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Smart Thinking with The Brain Exchange

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jeanetteJeanette Purcell is a Cass MBA alumna, graduating with a Distinction in 2001, and Managing Director of The Brain Exchange, an invitation-only problem-solving network for business professionals. She is also Managing Director of Jeanette Purcell Associates, a leadership and responsible management consultancy and a guest lecturer for Cass MBA and MSc programmes in London and Dubai. Previously she was the Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA). She sat down for a quick chat about how The Brain Exchange came about, the problems facing leadership today, and cheese.

Tell me about your Cass MBA experience!

“Doing the MBA was an intense year where all other life interests had to fall by the wayside. I really threw myself into it, especially the group work. In fact, getting involved with the group was the key, making sure that it was harmonious and productive. We spent a lot of time together. All in all it was a life-changing experience – a brilliant thing to do in terms of all-round business knowledge, expanding my network and gaining inner confidence. It’s also much easier to exude that confidence in job applications when you can say you have an MBA from Cass.”

Do you participate in Alumni events?

“I have my own alumni network from my MBA and I have quite a few students that I keep in touch with from my guest lectures – in fact, one of them is now a client! I also go along to as many of the alumni events as I can.”

What gave you the idea for The Brain Exchange?

“When I moved on from my role as Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and into consultancy work, I realised very quickly that I was missing having a team around me to bounce ideas off and to help with creative problem solving. Most people decide things by talking them through with people they trust and respect, and this is what The Brain Exchange does for people without that inbuilt work team. It provides a business person with a forum to discuss business problems.

“With a colleague I set up a trial event, inviting 10 business people from different walks of life, including accounting, architecture and journalism. At each Brain Exchange, one person takes the hotseat, putting their issue to the group. There is then a moderated discussion for an hour, sticking to specific ground rules, and at the end of the hour the person in the hotseat should have ideas, potential solutions and actions to go away with.

Of those initial 10 people, each invited 10 more each, and The Brain Exchange flourished, holding one event per month since October 2013. It’s just been launched as a limited company, separate from my consultancy business. From September 2015 there will be an increase in the number of events, and the Brain Exchange idea is also spreading to organisations, for example the event at Cass, and to a charity which has members that will benefit from this forum.”

What is the biggest leadership challenge for companies today?

“My immediate reaction to this question is change management. It used to be that companies could go through a programme of change and then settle into the same business practices for years at a time. Now change is constant and significant. Companies need to be flexible and adaptable to the changing environment and to new technologies, to stay on top of the developments, and most importantly of all, bring their staff with them as the change happens.”

What is your most rewarding experience?

“Apart from doing an MBA? For me, rewards at work come from a feeling that you have accomplished something and that there is a noticeable impact from that change. As an example, when I was at AMBA I had a clear mandate for change and a huge challenge to go along with that. My goals included a strategic review, a desire to change the organisation’s priorities, and the wish to expand accreditation internationally. I achieved complete success in all three of these areas. Looking back on such a gruelling, difficult and controversial time, I’m happy to be able to say “blimey, we did that!” – and that’s the reward.”

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

Favourite place in London: “Greenwich Park – it’s right by my house!”

Favourite place in Dubai: “The Old Town – it’s got a lovely marketplace and feels authentic.”

Must-check-everyday Website: “BBC News….or ebay!”

Dream travel destination: “Australia.”

Cheese or chocolate: “Can I pick cheesy chocolate – is that a thing?”

Read more Cass-related blogs here.

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