A Rising Star


IMG_9713-1Sonya Barlow studied Business Studies and won Mentee of the Year 2015 – she has now moved in to the world of media and has been shortlisted in the 2016 We Are The City Rising Stars Awards. We chatted about how everything has happened so fast!

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied Business Studies with a year abroad in Italy in my 2nd-3rd year. I didn’t major in marketing or finance but in the 3rd and 4th years I was drawn more to communication and technology (modules like strategy for business, virtual organisations), more than the accounting and business modules.

I found my first year quite overwhelming and it was hard to settle in, but by the 4th year I really found my feet. I’d studied abroad and created two societies (including the Erasmus Student Network Society), found a mentor and won mentee of the year 2015 – my mentor also won mentor of the year!

Cass is not an easy university to study at – academically the courses are tough. Recently, I was out for drinks, and I met someone who learned I’d studied at Cass and they gave me a round of applause!

At the beginning I was stuck and didn’t know where to go – but then I found myself. Finding your personality gives you confidence that you can do it, you just need to work hard. I think you just need to work hard and exploit every opportunity. I went to networking events and M&A talks to understand the University and see the path ahead of me, and I also had one-to-ones with academics and went to alumni events – so that I could start to mesh real life with the university experience.

Working life is different! I want to study more, and I want to inspire and give back. I could end up teaching! Cass is very finance based, and there are more males – and like it or not we were encouraged to go in to a banking or corporate environment once we graduated. I’m not super corporate, I’m more marketing savvy and when you go in to the City it’s all males males males, so I’m thinking – how can I as a female do something extra to inspire and encourage?

How did you get nominated for this award?

The lady who nominated me for the We Are The City award, I actually met her through the Sprint London, a joint mentoring initiative for female students between City and UCL. She was a guest speaker from RBS who presented to at one of the events. I liked her story and was inspired by her so I kept in touch through LinkedIn. She sent me a message to say she really liked my progression and that I’m an inspiration, and that even though I am just out of university she would like to nominate me for this award. She said don’t feel bad if you don’t get shortlisted because you’ll be up against lots of people who have been in the field for years – whereas I am just out of uni. But I ended up getting shortlisted! You can vote for me here.

Who are We Are The City?

We Are The City is pretty focussed on finance and Cass is a finance school, which I think helped with the nomination. The City is still really a boys’ club so We Are The City was founded as a network for females in the City (it’s expanding across the UK and in India also now), focussing on technology and finance sectors. These awards are to celebrate female achievements but I don’t think it goes far enough.

What did you do next?

When I graduated, at the start I was afraid when I was applying for jobs at the likes of EY and KPMG, but after the six-month recruitment period, I reached the final stages, which was a real confidence boost.

I got all my offers from my applications, and rejected all of them, including EY. The partner who gave me the job offer said “if I were you I wouldn’t take this because you have too much personality to be in an office doing audits”.

Then I panicked! I went travelling for a week and came back to no job! I knew I wanted to go in to relationship management, not strictly media but to be comms based – so I went to a recruitment firm. After a week of looking for roles for me they wanted to hire me for their own vacancy – they had cherry-picked me. Unfortunately I was mis-sold the job as it turned out not to be about a brand partnership or relationship building, but instead was cold-calling, which did not sit well with my ethics. After five months I decided I couldn’t do it any more! I’m worth more!

Then in the summer I met with another recruiter and ended up being offered an account management job straight away after the initial interview. The problem was that it was with a start-up and it turned out they didn’t have the budget to hire me. Then the same recruiter got me in touch with dunnhumby. The interview stretched across two days and they gave me a media role in account management straight away.

So I quit the recruitment firm job, went travelling to Japan for two weeks and then started at dunnhumby. It’s a great company that’s really people savvy that lets you take the initiative, and ideas are encouraged. I never knew I liked numbers so much, and need data and insight. After six months I understand the positive and negatives of the company. I really enjoy creating media content, especially researching and writing blogs, and social media. I think I’m heading towards being a digital champion– in this day and age you have to conform or miss out.

What have been your challenges?

They are always the same for me. 1) Thinking I’m not good enough 2) Not having the confidence 3) Not knowing my values. These are the three things I’m firm on now. I know my values – the things that make me me, and I make sure that my job aligns with this. If you don’t have confidence in yourself how can someone have confidence in you?
When I went to Thalia at the Professional Mentoring Scheme, she said “you’re so confident, why do you need a mentor?”, but I was not really confident in my ability and I needed help and guidance.

Sprint London is for ladies to support each other and it’s taught me to have a plan, to know myself and to keep in touch with others. Everything is a learning experience, and for getting ahead at work, interview practice is key. Know why you applied for the job role and what you can bring and you will be happy.

Can you give any advice to others looking to follow in your footsteps?

Know your values and stick to them – this also makes saying no a little bit easier!

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

Favourite place in London: Spitalfields Market or the South Bank
Favourite holiday destination: Italy! But I’m biased
Must-check every day website: LinkedIn and the FT
Dream travel destination: If I want to go somewhere I’m usually very spontaneous and book it. I’d like to go to a spiritual retreat though!
Cheese or chocolate: Cheesecake with chocolate!

