City Alumni Network

Author Archives: Danielle Critchley

The CommuniCATE Aphasia Clinic

Cass Future Fund.

At the outset, the Clinic’s aim was to dramatically improve people’s ability to communicate after a stroke. By making use of life-changing interventions through modern technology, the project focuses on enabling and providing vital therapy to those with aphasia. Indeed, for those living with this condition, the Clinic is now ensuring that stroke survivors receive at least six weeks of communication therapy. The Clinic’s reach is also extending with the exploration of innovative models of delivery such as a greater use of therapy and an increase in the number of practical applications that can be run on smart phones and tablets. Through research and publications the Clinic is also making a vital contribution to the knowledge base of colleagues in the NHS and beyond. And let’s not forget the considerable benefits that the Clinic provides to our Speech and Language Therapy students through placements and internships, developing and guaranteeing skills in novel therapies and ensuring that the project is sustainable.

We caught up with Eve, now a graduate, who undertook a placement with the Clinic:

Eve Samson studied for an MSc in Speech and Language Therapy, graduating in 2019. As part of her MSc, she undertook a placement at the CommuniCATE Clinic, and after finishing took up a role with the NHS in Surrey.

Eve thoroughly enjoyed her MSc, choosing City because of its unsurpassed reputation for Speech and Language Therapy. Her path to Speech and Language Therapy came about through previous roles and her first degree. Out of a love of languages, she chose to study Italian and French at Warwick and grew passionate about translation. This passion solidified when she went on ERASMUS in Italy, studying in the north in Bergamo. After graduating she undertook a role with British Airways as part of their cabin crew. Her passion for communicating was clear to her in interactions with passengers and other staff. This eventually led to a big career change decision, and her pursuit of speech and language therapy.

Eve’s placement at the Clinic was alongside three other students, and they worked three full days per week. She was an integral part of the reading and writing groups and quickly realised how essential she and her fellow students were to the clinic’s work and clients. If the students were not there, the clinic would not run. This responsibility made her feel incredibly valued and she rose to the occasion. She was also struck by the superb organisation of the clinic. Things were done professionally and properly and there was clearly a far-reaching impact being made on the clients. Eve places the Clinic’s importance in bringing technology to those who need it the most, and ironically, those who may not have been totally au-fait with this technology before their aphasia diagnosis. That this technology, which is usurping pen and paper, can be brought into the realm of those who truly need it, helping them communicate with family and friends, cutting down on isolation, is essential. As Eve remarked, “the Clinic is innovative, on-trend, and forward looking … Subsequently the clients become forward looking too”. The reactions of the various clients are incredibly emotive.

The essence of what CommuniCATE is trying to do, is captured in the simple words of one of Eve’s clients who was undertaking a writing strand of therapy using an iPad. “You’ve helped me so much and I have had my ability to communicate returned to me!” In particular, he has found the basic ‘Notes’ application particularly helpful. Through setting goals, ones initially very difficult to achieve, his use of this application has now become second nature.

Eve’s is now working as an NHS therapist in Surrey, dealing with adults who have acquired communication difficulties and swallowing difficulties. She hopes to stay in this field and perhaps explore areas such as dementia and aphasia. Indeed, Eve loves the sense of community in her current role. Staying in a particular area for a long time will give her the opportunity to see the impact of her work and how people overcome their difficulties through her help.

Find out more on the CommuniCATE Blog:

Care Leavers Initiative – ‘City Cares’

Cass Future Fund.

An undergraduate in the second year of her Business Studies degree, Sara, is unequivocal about the difference that City Cares and the Cass Future Fund donors have made to her life. She told us:

“Reassurance and confidence are the two things that I get from the bursary and all of the extra-curricular support that City Cares provides. Without that, I may well have thought twice about embarking upon these studies; with it, I feel that I am flourishing and getting closer to my best possible self. I have always been prone to only looking a few months ahead, and that I’m now looking at what I want to do once I graduate, and where I’d like to be in ten years’ time, is something that truly amazes me. I will never take this support for granted, and I thank all those who have donated and contributed to City Cares.”

Indeed, helping young care leavers and estranged students to achieve their academic potential through our dedicated care programme is a priority at Cass. Breaking the social care cycle is essential in giving these young adults the chance to see a promising future unfold.

With that in mind, we aim to not only attract more care leavers to the Business School and University through our outreach work, but when they are here we ensure that they have access to a comprehensive support package that includes an annual bursary, a designated member of staff to offer them practical and pastoral support, priority accommodation that extends through the summer, and, priority for professional mentoring and mental health monitoring.

Thank you so much for continuing to make this possible.

Making the most of your next adventure

Alumni Stories.

