#Cassat50: Anna Iozzino, 1994

Cass Business School News.

annaAnna Iozzino studied MSc Business Studies at Cass, graduating in 1994. We caught up with her for the second in our new #Cassat50 series, celebrating alumni from the past 50 years of the Business School.

Why did you come to Cass?

I studied at Cass as exchange student within ERASMUS program. I wanted to specialise in financial subjects and deepen my experience in that field. Cass, located in the city of London and close to main financial institutions, had a solid reputation and provided me the possibility to focus on a broad range of financial matters, together with the possibility to study additional subjects that could strengthen my general education.

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

During the entire duration of my program I was supported by tutors and professors, who stimulated me to deepen some issues that were later useful for my job. Case studies and teamwork gave me the opportunity to exchange experiences and create positive relationships with other students, bringing my best contribution to the various teams in which I took part.

The University library, with its rich and updated catalogue and resources, was not only the place of my research and study, but also a place where to meet other students and collaborate with them.

After my graduation my connection with Cass continued as its career office supported me with assistance and orientation for my placement in the business world. And I am happy to still carry on this relationship with the University through Cass Alumni community and student network.

What is your favourite memory from your time at Cass?

I have good memories of people I met, they were all very supportive, both professors and students, and of the stimulating time we spent together in classrooms and in recreational events, like the University final gala dinner and ball.

I still have a real and deep friendship with some students, and sometimes we meet and spend time together in spite of the distance.

How did studying at Cass change your life?

Studying at Cass has enriched me in different ways. It was a valuable experience at a personal level, because it opened my mind and has let me become a more mature person, with a good sense of initiative. It also gave me the opportunity to live and study in a multicultural, dynamic environment, among students and professors of all nationalities.

On the academic and business level, it represented my first real exciting opportunity to meet operators from the financial world and to focus on my favourite field of study. I had the opportunity to experience a method of learning that was completely new for me, because it was a combination of theoretic knowledge and practical experience on the field. The knowledge, skills and network I developed at Cass helped me in my job interviews and gave me good chances of success in my career.

The Career Mastery: Tell Me About Yourself

Careers, Cass Business School News.

thank-you-letter-3-630x315Deniz Sasal (Executive MBA, 2013) currently works for PwC Consulting, and has started his own careers blog that will “share valuable insider information that most hiring managers wouldn’t share”.

We have been allowed to publish extracts from the blog. You can read more on thecareermastery.com.

I think you’ll agree with me that when you are asked the dreaded question “tell me about yourself” in the most intense environment you can think of, the chances are that you may end up blabbering and you will make little sense if you are not prepared enough. Worst of all, it will most likely be the first question they will ask you in the interview.

Don’t you worry though. I have an awesome guide for you here. I will share with you a very detailed answer that will increase your chances by a large margin to get that job.

Just be patient…

I am Deniz Sasal. I am a manager with PwC Consulting and also the creator of Landing Interviews Guaranteed and The Career Mastery. I have been interviewing candidates as a hiring manager for a very long time.

In this article, my intention is to show you a different perspective than what you find when you search Google for answers to your query “tell me about yourself”. What I share with you will be the perspective of a hiring manager working for a large multinational company.

Alright, let’s continue.

First I will cover what not to do. These will be short and sweet I promise.

Then, we will look at why they are asking this question. And eventually, we will craft the perfect answer for you. I will also show you 1 critical strategy to take it a step further to create a long lasting impact with hiring managers.

Sounds good?


What not to do?

To start with, the hiring manager has already seen your resume and even cover letter. There is really no need for you to go over your resume bullet by bullet. Having said this, it doesn’t hurt your chances to highlight some of your most important qualifications and achievements.

When you are presenting your background, don’t fall victim to under or over qualification. Just give them what they need. There is a very thin line between being an over-achiever and being over-qualified.

No need to share them your life story. And oh God please don’t you start from your high school years. It’s really a waste of everybody’s time. I recently interviewed a candidate for a graduate hire role. She literally started her pitch like this; “I graduated from grade school in 1995 from XXX school and then continued my education further with XXX junior high in XXX city. High school years were very challenging with new environment…” By this point, I was already done. Horrible first impression. I interrupted the candidate and asked her to talk about her current experience. She definitely failed the interview. Not necessarily only because of how she presented her background.

