City Alumni Network

Experience In My Pack

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

nancy with bookNancy O’Hare (Executive MBA, 2014) has spent 20 years in the oil and gas industry travelling whenever she could. Now she’s ditched the day job and has published a new kind of travel book “Dust In My Pack” part how-to, and part narrative based on her travels. We spoke about this huge change and whether she could be tempted to return to a corporate role.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I really liked the Cass programme. It was a mix of intense periods of being pushed and stretched, but I looked forward to the monthly getaways as the environment was refreshing and energising. The people I studied with made the experience dynamic and fun and everyone was really supportive. My classmates came from a very diverse background and that diversity was one of the reasons I picked Cass. I came from a financial background, working in the oil and gas industry, and the mix of people’s experiences and industries was something I really appreciated.

At the start, I was based in Geneva in Switzerland so the Modular Executive MBA worked really well. It fit with my work commitments. But mid-way through, my husband got a job in Nigeria. Soon after, I transferred to the Lagos office with my employer. That commute was not quite as easy! But it was good fun. I would catch the shuttle bus from my office at 4pm, take the overnight flight to London to arrive in the early morning and then go straight to class. I came to love the BA Arrival Lounge’s shower!

A couple of classes stood out for me. One was when we did a consulting project in Vietnam and we worked with a local tour company. It was a family business with growing pains. After living and travelling around the world, working with a tour company really appealed to me. We could apply our personal experiences as well as what we learned during our MBA program to give them practical advice to grow.

The other great class was Managing Strategic Change. It was relevant because the company I had been working for had been through a lot of change. It was a public company when I joined, then it was acquired by a Chinese state-owned enterprise so it became part of a huge entity and then there was just constant change after that with further m&a activity. But it was inspiring to see how, as a manager, I could affect the impact of those changes on the people in the organisation. How well it is managed really resonated with me and how I could make a difference going forward.

What did you do next?

Well, my husband and I love to travel. Getting away helps to clear my mind and see through big decisions. After I graduated from Cass, we took a holiday away to decide what to do next. We went to Rwanda to see the gorillas and then to Uganda for a nine-day trek to Margherita Peak in the Rwenzori Mountains.

By the end of 2014, I had spent nearly two years in Nigeria. We were ready to leave and do something different. We took time out to study Spanish in Guatemala and then continued across Central America and to Cuba for five months in 2015/16. After that I decided to write a book. At first I wanted to tie it to the energy industry, which proved difficult; it took me a while to get my groove. My husband also decided to leave the corporate world and to follow his passion for photography, which worked well for my book!

So…what’s in your pack?

My website’s theme is “in my pack” and my first book is called “Dust In My Pack”. The next book will also follow the “in my pack” theme. I’m planning a whole series, and I’d say it’s a new sort of travel book. It’s not just narrative but also not just a guide book like the Lonely Planet. It’s a mixture of how-to and stories that can bring the stay alive before you go and let you know what you can expect.

It was odd going from finance to a more creative role. I’ve had to get comfortable with marketing and cover design, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m currently working with an organisation on the cover, which is a fantastic team with the artistic skills needed that I don’t have. Even getting an editor is more complicated than you might think because there are many different types – substantive, copy, stylistic – which was all new to me.

A big part of committing to this change was getting the structure of the book right. Coming up with the focus of my book took me a long time. After I decided to focus purely on travel, the stories poured out. Then it was just writing, reworking and reworking until it sounded right. I’d say getting the structure set-up was pivotal to moving forward.

I typically like change. I’ve always moved around, worked in different roles and sought out new challenges but switching from my finance career to write is in an entirely different vein from earlier transitions. I really enjoy it, especially how flexible my time is now. I have the support of the editors and proofreaders, but outside that I have the freedom to do what I want and fit in future travels. Actually, we’re leaving in a few weeks for three and half months of travel which I will use as the basis for a second book.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

There have been lots of challenges! I would say the biggest was the decision not to go back to a corporate role and to give writing my full focus. This was such a big change. It took a long time to figure out that this was what I wanted to do next.

A finance background may seem odd for a travel writer. But, writing also requires planning and structure. I did a lot of research on the self-publishing process and lined up my editor and cover designer upfront. Plus, I had travelled a lot with my work and on sabbaticals over the years to draw from.

Do you have any advice to give?

It’s a personal decision, but for anyone trying to find their own footsteps I’d say listen to yourself and what feels right. Be aware of the opportunities, but assess them for yourself, and push out others’ expectations. For me, my big test was an offer for a CFO role that came along. With my background, that’s typically the ideal role to target. It was with people I’d worked with before and it was a really good opportunity. It tested my resolve, but I knew I wanted something more flexible and something new. I look at it in phases, I had a 20-year career that focussed on the corporate environment and now I’ve turned toward a new phase. I don’t know if this will be for another 20-years, but I am sure there will be curveballs thrown in along the way.

So, I think my advice is be true to yourself, look at your skills and where you want to make an impact. That can change significantly over your life depending on what path you take.

