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SPOTLIGHT: Despina Afentouli (ΜΑ International Journalism, 2004)

Alumni Stories.

Our alumni are really amazing and we want to share their achievements with the world! In the SPOTLIGHT this month is Despina Afentouli (ΜΑ International Journalism, 2004)

Can you tell me about your time at City?

I did my Master’s degree in International Journalism at “The City University London”, as it was then called.

I chose the broadcast (radio) path and I remember that every week, under the guidance of our professors, Mike Gandon and Christabel King, we had to prepare a radio package to be broadcasted live on City University’s radio station. It was a unique experience, as we were working as journalists under real pressure conditions. I also I gained work-experience at London Greek Radio and BBC Greek Division.

Many important journalists and experts taught us and visited the City University Department of Journalism, including Roy Greenslade and Mark Bryane from The Dart Europe.

I remember the international news professor, Roger Tooze and how his effective teaching approach made me re-consider my perception about the world.

My thesis supervisor Lis Howell provided me with a great moral and professional support.

Tell us about your journey in journalism?

After I graduated, I stayed in London for my doctoral research on the British Press at the British Library and gained work experience at CNN International. In 2006, I moved back to Athens to work on my Ph.D. thesis. Whilst also continuing to work as a journalist.

I worked for media, such as ANT1 TV, Τouristiki Agora magazine, and Economist-Intelligent Life magazine. I also served as a special advisor at the Press Office and Public Relations for the Ministry of Education, LongLife Learning and Religious Affairs in Greece.

Since 2012, I have taught as a professor in Journalism and Social Sciences for the Open University of Cyprus, the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, the Technological Educational Institute of Ionian Islands, the University of Wolverhampton/College of Professional Journalism – to name a few.

For about eight years, I served as a City Council Member of Dionyssos City and then, as a Regional Member of the Attica Region in Athens, Greece. I was the youngest and the only woman elected in the local parties I was a candidate with.

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

The biggest challenge I faced as a journalist is working overseas. But this experience helped me to adjust quickly to new cultural environments, create context for international audiences and diverse communities, and build strong professional relationships.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

One of the most rewarding experiences was when I received my PhD degree in Sociology in 2010 and then, in 2012, when I published my doctoral thesis as a book entitled, “The position of the British Press in the Greek-Turkish relations, 1955-1965” in Greece.

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

If I could give an advice, it would be this; be authentic, honest, fair, and objective to the best of your abilities. Time reveals the truth. Be the one who foresaw, discovered, and defended it.

Migration Made Easy

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Tripti Maheshwari (Finance, 2015) recently won the ‘International alumni of the year’ award at The Pie PIEoneer Awards. Now her platform Student Circus has been selected as one of the businesses to participate in the Mayor of London’s International Business Growth Programme. We caught up with Tripti to hear more about Student Circus and why students, universities and employers should watch this space.

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

I had a few offers from different universities after I completed my degree at Lancaster but all of my professors said you should go to Cass for finance. Coming from an Economics degree and reading about what Cass has done, it was a no-brainer to say ‘let’s do it’. The masters is so industry relevant. They get experts who are working in the industry to teach you. It is not only academia and research, it is very very practical. It was the best time ever.

What happened graduation?

Soon after graduating I realised that I wanted a job. I finally landed an internship with a start up in Soho in London. They wanted to have me full time but I couldn’t because of my issues with my visa issues and that’s where the idea came up.  I wanted to know why is it so difficult to find a job if you’re skilled and only your visa is a problem. Apparently because of a lack of a direct way to apply international students and graduates have been applying for the wrong jobs. Out of desperation we focused on quantity – how many applications have we sent out today – rather than understanding where to apply and who would sponsor.

How did you set up Student Circus?

We did three months of market research, made a business plan, did panel interviews. Oliver from the Cass Entrepreneurship fund helped us to break down and focus more clearly on our business idea. We also got in touch with the City team and we were offered a place at the City Launch Lab incubation space. We got so much support from how to deal with people, who to contact, how to sell your platform, and soon after Cass was one of our first clients.

How does Student Circus work?