Avoid keeping it too long. It’s a monologue so nobody really has 20 minutes to listen to your background, however, exciting that may sound to you.

Don’t be boring. Please… You should show some real enthusiasm in your pitch. The more energetic you are the better it is. Oh, remember to smile. It makes a big difference.

Everybody else thinks that you are asked to present yourself because;

– Hiring managers want to see how your response would be to a question that you are not prepared. (Not sure why they think you’d be unprepared…)
– They want to know what you consider important in your background
– I can agree to a certain degree. I’d also want to see what you consider important in your background.
– But, the real reason hiring managers in multinational organizations ask this question is because we want to see your presentation skills!

Yeah, surprised?

After all, think about it, we all have seen your resume, your cover letter, you have probably already passed the HR interview. So, we do know a lot about your background already. In fact, if you are applying to a multinational organization, you have already been Google’d even. Why go over your background all over again?

Even if they haven’t seen it before, they are holding that CV in their hands when they ask the question; “tell me about yourself”.

Remember this, companies want employees who are:
– presentable
– can represent the firm professionally to their clients (especially true for consulting and other professional services companies)
– charismatic and likable – especially if you are in a client facing role

If they ask you to present the company or its products to gauge your presentation skills, it would be unfair to you as you have very limited knowledge. But what better material is there than your background to present?

That’s why they say tell me about yourself not tell me about our products or the company. Right?

So, they are giving you an opportunity to present something that you know inside out. They already know when you graduated, which company you worked for, when you left them, what tasks you carried out for each of them.

What they are interested in is:

Can you speak smoothly without stuttering?

Can you be charismatic?

Are you getting nervous when presenting?

When you speak, do you impress people?

How are your communication skills?

How is your language skills?

These and a lot more questions like these need to be addressed by the way you present.

See, this is actually an incredible opportunity for you. It’s an unbelievable opportunity.

Continue reading this on thecareermastery.com

#Cassat50 – Steve Richards, 1976

Cass Business School News , .

SR_5Steve Richards studied BSc Management and Systems from 1973 to 1976. He’s been living in Australia for 36 years but hasn’t lost his Welsh accent. We caught up with him for the first in our #Cassat50 series.

Why did you come to Cass?

I wanted a generalist degree, I didn’t have any vocation in mind when I was doing my A-Levels, but knew I’d end up in business, possibly the computer industry, which was developing and seemed interesting. I also wanted to live in London. The then Department of Systems Science offered the BSc in Systems and Management which offered a broad-based, systems-thinking course which covered a broad range of subjects. It fitted the bill exactly. Amongst my A-Levels was one of the earlier Computer Science courses and I knew that City University was strong in, as we knew it then, computing (“I.T.” hadn’t been invented!). And in London to boot!

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

I had a ball. The degree course has one of the heavier class hours load but the variety of subjects was really enjoyable so I enjoyed the research and the study, especially getting away from a lot of rote learning we did at A-level. The social life was awesome, back then everything was paid for by the (Swansea) local council. I loved Uni life in all regards, you could pace yourself, study and have a lot of fun. I met a load of people from all sorts of backgrounds, which was great.

What is your favourite memory from your time at Cass?

The social life, especially the bands that came to play – Bill Haley and the Comets, The Troggs, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band amongst them. The Uni Bar was a good hangout too, I worked behind the bar sometimes. Also the President’s Ball, which was THE big night of the social calendar. Oh, and one final memory … the day one of the other London colleges (Imperial?) stole the big uni carrot mascot. I was there that day and hung onto the back of the van they put it in. It didn’t help, they got away as I recall and extracted a ransom!

How did studying at Cass change your life?

I guess it gave me the start to my career, predominantly in the I.T. industry. I emigrated to Australia three and a half years after graduating and landed a programming job on arrival which set me on a course that I have generally been on, in or around I.T., ever since. The manager who hired me asked to see my degree certificate – the only person who ever did! It couldn’t have hurt. Over the years I stopped doing real I.T. things and progressed into management where I remain to this day. My generalist degree and the systems thinking it taught has definitely been an asset.

The Career Mastery: What are your weaknesses?