Blake ReddyFrom being a Stelios scholar to going into business with easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Blake Reddy (MSc Banking and International Finance, 2012) has now created a new platform – easyGuide – that enables tourists to plan their trips around their interests and book tickets for various activities and experiences.

Find out more about Blake and easyGuide here:

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

As a Sir Stelios scholar I graduated from Cass Business School in 2012 with an MSc in Banking and International Finance. The experience was probably the most valuable year of education I have had, obtaining a significant amount of industry insight, vast practical knowledgeable versus just theoretical and excellent networking opportunities.

I had my mind set on working in finance and Cass certainly helped with enabling me to successfully pursue a career in the industry.

What happened after you graduated?

After graduating from Cass, I took an investment management role in the City, but found that the pace of where I was at was not as fast paced as I had hoped for or imagined.

Early on in my career I decided to start an investment management firm of my own, focusing on providing high-net-worth private clients with a holistic investment strategy. This decision was a reflection of my longer term goals of owning and building my own business(es).

After six years in finance, I began to see the emergence and growth of tourists enjoying “living like a local”. Airbnb really pioneered this with tourists choosing to stay in local accommodation versus hotels and more recently through Airbnb Experiences.

I ended up choosing to start a new venture with Sir Stelios called easyGuide; a platform that enables tourists to discover and book tickets instantly to hundreds of exciting in-destination activities and experiences.

How did easyGuide come about?

easyGuide was the result of finding a number of pain points when travelling to various cities in Europe and never having a reliable and simple solution to discover the best things to do and instantly book tickets from my phone.

This, combined with the sector as a whole beginning to grow exponentially, led me to pitch Sir Stelios the idea and when it became apparent I could use the easy brand it was an opportunity I felt passionate about and had to pursue.

Sir Stelios is now an investor and shareholder in easyGuide as we look to grow our presence across Europe.

What have been the biggest challenges?

As with all start-up companies, wearing many hats and managing all aspects of the business is very challenging, although it can also be the most exciting.

You have to be good with the numbers to ensure you manage the capital well and allocate resources correctly. You have to be good at sales and marketing to ensure you can raise capital when needed and actually sell your product to customers. You have to be a HR professional, ensuring you find and hire the best talent. You have to be the head of operations and make sure all your systems and controls never fail. The list goes on…

What has been the most rewarding experience?

I found the first six years of my career working in finance to be a mixture of highs and lows; when the sole objective is to generate a return on your client’s investment the actual sense of reward was fairly limited as it was purely monetary.

My most rewarding experience is therefore having the sense of building something with easyGuide which members of the public from around the world can experience and enjoy. When you receive a great review or recommendation from a customer from the other side of the world you know you have actually added enjoyment to someone’s trip.

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

People often tell you to follow your passions. In the literal sense, this isn’t good advice, but it should be considered to a certain extent. Find what interests you and what makes you jump out of bed in the morning. If you’re not excited to start your day then what are you really doing…

Once you have identified those interests start doing your homework and really prepare. We live in a world now where you can reduce the risk to very low levels before embarking on a new journey.

You can test your ideas quicker than ever and at a very low cost, so manage the risk by understanding what works and what doesn’t as fast as possible and iterate quickly along the way.

Your biggest risk isn’t failing, but it’s in wasting time.

Thank you to Blake for sharing his story! If you’d like to find out more about easyGuide, visit:

Building a veterinary empire

Alumni Stories.

Dr.AndrewMoffatt-CEO (1)With a long-standing ambition to become a veterinary hospital owner, Dr Andrew Moffatt (Executive MBA, 2011) was determined to make his dream job a reality. Although it was initially a challenge to get a foot in the door, Andrew persevered and is now the CEO of VetnCare, Inc., a veterinary management company, which currently owns and operates seven animal hospitals in California, USA. This number is set to at least double in 2020, following a new partnership with Petco, a national pet retailer with over 1,500 stores.

Find out more about Andrew, his time at Cass and his business here:

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

My time at Cass, was a pivotal turning point in my professional career. Most of my experience had been in small business units (veterinary hospitals) until I started in May, 2009. I had no formal business training to support my entrepreneurial aspirations. I’d been wanting to go to business school since my late teens. All my studies had been in maths and science, which didn’t afford me time to obtain a formal business education. It was a couple of friends, who were considering business school who introduced me to Cass. I was in London working and it just seemed like the right time. I applied to the Executive Programme and was accepted. At the time, I believe I was the only veterinarian to have applied to the programme. At 26, I was also the youngest in my class.

With a complete lack of corporate experience and business knowledge, I just sat there in awe, learning through diffusion. We had a wonderful class. Thirty-three nationalities, a rich diversity of personas, experiences and views. Our class, was also social, friendly and supportive. It was an incredibly memorable time of my life. I wish I could do it all over again.