The core of the platform is information about which jobs should you apply for versus which ones you shouldn’t. We get in touch with employers and verify with them whether or not they are using their license to sponsor for graduates and what criteria they have in place. We’ve built a customer algorithm on the platform which basically aggregates these jobs. It works like Sky Scanner. On Sky Scanner you find the cheapest flights, on Student Circus you can find the jobs which would sponsor and you can filter them based on industry or location. Students and graduates sign up using their university email ID and are able to access the jobs platform, do their applications and do their application management. We’ve also got features like immigration assistant; we have partnered with a legal company in London. Our features center around the user journey of a student. Because we went through it, we understand our user so well, and so we know where to plug the gaps. We call ourselves a seamless extension to careers resources. But we always welcome feedback, so every university that comes on board have full rights to ask for new features included in that cost that they are paying. They are building the platform with us essentially so it’s very user-driven.

Where is Student Circus based? 

We’re a UK based company but we outsource a lot of our work to different parts of the world.  Some of the team are based in the city I come from, Jaipur in Rajasthan in India. We’ve also got some content writers, who are primarily students across the globe and we take a lot of contribution from alumni. So it’s pretty much all over the world.

What has been the biggest challenge in setting up Student Circus?

I think the biggest challenge we face is perception. issue. The moment that we tell people that we have a jobs platform and a skill-building platform for international students, they ask ‘why would you do that, students don’t get jobs’. But this is absolutely false because students do get jobs and companies are ready to hire them, as long as they fit the criteria.  Also students think ‘why should I apply, it’s so difficult to get a job’. It is difficult but it’s not impossible. Even if you’re a home student, it’s equally difficult to find a job these days. It takes 4-6 months for any graduate and as an international student you get only 4 months on your visa after you finish your degree. That’s not really enough. So you need to get it right from the very beginning. So I think enforcing that message again and again is the biggest challenge.

What has been the most rewarding part of it?

The fact that we’re able to help. As a student I would have wanted this and now we’re able to help those who are so talented, who come in with such high hopes and aspirations, and they finally have a gateway to make it happen. The moment we hear someone has got a job or got accepted, it’s like the best day ever.

Do you have any advice for people looking to start up their own business?

I think what I’ve learnt and what I really tell others is you really have to step out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t help to search on Google, you have to get in touch with people. You may feel they won’t answer but the worst thing they’ll do is say no. But if you don’t ask you don’t get and we often say that we’ve become shameless in asking for things because that’s the only way to get what you want. Unless people know that you need something, you’ll never get it so that’s the one thing we follow, just ask, ask, ask until you get it.

What are the next steps for Student Circus? 

We are currently fundraising to take us to the next level. Last year we had four universities as partners, this year we have almost 25. It’s a huge increase and a huge responsibility to deliver. We‘re also launching a job readiness platform very soon. It’s called Ignis by Student Circus which will essentially prepare a student. I think there is still a large gap in the readiness of a student to apply for these jobs and on our journey we’ve met experts in their fields. So we want to bring them all to our platform and create learning content and job readiness content. And if anyone from outside the UK, wants to come to the UK market, they have to understand how it works. So we want to create the international mobility community but make it very information friendly and accessible. And hopefully, in the next 2 years, we are planning a launch in Australia. So those will be the next steps.

Exercising Ethically

Alumni Notice Board, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

In the dawn of the paper straw and the reusable coffee cup, it’s no surprise that Gareth Evans (MBA, 2017) and his business partner Joe Lines, saw a gap in the market for truly sustainable, high performing, ethical activewear. Here Gareth tells the story of his new venture Peak+Flow; activewear that is kind to the earth but tough enough for your weekly HITT session.

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

When I decided to study an MBA, I had a very clear goal of leaving my career in sales, and wanted to develop a deeper understanding of how businesses work. I didn’t know what field I wanted to move into precisely, but I felt that an MBA would help me to explore my options.

Cass Business School ticked all the right boxes for me due to its excellent London location, which was near my work and home. Plus, the fact that it offered an Executive MBA programme allowed me to fit study around my busy work schedule.

What happened after you graduated?

The day I handed in my Business Mastery Project, my company changed my role, so I achieved my aim of getting out of sales on the very day I finished the programme; a brilliant return on my investment.

Since then I have, along with my business partner, gone on to grow a consulting practice and also to launch a new sustainable activewear company, Peak+Flow.

How did Peak+Flow come about?

Gareth and Joe

 

Peak+Flow was born out of three simple realisations which developed over time:

Most activewear was created using materials that were damaging to the planet. Our options were to either buy from established brands who occasionally pay lip-service to sustainability, or end up with hessian-type clothing which didn’t perform.

