need to sit back and listen to what your heart wants. Because that is the thing that makes you commit the most.

Why London?

I made the decision of coming to London before EU referendum happened. However, I do not think Brexit would have caused me any hesitation to come to London. Having worked in an Anglo/Dutch company, I travelled to London several times. I love visiting museums; I love learning about the rich history just by travelling, I love walking past those old lanes full of happy people partying, I love watching the world change in such a cosmopolitan city. Although people have varying viewpoints about life after Brexit, London was the city that overtook New York as the financial centre of the world and it is still one the greatest cities in the world for business and innovation.

Why Cass?

As stated previously, you really need to know what you want and what will benefit you the most. Cass was recommended to me by my friend who graduated from the MBA course almost a decade ago, now he is the Strategy Director in a multinational energy firm. I didn’t rush to start my application, I did enough research about Cass Business School before I made my decision.

It’s not about how much money you are prepared to spend or about how high the school sits in the global ranking, every business school is different and you need to find the one that fits you. I wanted to fill the gaps in my skill set and I knew Cass would be the perfect place for me. Located in the City of London which is one of the oldest financial centres and today remains at the heart of London’s financial services industry.

The practical business knowledge is just within our reach each day. These days I have been busy meeting professionals from different industries and most of them work around the local area or within a short tube journey. Cass also arrange seminars for us almost every week on a variety of topics.

The twelve month course is a challenge for most of us and we find ourselves running around here and there learning from different contacts and gaining a wealth of new knowledge. However, isn’t this the real world? Have you ever had a time at work when you wanted to ask for more budget for your marketing projects but felt weak when talking to the finance team because you didn’t have the financial knowledge to really negotiate and leverage?

 Sandhurst Military Academy

Leadership day at Sandhurst Military Academy

The Cass MBA programme is comprehensive in terms of subjects and the soft skills that are taught. We had a networking skills workshop at the beginning of our course to teach us how important networking is and how to properly network under different circumstances. We have had many business leaders coming to our classes talking to us about real world business decision challenges. We have had company CEO’s talking to us about how they dealt with brand crisis, investment issues, leadership and the importance of people in businesses. We went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for leadership training. We learnt strategy and harnessed our teamwork spirit through baking cakes. We worked in different teams on consulting projects for companies that are facing challenges. We learnt so much about how to present ourselves through various presentation skills workshops. We have experienced so many special moments that are going to be valuable memories in our lives.

Liying and her group during the MBA Cass Bake Off

Liying and her group during the MBA Cass Bake Off

What’s next?

There are only six months left on my MBA journey. Next week I am going to Durham with my team to meet a company in FinTech and an Open Banking business to talk about our strategy project. Next month, we are going to Iceland to have a business consulting week with a company and also to conquer a volcano together as a team. In two months’ time, a group of us will go to Silicon Valley to learn Digital Transformation from the companies that sit at the forefront of digital innovation, while other members of the cohort will go to Israel, Cuba, China, Dubai or South Africa for courses on different subjects. Cass gave us so many opportunities to choose from in this part of the MBA programme, so we can tailor our learning based on our interests. Confucius says “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. We have a very professional and supportive careers team at Cass to help us shape our career and choose the industries and companies which really match us.

Before my MBA programme I never thought I would be interested in the financial services, investment or consulting sectors. What I want to say is that we don’t know what we don’t know and the MBA course at Cass enables me to learn from diverse people, learn new things that I didn’t know before and really build on who I am as a professional and as a person.

I am grateful for my decision to come to Cass. I often reflect and think “what would have happened if I did things differently at my previous job”, I note these reflections down, then I continue to strive for my career.

Dear readers, please, always remember, the person that can make you sing is you!

Liying Hao, Full-time MBA 2017

The First Step taken – End of Term 1 – Full Time MBA 2017

The first step taken, first step towards the next term, first step towards the careers, first step towards 2017 and first step towards life as we would know after the MBA.

Referencing (yes, now as academicians we are supposed to reference everything) back to something that we studied in Organisational Behaviour, about how people come together from a crowd to form groups and eventually teams. Prior to  5th September 2016, we only knew each other as digital profiles on Linkedin or Facebook, but after studying, being in the same lounge, having beers and practically living with each other we can say that we have grown into a big team.