Careers, Cass Business School News.

thank-you-letter-1-630x315Deniz Sasal (Executive MBA, 2013) currently works for PwC Consulting, and has started his own careers blog that will “share valuable insider information that most hiring managers wouldn’t share”.

We have been allowed to publish extracts from the blog. You can read more on thecareermastery.com.

What are your weaknesses?

Let me start by saying your greatest weakness is your greatest weakness. It’s not your greatest strength taken to extreme and portrait as a weakness. Anybody asks what are your weaknesses, you tell them out loud…

Am I confusing you?

Let me explain; I have come across way too many HR professionals recommending that you should just take your greatest strength, take it to extreme, and then say that it’s your weakness.

Like; my greatest weakness is that;

– I work too hard
– I am a perfectionist
– I don’t delegate as much as I should
– I am a people pleaser
– I am very critical of my own work

Please… Stop! Seriously, what are you trying to do?

I am Deniz Sasal. I am a manager with PwC Consulting and have been interviewing 1000s of candidates for the past 10 years as a hiring manager. If you mention one of the above, then I will immediately label you as a bullshitter.

What else do you think I will feel?

I will feel that you will continue to BS me in every opportunity you get. There is simply no reason for me to hire a team member, especially a subordinate whom will try to bs her way through tough times. Of all the qualities you have, your hard skills, your dedication, that college degree you studied so hard to obtain were all so you could be known as a bullshitter? I am confident that the answer is no. I understand why you are confused though. I really do.

You make a search on Google “What are your weaknesses?” and all the answers you are exposed to tell you to trick the interviewer. They tell you that you should look for a weakness that is not too extreme or a strength in disguise. I hope with this article I help change that notion.

In the world of consulting, we are challenged with deadlines and quality deliverables on a daily basis. It’s tough out there. It’s also same with large multinational companies, be it investment banking, consumer goods, marketing, sales, anything. A large MNC didn’t get to be the number 1 with lazy employees. Clients are demanding and competition is fierce. Whoever is not up to the challenge gets lost. In these high-intensity environments, leaders need soldiers who will fight with them as one united team. There are no lies or bullshits in such a team. There are no acts no pretends.

Imagine, one profession that works in such intensity is army. Do you think they go about asking “what are your weaknesses?” before enlisting? No, not at all… They don’t. So, when we are looking for new additions to such an environment, we make sure we are confident we can trust you to deliver that research when you say it at the quality you committed to. There are no excuses, buts, uhmms, “this or that happened”s.

It’s not about “what are your weaknesses?” or “what are your shortcomings?”, it’s about them giving you an opportunity to prove your honesty. I hope I am being clear when I say how honesty plays an integral role in your interview process.

I have a checklist. It goes like this;

Is she trustworthy?
Can she say sorry when she messes up? Learns from it, and then moves on with lessons learned?
Is she honest?
Is she motivated to work hard for the team?
If the answer is “YES” so far then only we move on to evaluate the hard skills.

And I test you to understand whether you are trustworthy or not. I can increase the pressure and use your answers against you.

Look for inconsistencies in your answers

Try to make you say sorry. Are you adult enough to say sorry when you need to? Or is it a pride issue?

Am I dealing with self-entitlement here? Because, if you are suffering from it, I suggest you work on it before you start interviewing with anyone. It will be obvious.

It’s mind games at its best. And you were asked a very simple question under pressure; what are your weaknesses? If you can’t answer this honestly, you sure will not answer honestly once we start working together.

Alright, I hope so far it’s clear for you. You know now that the first thing you need to establish is honesty. But how do you answer that question? After all, you did indeed search “what are your weaknesses” and ended up in my article to find an answer. Good. Let’s get to it.

What are your weaknesses? Here is what I say.

First; be specific. There are about a billion weaknesses I can list down here but without knowing your domain, background, and experience it’s very difficult. But, what I thought is, I could share with you my very own weaknesses and perhaps they may also relate to you as well. Sounds good? Alright here it goes;

My first weakness: Although I am very good with applications of powerpoint, its tools and functions, I am not the best when it comes to designing the slides.

This is true. I really am not a good designer. I can’t design a slide based on what I have in my head. But luckily, PwC has probably the best slide library in the world. So, all I have to do is go through about 400 slides and pick the best template. To be perfectly honest, even if I were great at it, I am not sure if I would be allowed to take initiative and design my slides anyway. Consulting companies invest millions of dollars to make sure they have the best colors and layout.