Secondly, we saw activewear as a category being dragged increasingly towards fast-fashion: resulting in clothing that was over logo-ed, over-designed and released faster than necessary to the consumer. Not everyone wants to walk around advertising a brand in fluorescent yellow.

Lastly, we spent time researching brands and companies manufacturing activewear and found a lack of transparency and purpose. We believe many consumers see through the gigantic advertising budgets and would like to see a company delivering on values that people care deeply about.

The result of these was both of us asking how would you build a company that would ethically create sustainable clothing.

What has been the biggest challenge?

We knew when we set out it was going to be very challenging, and it still is.

While sustainability and ethical manufacturing are being discussed more and more today, when we started out two years ago it wasn’t so common. It was a challenge trying to find suppliers and partners that met the standards required, while we are selves were trying to establish our principles at the same time as learning about the industry. Quality and function have always been paramount but equal to sustainability and ethical production.

It is challenging as a new business to find partners that will work with you, and you multiply that when your demands surpass that of nearly everyone in the industry.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

Seeing the response that people have had to the brand, both online and at the trade shows we have done. Hearing people tell us that this is what they have been waiting for is very rewarding after a 2-year journey.

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

It is going to take longer than you think, and that is ok.

Enjoy the journey and realise that no one wants it to go as quickly as you do.

 

Peak+Flow is currently fundraising via Kickstarter. To find out more and support the cause, please visit: kck.st/2Rn1Jzh

You can also follow them on Instagram: @peakandflow

 

The Eye Protector

Alumni Stories.

Dhruvin Patel (Optometry, 2015) is City’s very own super hero. His power? Protecting your eyes from harmful blue light. But this isn’t a mission he’s embarking on alone. Enter fellow alumnus, serial entrepreneur and chief supporter Asad Hamir (Optometry, 2007). We spoke to Dhruvin and Asad about what brought them together, and their hopes of become the leader in digital eye health awareness’.

Can you tell me about your time at City?

Dhruvin: I studied Optometry and graduated in 2015 from the School of Health and Sciences. Although I had already been living in London, university at City was a big part of my life with so many great experiences and the chance to meet so many amazing people. I took a lot away from my time at City.

Asad: I did Optometry too and graduated in 2007. It was like a family, everyone knew each other. Everyone congregated in the same place. Secondly there was a lot you could get involved with. That’s how I learnt how to hustle, through the things I got involved with; societies etc.

Dhruvin: I’m happy I chose to stay in London rather than go away to another university. The support for researching and developing Ocushield was great! Ocushield wouldn’t have got off the ground without the help of the Optometry department and the CitySpark team.

How did you meet?

Dhruvin: Towards the end of 2017, a member of the CitySpark team advised me that someone called Asad Hamir was doing a talk at City. He said Asad was an entrepreneur but also did optometry and asked if I knew him. But I didn’t. I didn’t think there were many optometry students or alumni that ventured out of the [optometry] space. So, I went along to see what Asad was presenting. To my surprise, I was already aware of one of his ventures – Kite Eyewear, which at the time was located in Westfield, Stratford. They’ve now moved to Shoreditch.

How did the idea for Ocushield come about?

Dhruvin Patel (Optometry, 2015)

Dhruvin: I started the business while I was at university. In 2014 the idea came about when I was working in Vision Express on the weekends. They had just released blue light blocking lenses for people that wore glasses. The research showed the lens coatings would be used for people that wear glasses to reduce eye strain. So, Vision Express brought out that product and I was quite intrigued by it, but I didn’t wear glasses. At the time Cass Business School had a competition called CitySpark. You had to submit an idea and I thought the blue light blocking lenses were really cool but wondered how I could make it something that I and others can use. That planted the seed of the idea.

So, I got a brand together, called it iSleepEasii and I launched the concept at CitySpark. Having entered and won the first stage, I went through to the second stage. They invited 50 tech entrepreneurs and asked which business they believed in out of the 10 that were shortlisted, essentially based on whether they thought it was a feasible finished product and if the problem it addressed was big enough. Fortunately, I won and was given about £3,500 to start the business. It was a dream come true.

While completing my undergraduate degree and running the business on the side I’ve sold over 20,000 units, been featured on Forbes, The Telegraph, The Guardian and have both the Welsh Rugby team and West Ham United players are using our products.

What have been some of the challenges?

Dhruvin: Running the business whilst studying and working was a real challenge. Now it’s more about finding new areas for growth and scaling the business.