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

Favourite place in London: The Artillery Arms where we used to go for a drink after lectures, and the Madison, a rooftop lounge overlooking St. Pauls
Favourite holiday destination: My most memorable was Oman, where we lived and worked for three years – the country really confronts stereotypes of the Middle East, the culture is unique and people were so generous; Cuba was such an interesting place, we loved staying in the Casa Particulares, which are like B&Bs and have only been permitted since Cuba’s 2011 reforms; and I’m really excited to go back to Bhutan – last time we did a nine-day hike in the Himalayas and this time we’ll be doing a 17-day trek called the Snowman trek!
Must-check every day website: The Globe & Mail, it’s like Canada’s BBC
Dream travel destination: Some places I’ll go to on my next trip, like Myanmar, but I think my top pick has to be the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia – its hiking sounds amazing!
Cheese or chocolate: It used to be chocolate but over the years it’s switched to cheese! I think it’s all the good European cheeses from living in Switzerland!

Nancy’s ebook can be purchased from most online bookstores including Amazon and iTunes. A paperback version will be released later this year. Find out more on her website.

Scholar Spotlight: Gabriella Soffer (MEng Biomedical Engineering)

Scholar Spotlight.

Gabriella Soffer is a recipient of the George Daniels Scholarship. Here she talks about the impact the scholarship has had:

I started university a year after the £9,000 fees were implemented and firm in the knowledge that I would have a minimum of £27,000 debt when I would leave. At the age of 18 that was more money than I could understand and was really quite daunting. I took up several tutoring and babysitting jobs so that I could start saving up and didn’t even question the idea of living away from my parents’ home due to the added financial pressure of that. I jumped at the opportunity to apply for the George Daniels scholarship as I knew that not only would it cover my fees, it would also mean that I could get several of my evenings and weekends back so that I could focus on my work and also have some fun and socialise too which I hadn’t really been able to do until then.

The George Daniels scholarship has not only paid for my fees and given me more time to focus on my studies, it also gave me an incentive to perform to the best of my ability right from the start. I was therefore able to develop a good work ethic right from my first year and continue that throughout my studies. When I started university I did not consider the idea of completing a Master’s as I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford it but due to the support of this scholarship I do not have a £27,000 debt so I will be able to complete a Master’s next year. This is vital for me as an engineering student because it is very hard to become a chartered engineer just with a Bachelor’s. This scholarship has helped me hugely on a financial level while giving me the opportunity to truly reach my potential academically and to knock away many barriers that I face on my way to becoming an engineer. I know without it I wouldn’t have got to the point that I’m at now and feel an immense level of gratitude as a result.

Developing Partnerships, One Village at a Time

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Neil Kerfoot (MSc NGO Management, 2012) is looking to encourage more volunteers and donations for his radically different charity, Village by Village. Working in partnership with local communities in Africa, he stopped counting the number of villages helped when he hit 100. We spoke about the power of open accountability, trust and getting it right in the charity sector.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied MSc NGO Management and graduated in 2012. I was working full-time at the same time! I was living in Dublin and working a lot of the time in West Africa, and coming to Cass to do the course part-time. I would fly in from Ghana, get a couple of hours sleep, and then head to the classroom on Friday afternoons. Then I would leave London after the weekend to go back to Dublin or Ghana, it was a killer! I only missed my flight once though, after a stressful weekend we had gone to the pub!

What did you do next?

I had already founded my charity, Village by Village before I came to Cass, but the course really gave me that validation to take it forward and develop it. After I graduated the charity grew 20% year on year each year.

So what does Village by Village do?

We are a purposely small international development charity. We are the disruptive backlash to a lack of confidence and trust in charities in the UK. We are so transparent we are almost see through! Traditional charities have had their day with their lack of transparency around where the donations go and their total control over projects.

Our projects are about human centred design. We work with the local community, ask what their problems are, and work holistically with them to work out what they need. For example, their major concerns are usually malaria, education, children’s health and crop outputs. We really spend time living in their communities and base ourselves in the village, hence the name. We’re not a focus group who show up for half an hour; we’ve been living in the communities for 10 years. That way you quickly get to know the good guys and the bad guys.

We try to build partnerships, to get everybody pulling together, but the big organisations don’t want to know. There are many other well-intentioned companies actually working at odds to the situation too. For example, a fibre optic guy wants to bring fibre optic internet to villages in poverty. But nobody ever asked for it, they have no electricity, and no clue what internet is, and they are more concerned with where their water is coming from.

Another time, we built a clinic in partnership with Ghana health service and when a big organisation showed up we thought, ok the big boys are here! They had a fridge on their truck. We asked if we could help, because we know everybody, and asked if they were aware that there was no electricity? Well, the fridge was paid for by their donors and so they unloaded it! And it became the most expensive cupboard in Ghana.

How is Village by Village different from other Africa-centred charities?

We are all about low overheads and high transparency. My pay is just over £30K because it’s linked to the average living wage, and in Ghana we have a quantities surveyor on £12K plus accommodation. Recently I’ve seen charities with very low overheads, like the Salvation Army, enjoying a renaissance, especially versus those that are hiring people on big salaries, the big boys who take in over £500M. They have affected things up for the charity world, and tarred everybody.

We invite our volunteers to come and see projects and be part of the solution. Everyone who comes has to raise £1000, and out of that we spend about £150 on collecting them and looking after them, and the rest goes to the project. We use devolved budgeting, and do things like asking a volunteer to take some of the money they raised to go and get cement, negotiating with the money. We get lots of returning volunteers, which speaks volumes.