Continue reading this on thecareermastery.com

Entrepreneurship Made Easy

Cass Business School News , .

_MG_7272_WEBMartin Andersen studied MSc Real Estate Investment 2011, moved to Spain and now runs his own business, Easyoffer, which he founded with his brother. We caught up over the phone.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

It was an intense year! It was extremely full of learning and I met lots of good people. The networking side of Cass was fantastic and I’m still in contact with a ton of guys.

Study-wise it was extremely good too. I did it my MSc directly after a four-year Bachelor’s degree and in the one year at Cass I learned more than in those four years combined! There is a high level of teaching and learning at Cass; it’s a really amazing institution in my opinion.

I wouldn’t change my time at Cass for anything!

What is your favourite memory from Cass?

Um, there are many… I don’t know where to start! Five years down the line my favourite memory is probably the cohesiveness of the students. They are so multicultural and international. Most people didn’t come to study at Cass as part of a ready-made group, most people came alone, and they were so open and willing to make friends. Within the first couple of days you had already made friends.

What did you do next?

When I graduated from Cass I moved to Madrid in Spain, and started to look for roles in Real Estate and Finance. This was in 2011 at the heart of the crisis, and I didn’t even know Spanish but it was never a problem to find a job then, and that success says it all really. Cass is fantastic thing to have on your CV.

I started working at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) with a six-month internship in the Capital Markets division as a Junior Analyst. When this ended I moved to Catella Corporate Finance in their Real Estate Finance division for a year and a half as a Senior Analyst. I left because I was headhunted back to the division at JLL in a Senior Analyst position. Then I decided it was the right time to leave and to found my own company in March 2015.

So tell me about founding your company!

I have long had the idea and ambition with my brother to start something together. First though, we believed it was important to get some professional work experience post-graduation. Then we came up with the idea for our own business.

What is Easyoffer?

It’s an online marketplace for lawyers and accountants who can be matched to clients’ needs. The clients are provided with three free quotes. For example, if you need a divorce lawyer, within 24 hours you will have three quotes from three different lawyers, and you are free to choose which one you will take forward. It’s a pretty well-known model which we took and focussed on the two verticals of legal and accounting. We started just my brother and I in March 2015 and now we have 20 employees. We are growing rapidly and our goal in the next 12 months is to double the workforce to 40 people and hopefully the revenue follows!

What’s next for you?

We are thinking about opening internationally in other countries in 2017 – there are a lot of things to learn with your own business and being your own boss. You can’t study for it, it’s an intense journey. We are taking it one day at a time.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

I would probably say the biggest challenge has been working out how to manage people and learning where the soft spot between motivating and cracking the whip is. It’s difficult to find equilibrium between being harsh and not getting anything done.

The Danish work environment in general is much more liberal and free, which works well in Denmark, but in Spain it’s very different. You need to be stringent and much more controlling about everything. Freedom and responsibility don’t work the same here and the biggest part has been learning when to be tough and how to be a motivator.

I hadn’t thought about these differences before! I’m learning day by day because when you see that the way you manage or the lack of it can cost you thousands of Euros, that need to change pushes you to learn and do things differently. Before at JLL problems were solved by themselves but now there is nobody to do that for you. I’ve had to grow a lot.

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Post-graduation we are all super ambitious and can’t wait to climb the ladder. Studying at University and working in the corporate world are two different things! It’s so difficult that most people get a reality check. The best advice for this phase of your life is to be patient and be ready for a handful of years where you work really hard with low pay. Then it gets easier; we are not in the heyday any more, the financial industries are back to normal.

In terms of starting out in business on your own I’d say don’t worry about the idea, it’s more the execution of the idea that matters. Also, don’t overthink it, just do it. If you have an idea and a business model that works in one place, the chances are it will work elsewhere too.

It’s very easy to focus on the negative side and end up not doing anything. Have the balls and throw yourself in. My brother and I founded our company and we are basically a lead generation company with attached telemarketing department, in essence sales and marketing. We had no idea about online marketing and sales – we just had an idea that worked in other countries, and then we went for it!