Asad: Reinvesting cash, thinking about cash flow. And managing Dhruvin to a certain extent. Dhruvin is very ambitious, so I help to make sure the brand is focused and delivering the right message. It’s important that we’re spreading the right message in a market that is just developing.

Dhruvin: Yes, talking to people about an innovative product in an immature market is an interesting challenge. But awareness is growing around blue light and the issues it poses in people’s lives. We’re also showing people that they don’t have to use colour-altering apps to protect their eyes from blue light – they can use Ocushield and see better results without having a clouded or discoloured screen.

What have been some of the rewards?

Dhruvin: Just the whole process of having an idea, researching it, developing it and bringing it to market. The opportunity to help people in their day to day lives is really special. When we receive positive reviews from happy customers it makes it all worthwhile.

Asad: The development of the brand. Making sure it has a warm message, the right art direction and tone of voice. It’s been exciting to see this brand develop into a company which has something fresh to offer, delivering an innovative product which resonates with people.

Asad Hamir (Optometry, 2007)

Asad, why did you want to invest in Ocushield?

Asad: Whilst we are both alumni there are aligned interests. It’s telecoms, I know telecoms. It’s eye health, I know eye health. I’ve built businesses in both of these spaces. When you’re involving yourself with a new business, it’s important to look for ways to bring your expertise into play in the most impactful way possible. I see that opportunity in Ocushield.

Dhruvin: There wasn’t a need to grow the business because it was cash flow positive. Asad saw the vision and it was refreshing to have someone’s input who is in the area. Someone who can add value with their expertise. The investment is smart money because Asad knows the space. When seeking investment, go for smart money.

Asad: For the investor you’ve got to do your research. Immerse yourself. Be passionate. A lot of the entrepreneurs need someone to bounce off of. If you’re investing, think about the return. Don’t be afraid to challenge the person you’re investing in. Don’t throw in your investment and hope for the best.

Dhruvin: I think the person that is investing has to have a proven track record. You should be able to admire and respect what they’ve accomplished. Also, have open ears to feedback when collaborating.

Do you have any advice to someone looking to start their own business?

Dhruvin: As a bootstrapper, I’d say don’t think too long about executing. If an idea is stopping you from sleeping or you can’t get it out of your head for a few weeks, get started. Speak to people, see what they think. Then take it day by day, eventually you’ll be headed in the right direction.

Asad: Identify the problem and solve it. Think about how you are going to bring it to market.  Think about the content, the product, the packaging, the purpose and the margins – ultimately you need to make money.

What’s next for Ocushield?

Dhruvin: Turnover has doubled since I went full time on the business after qualifying as an Optometrist, and we’ve spent this year redefining the product, brand and vision. We’ve also developed a computer screen privacy filter which we’ll be targeting towards businesses and individuals who feel a need to maintain privacy in the workplace – especially with recent data protection laws coming into place.

It will be available when we relaunch the Ocushield brand during National Eye Health Week this month. We’ll also be showcasing the brand at Employee Benefits Live at the Excel Centre in early October.

Asad: The focus is now turning Ocushield into a national and then an international company – the leader in digital eye health awareness. No one is leading this conversation, and it’s something people need to be thinking about and addressing. We want to secure big player retailers and work with the medical sector. The aim is to get Ocushield into every household. We really want it to bang!

Ocushield are currently seeking to recruit a Sales & Operations manager. If you would like to find out more about the role, please email info@ocushield.com.

For updates on new products and the upcoming exhibition, you can follow Ocushield on Twitter, IG and Facebook: @Getocushield

See their website for further information: ocushield.com

 

 

The Economy of Words

Alumni Stories.

In 2011 Peter Sainsbury (Economics, 2000) started writing a blog about economics and financial markets. Six years later he has published not one but two books. Here he tells us what inspired him to start writing. 

Can you tell me about your time at City?

I studied for an economics degree at City, graduating in 2000. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 18 years since I left!  I loved my time at City and the great thing about it is the people that I met. My best friends from my time at university remain my best friends now. We’ve moved to different parts of the world, have started families and gone in directions which we perhaps couldn’t have foreseen. We rarely get to see each other now but when we do it’s a good reminder of how far we’ve all come since meeting at university.

What happened after you graduated?

During my last summer holiday before leaving university I was lucky enough to find out about an opportunity to work on trading simulations for the nascent electricity commodity market. The consultant organising the 6 week event had posted adverts in London’s universities, including City asking for students to act as ‘traders’ trying to make money buying and selling electricity. It was great fun and sparked the idea for my final year dissertation. The experience also sparked a broader interest in commodity markets.