If we had our way, after the purchase, that person would then take an image of the receipt and upload it to our accounting system, published to a free and open site where anyone can see it all: what’s in our bank account, what our salaries are – so everyone who has given us money can see where it’s being spent. Big organisations can’t do that. We are small, agile and disruptive.

How did Village by Village come about?

It happened when I turned 40! Back when I was 21 I drove a Land Rover from Manchester to Cape Town, through the desert, the jungle and three war zones. When I returned to the UK at 22 I thought that the last thing I ever wanted to be was poor! So I had a career and started a couple of businesses, including an internet business at the height of the first boom, and I sold it just before the crash.

At 40 I was the deputy CEO of an education company. I returned to the UK from New Zealand and was looking at the charity sector and decided I could make a bigger impact. So I went to a large, well-known charity and spoke to them about digging a well. Because I know about Africa and corruption I said I wanted to see the well being built, but I was told I couldn’t because of health and safety. I said in that case I wasn’t giving the money!

Eventually I got the email address of the local guy tasked with digging the well, and when I turned up for the ceremonial spade dig I asked the chief if I could stay. He put me up in a mud hut with little sanitation and water. There I stayed until they completed the well, which was a huge success.

That got me thinking that I can make a difference here, and I thought – what else can I do? As a white person in Africa I decided to find out what the locals want to learn about, and that was primarily crop output and stopping their children from getting sick. Then I learned about what other charities do in the area, and decided everybody needed the conduit of an information centre. We built the centre, and I chucked in my job! I wanted to help and support the local community with a suite of information, and we even built rooms for volunteers to stay in as part of the centre. That was the start.

What are you working on at the moment?

Our big target was 100 villages by 2016. This was a 10-year target, but we smashed it in two years, because the local communities got involved! We’ve stopped counting how many villages – it’s pointless!

We work with the countries that are most proactive, and ask how we can help. Then it’s their decision because it’s a democratic process. We don’t just say how we help, we ask representatives from all swathes of society. That helps us to work with the communities, rather than at odds to them.

For example, to communities that are in poverty – what is malaria? They think it comes when you work too hard (which is not the case), and when they are given malaria nets they find it is too hot and sticky to sleep under them in mud huts with small windows and no fan. We’re generally about 150 miles from the equator! So they don’t use them, because they don’t think they need them. There needs to be joined-up thinking, not just good will.

Do you have any advice for anyone?

Do what you love! I’m generous and open-hearted and enjoy working in remote villages and working with Africans. I’ve had malaria, typhoid and once even cholera. People who do it for pennies in heaven – that’s not right. You have to do it because you like it and enjoy it.

If you want to get involved, find a local charity, knock on their door and support where you can see your money being put to good value, and is in line with your value set. Village by Village is very focussed on our values and that of our donors. People say you shouldn’t push western values on developing countries but if they want what we want, then there has to be a change because they haven’t got there yet.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Definitely the cultural differences between international development groups and the recipients. Once you get past ‘yes’ and ‘thankyou’ you can really get somewhere. I’ll give you an example. Imagine if a Chinese charity came to the UK to help deal with the old people crisis, and brought their values about keeping old people at home with them.

They offer to come and build you an extension to house your old person, and of course you say yes. But then you put the old person in a care home anyway, because that’s what your culture does, and you enjoy your extension. The point here is that how you do things in your own country and culture informs your plan and what you do about the problems on the ground. It’s about finding the cultural equality between getting the idea right, the recipient value set and the conditions of the aid.

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

Favourite place in London: Um, it’s Manchester!
Favourite holiday destination: The villages we work in. The majority of communities are so full of love and kindness, and I love what a difference you can make there. At an in inner city youth work project I worked for we would see 1 in 10 people helped, but with the same resources in Ghana it’s 9 in 10.
Must check every day website: Our homepage! I’m responsible for maintaining it, although some of our homepage content comes from Instagram from the villages showcasing our latest projects.
Dream travel destination: I’ve been to 72 countries! I think Bhutan, because I already went to Tibet.
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

Find out more about Village by Village on their website or follow them on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

Pirouettes and Politics

Alumni Stories.

International politics and dance don’t typically lend themselves to each other but that hasn’t stopped Alejandra Benet! An International Politics graduate and now also a dance teacher, Alejandra, known to her friends as Sandra, is set to blaze the trail of this unusual combo…

Time at City

So far, it has been the best time in my life. I loved my course. I did International Politics and graduated in 2015. I loved the teachers because they made me think critically about the world around me and that made me mature a lot. I think that’s why I feel really attached to City. It has developed me as a person, so I feel really grateful for that. And I met some of my best friends here at City – friendships are still there.

I also got involved in the dance society whilst I was here. When I arrived there wasn’t one, and I didn’t know how to form one, but a small group of students were already working on it. So once they had set up the dance society, I contacted the committee and it turned out to be the best decision ever. I wanted to teach, I wanted to participate and somehow this group of talented amazing people from really different courses met together and just pushed the society. We grew from 14 members to 200 in a year- it’s unbelievable!   It was such a friendly environment, people who had always wanted to try dance but had never had the chance. It was so rewarding for us to see the numbers and the impact that we were having. That same year we won the Student-Led Event of the Year Award in the Student Union awards 2015. We organised a Christmas party performance – a lot of fun, lots of dancing. And then I won Society Newcomer of the Year which was super rewarding because of all the time and dedication I’d put into the society. I had the best time ever. I wouldn’t have realised I enjoyed teaching as much as I love dancing if I hadn’t started teaching in the dance society.