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Marylebone, I loved my time there. I always lived there even before Cass because I went to Regents University as well.
Favourite holiday destination: I would probably have given a different, more exotic answer a few years back, like Mauritius or the Seychelles. Now since it’s 11 years since I moved away from Denmark I love going home!
Must-check every day website: I’m a sports fanatic so I read pretty much all the big sports papers online every day. I also check Techcruch every day.
Dream travel destination: Canada
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese!

Miracle Woman 2016

Alumni Stories.

CASSLubna Tiwana studied for her MSc in Investment Management at Cass from 1998 to 1999, and has been named as one of the 100 Pond’s Miracle Women 2016. We chatted about the award, roaming the streets of London, and more.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I did my MSc in Investment Management in 1998/99. I got a Britannia Chevening Scholarship of the British Council with the Premier Award for being the most outstanding candidate from all over Pakistan. I was already working as an analyst in a medium sized commercial bank and was also teaching accounting, finance and banking to Business Administration students. Therefore, I was looking for a good school in London to get specialization in Investment Management, and Cass gave me that opportunity which changed my professional outlook completely. Cass was hard work but I enjoyed the experience every day. It opened a world of friendships and professional development due to the mix of students coming from different parts of the world. I lived the Cass life to the fullest.

What is your favourite memory from Cass?

I made a friend in my Investment Management Program, Trias, who was also a British Council scholarship holder from Indonesia. She was staying at the City University hostel, close to Barbican Centre in London. I use to stay with her in the hostel for combined studies and assignments. After completing our work, we would go out and enjoy ourselves, chat endlessly for hours, chill out and explore the streets of London, roaming around aimlessly. This was the best part of my memory which I will never forget. Unfortunately, we are not in touch with each other anymore because I lost her contact number. I am hoping the Internet will bring us back in contact very soon.

What did you do next?

I completed my MSc in Investment Management with distinction. When I came back to my country, my employer promoted me to an executive role as an Assistant Vice President, a first executive level cadre. I worked at senior level positions for many years and eventually was elevated to the position of Chief Credit Officer and Country Head Risk Management. In June 2013, I moved from this commercial bank to the largest Microfinance Bank in the country – this being an upcoming area in Pakistan with growth and learning opportunities, so I left commercial banking to join a microfinance bank.

How did you get nominated for the Ponds Miracle Women award?

The Pond’s Miracle Journey was established in 2014 as a means of celebrating the achievements of women across Pakistan. The core idea behind the movement, designed by the global beauty brand, was to consistently highlight the accomplishments of Pakistani women who juggle with the demands of their professional careers and personal lives. The Pond’s Miracle Journey is an annual movement that commemorates women for their inner strength and appreciates them for what is often over-looked.

The Pond’s Miracle Journey aspires to create an organic movement by paying tribute to 100 outstanding women who demonstrate excellence in their personal and professional lives. My nomination unfolded on the same parameters, as they could measure professional accomplishment against the backdrop of my personal life – where the family comes first and social inhibitions are given due consideration. While I competed for the coveted positions professionally, be they men or women, the determining factor was about an individual’s commitment and resilience.

These women are bestowed upon the crown of Pond’s Miracle Women for the Year at the Grand Finale held at the majestic Mohatta Palace, Karachi, Pakistan, and attended by the glitterati and elite of the country.

The women are selected by a panel of distinguished experts on the basis of their achievement in their respective fields, demonstrating extraordinary performance. This distinctive recognition brings into light unusual talents of women in Pakistan who are role models for aspiring young women across the country.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Coming to Cass and leaving my family behind was the biggest challenge. I had a young daughter who I had to leave behind with my family and come to London for one and a half years. I knew it would be a challenge but I worked very hard, spoke to loved ones everyday and managed one of the most difficult times of my life. Women in underdeveloped countries like mine have to work twice as hard to demonstrate performance and being a woman I still managed to rise to the highest level with lots of hard work and commitment.