The first step in the academic sense means Block 1 & 2 , each block has three subjects and somehow, subjects  are inter-related to each other. When you hear the same business case being discussed in three different lectures by three different lecturers, you start to fathom the research that has been gone into framing the course and coursework, and every bit of knowledge falls down as a big piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

In each block you are introduced to three completely different teaching styles, which complement each other and you get to meet lecturers from outright rock stars to great administrators, from mavericks of academia to wizards of analytics.

Plus, did I mention it all goes like the flash of light? Yes, because while lectures take 20% of college time, the remaining 80% is for assignments, course work and the super interesting integration week at the end of each block, well integration week is exactly what it sounds like.

That’s it for the studies part of this post, let me take you through the journey of the life of an MBA student. Beyond studies is the networking, internal, external, inter planetary, you name it we do it. If you are not a networking genius by the end of this term you are made into one, through a series of learning sessions, delivered by internal coaches and external consultants. Consultants that hand hold Board Members, CEO’s and Heads of States; yes they are very crafty and practical people.

If that was not enough, we were taken for a week-long Leadership Enhancement course at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. The only business school in the world to do so. It was a special experience being in a new group and with new, non-academic challenges that push your creative boundaries and leadership capabilities. You get to know what are you made of and how you react to adverse situations.

Being at Cass gives you every bit of opportunity to stand out of the crowd, one such opportunity was the Tallow Chandler’s Cass MBA Challenge, it was an opportunity for the entire class to present a solution to a current Macro Economic situation with a Micro Economic outlook . While it gave us a great way to look into an industry which has been the bedrock of modern economy, at the same time, it also gave us the opportunity to showcase our presentation skills to senior executives from BP and Fosfa; my group came second in the challenge, a proud moment for each of us.

The end of Term 1 was intense, challenging & rewarding. (This style of oration is known as Power of 3 – again, from our external coach in presentation skills)

In the hope that Block 3 & 4 will bring many more challenges and rewarding experiences, I sign off today so that I can go forth for another networking meeting.

But before that, let me congratulate Cass for :-

  1. No.1 in One Year Full Time MBA in London – FT MBA Rankings 2017
  2. No.1 Globally in Corporate Strategy – FT MBA Rankings 2017
  3. Best value for money MBA Globally

And many congratulations for completing 50 Years since inception.

Yours Truly


To Lead And To Follow

A good experience is guaranteed when you’re told to arrive wearing robust clothing suitable for outdoor activities and wet weather. A memorable one is certain when you’re told that suits and cocktail dresses will also be required.

After several months of classes and city life, heading out to Sandhurst for the Professional Development Programme was certainly a welcome change. The primary goals were to develop an understanding of leadership and followership and to advance our insight into team behaviour and individual contribution. Applying oneself and interacting with the cohort in a different setting, with a unique set of challenges and experiences, provided another forum for valuable experiences and insight.

img_3939I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors over the years, primarily sailing and camping, and was wondering how well prepared the team would be. Keep in mind that I’d only seen the rest of the cohort dressed for city life and networking events. However, when I showed up at Waterloo Station they were well prepared with outdoor gear and hiking boots. Most people had backpacks and small luggage, my bag was actually one of the largest, so I felt that we were off to a good start. We caught the train, dropped off our luggage at the hotel and headed directly to the campus to get started.

The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is rich in history. You can feel it even before you arrive and all the more so once you pass through the gates, gaze at the buildings and explore the mix of forests and manicured grounds. The staff from The Inspirational Development Group introduced themselves and put us directly to work. Our first task was complex construction and problem solving, with specific parameters and time frames. My team managed to complete the task with only seconds to spare.

We would do many tasks over the next few days taking turns to both lead and follow. There is much to be said for taking on the responsibility of being in charge, but there is certainly a lot to be learned from taking a step back, being an effective team player and working for the benefit of the group. This is certainly a valuable lesson for a driven and accomplished group of young professionals to absorb, and it is guaranteed to last when learnt carrying a stretcher through a maze whilst blindfolded, building devices to transport water canisters or trusting others to pass you through netting. I don’t think I’ll ever forget watching one member of the class run up a hill with a heavy dummy on his back whilst surrounded by blue smoke.

img_3749Similarly, taking on purely verbal team based challenges can provide a great deal of insight into how one can be more convincing and informative. Meeting in a room lined with leather furniture, a marble fireplace and a myriad of donations from graduates, my team and I were tasked with rating the gear necessary to survive in the wilds of Canada. Growing up I spent most of my summers going on canoe trips in the parks of Ontario, Quebec and the boundary waters with the US. It gets cold at night even in August. In this challenge it was late fall. Who knew what a hard time I would have convincing others of the importance of fire and an axe? Many of them had been camping but not in such a remote or chilly setting. Then again, a great deal depends on how I say it. This was probably my key takeaway from the week, and one that I would reflect on with my team when discussing afterwards.