What happened after you graduated?

I went back to Spain. I got an internship in a company called Famosa, one of the largest toy companies in Spain.  The internship was in corporate social responsibility, based in Madrid; which was a really great experience. I think I got it thanks to the volunteering work I did here in London. Actually also thanks to City because of the Professional Mentoring Scheme. I was assigned a mentor through the scheme and we really connected. She invited me to volunteer and get some experience with the NGO she was working in. I did that for one and half years. She also helped me with CVs, cover letters, and applications. I think it was that experience that opened the doors for the internship with Famosa.

After the internship, I faced a really difficult moment because I realised that my life was being defined. I felt that as soon as I got a full-time job, I would never have the chance to dedicate some time to dance and that made me feel really anxious. In that moment I said, ok it’s now or never. So I decided to get my teacher qualification now, as I wasn’t really sure which direction I wanted to go in. Once I made that decision, I went back to my hometown Valencia and I spoke with my school director who is also like a mentor to me. She agreed to train me as a teacher at the same time as doing the dance course. This began in September 2016 and so that’s how I ended up back home teaching ballet. I still have one exam to go; Advanced 2 vocational graded examination.

When did you begin dancing?

I started at the age of 4 in a local school called Esther Mortes Dance School, which is my teacher’s name. My father took me there because he wanted me to do something in the afternoons. Bad choice. I became addicted. Then at the age of 15/16, I started going abroad for summer courses. From these trips from two weeks to a month in London, I became determined that I would come to live and study here. It became my teenage dream. My parents thought it was a phase because I was so excited after coming back but it lasted.

How does dancing fit into pursuing a profession?

Doing international politics has only enriched me. It’s part of me now, what I have learned, the way I have matured, the way I think now because of the course. It’s also affected my dancing. I’m actually exploring a very poorly known area which is dance and international politics. I’m really interested in that common area. I want to throw a bit of light onto it. It’s really difficult because there’s no road for what I’m trying to do but I’m making my own path. I don’t know what direction I’m going in but I’m going. I tried to make dancing  fit in with what I studied by using it as the focus for some of my essays, including my dissertation. In the same way I’m now trying to fit what I have studied into dancing. The critical thinking I gained from my course has influenced how I choreograph and the message behind it.  It’s a skill that I want my own students to develop.

I’m really passionate about international politics and dance so I just don’t want to give up on any.

Recently I gave a presentation at the IV National Congress and I International Dance Research organized by the Spanish Association D plus I: Dance and Research and have published my first academic article at the age of 22; The functions of dance in society: The relation between the dancer and the aesthetic and gender standards (2016).  It’s really rewarding! And yes it’s difficult, but there’s actually a way. I have things to say about dance and politics if I’m given the chance to share them and have an impact.

And the way I dance now is completely different, the way I choreograph is completely different. International politics has enriched all of that as well. I have only gotten good things from City – it’s part of me.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

Academically – third term in my third year, nightmare. Exams and dissertation were a nightmare.

Personally – not being scared of failure. I want to try things, I want to have adventures, I want to travel, I want to do the things I want to do but at the same time that can be dangerous and you’re facing the possibility of failure. In the past I decided not taking certain risks which I then regretted, so now I have decided to just throw myself in and try because if you don’t try, you will never know.

Most rewarding experience

Graduating from City, University of London. It was my teenage dream from the age of 16. I worked really hard to get accepted. Going through that, adapting, enjoying it, and then suddenly graduating was like the end of a period for me. I actually cried at my graduation, it was overwhelming. I knew that it was the end of something that had started when I was 16. It was like ‘oh my God, you actually got it – you actually fulfilled this dream!’ So then I had to find a new dream.

What advice do you have for someone following in your footsteps?

For those people that are completely lost, it’s fine to be lost. I have gotten to know myself better in those times. It’s fine to not know where you’re going or what you want to achieve, just go through it. You have to, otherwise you will always be stuck or just flowing with what you are told to do.

Also, try to network a lot in the industry that you’re interested in. Have contacts because you don’t know where opportunities will arise. If you’re trying something that’s unknown – try to get mentors. Stay away from negative people, follow your instincts, be critical with yourself, realise when you have something wrong and have a plan B.

Quick fire

Favourite place in London: The terrace in the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden

Favourite holiday destination: London

Must check every-day website: Facebook

Dream holiday destination: Any Caribbean Island

Cheese or chocolate: Cheesecake


Check out Sandra in action:

If you would like to connect with Sandra, you can find her on LinkedIn: Alejandra Benet Garcia



A Haus to Call Home

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Kaniyet Rayev (BSc Management 2016) graduated from Cass with dreams of starting his own business. Little did he know that his troubles finding somewhere to work were about to become Haus, an innovative network of workspaces available by the day (or longer!). We chatted at first Haus location in Holborn about how it happened.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

It was amazing! Especially looking back now I have a 24/7 job and those crazy exam periods are your every day experience. I had my birthday the other day, and I was thinking just how much life feels like the exams time. When you finish University you start appreciating it – you realise what a good time you had.

In terms of what we studied, Cass was pretty helpful. I studied BSc Management and that was really good for a broad range of subjects. I intentionally didn’t have a specialism because when you manage your own business you do it all: the marketing, operations, finance. So I’m using everything that I learned.