At Cass Business School, I developed a real passion for change management. The Entrepreneurial Centre also developed my primitive entrepreneurial flare into something more robust.

It was tough to balance my relationship, day job and business school at the same time. We didn’t have a lot of money in those days. My girlfriend (now wife) lent me her savings (10,000 pounds) to pay for my course one semester when I couldn’t afford to pay the tuition costs. She also supported me through the programme, which was all-consuming.

What happened after you graduated?

The confidence I gained through the programme gave me the strength to take on new challenges.

I’d always wanted to be a veterinary hospital owner. I worked as a senior clinician and multi-site operations manager at various hospitals in the UK while I was at business school. At the time in the British veterinary industry, there was a fierce consolidation battle occurring and I couldn’t get my foot in the door. Disenchanted, I was going to make the move into human hospital operations.

One day that all changed. I received a call from a friend from vet school, Dr. Jerob Leaper, who wanted to buy his great uncle’s vet hospital in Castro Valley, California (Groveway Veterinary Hospital). He didn’t have the operational experience to do it by himself, so we decided to take on the project together. Jo (my wife) and I immigrated to California at the end of 2011. Dr. Russ Hackler (the owner at the time) offered me a job at the start of 2012, and we bought Groveway from Russ in April 2012.

How did your business idea come about?

It was Russ’s incredible legacy at Groveway Veterinary Hospital which fuelled the concept of a larger group. Why couldn’t exceptional independent hospitals collaborate to improve their ability to compete with the big guys? Jerob, Jo, Teresa (Jerob’s wife) and I learned so much in these early days! We made lots of mistakes but never made the same mistake twice. I remember early on, we couldn’t afford to paint the interior of the hospital, so the four of us and many of the staff came in on the weekend and did it ourselves (nourished by pizza and beer!). So many employees (past and present) have contributed so much to get us to where we are now. Shortly after that, we purchased Pinole Pet Hospital. With the acquisition of our second site, VetnCare, the management company, was established by Jo and I in 2013. As the number of hospitals grew, so did the expertise of the VetnCare management team. We’ve got pretty good at this over the last eight years, but still have lots to learn. We thoroughly enjoy every opportunity we get to expand the VetnCare family and have lots of fun doing so!

What have been the biggest challenges?

The thing I found most challenging as the founder of a fast-growing business was getting the work-life balance right. I was so focused on the business and its success that I failed to give the necessary attention to my wife, family and friends. I forgot a lot of birthdays, anniversaries, date nights, weddings and births. I regret this. You can never get these moments back. Going forward I intend to get this right. Be present in every moment. Passionate for every person in your life. These things are so important. Success isn’t worth anything if you’ve got no one to share it with. I’d rather be loved and poor, than rich and lonely.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

The most rewarding part of the whole experience for me has been the way our team has come together. Unfairly, I get all the credit for the group’s success. In reality, it is the amazing efforts of our teams who have propelled the reputation and success of our hospitals. Hard-working people, who are energised and unified by a goal to provide our animal patients and their human parents with incredible, clinical care.

I have a real passion for education. We’ve always tried to provide opportunities for our colleagues so that they can advance themselves. We finance the education programmes for our nurses and provide advanced clinical training for all our clinical teams. Promotion in our organisation is based on the advancement and progression of skills and knowledge.

We have quite a few employees who have climbed our organisation’s ranks through hard work, determination and education. It’s a great feeling to have built the platform that allows these people to succeed. If all our team members can succeed and grow on this exciting journey, then we are on the right track!

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

The following six principles have been pivotal elements of our success:

  1. Build a reputation in your chosen industry of excellence, fairness, honesty and collaboration.
  2. Become the employer of choice – to become this you need two things – the best HR team possible (best processes, best recruitment strategies), and the willingness to invest in your people – best education, best equipment, best leaders.
  3. Surround yourself with the most talented people you can afford (Accountants, Attorneys, Management Executives, Operators)
  4. Maintain accurate and timely financial statements. Keep a close eye on your business’s financials performance.
  5. Give to your communities and industry – if you give to these two groups, you’ll always get good karma back. Become a Centre of Education for your fellow professionals and students. Support schools and colleges. Give kindly to the charities and NPOs in your communities.
  6. Try to keep control of your company. Especially if you’re in professional services. Avoid private equity if you can. Always opt for a slower growth rate and control, than fast growth, and loss of control. Non-professionals will never prioritise your professional values and goals like you do. Instead, consider joint ventures, industry lenders, angel financing, family financing etc. There’s always a way to find the money!

Things I wish I’d done better:

  1. Hired talented executives to help me, earlier than I did.
  2. Invest equally in your family and relationships. Without them, you can’t be your best self.