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

It’s important to continuously improve your education and skill level – I did a Masters before I came to Cass so this was my second one. Though I am well placed professionally in risk management yet I continuously learn further by obtaining certifications and trainings in my area of operations. I knew that if I was to succeed I would have to be committed to lifelong learning – this has stood the test of time and a challenge for a woman.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Moorgate and the Barbican. When I studied at Cass, it was based at the Barbican so it’s got great memories and I love all the high-rises!
Favourite holiday destination: Langkawi in Malaysia for all the beaches
Must-check every day website: LinkedIn. With so many professional discussions I like to see the latest developments
Dream travel destination: Spain, I want to travel all over!
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

From Comparing Notes to Comparing Energy Prices

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

ugonwaAfter feeling nostalgic about abandoning the energy trading knowledge she had gained from Cass Business School, Ugonwa made the decision to leave her position as partner at an insurance brokerage firm to pursue her dream. She is now the successful owner of Compareenergyprices.ng, an online marketplace for oil trading and supply. Read on to learn how she did it.

 Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

My experience at Cass Business School was a memorable one. I studied for my MSc in Energy Trade Finance in 2010/2011 and I must confess it was one of the most intense periods of my life. I guess we all know that Cass isn’t a walk in the park!

We had lectures five days a week and often had to meet on the weekends. My friends in other schools often asked why I was so busy and didn’t have enough time to hang out as much in London. Others looked at me with admiration saying things like “You must be a whiz”, when I mentioned where I was studying. However, despite the busy schedule, the wealth of knowledge gathered and diversity of people I met made it worthwhile.

What happened after you graduated?

Post graduation I had considered staying behind and getting a job in London, but then an opportunity came up to start an insurance brokerage firm with a partner back in Nigeria. I guess I chose to move back to be a boss and escape the gloomy London weather! While my new career path was interesting and challenging, I still harboured a deep longing for the Energy business as I felt nostalgic about abandoning my energy trading knowledge acquired at Cass. So about a year and a half later, I left to start Viluton Energy, an oil trading and supply business in Lagos, Nigeria. I still run this and it has been extremely rewarding.

How did Compareenergyprices.ng come about?

I realized during the course of my oil trading business that companies and residences lost time and manpower having to call around in a bid to compare prices of petroleum products they purchased. I figured there could be a better way and Compareenergyprices.ng was born.

Compareenergyprices.ng is an open online marketplace, where you save money by comparing prices of various vendors, whilst keeping in mind other factors such as ratings, reviews, payment plans, delivery speed etc. With this platform buyers can compare prices and purchase products from cherry-picked premium dealers with a click of a button and have the products delivered to their doorstep.

The benefits of the business are twofold, on one hand the buyers are able to get more bang for their buck, save time and avoid the stress of visiting different websites to compare prices and pick dealers who would compete for their business. On the other hand the dealers get exposure and grow their business by reaching a wider audience and market which would be made available by our website.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Actually the biggest challenge I foresaw was not what I encountered. Well, “c’est la vie”! I thought it would be difficult to convince the dealers to join, however we have had to carefully select from a lot of dealers. Our major challenge has been convincing clients to place actual orders.

We get a lot of visitors who compare but do not necessarily click the purchase button and we are trying to increase our conversion rate i.e convince window shoppers to become actual buyers.

In addition as a startup, we have had to do a lot of PR to get the ball rolling and this certainly does not come cheap. Getting skilled hands to work with you and help bring your vision to reality is often difficult as well.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

The most rewarding experience has been getting feedback from site users and hearing people say things like “Wow this is such an innovative idea, how come no one had ever thought of this in Nigeria?”

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

With regards to advice, I reckon that you have to be prepared, do a lot of research and have a watertight business plan.  Also seek advice from experienced people with knowledge about the intended business and never take no for an answer.

Lastly dream bigger than your mind can fathom, if your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough!

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London:  Scotts Restaurant

Favourite holiday destination:  Miami

Must-check every day website: Bloomberg

Dream travel destination:  Fiji Islands

Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

I am DIA

Alumni Stories, Uncategorized.

Dia Poster ST - 8TH JULY CHANGEDia Thanki – aka DIA – studied BSc Management and Systems, and went on to be a project manager and then founded her own record label. She will be playing her first solo concert on 24th September. We had a chat about this exciting change of direction!

Tell me about your time at Cass

I did my undergraduate degree at Cass – I studied a BSc (Hons) Management and Systems and I did well – I got a 2:1 and really enjoyed the experience. I met great people from all around the world, and I still keep in touch with some of the lecturers. It was a really inspiring time.

What did you get up to next?