What did you do after you graduated?

I was planning to launch another company, based on my dissertation, which was like Airbnb for experiences. I was doing my research for it, and I found out that Airbnb were testing a very similar concept. So I stopped developing it.

That must have been a shock! What did you do next?

My idea for Haus came from being tired of the library! After I graduated, all June and July I was walking around searching for a place to work. I tried coffee shops, museums, but they don’t really work for me. They are too crowded and noisy, and you’re worried about stealing, so you can’t easily go to the toilet. There are lots of problems and you actually spend quite a bit of money living this way.

I realised there are so many empty places that don’t get used all the time. That gave me the idea. Restaurants and bars are often closed in the day and that’s useful space going unused. For example, this place is closed until 5pm.

The idea wasn’t really formulated in my head until I did some research. Schemes like this exist in other parts of the world but nothing like this is happening in London. I decided that if I found a restaurant I would go for it! I didn’t even have a business plan. Unfortunately my first contact fell through, but I started the search again and Haus was born.

What is Haus exactly?

Haus is going to be a network of workspaces around London where you can work alongside other early stage start-ups and freelancers. I hope that as soon as our members will meet regularly in one place, it will lead to a better collaboration and friendship between them.

Do you have any advice for others starting a business after Uni?

Speak to at least one person per day relevant to the industry you want to work in. I have a really limited network of people in this industry and I’m building my contacts at the moment. Just imagine if I’d spent the three years of University time doing this. I’d be in a much different position! In two months I have met more relevant people than in the past three years.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Marketing. I think at Cass, marketing was different to what I actually use in real life. We didn’t learn Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, SEO, PPC and other digital marketing tools which are very simple, but they just take time to learn. These are technical – you know it or you don’t and that’s the challenge. If you plan to do business, especially in this industry, you should know how to do digital marketing in advance, it’s very important.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London:
Wallace Collection Café
Favourite holiday destination: Blenheim Palace
Must-check every day website: Facebook, it’s not just my friends on there, I also follow lots of relevant news outlets like TechCrunch
Dream travel destination: Macchu Picchu
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

You can work at Haus for £99 incl VAT/month for students and recent alumni, or £150 + VAT/month for the general public. Haus offers trial periods and flexible options. Find out more on their website, and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2017

Alumni Notice Board.

Congratulations to the following alumni who have all been named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2017

Mr Nicholas P Baldwin

Chairman, Office for Nuclear Regulation,

BSc Mechanical Engineering 1975

Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)

For services to Nuclear Safety and Security and to the charitable sector.


Ms Anna M Richardson

Research Officer, The Home Office (Hampshire)

MSc    Advanced Social Research Methods 2000

Officer of the Order of the British Empire

For services to Drugs and Alcohol Evidence-based Policy.


Mr Adrian B Turpin

Director, Wigtown Book Festival

PG Dip Periodical Journalism 1992

Officers of the Order of the British Empire

For services to Literature and the Economy in Wigtownshire.


Dame Stephanie Shirley

DSc Honorary Doctor of Science 1999

Companion of Honour

For services to the IT Industry and Philanthropy.


Dame Beryl Grey

DL Honorary Doctor of Letters 1974

Companions of Honour

For services to Dance.


Sir Mark J Boleat

Chairman, Link Scheme Ltd

Knight Bachelor

For services to the Financial Services Industry and to Local Government in London.


Sir John Low

Chief Executive Charities Aid Foundation

Member of Council

Knights Bachelor

For charitable services.


Image credit:

The Stars Move Still

Alumni Stories.

Andy Regan (Psychotherapy and Counselling, 1998) has written his debut novel The Stars Move Still, a combination of fact and fiction spanning the 19th and 20th century. Here Andy gives us a short overview of his book and his time at City. 

Tell us about your book:

My debut novel is based on what still remains America’s worst school massacre.  On 18th May 1927 in the small town of Bath, Michigan, a series of explosions culminated in the deaths of thirty-eight children and several adults.  The events were both terrifying and bizarre in many ways – what appear the most off beat incidents and comments in the book are based on established records from the time.

Spanning the late nineteenth century until the middle of the twentieth century, the book combines real and fictional characters to explore the seeds of the tragedy, right through to various generations attempting to come to terms with their experiences.
Family dramas are placed in historical perspective, with substantive themes such as race, the ever present fear of disease and illness, the disaster of prohibition, educational aspiration and rumours of gangland activity cropping up.  The backdrop of the scars from both the First World War and Civil War are all too apparent as well.

The Stars Move Still highlights the complexity of human behaviour at its best and worst.  Ultimately this is not an account of a violent act but rather the story of a community that gave rise to, and was forced to endure, unwanted nationwide attention.  The aim of the novel is to combine a very dramatic story line amidst interesting historical perspective.

Stumbling on the central event by chance around six years ago, I was struck by how little it’s still known.  I loved the writing process as the story was patiently set down over a long period of time, working at a pace that felt comfortable so it never became a chore.  I researched and started writing for a year then stopped for three and a half years…returning to the project a year ago, I concluded “right, this needs overhauling but could be really good!”  Writing in my spare time also fits in with my ‘day jobs’ – I am both a lawyer and run an education centre.