Thank you to Andrew for sharing his story! If you’d like to find out more about VetnCare, visit:

MBA Thesis given the ‘sign’ of approval by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Alumni Stories.

FabrizioFabrizio Nicoli (Executive MBA in Dubai, 2014), shares how his fantastic opportunity to complete his MBA Thesis project at Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s not-for-profit organisation, R20 – Regions of Climate Action, has secured him a representative role in the Middle East.

Find out more about Fabrizio here:

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

Having lived in Dubai for the last 10 years, I undertook the Executive MBA at the age of 31 at the institution in the United Arab Emirates. This was alongside my full-time employment at the leading conglomerate Group of Dubai. Being a full-time employee while doing the MBA taught me how to optimize my time. This included adding hours of study to my days, finding motivation to study during evenings and weekends for over two years and carrying out the MBA Thesis for an additional period of seven months.

I carried out my MBA Thesis project on finance and strategy at R20 – Regions of Climate Action (R20), a not-for-profit international organisation founded by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, which supports sub-national governments around the world to develop and secure financing for green infrastructure projects.

What happened after you graduated?

During my MBA studies, I became a commercial director of a leading European construction company. Once I graduated, I was then appointed as a general manager there, which involved me setting up a new branch in Dubai. Within five years, our business has gone from a startup level to having work in the Middle East, Singapore, South Asia and Australia.

After graduation, I also had the opportunity to become a representative for the R20 Group in Dubai. I developed a strategic plan, including extensive research on the green investment market and investors’ appetite for sustainable infrastructure projects in the Gulf Region, for the deployment of an R20 regional office in the Middle East.

How did the opportunity to get involved with R20 happen?

My Idea to get in touch with R20 came about in 2011. As soon as I started the MBA, I realised that the masters would provide me the knowledge, the capability, the credibility and the confidence necessary to work in any industry, along with professionals of global companies that before the MBA, seemed to be far away from my profile.

I had the opportunity to first meet Gov. Schwarzenegger at a fundraising event in California in 2008. I later learned he had founded an NGO dedicated to sustainable infrastructure projects which focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Their approach, which essentially consists of “connecting the dots” between local authorities, who want to develop projects which have the technologies and investors and can fund project implementation, was particularly interesting to me in the context of the Gulf regions. I contacted R20’s management and presented my idea to carry out my MBA thesis with them – a strategic plan for the Gulf Region and for the creation of a regional office in the Middle East.

What have been the biggest challenges?

This has been the easiest question to answer. When you have a vision and you are passionate about what you do, nothing is seen as a challenge. The new things learned every day and the small achievements overcome the majority of the daily challenges, even when you have to match multiple cultures, projects or investments between Europe, Arabian countries and Asia.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

The most rewarding experience has been the opportunity to attend high-level meetings with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This includes when we were preparing for COP21 in Paris in 2015 and at the R20 Austrian World Summit in Vienna in May 2019. The R20 team, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, a number of heads of states and sustainability professionals from around the world were all in attendance. The opportunity to have personally met Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger twice in four years and to have presented him with my MBA project has truly been a lifetime achievement.

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

My personal advice is to have a clear vision of which business you want to do or in which industry you want to work in. Be motivated and passionate about your project and vision, and work hard to be a part of it.

I would suggest not to wait till the end of the MBA course to receive the proposal to carry out the MBA project. It is important to visualise what you want to be before the completion of the MBA, then you can create the necessary connections within the industry. Get in touch with the decision makers of the company where you dream to work at and talk to them about your project. All of this should be done before you complete the MBA.

Thank you to Fabrizio for sharing his success with us! If you would like to find out more about him, follow him on Twitter: @fabrinicoli

Leading the way in innovation and coaching

Alumni Stories.

Cara MacklinWith aspirations to help people solve their problems, Cara Macklin (MBA, 2017) has launched two impressive businesses to ensure her clients thrive in their environment and reach their full potential. Disrupting the healthcare market creating a totally new concept, Lifestyle Care Home – Northern Ireland’s first Lifestyle Care Home – enables residents to enjoy a fulfilled and active life in a beautiful home, while Cara Macklin Coach helps successful senior leaders achieve greater results, developing themselves, their team and ultimately growing their business.

Find out more about Cara and how she started her two businesses here:

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

I completed the full time MBA. Prior to that I had 10 years’ experience as Strategic Development Director, of an award-winning Health Care & Hospitality Group growing it from three businesses with 250 employees to seven businesses and 600 employees. Although I had experience operationally & strategically; Innovation & Strategic Development, Operations Director, New Business Opening, Sales & Marketing, Head HR & Transformation, Procurement Director, Culture, Customer Experience and Financial management, the MBA gave me much more insight into different industries, and international experience.