I graduated in 2000 and went to work for a start-up company trying to revolutionise the world of energy procurement. My knowledge of electricity trading was starting to become useful. It may sound quite simple now but at the time the industry was dominated by quote by fax machines which then had to be individually entered into a computer. While working in a small start-up isn’t for everyone, you do get to do almost everything and (hopefully) see how a company goes about growing.

I then went onto to work for an energy market consultancy specialising in oil, gas and petrochemicals. Again it was a very small business, only about 10 of us, each with responsibility to cover one part of the industry. It was there that I focused on the supply side of the oil market; everything from understanding the motivations of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), to what factors affect the long term decisions of oil production companies.

Since then I’ve gone on to the world of recovered materials (think scrap metal and recycled plastics). Another commodity market!

How did the idea for your book come about?

I always enjoyed writing but never really thought about the opportunity that it would present by taking it seriously. In 2011 I started a blog about economics and financial markets with the idea that I would help investors think better about the decisions they made. My website Materials Risk focuses on commodity markets and tries to highlight opportunities for investors in areas that other research has neglected. Although the motivation has been to help other people, the very act of writing has helped me to better understand my own investment process too.

And then in 2014 I noticed that a number of the other bloggers that I followed had written and published their own books on topics relating to investment. So I thought, well I could do that. What’s stopping me?

In late 2015 I published my first book, “Commodities: 50 Things You Really Need To Know”. It’s really an introduction to commodities and commodity markets to help beginners and people with an intermediate level of knowledge. I’ve had some great feedback from private investors and investment banks that have used the book to help them and their colleagues get up to speed on commodity markets.

My next book was called “Crude Forecasts: Predictions, Pundits & Profits in the Commodity Casino” and was published in late 2017. When I was researching for topics to write about one theme kept coming back to me that was gnawing at me. Individual investors and indeed whole economies had been taken in by the prospect of rising commodity prices and part of what kept that narrative alive was the forecasts from investment banks and other pundits in the financial media. I decided to do something about it, to try and bring those forecasters to account, and at the very least make it clear to individual investors what incentives were at play.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is probably that moment half-way through writing a book when you sit down to write and start to question whether it’s really worth carrying on. Is anyone actually going to read this? Is it even any good?

Recently I found a quote by the nature writer Rachel Carson who said, “If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in… you will interest other people.” To have put in the hours day after day to write a book you must have found the subject very interesting. You, as I, are unique but we also have common interests that aren’t all that unique. If you write for yourself you will certainly find other people who will also find it interesting. And that knowledge can sometimes help to motivate you to carry on.

Now more than ever it’s possible to find readers with interests just like you. Not so long ago authors had to go through traditional publishers and chances are they would not be interested in what you had to offer. Now it’s much easier to capture those longer tail readers who the traditional publishers neglect.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

Other than the day that my books are published, or I see them in paperback for the first time probably the most rewarding experience is talking about my work and getting positive, constructive feedback. Of course whenever you get that feedback it’s important to use it to promote your work even further.

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

Go for it, experiment, start small and just work from there. Whatever you do in life is a process, and if you don’t enjoy that process or get a kick from it then maybe try something else instead. But you definitely need to know that focusing on the long term requires practice every day. And writing is no different to any other pursuit.

You can follow Peter on Twitter: @PeterSainsbury7

When Bernd met Sarakshi…

Alumni Stories.

When Bernd Debusmann Jr. and Sarakshi Rai (MA International Journalism 2014) enrolled at City in 2013, they had no idea that within a week they would meet the person they were going to marry! Here they tell us how they went from City students to lifelong lovebirds. 

At what point did you meet first?

Bernd: We first met about a week into the MA course – I was actually organising and collecting money for a massive class get-together to celebrate Oktoberfest at a nearby German pub near Old Street. It was a very short and rather terse initial encounter with Sarakshi walking away thinking I was quite cold and unfriendly – she later realised that I was just being shy at the time.

Where was your first official date?

Bernd: While we had a couple of ‘unofficial’ dates walking around Islington, Angel and Shoreditch on the weekends, our first proper date was spent sitting by Regent’s Canal with wine after a classmate’s party, just talking for several hours without realising how late it had gotten. A few months later I surprised her with a trip to the Shard at sunset with champagne, which I suppose would be when we were ‘officially’ together.