I got a studentship to do a Masters in Management Information Systems at Cranfield University. This was a one year course and when I finished I couldn’t find the role I wanted, so I joined a Motown group called “Mission Blue” for a short time as a backing singer and dancer and we performed nationally. We performed covers of all the classic Motown hits, but I left because I realised I prefer to be a solo artist, performing my own songs.

I eventually got hired at Lehman Brothers having taken a gap year as a teenager to work at PricewaterhouseCoopers in their Corporate & International Tax division. I then moved to Turner & Townsend, a construction project management firm where I worked as an Information Systems Manager. Following this, I fell in to project management with the likes of British Telecom, Bupa and many more private and public sector clients as a freelance Consultant, advising on operational and strategic planning.

Though I was successful at my work, I realised that this wasn’t fulfilling, so I decided to go to LA. I joined a vocal camp in the summer, and was coached by Seth Riggs who has coached the likes of Beyonce and Michael Jackson. I went there for a few weeks and learned important concepts like vocal technique, stage presence, production and song writing – and it spurred me on to start following through with my dream to be a singer.

When did you start being interested in music?

When I was 5 years old I had a keyboard my aunty bought me and I just started playing it intuitively – so that was really the first sign that I had a propensity towards music. I properly fell into music around age 13. I participated in a song contest in London and I was a finalist alongside a few others in the same age category, and we performed in front of 500 people. I also then chose to do GCSE music.

Also my aunty ran a community group called Holly Hall Music, so I went along and met lots of other teens with different talents and we performed every year at different venues like Islington Town Hall and various theatres. I had a very active extra-curricular life with playing the keyboard, singing, choreography and dancing during my teenage years. Patrick Jean-Paul Denis was my vocal coach and gave me the support I needed to develop my voice.

So, your first solo show?

I finally set up my own record label about two and half years ago. I decided I want to write songs, manage and co-produce the set. I’ve had ups and downs in the industry so it’s nice to have that control. My first solo concert will be on 24th September.

I’m the headliner and I’ve got producers from Paris (Audible Art) and the Netherlands (Roman & Ravy) working on the music production. It’s going to be more of a dance production rather than a live band; I’ve got Del Mak on board. He is one of the UK’s top choreographers and often gets invited to be a judge at hip-hop competitions. My concert on the 24th September is at the Watermans Theatre in Brentford near Chiswick, West London.

What has been your main challenge along the way?

Being ethnically Indian (I was actually born in Kenya and I grew up in London), people in the industry have always wanted me to fuse Bollywood and pop music and I didn’t really want to do that as it’s not really my style. I love urban music – hip hop, dancehall and house music. There are some world influences in some of my songs but I’m trying to break free from this box they often try to put artists in and I just want to produce pioneering, great quality work to attract a diverse demographic regardless or gender, ethnicity or age.

Do you have any advice for anyone following in your footsteps?

I’m still at the early stages of my music career but I would say that I don’t have any regrets regarding my late start into music. My project management background has certainly helped me run my own label, especially with the multitasking and delegating – there are lots of transferable skills so if anyone is considering a career transition, I think they should maximise their past experiences and apply their skills into their new career. Nothing is ever wasted and it’s all part of the journey.

Having said that, there are moments where I wished I had followed my passion earlier, however, I guess everything happens for a reason. If you have a passion for something, you should definitely follow it, even if it’s part-time to begin with.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Erm.. The Shard GONG bar – it has a fantastic view of London and I always feel so grateful to be living in one of the best cities in the world!
Favourite holiday destination: Bali without a doubt!
Must check every day website: www.iamdia.com :-)
Dream travel destination: Hawaii
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese (when I’m not going through my vegan phase!) – I’ve not got much of a sweet tooth!

Follow DIA on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter via @iamdiauk. To buy tickets for DIA’s concert visit the booking website or call Chilli Tickets directly on 020 3474 0674.

Discovering Grace

Alumni Notice Board, Alumni Stories, Arts and Social Sciences News, City News.

Meet Jocelyn RobJocelyn Robsonson, the City alumna who coincidentally found the story that became her debut book whilst studying Creative Writing here at City. Read Jocelyn’s interview to learn how the journey of finding the story became a story in its own right. 

Tell me about your time at City!