The benefit of the programme was highly apparent on the train ride back to Waterloo. We had been fortunate enough to see an iconic site where few will go. Whilst worn out from the past few days, you could hear the cohort discussing plans for the next module. Stepping out of the typical academic zone and being forced to challenge one’s conceptions had already provided highly beneficial insight on how to lead a team. Over the course of the year, there is undoubtedly more to follow.


City Starters Weekend – From an entrepreneur to a management consultant

From an Entrepreneur to a Management Consultant – A weekend journey.

City Starters Weekend – Oct 21st 2016

City Starters Weekend is exactly what it sounds like. Over a weekend, you bring an idea and if it gets selected you get to form your teams , work on the idea and pitch it on Sunday in front of judges. If you get selected, you get a prize and the pride to carry on with an idea.

It’s the best environment for people who want to become an entrepreneur, and for people whom this start-up thing seems cool. But as a part of larger cohort in City University, you get a far better environment than other open Starter Weekends. You are in your City Family and it’s a safer environment to experiment and work on your business model, approach and presentation skills.

So that part was for promoting the event, now you have to give it to the staff who work really hard for the event (special mention for our Professor Aurore Hochard). So now, since I have ensured my good marks, lets get into the story.

I came up with an idea of digital integration in auto-mobiles to make them safer, don’t read on if you think I will share my ‘actual’ idea with you guys, as Thor would say “you’re not worth it” YET.



I pitched and did not get selected, although people said that my pitch was good, but who cares about cars any more. The room was full of millennials and they have a very different set of priorities. Hence, to ease of a bit of disappointment, I went to the nearest pub with a friend of mine. Whilst still under healing my pride, this guy with unusual hair came up to me and said, ‘Would you work for me over the weekend and try to develop my business model’ (his idea was selected).

I didn’t need to hear the idea and just said ‘YES’. I generally do say yes to people and not products. Well I reached day 2, and there was only this guy working there. I felt a bit sad for him as others  who had said yes  to helping him, never showed up. I thought the guy seems okay, let’s have a go at it. His idea was called WOOLAND,  I am not sharing this idea either.



What I will tell you, however, is the back-story. WOOLAND is a brainchild of Eduardo, he is an MSc Student at Cass and is an exceptional musician. He started showing me his idea and he had already pretty much worked it through. But as a businessman I kept on asking more questions,  such as where does the money come from (although only to myself). And then started the journey of a management consultant – Mr. Umang Shankar, at your service Sir.

We went over the business model, over and over again, trying to make a bit of sense from the whole thing, no offence but Eduardo is a musician and artists are the beacons of civilizations, these guys show the way and we count the stones. Both are needed and both need to be respected. By lunch time another very decent bloke with awesome PPT skills; David, my classmate Dan, and Eduardo’s classmate, Alice joined in. And suddenly we have an Idea, an eccentric CEO , a team and the model that can make money.


Come the final pitch day, that is generally Sunday, because if you guys don’t know it yet, it’s the day when the weekend generally ends, we had to decide who pitches what. As you always do in group presentations, you divide the part to show the group cohesion and to let everyone take part. We practised and it just didn’t work. I was not having any of it, and said, rather bluntly ‘It’s your idea we’ve worked for and I believe it’s you who should go ahead and pitch it’. In all these pitch contests we need to keep in mind the benchmarks, all big product launches such as Apple do not happen with 5 people talking about their departments, there is only one guy with specs, talking about the product. Well we did it and result was, a prize was invented for us, the best pitch presentation….

Learning :- Do whatever you are good at and don’t shy away from making tough decisions.

Please have a look at the entire event’s video :-

Umang Shankar

Full-time MBA (2017)

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