Although challenging, the MBA experience was invaluable, giving me the opportunity to work on projects outside my experience with people who had real expertise. The academic learning combined with real industry experience was a great discipline to put the theory into practice. One of the key highlights of the MBA, was the international electives in China and South Africa and completing a consultancy project in Iceland. This was an experience that I’ll never forget and a huge learning for myself.

What happened after you graduated?

With my experience in healthcare and the learnings from the MBA, I wanted to disrupt the elderly health care market. After graduation I created the concept and opened the first Lifestyle Care Home in Ireland. This model was based on holistic health and wellbeing, of both medical care and social care, where elderly people would come and live a fulfilled lives. The facilities included a café, spa, hairdresser, nail bar, pub and cinema. Within eight months of opening the home, it achieved 100% occupancy, prices 30% above competitors, won Care Home of the Year and I was awarded Women in Business Innovation Award, NI Top 40 under 40 and Institute of Director finalist for Innovation.

During that time I also trained as a professional coach, and then launched a coaching business – Cara Macklin Coach. I combine my 14 years’ experience in business leading large teams, developing and growing organisations and opening new business, with my MBA knowledge and professional coaching. Now I coach successful senior leaders who have an entrepreneurial mindset, and want to develop themselves, their people and ultimately grow their business. This allows me to work with leaders in different industries across the world, who really want to achieve their potential, push boundaries and have a big impact.

How did your businesses come about?

The Lifestyle Care Home Milesian Manor, came about because the problem I heard over and over again, was people had to go into a nursing home, but they didn’t actually want to go in. From that I focused on the problem – “people don’t want to go into a home”, and did research on what was the real reason. The overwhelming feedback was people didn’t like the environment, and the perception was that’s where you went to die. So I decided to flip that on its head and make it a place where people came to live a really fulfilled live in a beautiful environment.

Cara Macklin Coach came about because I’ve always had an eye for developing people’s potential and getting the best out of them. I recognised a lot of organisations develop the business, but often leaders don’t develop themselves or their people at the same rate and that’s where the problems can happen. My success in the businesses I have grown and opened, one of the key foundations has been my own continuous development, having coaches support and challenge me along with the development of my teams. As a senior leader I know first-hand how exciting yet challenging and lonely it can be running a business. Combing my business experience, with the professional coaching training I want to help successful senior leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit, who want to develop themselves, their teams and their business.

What have been the biggest challenges?

I believe in business the biggest challenge centres around people. When you’re creating something new, it’s hugely challenging bringing people on the journey in terms of your vision to deliver it. With the Lifestyle Care Home and Cara Macklin Coach, I use lots of different tools and techniques from my experience and learnings in the MBA and coaching training, to inspire others and deliver the idea. No matter how good an idea is, if you can’t convince other people such as your customers, staff and key stakeholders, it won’t go anywhere.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

With the Lifestyle Care Home the most rewarding experience has been creating a concept that was totally new and innovative, and making it happen against an environment being continuously told it wouldn’t work. The positive impact on people’s lives both in terms of the elderly people and their quality of life, and the happiness and contentment of their family.

With Cara Macklin Coach, it’s hugely rewarding seeing senior business leaders achieve things they never believed possible. Helping them create new ideas, inspire their team to deliver these and ultimately grow their business. This impacts not only financially in their business, but also the personal impact on the leader and their own growth and development is the most rewarding experience.

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

When starting a new business, make sure there is a real problem that you are solving and there are customers willing to pay you for it. Sounds simple, but without these you don’t have a business. As a leader wanting to grow and develop a business, I believe you must continuously develop yourself and develop your team as well as improving the business.

Successful leaders who continue to develop, don’t do that without going through growing pains. I know first-hand through my own challenges in business, and coaching other senior leaders, it’s critical to have a strong trusted support network. Leadership is lonely, and having a trusted mentor or coach is like a critical friend who supports through challenges, and develops you to achieve much greater things.

Thank you to Cara for sharing her story! If you would like to find out more about Cara’s ventures, please email: or visit the website

Entrepreneurial and experienced business leader: Neeta Patel (Marketing MBA, 1995)

Alumni Stories.

NeetaHaving been named in Computer Weekly’s UK Top 50 most influential women in UK Tech in 2018 and listed as part of ‘Top 100 BAME leaders in the UK’ by the FT/Inclusive Boards, we’re delighted to catch up with Neeta Patel (Marketing MBA, 1995), CEO of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation and the Centre for Entrepreneurs. Neeta is an experienced executive with over 20 years of strategy and operational leadership experience in launching new ventures, business turnarounds and change, and has a sharp focus on growth and revenues. She was an early internet pioneer having launched the first personal finance website in Europe for Legal & General in 1996 at a time when there were only 300 URLs registered in the UK.