A Charitable Enterprise

Cass Business School News , .

minuMinu Batish studied MSc Mathematical Trading and Finance, 2009 and met her husband at Cass. She is now a mother, and Minu’s solution to juggling a career and parenthood has been to set up her own start-up – CharityAppointments.com, which she hopes will become the number one place to find your next charity role. We sat down to find out all about it.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied MSc Mathematical Trading and Finance from 2008 to 2009. Previously, I did a BEng in Electrical Engineering as well as an MBA and MSc in Computer Science.

I had a wonderful time at Cass and got the opportunity to learn from world-renowned professors such as Professor John Hatgioannides, Professor Giovanni Urga, Professor Ales Cerny, to name a few. I also made some lifelong friends including my husband! I can never forget the first day of our course – the same day Lehman Brothers collapsed! It was definitely an interesting time as we witnessed the unfolding of the credit crisis and its subsequent effects on the world economy. As a result, the course was also restructured and professors talked at length analysing how the crisis could have been averted and how the markets were reacting to the debacle.

Some of our classmates had already bagged jobs but the rest of us were pretty gloomy about our job prospects. Many of us didn’t have any way to stay and sustain ourselves in an expensive city like London, and some even moved back home.

What happened next?

After the Masters course at Cass, I worked for an Italian oil giant and then moved to Credit Suisse. I took a career break after becoming a mother. Before joining Cass, I had worked for investment banks UBS and JP Morgan and some technology companies and this time none of the plush jobs really excited me. I utilised this career break to take a step back and contemplate what I wanted to achieve. My husband encouraged me to explore various start-up ideas. We had numerous discussions around the ideas however I could not zero-in on that ‘lightbulb idea’ which fitted my objectives.

The market is saturated with just about every idea and solution, so really it meant taking a share of someone’s pie and wriggling through the noise to be heard and basically challenging the status quo. I explored a couple of start-up ideas that didn’t work out. When you have run a couple of start-ups and had failures, you learn how and why they fail. I’ve burnt my fingers and learnt that way.

How did Charity Appointments come about?

Finally, the idea of Charity Appointments dawned upon my husband. I had no idea about charities and so I carried out my own market research before starting out, looking at the current market for charity recruitment. There are about 170,000 registered charities and societies in the UK, plus other smaller foundations, community groups, social organisations and non-profit groups. On average, there are 6 out of 10 people who are not satisfied with their current job and are looking for a change. The estimated charity income market size is roughly £40 billion alone in the UK.

I found out that existing competitors charged too heavily to advertise jobs plus they don’t provide the complete strategic end to end solution for recruitment. Working with the premise that the charities want to cut-down on admin costs and improve their social presence and logistics, it was easy to work out a need-gap analysis and how Charity Appointments will fill a clearly defined business need in the current charity job market.

How did you get it off the ground?

Initially it was difficult, as most charities who advertised their roles with competitors did not find a compelling reason to switch over to my venture. It was about building trust and giving a face to the company. I was learning my own lessons as the site evolved as not just one strategy works in its entirety. You need to optimize your strategies and keep experimenting. One formula that works for one company may not apply to another.

As a start-up entrepreneur, at times you feel like things don’t move as you want – you need patience and perseverance. In comparison to a retail shop, an online business does not give a complete picture of the demographic profile of your customers or a face-to-face interaction about their perception or how they evaluate your brand’s value.

Would you return to investment banking?

Not really, don’t get me wrong, I loved the job while at investment banks but I didn’t want to grow old thinking I have sacrificed my best years of life working on something which wasn’t my dream. It’s better to take a pause and understand we are not going to be younger like in the film the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I wanted to be challenged and to see how far I could go, so I decided to just work on my dreams.

Also, at an investment bank, there is not much scope for the continuous learning and experimenting that a start-up provides. I launched the site in September 2015, which was not a very conducive time for hiring as recruitment was very slow in charities across the UK at this time, but I got the chance to learn on-the-job and experiment with lots of strategies. I decided to spend the time building my network, understanding the challenges of running the start-up and reading books and HBR articles.

The start-up has given me an all-in-one complete perspective while multitasking on so many roles such as HR, admin, sales, communications, research even a DIY handyman! I try to think of innovative and cost-effective solutions to save money and increase my brand presence. Gone are the days when bankers used to be masters of the universe. Now technologists and the new band of start-up entrepreneurs occupy that coveted slot.

What’s been the hardest part?

Marketing and managing social media are the most important thing in this digitally connected world. Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell. No matter how innovative and worthy your idea and product is, if it doesn’t get to the target segment, the entire idea is useless. Finding the best and the most cost-effective advertising channel can be a bit daunting. When you’re in an investment bank everything is taken for granted – the brand’s name, the office space, your laptop, desk, the teammates to share the job responsibility, even your job scope is pretty much as per the job description. However, a start-up is all very different from my previous roles in Maths and Finance!