Tell us about your time at City:

I studied psychotherapy and counselling at City University in the beautiful setting of Regents Park College in the 1990s.  I well remember my walks across the park from Camden Town tube station and can’t imagine a more picturesque location for study!

Originally I gained a Certificate in the field between 1995 and 1996, attending on Sundays, followed by a Masters of Arts from 1996 to 1998 attending for a day a week.

I have great memories of my studies at Regents and the Masters in particular afforded me the opportunity to delve into an area that contrasted completely with my job at the time.  Much of the course was based on existential philosophy but also with a rounded view of the main psychotherapeutic theories, from psychoanalysis to humanistic and Gestalt approaches.  The teaching was excellent and you couldn’t help but be enthused by the inspirational specialists talking passionately about their approach.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

My advice for anyone pursuing a career in writing is firstly to find a subject that absolutely grips and impels you to tell the world about it – whether fact or fiction.  Secondly if possible write when you want to rather than because you feel you have to. Thirdly for a book such as mine which combines fact and fiction, do your research in great detail then just take what you want from that research and discard the unnecessary.  “The Stars Move Still” is not a factual history so I was conscious of wanting flexibility and the story not getting bogged down in minor facts.  Having said that, the least likely aspects of my book happened – you couldn’t invent the letter sent just before the massacre, and it’s reproduced verbatim.  Truth stranger than fiction!






The Stars Move Still is available on Kindle at Amazon

You can also follow Andy on Twitter: @andyregan13

The paper version will be out soon…

Invigorate and Motivate: jobs psychology graduates do

Alumni Stories.

Organisational Psychology graduate Lawrence Francis has not only committed to living a healthy and motivated life himself, he has now made it his business to help you live one too. Read his story to find out how…

Can you tell me about your time at City? What happened after you graduated?

Graduating in May 2008 with a Masters Degree in Organisational Psychology, my experience during and after the course was probably not typical of my fellow graduates.

I studied the course part-time over two years, working four days per week at a Psychology consultancy in London, with one day at City. Having already secured a position before starting the course meant I was able to start applying my learning in real-life situations. This was a challenge as many times, the ‘best practice’ I learned at City was quite different from what the client or the practicalities dictated.

The degree itself was well structured, with lots of content and assignments that challenged me. One of the things that attracted me to the course in the first place was the breadth of topics. I graduated with the sense that I could bring value to an organisation in a range of situations.

One of the other benefits of studying the course part-time was that my course overlapped with two cohorts from the full-time Masters, giving me a network of ex-course mates twice the size it otherwise would have been.

All things considered, I would recommend studying the course part-time, however, if you are working at the same time in a related field, I would recommend only working three days per week.

How did your business come about?

I run my own consultancy, Lawrence Francis, offering wellbeing programs for individuals and organisations with a psychological basis. My vision is to help people who want to change find the key to unlock their ‘well’ of motivation. My mission is to create and nurture a community of like-minded, high performing professionals, using the pillars of exceptional motivation and health to create the change they want to see in the world. I believe that making real change takes time, and requires daily action, attention and energy. I believe the best way to maintain this long-term effort is to be motivated and healthy throughout.

The idea for my business came about when I lived in Dubai. While from the outside I was living a perfect life, the reality was very different. My health and motivation suffered as I was not living in tune with my values, resulting in a range of issues, including weight gain, insomnia and mood swings. I was fortunate to come across the techniques I now use with my clients, which I have developed into a system that helps people sustain change in the long term.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was trying to find my niche in the market and effectively marketing my services to them. It really is true that “if you market to everyone, you end up marketing to no one”. Nor is it simply a matter of creating the ‘avatar’ of who you want to work with and understanding their needs. As a business owner, you also need to be really clear on at least three other factors, knowing exactly where you want to live, your vision for the future of your company and the unique value that your solution offers.

In my opinion, investment in marketing to drive traffic to your website will not succeed until these fundamentals are in place. Creating a vision for your company 10 years down the line is particularly difficult to do when you have just started. However, I would encourage any new business owner to be brave and do just that, always remembering you can change it if it doesn’t fit.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

I retrained as a Psychologist to be close to the change that I was responsible for. Receiving emails and text messages from clients telling me about the difference I have made in their lives is the best part.

I would also add that being a business owner gives you more choice and control over your lifestyle. I am currently living in Madrid, completing the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs Program. This is a work-exchange between new business owners and more experienced ones, from different EU countries. I chose Madrid as I already have a high level of Spanish and can see myself living here for the foreseeable future. The company I am working with is a communications agency, who have helped me to refresh my brand and prepare a corporate presentation I feel confident sharing with new clients. In addition, working in a Spanish company is giving me a deeper insight into local culture, which in turn gives me more confidence as I settle in my adopted country.

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

I think that Psychology graduates have a lot of choices and I would recommend that you keep an open mind about what to do next. Many Psychologists are employed in academia or industry, but most Business Psychologists are self-employed. While it may seem like a lonely path, I would recommend self-employment if you have an unexplored wish to work for yourself. Remember, you can always re-enter the job market one or two years later if it doesn’t suit you.

I would also recommend living abroad for at least a few years. The experience will take you outside of your comfort zone and make you a more resilient person. Being an English speaker is a powerful commodity, valued worldwide, and allows you to work in many interesting places. If you are planning to live in a non-English speaking country I would strongly learning the language to at least an intermediate level and using this to engage with the local culture. This will shine through in your confidence and set you apart.