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

I was part of the Cass MBA class of 1994, a long time ago! The business school at that time was located in the Barbican complex. The MBA programme was split into five verticals; marketing, IT, Finance, International Trade and Shipping and HR. I joined the programme quite late as I was going to be self- funded and needed to get my funding arranged. Doing the MBA was a really great learning experience for me because I was at the middle management level and I had the technical skills around marketing and communications. However, I needed that big picture experience and understanding of how businesses work. The programme itself and doing an MBA at Cass especially, was really an eye-opening experience in that I understood how strategy works, how companies compete and how a company sees itself. I also learned about financial management, managing HR and IT. I had learned the tools and techniques of marketing through working so it was nice to have the academic theses to back up what I had been doing intuitively. In a nutshell I think it taught me the language of business; it gave me the fluency to talk at a higher level in business.

What happened after you graduated?

I was headhunted before I even graduated! I was approached by the board director at the insurance company, Legal and General (L&G). It was just after the Easter break and it came as an out of the blue letter addressed to me at Cass Business School (this was before email became commonplace!) asking if I would be interested in meeting him for lunch at his offices in the City to talk about a potential job opportunity. I was surprised and of course I never say no to lunch, especially a free lunch so I accepted. After the lunch, he called me and offered me the role of Head of brand, advertising and communications for L&G, which was a huge step up from what I was doing as marketing communications executive in my previous role. I started the L&G job after graduation and soon realised the enormous scale of the job; I had 47 staff and a £40m budget to oversee. It was certainly the MBA that facilitated that because I don’t know how the board director at L&G would have known about me unless he had spoken to one of the Professors – but I never found out who had recommended me.

How did your businesses and entrepreneurial interests come about?

I had always been interested in the ‘business’ of business but having worked in several senior roles, I realised that the type of roles I was being offered and actually doing in these companies were always around transformation, innovation and turnaround – I was always an ‘intrapreneur’ launching new ventures and new ideas within established companies.

After L&G, I joined FT Personal Finance (part of the Financial Times Group) where I was initially developing partnerships in Europe to launch local language finance websites and then ran the business news website. After the FT, I did a bit of a career pivot and joined the British Council where, during my six years there, I led the global internet operations, customer service functions, knowledge management and marketing activities.

The shift to entrepreneurship happened when I went to London Business School in 2008. I decided to leave the British Council as I’d been there six and a half years and I was at a crossroads in my career. The Sloan Fellowship programme which is for senior managers at a crossroads was just the impetus that I needed to get back from the public sector to the commercial world; it was like an MOT for my career. It was whilst I was there that I met a couple of people who came up with the idea that we should launch a consultancy helping publishers to monetise content. That venture failed very quickly but shortly afterwards I was approached by my ex-boss from L&G who had an idea for a new kind of personal finance start-up and asked if I would join as a co-founder and as CEO and lead the development of this start-up. We spent a year and a half from 2009 which was just after the 2008 financial crisis (not a good time to be raising money!) and during my time I pitched to over 100 investors and they all said ‘that’s all very nice. But no we can’t invest right now’. We closed the business but the following week I met a venture capitalist I knew from LBS who asked me to join his company. I was working there when I was tapped on the shoulder by the chairman and founder of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation which is where I currently work.

What has been the biggest challenge with regards to your idea/business?

I thought at the time that our main challenge was our timing (starting a finance venture immediately after the crash of 2018) but looking back on it actually the challenge was that we weren’t able to sell the proposition properly and nowadays people can start businesses and go as far as launch without any external funding. We were three people who had come from a corporate background so we didn’t really understand how to do a lean start-up so our business plan said ‘give us three million and we’ll set up this amazing company which will be profitable within three years without any traction! That’s not the way start-ups work and I don’t think we understood the start-up mentality. I understand it now, ten years later!

Other general challenges which I come across when speaking to entrepreneurs I mentor is this chicken and egg situation where entrepreneurs say ‘I need to get traction but in order to get some traction I need money’ and the investors say ‘we’ll give you some money but we need to see some traction’.  Another challenge for founders is finding the right people for your early teams and especially finding the right co-founders because it’s a lonely business doing it on your own. I know of many businesses that have gone belly up because of co-founder conflict.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

I think the rewarding experience for everything I’ve done whether its failed start-ups or working in corporates is that I’ve learnt something from each one of them and I’ve met some really incredible and talented people, many of whom are friends to this day. If you have a learning mindset and you’re curious, in any job you do you’ll learn something if you ask the right questions. I think curiosity is something that is ingrained in me – if I don’t know something I will ask people and find out.

It was also a great honour to be listed recently in the UK’s top 50 most influential women in Tech by Computer Weekly magazine. I’ve been ‘in’ tech since the day I graduated so I was particularly delighted by this recognition.