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

For me, patience is key in the start-up business. My advice for other women who are thinking about a start-up is that the best way to do it is to DO IT! Don’t worry about your start up having no money….it never has in many cases. And don’t wait for your children to grow up, they will benefit from your multitasking anyway. But you must be fully prepared to work hard, you need to have determination, patience and the willingness to sacrifice a bit of family time for yourself.

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

Favourite place in London: Docklands. I’ve lived here since I graduated from Cass
Favourite holiday destination: I always fondly remember going to Mussorie in India as a child, and Copenhagen
Must-check-everyday website: BBC and FT, TechCrunch, WIRED, Reuters and Bloomberg Business Weekly
Dream travel destination: Greece – Santorini, and also Venice
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

A Fashion Story

Cass Business School News , .

passport pic nicoNicolai Schumann (Full Time MBA, 2009) and his sister have taken a leap together away from the corporate world and found their own fashion label, Alice’s Pig. Nicolai also guest lectures storytelling as a business tool at Cass to MBA and MSc students. We sat down to chat about it all.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I did a full-time MBA finishing in 2009, and officially graduated in 2010. Before that I had founded a business in the movie industry, specialising in scripts and story development. I bought out my share because I wanted to internationalise my career. I decided to come to Cass to study because I wanted to spend a year in Europe, specifically London, and I was also very interested in strategy and Cass is very highly ranked in this. I loved a) the location and b) the international appeal.

The foreign electives were great, I went to Dubai and Shanghai and it was just great being in a super international environment. Now I can pick up the phone and call buddies from my MBA cohort in 25 different countries!

What happened next?

After Cass, I worked at the BBC doing mobile strategy for the World News and then on to Deutsche Bank and then I worked for Charter International/EASB in M&A. After that I decided to enter the entrepreneurial world again and founded the fashion label Alice’s Pig with my sister. On the side I also lecture in storytelling for Cass, Queen Mary and Goldsmiths as well as running corporate workshops.

I enjoy combining storytelling and business – storytelling is highly important for senior management, it’s one of the best leadership tools – in fact, storytelling is everywhere!

How is it working with your Sister?

Painful!! She just had a baby, and I became an uncle a couple of weeks ago, so she’s off on maternity leave at the moment, which I have to say I am enjoying. It’s good though – my parents are also involved. The good part of being in a family business is that they are a bit more patient compared to companies that are private equity or investor funded – and see more long-term. That means we can build more slowly with a good foundation, which is working well.

Our expertise is in totally different areas, she did straight fashion and does the product development and I do all the front end marketing and branding.

How did you become a guest lecturer?

When I was working for in M&A, ironically my company itself was bought by an American corporation, and their offer was to either take the leaving package or to relocate to Baltimore. An easy choice!

I had always had a strong storytelling background and worked on many screenplays and I have long since tried to find that interface between storytelling and business. So I did some research, designed a module, and Cass took it! I lecture MBA and MSc Management students, and it’s great to combine my two passions. This approach is becoming also very typical – I thought I had something new but now you find it quite often nowadays.

Teaching is so rewarding, giving students what you learned, and at the end I always ask them if they will apply what I have taught them, and they always all say yes! It’s rewarding to realise I am helping further their career and also their life – storytelling is also a great life skill. We think in stories, we plan in stories, we dream in stories.

How did you get the idea for Alice’s Pig?

My sister worked at Puma in Hong Kong when I was at Charter International, and we both decided to get out of the corporate world and try something together as we had so many complimentary skills.

Where did the unusual name come from?

In Alice in Wonderland – this episode is in the book (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) not the film -and Alice has a baby crying in her arms. It turns in to a pig and jumps off and vanishes. She said something like – this nasty little baby has turned in to a handsome pig, and from that I took to mean, that beauty can be in everything – wonderland is everywhere. We are British and vintage, striving for beauty, and so Alice is our mascot.

What has been the main challenge?

Getting the brand off the ground in the first place was the main challenge. Creating something from scratch, it’s almost like giving birth! You have to bring it up, name it, nurture it.

I still remember our first customer! She was from North Carolina in USA. Getting our name out there is really the hardest part, people don’t know you, they don’t trust you, they don’t see you.

Trust and brand awareness are very hard to gain – and there’s ten thousand other things to worry about too, like the supply chain, quality control, forecasting etc.

We came in with a lot of enthusiasm but it’s not an easy business! If I’d known how hard it would be and how competitive maybe we wouldn’t have done it, but it’s good to be naïve sometimes. Otherwise you can just keep analysing and being cautious and you will always find a reason not to do something!

Do you have advice you’d like to go back and give yourself?

Oooh, good question! In a way, your experience is the sum of all your mistakes, and it’s good to make mistakes.

Something I probably would do differently is to spend more time in brand and product development before going out with the product, spending that time making sure everything is ok. We totally over-produced our earliest collection and we were just not ready really, if it had been more “us” it would have sold better. Ultimately, in hindsight, if we had spent more time on product development, it would have been better.

Usually it’s good to get a prototype out there as quickly as possible, but we’re talking volume here – not like an app where you can put it out there and then pivot change and review in a learning cycle. We would rather have tested before, but you have to get it out there and see how it performs. We learned how to make our collection more consistent because the first one was so hit and miss. But I always say never regret!