In 2008 I started the Creative Writing (Non-fiction) MA course so I could learn to use the techniques of fiction to tell a true story. At the time, I was working at London Metropolitan University as a researcher for the Institute of Policy Studies in Education and I really wanted a change of direction.

I had always wanted to write but I was never sure how I could make a living from it. A short time after starting the course I came across Grace’s story. I had seen some old photographs of girls in a gymnasium and wondered where they were and what they were doing. I soon found out that the girls were attending a technical education school in London and that the first of these Trade Schools for Girls had been founded in the 1900s. I read that someone called Grace Oakeshott had been the driving force behind them. But in an academic article about these schools, there was a footnote that said Grace had drowned at the age of 35 – and it made me think ‘what a tragic waste of life’.

How did this become a story?

Later I found an online review of a play entitled ‘Grace’. The play was about a woman called Grace Oakeshott who had staged her own death and run away to New Zealand. The playwright, Sophie Dingemans, claimed to be Grace’s great granddaughter and she said her play was based on fact.

I immediately began to wonder if this woman was the same as the one I was interested in. Was the footnote wrong? Had Grace not drowned after all? I started to Google. I then contacted the theatre company in New Zealand where the play had been performed and was put in touch with Sophie who in turn put me in touch with her mum, Cherry. Though Grace had assumed a new name in New Zealand, Sophie and her family had always known who their relative really was.

Cherry told me she was the daughter of Tony, one of Grace’s sons. I’m actually a New Zealander myself and when I was there a couple of months later for a conference Cherry met me at the airport. She took me to a cemetery in a small town in Hawke’s Bay and showed me the grave of someone called Joan Leslie Reeve. ‘That woman is the person you know as Grace Oakeshott’, she said.
By this time the story was getting exciting and I was struggling to balance my first year coursework with all the research I had to do. And I still had to decide how to write my book. I didn’t want to write Grace’s story in an academic way nor did I want it to be a dull story about education for girls, so I read lots to get ideas!

Coming to the end of my MA I was required to write 60,000 words which is about two thirds of a book. I told my tutor I wasn’t ready to write that much especially as there were moments when the story was turned on its head by the things I found out. In the end I didn’t complete my Masters but I left with a Post Graduate certificate. I wasn’t too bothered about the qualification because for me it was about the experience, the writing practice and the opportunity to meet others.

I was fortunate that the story and the opportunity to write it came along together.

What was writing your book like?

I left my post at London Metropolitan University in 2009. I wanted to write the book and so I treated it like a job and became a full time writer. My academic experience,meeting deadlines and expectations, helped me to structure my time. I spent 5 years researching and made some significant trips; to Fort Simpson and Fort Rae – where Walter Reeve, the man Grace ran away with, was born.

I thought of them as field trips and I also found more members of Grace’s family, and the descendants of those who had been left behind. I discovered that Walter had trained to be a doctor at Guy’s Hospital and that he knew Grace was married (to Harold Oakeshott) when he first met her. I found out that William, Walter’s father, had lived in Islington before he moved to Canada and that Grace was 1 of 4 children born in Hackney. I found out about Grace’s siblings, who her brother had married and the names of their children.

Not everybody wanted to talk to me but those who did were very helpful. I found a daughter of Grace’s great nephew on the electoral roll. I wrote to her and to my delight, she put me in touch with her parents. A short time later, I was able to meet the family in Kent. The night before my visit I was too excited to sleep! They shared their memories and family papers with me. I also traced the children and grandchildren from Harold’s second marriage – and found that one of his granddaughters lived only a short distance from me!

I had a wonderful time and I learned as much about the social history as I did about the people. It was more fun than anything I’ve ever been paid to do and the story of finding the story was as much fun as the story itself.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The structure was very challenging – trying to keep everyone’s story in chronological order and making the links between the characters clear.

What has been the biggest reward?

The way the book took me back to New Zealand where I was born and brought up. I was able to find out about my country in a different way and when I went back in March it was like bringing the two parts of my life together through the story of Grace’s life.

Any advice to others looking to follow in your footsteps?

Find a story that moves you, a subject that you feel passionate about.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Hampstead Heath
Favourite holiday destination: Iceland
Must-check every day website: BBC
Dream travel destination: Yosemite
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

Jocelyn’s book ‘Radical Reformers and Respectable Rebels’ is out now and available to purchase from Amazon