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

If you want to be successful in a big corporate and move up the ladder, you’ve got to grab opportunities as they arise, which is something women are shy about doing. You’ve got to get out there and look at cross-departmental projects, put your hand up and say you want to lead it. Say yes and figure out how you’re going to do it later. That’s always my approach. I always say yes and then think ‘oh great, how are we going to do that?’. Get involved and be seen. So, when it comes to big projects you’re top of the mind in senior people’s heads. Once you deliver a great project and when promotion time comes, you are the first person they think of. It’s about creating your own brand within the company if you want to be successful.

Now, let’s find out a bit more about you outside of work…

What is your favourite place in London?  

Hampstead Heath. It’s my favourite place. I live right by it and it’s where I walk my dog every weekend. I love to see the yearly changing of the seasons through the trees, shrubs and bushes. It’s the place I go to when I need to think about a seemingly intractable problem or if I’m feeling a bit low. My dog, Jasper always cheers me up with his energy and enthusiasm.

What is your favourite holiday destination (that you’ve travelled to)?  

The Amalfi Coast and Amalfi specifically, I’ve been there six times. I just love the whole coastline; the ambience, the views, lifestyle and food. You can just sit there and look at the view forever. Having said that, I have recently discovered the beaches of South Goa, so Amalfi has competition!

Which website do you check every day?  

Very few. I subscribe to a lot of news feeds so I don’t actively go into websites everyday but if I do it would be BBC News. I also use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and will look at LinkedIn once a week or so.

What is your dream travel destination?  

I want to do the Silk route from Istanbul all the way to Beijing and X’ian, so right across Asia. I’m already making plans to do it in three years’ time or when I can take a sabbatical because I’ll need three or four months to do it properly.

Do you prefer cheese or chocolate? 

Cheese. I don’t mind a bit of dark chocolate once in a while either!

Writer pens his adoption story in new memoir

Alumni Stories.

Peter PapathanasiouAfter discovering the truth about his adoption, award-winning writer, Peter Papathanasiou (Master of Arts in Creative Writing (Novels), 2017) has recently published his first book, Son of Mine, which follows the incredibly moving story of his reunion with his biological family in Greece. Peter also borrowed from his own life and heritage to write a crime novel – The Stoning – during his time at City, which covered issues around refugees and asylum seekers.

Find out more about Peter and his books here:

Can you tell me about your time at City?

I studied a Master of Arts in Creative Writing (Novels) specialising in crime fiction and thriller writing. The original City MA creative writing programme had been in literary fiction, with the crime thriller MA having been launched in response to overwhelming demand and growing genre popularity. We studied specific aspects of the crime thriller genre including the creation of suspense, characterisation, and investigations. The overarching aim of the course was to write an industry-ready novel and establish contacts with literary agents and publishers who could then take the manuscript to publication. It was a fun group of about a dozen students who were all passionate about learning the craft and dedicated to creating stories that entertained. We had an incredible array of published authors as guest speakers too, including Lee Child, the creator of the successful Jack Reacher series.

What happened after you graduated?

My book was published! Well, it wasn’t quite as easy and as instantaneous as that; it took two more years and was actually for another manuscript I’d already been working on, a memoir. But the lessons I learnt at City and the contacts I made helped me write, edit and polish my memoir manuscript to industry-standard, which was eventually published in 2019 as Son of Mine by Salt Publishing in the UK and as Little One by Allen & Unwin in Australia and New Zealand. Both publishers have been incredible to work with. Meanwhile, The Stoning – which is the crime manuscript I wrote at City for my MA – has been recognised by numerous unpublished manuscript awards. My agent is currently submitting this to publishers with a view to it being my second book.

How did the ideas for your books come about?

My memoir is all about my international adoption as a baby. My parents were unable to have children of their own, so Mum was gifted a baby by her brother in Greece to take and raise in Australia in 1974. I then grew up as an only child before learning the truth behind my adoption in 1999 as an adult; this then led to a journey of discovery, and an emotional reunion with my biological family in northern Greece, including meeting my two blood brothers. Sitting and talking with my mum, I wrote notes on all she remembered, which I then turned into chapters that came before 1974, so the story moves backwards and forwards in time, and is told through the eyes of two narrators over the course of a hundred years. I originally wrote the first draft of this manuscript from 2008 to 2011, but only returned to it in 2018 after finishing my MA at City.