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

Favourite place in London: Brixton
Favourite holiday destination: New York’s East Village – I love urban areas
Must-check-everyday website: I have to say, the BBC
Dream travel destination: Mars
Cheese or chocolate: Definitely chocolate! I have it daily! In fact, every day I have a coffee and cake in the afternoon!

Check out the latest collection by Alice’s Pig here. Nico also writes about storytelling here.

Your Finger on the Pulse of London’s Bars


Richi e Iñigo (2)
Inigo Alegria (IA) and Richard Crosfield (RC) both studied a Full-Time MBA at Cass, graduating in 2014. They have since co-founded Barzlive, a website and app that will help you get the most out of London’s vibrant bar and pub scene.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

[IA] We were both students of the Full Time MBA and I have to say it was really intense, both personally and academically. Actually, we did our thesis together on Barzlive. Doing the MBA was tough but very rewarding. I loved the group courseworks – you got to work with different people from all over the world. At the beginning it was challenging, but at the end you’d learned how to work together. It was interesting to see how leadership roles changed depending on the topic or type of coursework. During the electives period, I focused on finance, which was my background, and what I thought I wanted to do after my MBA. After the core modules I took all finance electives with a view to getting a job in London in a financial role, but it didn’t turn out that way.

[RC] I think the Iceland Consultancy Week is a clear example of a summary of the experience. It’s incredibly intense, doing the MBA squeezed in to one year rather than two, and in that week I felt more stretched than ever before. We flew into Reykjavik over the weekend, met the client and began the project on Monday, presented our results to the client’s board on Friday, before having a drink or two with colleagues, and flew back to London on the weekend. I also remember some classmates revising on the flight back for the exams we had a week later! It was actually a really cool project with a pretty important client, the National Power Company of Iceland, and working through that was the MBA in a microcosm.

[RC] We both started off doing our theses on separate topics [IA] I was covering the Spanish financial crisis [RC] and I was working on M&A of energy and infrastructure companies, which was my background, and then we decided to come up with this idea to do a business plan at the same time as a thesis, so we asked Sionade (Robinson, Associate Dean, MBA Programmes) if we could do our thesis together and she agreed for a one-off. She said she was happy to make an exception and personally took care of us. Our app is based on marketing and she is an expert in this so it was great for her to take us on board and be a true champion rather than just being laissez-faire about it.

[RC] When I started the MBA there wasn’t a football team, and yet we were part of one of the largest cohorts ever, with nearly 100 people, and lots of guys who wanted to play, so I organised two games a week and prepared a team for Cass’ (stellar) debut at Manchester Business School’s MBA Football tournament.

How did you get the idea for Barzlive?

[RC] We were four co-founders initially. One of the co-founders lived in Paris and saw a website listing which pubs were showing what football matches in France, so we thought we could do something similar for Spain. Then we started to think, should it only be for sport and should we really start up in Spain? What about all other events and promotions that go on in bars and pubs in London? Could we set up a platform for bars and pubs to post everything that’s going on at their venues?

[RC] Of those four partners, there are only two left and that’s been difficult. The most challenging thing for us with starting a company, considering we’re at a really early stage, has been building the team, and that is including the founders. Dealing with the exits of two co-founders has been pretty tough emotionally, professionally and financially. We’ve had good times in the past and I’m sure we will do in the future as well but at the moment our relationship has inevitably suffered.

[IA] After the first co-founder left, there were three stakes and with Richard and I in London, most decisions ended up being taken here and then they went over to him as completed. [RC] Because we wanted to launch in London first, all the business development and marketing was going on here. He felt left out even though the plan was to develop it for Spain as well, it was difficult for him.

How did the development go?

[IA] Initially, we outsourced to a Spanish freelance, and worked with him for a year – and that’s another tip for the future – you need a tech guy in the company! There were four of us business guys and it didn’t seem like a proper tech start-up. With the tech guy outsourced not directly involved it was difficult to get someone to jump in wholeheartedly. At the beginning though it was really all about getting a product and now we have a really good tech guy, a new partner in Spain doing all the development.

[RC] Replacing the outsourcing with a tech co-founder was a key turning point for us – he is completely involved and has played a big part since joining us in September 2015.

[AI] Before he arrived the product wasn’t really working, it had constant bugs. So we cut ties with the outsourcing and took to LinkedIn to contact hundreds of developers and managed to get this guy interested.

[RC] We had our official launch about a month ago, and before that we’d had about 10 friends beta-testing it for a couple of months giving us feedback and doing design changes before the official launch.

[RC] We have started to contact all the universities in central London, as our target customers are those who are finishing university and starting their first job here in London, especially foreign students. We started at Uni – we’re a Cass spin-off!

[RC] Now we have to go to the source of the information – the bars and pubs – and from there really do some marketing.

[IA] Students will be doing lots of study from Easter to the summer, so it’s not a good time for students. We need to go to bars and companies and get them to promote the app from the inside, which should be a win-win as we will promote them for free.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

[RC] Building the team and breaking up with the two co-founders.