To read more about Lawrence’s work, including his blog, please check out:



Capital Philanthropy

Cass Business School News.

Björn Stjernquist (MSc Finance with a Specialism in Investments) is the founder of and runs, together with two colleagues, Capital Smiles – a powerful crowdfunding platform for charities. Offering a fresh and discerning take on crowdfunding, alongside an interactive and exciting way to get involved directly with charities, they want to shake up philanthropy, put the next generations of supporters closer to the actual projects and enjoy a little innovating alongside their full-time jobs.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

My time at Cass was really great. Previously, I did my Bachelor’s degree in Economy in Lund, Sweden and that included a semester abroad in Singapore. Studying in Singapore gave me an interest in future studies in the international arena. So after that, I applied to Cass to study MSc Finance for the year 2011-12 along with my friend Anton, and we both got accepted. We moved to the UK together and lived in a great flat in Shoreditch together with a Norwegian guy who was also studying at Cass.

I had an awesome time with my Cass friends and enjoyed the rhythm of London and meeting people from all over the world. My Bachelor’s degree was much more academic, so Cass was great in encouraging me to assess different future career options, and meet alumni and make connections in the financial services. It really opened my eyes to new roles and interests.

I was also part of MSc diaries, which detailed my typical day at Cass. It was a fun year with a good mix of studies and great parties.

What did you get up to next?

I got a job offer quite quickly afterwards, with Ernst & Young management consulting in Stockholm, so I left London soon after graduating and moved there for two and half years. Then I moved back to the UK and joined the Strategy and Product Development Team at the London Metal Exchange. I was there for two years and actually the last year of that was right by Cass as they moved to Finsbury Square! Then at the beginning of this year I moved back to Stockholm to take on the role as a Commercial Lead for Santander in the Nordics.

At the London Metal Exchange, I worked with a fellow Cass alum and now that I’m back in Stockholm I meet up with Anton and other alumni regularly. Doing your Masters in the UK, you get to meet people from all around the world – people that you can meet up with when you travel, it opens up to world for you!

So what is Capital Smiles?

It’s an inclusive crowdfunding website for charitable projects. We put the projects through screening and due diligence to make sure we guarantee the charity’s goals and methods are realistic, then we add the crowdfunding effect, giving power to the people. After you have donated, you get a direct line to the team and can follow their progress, get photos and updates. You really know where your money has gone when you do charitable acts through Capital Smiles.

We want to make the process of donating more interactive, to offer the chance to support tangible projects, and to be more fun and inclusive. The vision is to have a global platform. We also want to support the exchange of ideas between the charities to share best practice, raise standards and give our projects the best possible flying start.

We are offering benefits to supporters and also to the charities themselves by bringing them in to contact with each other. Charities tend to work in isolation, but, for example, if one project looks to build a school in Ghana and someone else has just built a school in Nairobi, there is most definitely useful information and synergies that can assist the new project in realizing their vision.

Who is working with you on this project?

I have a friend, Mattias Wickenberg who is helping out with tech development, and I also met a great guy in the UK when we shared an Airbnb, Joseph Atkinson, who works with charity and education. We are the three drivers behind it, and we all have full-time jobs. We aren’t doing this to make a penny – although we do aim to take a small percentage for marketing, to help the projects and to run the platform in the future.

How did Capital Smiles come about in the first place?

I’ve always been interested in FinTech and start-ups and I have also developed a keen interest as to why people are hesitant to donate to charity and why the process of doing so is so dull! Scandals like the Red Cross raising millions and only building three houses don’t help either, and the sector in general is so shaky due to lack of transparency and under-performing initiatives or projects. Many charities are really struggling at the moment, especially in attracting the younger generation to give, when the feeling is that you get nothing back.

I wanted to hit two birds with one stone, seizing my chance to be in FinTech and to bring benefits to the charity market. Although charity and crowdfunding it is a tough market, and we will not earn any money, seeing many thousands of dollars being raised to important projects that will change the lives of people living under horrible circumstances is the best payoff one can strive for.

When I met Mattias and Joe, we saw that with our combined expertise and capabilities we have a good set of skills to create Capital Smiles and to go from the idea to start making an impact for people!

Do you have any advice to someone looking to launch their own project?

What is really important is to do something that makes you happy and interested. If you are interested in something you have the chance to also do it really well. Ensure that you work with people that give you energy – because it’s all about overcoming thousands of challenges and keeping on fighting. Good things are hard to achieve and worth fighting for, so don’t give up! Make sure you go from the idea to development, even if it is just trying out the concept in a small pilot, because it’s so easy to get stuck at the idea-stage.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

For us it’s a combination of getting our name out there and finding that balance between growing the number of projects, whilst continuing to ensure the quality and robustness of the projects we decide to support and list on our platform. We are still very small, but we are looking to compete in the market with the big boys like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, who basically list anything on their sites to increase the volume of donations and therefore their fees. For us, it is more important to ensure that each project we list is genuinely good and has the best chance of providing a high impact in its specific area.

And finally, it’s the quick-fire questions!

Favourite place in London: Shoreditch
Favourite holiday destination: Kite surfing in Sri Lanka
Must-check every day website: Reddit
Dream travel destination: Skiing in Japan
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

Find all the Capital Smiles projects on their website or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

SPOTLIGHT: Dr Chee Ching Chan, (Professional Legal Skills, 2016)


Our alumni are really amazing and we want to share their achievements with the world! In the SPOTLIGHT this month is Dr Chee Ching Chan, (Professional Legal Skills, 2016).