As for the crime novel that I wrote for my City MA, this was inspired by the broad themes of race and migration, and specifically the plight of current day asylum seekers and refugees. As the son of migrants and grandson of refugees, my heart goes out to the way that refugees are treated when seeking asylum in certain countries. These topics tend to receive negative media coverage these days, so I thought that telling a story through the prism of a crime would be something that would interest readers and bring them to examine these issues more easily, because on their own they can be rather confronting. Borrowing from my own life and heritage, I designed a Greek-Australian detective investigating the crime, which takes place in a small outback Australian town.

What has been the biggest challenge with regard to writing your book?

There were many challenges along the way. Writing the first draft was difficult, getting the words out of my head and down on paper. But then editing the draft and being unemotional during that time was hard too; forgetting all the work that went into writing and believing that every edit – which sometimes involved cutting several thousand words at once – actually made the manuscript stronger. In the end, my memoir needed 14 drafts, while my crime novel had 8 drafts. It was also super challenging to sign with a literary agent, and of course a publisher.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

By far and away the most rewarding experience has been having my writing connect with readers. It’s fascinating to see how different parts of my book resonate with different people, and sometimes even move them to tears. I’ve received so many messages from people with similar experiences wanting to share their stories and thank me for sharing mine. At a recent book event for my adoption memoir, I met a woman who finally became a mum at age 47 after 20 IVF treatments; she empathised with my adoptive mum, for her burning desire to have a baby, but she also wanted to give the gift of a child to help another infertile woman, as my biological mum once did. At the end of the day, that’s the power of writing – to document stories so they’re not lost forever, and to connect with readers and share our experiences of the human condition.

It was a long journey to publication for me, filled with many ups and downs. But if you connect with just one reader, it’s all been worth it.

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

I’ve found it especially amazing how the writing community embraces debut authors, perhaps because most writers remember how hard it was for them to get their break. No matter who, every debut author has a dogged story of struggle, doubt, rejection, and persistence behind their success. This is just my story. It doesn’t come easy; if it did, more people would do it.

Perseverance pays off. Keep at it. Keep going. Keep writing, keep editing, and keep submitting. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Keep working hard at your art, and eventually, you’ll knock on the right door.

Thank you to Peter for sharing his story! 

Supporting people with finding work quickly

Alumni Stories.

Todor MadzharovSince graduating from Cass Business School, Todor Madzharov (Management, 2011) has been helping many graduates and students find jobs at one of the UK’s top hiring apps, JOB TODAY. As the Chief Marketing Officer, Todor leads the marketing and acquisition efforts, and contributes towards product strategy and vision to ensure sustainable growth paths are followed. He has also helped to develop new market release playbooks which have played an important role in the global expansion of JOB TODAY.

Find out more about Todor and how he secured his dream job below:

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

It was an amazing year and the best part was meeting all the great people. I did not expect such diversity in terms of academic and professional background – in my course we had people who had studied gambling, engineering, business, chemistry and sports sciences. It was amazing. Spending time with these people was the best thing and really gave me a new perspective on life and business.

The nature of the course meant that as well as academic knowledge, I also developed great networking skills by mixing with students from all over the world.

What happened after you graduated?

It did take me several months to find the right job. Most of my classmates were going into consulting and were applying for jobs months in advance. They were participating in the graduate schemes of big companies. However, joining the corporate world was never tempting for me. I was looking for a job in a startup, I wanted to challenge and disrupt the big corporates, not join them.

Eventually, I was lucky to get a digital marketing role at a really promising startup. There were a dozen people trying to disrupt the huge and established lettings agency industry, by digitising the process and by making tenant fees and vetting more transparent.

How did you get involved in JOB TODAY?

It was very opportunistic. At the time I was working at WPP, building a digital acquisition team for Ford of Europe. I had been doing this job for two and a half years, achieved a lot, and it was a good time for a change. When JOB TODAY’s CEO got in touch with me, I was instantly attracted by the strength and clarity of his vision – enable everyone to find work the same day! How can you not want to be a part of this?

What have been the biggest challenges?

Learning that you have to make decisions quickly and accepting that you will make a lot of the wrong ones. But that’s OK. In a startup that is challenging big and established companies and disrupting an industry, there is no time to dwell. You have to get on with it. It’s better to fail occasionally and learn in the process, than to try and be perfect.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

At JOB TODAY, the most rewarding experience is reading the App Store reviews that our users leave us. It has become a bit of a daily habit. We have an internal Slack channel where we publish all our app reviews and it’s incredibly powerful to see that you are impacting people’s lives positively every day. It’s the main reason I look forward to going to the office every day and helping the company grow.

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

Be brave and be curious. If you are not happy or don’t feel challenged in your job, look for something better. In this day and age, you don’t have to wear a suit and be in a Canary Wharf office to be considered successful. London is an amazing place, there are thousands of small companies that are looking for smart and driven people and will give them the opportunity to grow and learn. You have to take these opportunities.

Thank you to Todor for sharing his story!

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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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