[IA] One of the biggest challenges we faced was finding our brand identity. We did the logo and website before we started to communicate to the outside world (e.g through social media) and once we began to do so we realised that our image wasn’t clear. We wanted to be fun and creative but our logo and website were elegant and too serious. So we spent a week in a room doing a branding exercise based on different branding events we attended and on specialised books.

[RC] The app space is so competitive, so crowded, that we had to do something bold, and that’s why we went with the space theme. We’re drawing a parallel between life on other planets and events in different pubs – the planets are like the pubs – nobody knows what’s going on in them, while you’re the astronaut who’s trying to find out!

[RC] We also really focused on our target market. We saw other competitors, such as Time Out, as being very institutional, and others as being too young and childish for our target market, so we found a gap in which to position our brand that no other app had taken.

Do you have any advice you would like to go back and give yourselves when you were starting out?

[RC] Make sure you know the motivations of the people with whom you’re going into business, and make sure the founders cover the core skills required for the start up.

[IA] Having a tech founder, definitely. In fact at the beginning we considered it and approached an MBA friend [RC] but he had a good job already and we needed someone full-time. Maybe he will join us in the future!

What’s next for you both?

[IA] The next step is to keep bootstrapping Barzlive and raise seed funding to boost Barzlive’s growth in terms of functionalities, users/customers, team and geography.

[RC] Now that we have a bunch of users, we need to get pubs signed up – users need pubs, but to get pubs signed up you need users. So we’re trying to break this vicious circle and once we’ve got some metrics or analytics and we can show the app is working we’ll be seeking investment so that we can develop many more features, not just events.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: [RC] I spoke to my girlfriend about this one, and she said I couldn’t say Hampstead Heath, it makes me sound like a granddad, so Camden! [IA] The Troubadour – it’s a classic pub and the first place Bob Dylan played in Europe!
Favourite holiday destination: [RC] Cuba [IA] Italy!
Must-visit everyday website: [RC] BBC News [IA] Tech.London [Together] El Mundo and Barzlive!
Dream travel destination: [RC] To continue with the space theme, Mars! [IA] Australia and New Zealand
Cheese or chocolate: [In unison] Chocolate!

You can download the Barzlive app on iOS and find it soon on Android.

How to Effectively Use Recruitment Agencies

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efectively use recruitment

On Thursday 21st April 2016, we hosted our third alumni careers webinar. The topic was “How to Effectively Use Recruitment Agencies”, and focussed on the importance of building a good relationship with a recruiter.

This webinar was recorded and is now available here. Running Time 39 mins.



15 Years of Business Experience, Synthesised

Cass Business School News .

Adrian bio smallerAdrian Swinscoe is an MBA alumnus, who studied International Business and Export Management MBA from 1999 – 2001. Since graduating he has had a diverse and exciting career path that has led to the publication of his new book, “How to Wow: 68 Effortless Ways to Make Every Customer Experience Amazing”. We sat down for a chat about how he gained all the insights in the book.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I was here from 1999 – 2001 and back in the day there was an International Business and Export MBA, based over at Frobisher Crescent – we were one of the last years to be over there. It was interesting! I had been working overseas before Cass as an economist with a not-for-profit in Egypt doing advocacy for reform. I was unsure about what to do next – whether I should pursue an Economics PhD or change my focus more to business. I looked at PhDs and I had offers and scholarships but I wasn’t convinced I was ready to do five more years of studying.

I’d always been interested in business, we had a family business. I applied to Cass and they were very generous to someone who’d been working overseas and they gave me a part scholarship which was incredibly nice and generous of them! I’d come from outside the UK I had no finance and this helped me a lot.

Still, for me the MBA itself was an exercise in enterprise! I only had enough money to survive until December, and by hook or by crook, with two part time jobs I just about made it work! It was a great experience, I met fantastic people who I’m still in touch with!

The MBA was a great way to gain new knowledge and to learn new stuff about myself and other people, as well as how to work together and to build a network. I also got two jobs subsequently that were a direct result of the people I met on my MBA. The MBA was a great experience and also a really useful springboard – it filled gaps and rounded out my knowledge in a really distilled fashion.

What happened from there?

On one project we pitched ideas to Neeta Patel at the FT about online businesses, I pitched and after I got a job offer. It was supposed to be a summer job but it morphed and they didn’t want to wait until the summer. They wanted me to start there and then so I had to combine studying and working – I had to make it work! It was hard work but a good experience to manage deadlines and a high workload.

After the dotcom crash the FT decided to change direction – so I got in touch with an old classmate, James at Shell (he’s still there!) and I moved to Shell for 4-5 years doing an internal consultancy role in strategy, innovation and business development. It was interesting because I’d only ever worked on projects during the MBA with him but he know what I could deliver, and it was enough for him to recommend me, so the interview process was pretty straightforward!

The MBA also gave me the information, skills and confidence so that when things change I can cope. For example, at Shell in 2004 they changed their investment priorities and they shut down my unit. I was repurposed into an operations role but I said I wasn’t interested and decided to row my own boat!