Dr Chee Ching Chan chose The City Law School to study for the Bar Professional Training Course, after working for six years as a surgical doctor.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Dr. Chee Ching Chan and I come from Malaysia. I studied two courses at The City Law School: the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) from 2015 to 2016 and the LLM in Professional Legal Skills. Upon completing my BPTC, I was called to the Bar and I was admitted as a member of the The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in July 2016.

I was inspired to become a lawyer when I was a fourth year medical student at University of Edinburgh. My inspiration came from Edinburgh alumnus Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I graduated from the University of Edinburgh gaining a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) in 2006. After working for six years as a surgical doctor, I decided to pursue my career in law starting with the three year law degree.

Why did you choose to study the BPTC at The City Law School?

I chose to study the BPTC at The City Law School for three main reasons. Firstly, I know that The City Law School has a team of professors and lecturers who are experienced in providing Bar training. Its history as a legal education provider went all the way back to when it was called The Inns of Court School of Law. Some of the lecturers are also practising barristers who provided insight to the real legal world. During my BPTC, I benefited greatly from the support of the lecturers in preparing for the BPTC centralised assessments and the professors and lecturers from City gave me a lot of guidance on the methods to study as well as the topics that I should focus and pay attention to. This showed their understanding of the system based on their vast experience.

Secondly, the school is located at the most strategic location as it can be, either legally or socially. I stayed at a student accommodation just within 10 minutes walking distance away from the school which meant that I could go utilise The City Law School library on a daily basis. Furthermore, all the Inns are located within close proximity from The City Law School. I could just walk and arrive home within 10 minutes after dining at Lincoln’s Inn. The High Court and many chambers are also around the corner. When I did my mini-pupillage at 42 Bedford Row, I literally just needed to walk below 10 minutes to arrive at the chambers.

Finally, The City Law School provided me with the opportunity to convert my BPTC into an LLM. The City’s LLM in Professional Legal Skills allowed me the chance to focus on an area of professional legal practice of my choice. In my case, I focused on the procedural law of medical negligence, specifically on whether medical expert witnesses are required to be accredited.

What did you enjoy most about studying at City?

I most enjoyed attending Professor Stuart Sime’s Civil Litigation Large Group Session. It was stimulating to have a professor so keen standing and talking in front of me showing his years of knowledge. The content was undeniably heavy but Professor Sime gave us hope and courage, tips and techniques that made me believe it was possible to pass the examinations and do well in it. Furthermore, City has about 300 BPTC students in each intake and I am glad that I met many talented people from all walks of life during my BPTC at City.

My most unforgettable experience will be jogging around the City of London. Due to the fact that I stayed near The City Law School, I could jog and visit places like St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Eye, Big Ben and etc. They are all within 30-minute jogging distance. It is really a once-of-a-lifetime experience for me to jog pass so many well-known landmarks.

What did you do after completing the BPTC? What are you doing now?

I successfully passed the BPTC in my first attempt and I had been graded as Very Competent (VC). I obtained full marks for my BPTC Civil Litigation MCQ (50/50) and 44.5/50 for my BPTC Civil Litigation SAQ, which gave me an overall result of 95/100 (Outstanding) in Civil Litigation. After completing the BPTC, I enrolled into The City Law School’s LLM in Bar Professional Training as a continuation of the BPTC. I have strong interest in the area of medical negligence and I therefore approached Dr. Evelyn Pollock as my supervisor for my LLM in Professional Legal Skills. She was approachable, kind and provided me a lot of guidance throughout the tough six months. I wrote a 20,000-word dissertation at the end of the course entitled “Should medical experts be accredited?” and I obtained my Master’s degree with Commendation. This was my third Master’s degree (Master of Science in Surgical Sciences, Master of Sciences in Medical Sciences, Master of Laws in Professional Legal Skills).

Currently, I am undergoing my pupillage in Messrs Raja, Darryl and Loh (RDL) in Malaysia. My main area of practice is in the field of medical negligence because my Master, Puan Maidzuira Mohammed is a partner in RDL who mainly practises in the field of medical negligence defending doctors. Upon completing my pupillage, I will then be admitted into the High Court of Malaya and become a full-fledged advocate and solicitor.

Do you have any advice or tips for anyone who wants to study the BPTC and/or choose The City Law School?

When I was studying BPTC, I made a sensible timetable for myself and I followed it strictly. I attended all Large Group Sessions (LGSs) and Small Group Sessions (SGSs). For all the centralised assessments (Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Ethics), I made my own mind maps and notes during preparation for SGSs. My study advice would be to study consistently and try to cover every topic at least once, then try to study smart by focusing on certain topics and memorise the key concepts on those important topics. However, to know which topics are more important than other topics, I had to pay attention during LGSs and SGSs.
The City Law School was my first choice to study the BPTC. If you want to meet well-known professors and lecturers, want to meet interesting people and make more friends, want to get more exposure on the practical sides of the legal world and want to see more of the City of London, The City Law School will be the place for you to study your BPTC. In my opinion, it is a structured programme and City’s supportive teaching staff are the gems of The City Law School.

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London EC1V 0HB

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.

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