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15 Years of Business Experience, Synthesised

Alumni Stories, 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,, 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.

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