In late 2004 I became a freelance independent consultant and over they course of the last few years I’ve gotten involved in lots of different start-ups as well as various consulting projects through with my own advisory and consultancy business.

How did going independent work for you?

I have never been a natural risk-taker – but I’m always ready to try things. Having the knowledge and also being in an environment where you work with people who understand what you’re capable of and believe you have the ability to figure something out has helped enormously.

I’ve tried lots of things, and some have worked out and others have not, but either way, you’re learning. I’m an interested learner! Since 2009, in many ways I’ve been learning in public – I started to see that if you run your own show you can’t be a generalist, people need to know how you think, so I started to put it in writing.

I realised I learn off others and by learning out loud, writing ideas and exploring them on my blog. That’s why I started my podcast as well. I interview people who are either writing their own things or doing cool stuff at work or with their own businesses, and their stories can help others unlock things. It has really helped me learn but it has also become a network, and, as a result, has helped indirectly market me and my services.

About two and a half years ago I was approached by Forbes, who said to me… “we like what you do, can you do it for us?” i.e. come and share your stories and insights on our platform and that has been brilliant! I don’t get paid for it but it’s a great platform and adds a whole heap of credibility to the ideas and themes that I explore.

How did the book come about?

I published my first book in 2010, which was really a personal anthology of many of the things that I had been writing about. It was a good effort but completely DIY – I got some external input but it was self-published. After publishing it and then doing all the podcast interviews and then moving on to Forbes, my standards were going up and up and up – when you pay more attention that’s when you can really refine things.

Early in 2015 an American company had a good idea for a book for me to write, but in a very short timeframe. They were thinking about it, but the deal fell through. However, this lit a fire under me so I thought let’s create a proposal and then approach a handful of publishers. One of those approaches was to Pearson and they said that they really liked its focus.

At Pearson, I had a fabulous editor who really helped build, shape and develop the book. Basically, the book has allowed me to process and synthesise the last three or four years of what I’ve learned. However, what has been really surprising is that some stuff which is four years old is still pretty timely. In a funny way, it seems like I was almost ahead of the zeitgeist when I was doing some of the interviews – for example, with customer journey mapping and proactive customer service.

What’s fascinating is that when you’re in the middle of something and, possibly, at the leading edge you forget what you know, what a mountain of knowledge you have. As a result, with the book, we’ve been able to take all of these insights and organise them around a loose model (attract, engage, serve, retain, refer, communicate, motivate, lead) and produce 68 insights supported by case studies and interviews and also suggested next steps. What is clear is that no one size fits all but the book is organised in such a way that if you find a problem or issue that is relevant to you, you will also find advice and next steps. It’s a very practical and real how-to book.

In the end, I’m really pleased with the way it turned out. I wrote it over three months last summer and finalised it soon thereafter. However, when the time came to send it out for endorsement I went wild and sent it to loads of people! And, the feedback has been awesome. I’ve got 29 endorsements from best-selling authors, leading entrepreneurs, Chief Execs, Senior Execs – people I really like and respect. It’s been really humbling.

I’ve been doing this sort of work for years to learn and help others but when you reach out and get that level of support it’s tremendous. I’m really excited about it all, having book published by a major publisher is a real bucket list thing for me. Not just to publish a book, but to do it with a major publisher and to create a better end product.

However, I’m only half way done – it’s written but now it’s about figuring out how to tell people about it. I don’t want to broadcast to people I don’t know, that’s not the way I work. Through this process of meeting people and writing a book and doing the interviews I’ve got plenty of people to tell and to ask – can you look? Can you do something?

What’s been the biggest challenge?

I think probably it was that I wrote the book in three months, and at the same time I was also working with my regular clients still. So, the biggest challenge was trying to stay on schedule by writing at evenings and weekends. It’s also hard getting that balance between getting into that metronomic zone cranking out the words but without losing the tone and the flow and the style, and keeping it from being bored and mundane – writing so everything snaps. It’s hard to do and sometimes you have to just step away when you’re bored and mechanically churning through. But, you also have to balance that with staying on track.

Do you have any advice you’d love to go back in time and give to yourself when you graduated from your MBA?

[Long, deep thought] Not really! The reason why is that the question almost implies regret. The interesting thing about life is, let me give you an example: I met my wife at a business event, she was subbing for her ill boss and she’s ace and if I’d done anything differently that wouldn’t have happened! For me, it’s really just about how you deal with things when they happen. My career might not be the most interesting for many, but I love it and it doesn’t feel like work. I’m at the point where I have carved that out over the years and I’m so happy to tell stories to help people figure out new ideas, and learn new stuff and meet amazing people. It’s too cool for school!

I say, just do stuff you like and enjoy. Someone I know recently moved out of corporate to start their own portfolio. Her old mentor said focus on the work and clients and customers and the rewards will follow – the value comes from enjoying and engaging with the work that you do. You work for too long not to enjoy it. This is what I’m encouraging people to do with my book, giving information, data, stories, evidence and experiences. It’s not about the big things but the small, and the things you don’t pay attention to that often make the biggest difference. So try something different and make it make sense!

