Tag: London Symposium

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.

A unforgettable week at the Cass London Symposium

As mentioned by Dr Sionade Robinson during her introductory speech, the Cass London Symposium is a “backstage pass” into the dynamic and culturally diverse city of London. It opens the door on the challenges business now face and how they strive to remain competitive, especially with the rise of new technologies and digital transformation.

The theme of this year was truly relevant, Network Effects. By definition [i], it is a phenomenon whereby a product or service gains additional value as more people use it. It also applies to us as individuals, as the more important and diverse our social network is, the more opportunities we can create and the more value we add to our career. The subject was illustrated throughout the week.

London, a city of diversity

Sir Andrew Parmley, late Lord Mayor presented ‘London and Its Wonders’, showcasing how London is the most complex and advanced financial city in the world with more than 250 foreign banks. He also introduced the topic of cybersecurity as a critical and new opportunity to export skills and expertise from London, globally.

London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world with 300 languages spoken in it, the most in Europe. Conscious that this cultural diversity was a significant advantage, Julie Chapelle told us how London & Partners built an international brand for the city to attract tourists, students and investors so that international business and talent remained, despite Brexit.

For its eight million inhabitants, London has one of the biggest public transport systems in the world. Mike Brown from Transport for London took us through its new strategy: to provide more transport, more security and a comfortable and affordable journey.

During the symposium, we travelled around the city using the tube to attend presentations at some of London’s most prestigious sites: British Museum, Royal Institute and the National Gallery at Trafalgar square and we also enjoyed some fine cuisine 😉

Network Effects in the financial sector

Crypto currency or digital currency using cryptography for security is disrupting the financial sector. Olivier Von Ladsberg-Sadie, CEO and founder of BitcoinBro, talked about crypto currency contagion; how good (and bad ideas) spread fast and evolve faster in a decentralised digital economy. The number of users is constantly rising and continues to draw attention to the bitcoin phenomena, subsequently impacting its value.

With regards to equity funding, in order to build a good network of buyers and sellers it is key to develop the most optimal processes, taking into consideration which buyer missed an acquisition and why, which buyer refused a deal and which deal was not closed. Greg Fincke from Equiteq helped illustrate the Network Effect using mergers and acquisitions examples.

James Chew, Global Head, Regulatory Policy at HSBC and Director of BGF, talked about starting a new investment company from scratch which requires building a strong physical network with branches in strategic locations and connecting with a pool of talent.

How the consultancy sector is adapting to new technology trends

From EY to Accenture, giant consultancy firms are adapting their skill set and portfolio of services in order to be sustainable using new technologies. Tasks that used to require significant man power have seen resource reduced significantly since Block Chain, Augmented Reality, the Internet of Things and Big Data have developed. The focus of a consultancy firm has shifted to help businesses stay competitive in a digital world by making use of smart data.

Media and telecommunication transformation

The way people consume TV has changed. According to a recent survey in the UK, most people now watch in their bedrooms, on tablets and in alternative – albeit illegal – ways; apparently the most watched TV episodes are pirated downloads of Game of Thrones.

On our visit to Sky – a leading broadcaster and service provider in the UK – we were shown around by Director of Data Engineering, Oliver Tweedie. He emphasised that to stay relevant in the field, content is the new oil. It has to be innovative and in line with customers’ needs.

Top screening company Netflix understood the game and are developing their own content. They use big data to understand customer preferences and expectations in order to create new programming.

Partnerships are key.  For example, Sky teamed up with Google for their data analytics tools. Other than cyber security, this is an opportune way to learn more about consumer behaviour in order to make more proactive decisions.

Collaboration is key for great leadership

Business and Leadership speaker, Rene Carayol, summarised the essence of the week perfectly with his moving presentation on collaboration. Authentic leaders care about people as well as results and performance. A combination of both is what makes us stronger.

The Cass London Symposium was a magical week. It ended with a closing party at The Ivy Soho Brasserie. This elective is a rare occasion to meet with a number of your London professors and classmates but also to meet new people from MBA teams from partner business schools in Europe and South Africa. We built unforgettable connections and had a lot of fun. The Cass London Symposium is a “must-do” elective which I highly recommended as there is so much to learn and experience.

Joanne Ebata
Dubai Executive MBA (2018)

[i] Wikipedia

My Anti “5 Lesson Blog”

Act 1: “I Declare the Symposium Open!”

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

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

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

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

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

Act 2:

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

However, it wasn’t exactly that straight forward.

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

Act 3: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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