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

Favourite place in London: Walking across the bridges over the Thames
Favourite holiday destination: My wife maintains it was the year we stayed in a little cabin overlooking the River Dart on Dartmoor. It was really isolated, perfect.
Must-check-every day website: BBC football gossip column, then I go to Google News then I look at four daily news emails I get – The Conversation, QZ.com, Dave Pell Next Draft (which is comical and topical), and The Economist daily briefing.
Dream travel destination: I’ll probably have just come back from this when this gets published, with Barack Obama no less! Well, we’re going to Havana and he’s going at the same time for his visit to Cuba.
Cheese or Chocolate? Cheese! Stinking Bishop!!

Adrian’s book How to Wow: 68 Effortless Ways to Make Every Customer Experience Amazing is out on 8th April 2016. You can order a copy here. You can also find him on LinkedIn and Twitter. Also, check out his blog and podcast series here.

Communicating Your Transferable Skills

Arts and Social Sciences News, Careers, Cass Business School News, City News, Health Sciences News, Law News, Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering News.


On Thursday 17th March 2016, we hosted our second alumni careers webinar. The topic was “Communicating your Transferable Skills”, and focussed on how to best showcase your skills.

This webinar was recorded and is now available here. Running Time 35 mins.

NOTE you may not be able to see the links as mentioned in some of the answers, please find the Prospects job profiles here and the City Careers website here.

This presentation was given by David Gilchrist. For more from him click here.

An Address Book for the Digital Age

Cass Business School News, Uncategorized , .

Tassos Papantoniou studied Shipping, Trade and Finance from 2006 – 2007 and has been juggling his day job as a yacht broker with his new venture, an app called ConnectID. He came to Cass to have a chat about this new direction.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I did Shipping Trade & Finance, and to be honest, I wasn’t as focused as I should have been but I passed all my exams in August 2007. It was quite a change from my first degree, History & Philosophy, which I studied in the USA. This has remained of great interest to me, perhaps more so than Finance, as it turns out I am more of a creative person.

The course at Cass was a year long and I lived in central London. I didn’t tend to meet up with many people from my course, but I’ve found a few of them on LinkedIn since, and I regularly see some of them through my other business that is a yacht brokerage.

What did you do next?

After I graduated I started working for Torrance, a boutique yacht brokerage. They made me a partner, and I’m still working there today. We have had a good run with selling a 120 meter project now called MARAYA, the rebuild, charter and resale of Christina O and a healthy list of other very notable sales as well as chartering super-yachts.

How did you get the idea for ConnectID?

I had the idea for ConnectID about two years ago, and about a year ago, the idea finally solidified into the form it’s in today.

It came from going to boat shows, where I would give out so many business cards, and get around two or three hundred in return – by the end of the event you can’t remember anyone and you are left with a pile of cards to administer to a digital form if they are to be of use in the future! Once I started developing the idea, it became evident from our focus groups and chatting to people that people really want to be able to keep their address book up to date, and get rid of all that clutter, like having people’s old telephone numbers. Also with all the social networks we have today, we end up having the same person in 4-5 different places (emails, mobile, Whatsaap, Facebook, LinkedIn) so the idea is to have everything in one place with ConnectiD contacts. Basically, the idea was to tidy up everyone’s address books and create the first meta network that will keep everyone up to date as details change.

So, what does the app do?

The app can tidy up your personal contacts and ensure it stays updated as well as offering a service to organisations to keep their information up to date. It’s an app for everyday users to exchange details quickly and when you have some contact information that’s changed, everyone gets updated details based on what they already hold for you. It’s quick to use, you ask for one piece of information i.e mobile or email and you can exchange all or a subset of your contact details quickly – great for use in social or business situations, rather than having to, for example, give a phone number, swap email addresses, get their personal email and then find them on Facebook etc.

It gets even more interesting once you’re attached to an organisation that uses ConnectiD, you can then also see what information they hold on you, and update it, plus you can connect and collaborate with others members of the organisation to exchange a full set of details.

You can be attached to just one organisation, or to multiple organisations, and the same way you update everyone at once from your contacts, you update the organisations on the info they have for you at the same time, so next time you move house or change your number its just one simple update and everyone you share your details with will be updated without lifting a finger.

What have the challenges been?

There were a lot! I had never done anything technical before! I started this project so its been a challenging but equally rewarding journey. I partner with a company in Greece who had developed something similar in the past, and they have been invaluable in dealing with the nuances of contacts management since they took over the development. The app is much smarter now.

The whole idea is about one place that you can update everyone and everything. One or two years from now, I envisage that when you change your address, there will be no need to call, for example, Sky, EDF etc. The dream is that this app would be capable of updating them all at once. I want to organise the worlds contact information, be the number one source for updated information with users permission and be a go to hub for all other communications – it’s not a new social network you have the original social network in the contacts in your phone already, but ConnectiD will be the first true meta-network.

If you could start again from the beginning what advice would you give yourself?

I’m not sure I’d do anything differently if I went back to the start. I would still need to work with a strong technical team. I’d make sure they were someone who had prior experience of what I wanted to do and would iteratively build something of value for customers so I could test it in the market early.

It‘s important that whatever you do, you do it at the lowest cost possible, and you get your product out as soon as possible to get some learning and feedback from customers on it. As soon as you have a viable product, get it out there with good analytics in place and go from there. This process has taken over a year for me!

We’re in a healthy place now, but there have been a lot of ups and downs along the way. One month everything will be fantastic, the next it’s all scary looking. Believe in what you are doing and build a team that really believes in the idea, and together you’ll get there!

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Cruising down the Thames
Favourite holiday destination: Caribbean
Must-visit every day website: Reuters News, or BBC news on the TV
Dream travel destination: I’ve been to everywhere I want to go!
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

Download the ConnectID app for up to date contacts always, available on IOS or Android.

Alumnus Creates App For Smarter Networking

Cass Business School News, Uncategorized , .

GrahamBlogPic2Graham Evans studied for a BSc in Banking & International Finance from 1986 – 1989, a period of time which included Black Monday. He has since gone on to forge a 20-year career as an Independent Financial Advisor and has now branched out into the start-up world. We sat down for a chat.

Tell me about your Cass experience!

I studied Banking & International Finance, starting in 1986. Back then, we all lived in the halls of residence on Bunhill Row called Northampton Hall (which is the tall building on left in this image). It was a huge building with 17 or 18 floors. I was at Cass for the crash in 1987, it was very interesting being in Moorgate with all the privatisations. Students were taking their loans and investing them in the privatisation until BP failed!

The Business School was in the Barbican then – Frobisher Crescent. I was partly based up in Angel, and partly at the Barbican, which made for an eclectic mix.

I’m still in contact with around half a dozen people from my course and university in general, and they are starting to retire! I’m just starting to start-up!

Do you attend many alumni events?

Until recently, I’ve only really seen fellow alumni on a social basis – I meet pretty regularly with my City and Cass group. I recently re-engaged with the school itself through the Alumni Office. I was invited to an event to give feedback on my alumni experience, and realised the power of the alumni network.

What did you do after graduating?

I went to Lloyds Bank, but I soon got bored with being office based every day. I then decided to set myself up as an Independent Financial Advisor and I have been doing that as my day job for the past 20 years. I tend to deal primarily with high net worth clients on tax.

How did the idea for Linccup come about?

When my wife gave birth to our twins, around seven and a half years ago, I thought that my income was ok, but I could do with some capital. So I put down my golf clubs and started looking for what’s missing in the world! For example, I’m soon to launch a new website offering free will writing after finding out that 70% of UK citizens don’t have a will. It’s being launched in conjunction with solicitors, who will sort out the probate at the back end.

Then, in between travelling to Bermuda, New York and Hong Kong for business, I sat there in my New York hotel lobby looking at all the other business travellers sat around on their phones. I thought that there must be a way for people to link up and find commonality. When you travel a lot on business, you get bored with room service very quickly, and I thought how much nicer it would be to meet people. I think most people don’t want to go out to a bar by themselves to find a bit of company. On LinkedIn you have your contacts list, but you can’t see where the person is – they may have gone to the UK and you’re in New York for the week, for example.

So I saw a big opportunity to take networking from 2D on the page, and take it out in to the real world, in 3D. Attitudes to privacy and data have changed enormously over the past few years, and we have so many notifications and followers etc. it’s hard to separate the useful information.

What is Linccup exactly?

It’s a location-based networking app with a business focus. For example, if you’re in New York for the week, you could search for nearby users in your industry who are happy to meet up for a drink, or for nearby users that are Cass alumni who are happy to meet for dinner. There are lots of ways you can search for nearby people, so that you get the most out of your time. You can also set alerts to tell you when contacts are nearby so you never miss another of those fortuitous coincidental meetings.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Initially, you have the idea, but the biggest challenge is that then you need to work out what to do with it! Finding the right people to work with is key. This was my first start-up, so we went down the consultation route but if I did this again I wouldn’t use this service again. You have to believe in yourself!

If you’ve got contacts, if you’ve been to university, if you’ve worked for a couple of years, you can do it on your own and you don’t need expensive hand holding! There are always people offering to help with a business plan but you usually end up having to re-do it yourself anyway.

Then you need to get out and use your contacts. I’ve worked on this with Rob Gandee, our CEO, and I must say his help has been invaluable. I’m also very excited about the power of the alumni group, and also the other support that Cass offers alumni in their entrepreneurial endeavours.

What has been the most rewarding?

I have to say, seeing the app on the app store – taking it to that level of actuality. Success or failure then is partly down to how well we’ve done, but also down to the whims of life. It’s validating to know that I’ve had an idea and people are interested in backing it.

And finally, it’s the quick fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Camden
Favourite holiday destination: Lake Maggiore
Must check everyday website: liverpool-rumours.co.uk/
Dream travel destination: Tokyo
Cheese or chocolate: How about chocolate cheesecake? Best of both worlds!

Download the Linccup app from the Apple App Store – Linccup is coming soon to Android.