Did you do coursework together?

Sarakshi: We worked together on some class assignments, and then together as two of four class representatives for our MA programme. It was at City that we first realised that we had quite a good working team and we’ve collaborated on several published works since. We actually still work at the same company in Dubai, the second job in a row where that has been the case.

How many fellow City people were at your wedding?

Sarakshi: We had 11 classmates at our wedding, coming from all over the world. They travelled from the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Venezuela, the US and Cyprus.

Did your families meet at Graduation and how awkward was that?

Sarakshi: No – we both had new international jobs at the time so we weren’t able to fly back to London for graduation. But, funnily enough, one of our closest friends from the MA course FaceTimed us throughout the ceremony so that we would feel like we were a part of it. Our parents met for the first time without us in Washington DC, and had a great time. They clearly didn’t need us to make formal introductions. They’d also already been chatting and planning the wedding through social media for months before they met.

How have your lives changed since graduating?

Bernd: We’re married! And have a lovely apartment in Dubai, and we get to travel quite a bit through our jobs, which is always exciting. We’ve also expanded our understanding of different cultures and make it a point to see as much of the real Middle East as we can to understand the geopolitical situation in the region better.

Tell us about the proposal

Bernd: It was six months after Sarakshi arrived in Dubai (I came a year earlier than her while she was working in India). I had made a secret trip to the US to buy the ring, unknown to Sarakshi, and while she was spending the day at the beach with her friends, I decided to cook dinner (only the second time I’ve cooked since we’ve been together).

Sarakshi: At this time his apartment overlooked Dubai Marina and the Dubai skyline, where he set out candles and a bottle of wine. After a lovely dinner, he got down on one knee and asked.

Where was your honeymoon?

Sarakshi: We went on a ‘mini-moon’ to the Maldives right after the wedding in India. But we’re planning a more extended honeymoon in Mexico and Cuba later this year. Bernd’s German-Mexican and has lived in Mexico for years, and I’ve never been there. So it seems apt.

What would you like to tell yourselves as freshers?

Sarakshi: If we’d known we would be in the Middle East, we’d have started learning Arabic a long time ago. Also, don’t worry about finding a job.

Did you have a City ring as your engagement ring?

No.

Anything else from your story that you would like to share?

Bernd: We’ve made some great friends along the way at City who we sometimes meet once a year and who we love very much, and who we wish we got to see more of! Luckily for us there are a lot of City weddings coming up around the corner.

Sarakshi: Even before we started dating, we’d explore secret corners of London on foot and discover a new spot every weekend. That set the tone of the rest of our relationship and now we spend our free time exploring different corners of the world albeit by planes now!

Future-Proofing Finance

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

weiyenWeiyen Hung (MSc Finance 2010) has been appointed as Chair of the T level Financial Panel in the Legal, Financial and Accounting route, as part of the Department for Education’s commitment to reforming post-16 technical education. We spoke about how it happened, and why you should get involved too.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I really enjoyed my time at Cass, it was a wonderful experience. I was only there for a year which was short, but it was a really transformational year for me. I joined straight after my undergraduate degree in Taipei, Taiwan where I did my BBA and then I wanted to specialise in Finance. Cass was a really eye-opening place as I finally had the opportunity to get a taste of the heart of the financial centre. It’s not just about the facilities though but also about the quality of the course and the students, as well as the support from the staff. I had a fantastic year.

What did you do next?

I graduated in 2010, and the market then was not the best. I’d been hearing lots of horror stories in the few years before so I was luckier than them. I had been trying to get a job since I arrived in London the August before my course started. Finally in July, which was my last month in the country, I was about to give up. Thankfully, finally they came to fruition and I had four job offers. I started work at Fitch Ratings where I worked for nearly four years as a Securities Analyst. Then after that I moved to my current employment at the Bank of England.

How did you get involved in the Technical Education Reform Panels?

It was a long journey to join this panel as Chair, and I did many things beforehand. I have always been ambitious and as part of my job I have always looked for more training to gain more qualifications and improve myself. I worked towards becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst Charterholder because I really got into qualifications after doing my Masters at Cass, because of the way you learn there – it’s very structured and effective.

So from doing this I got into financial education and after I qualified I decided to volunteer as with the Chartered Financial Analyst Society of the UK (CFA UK). I first joined the panel for the Investment Management Certificate where we were tasked with looking at the pass rate, curriculum, and what we expect graduating students to know at level three and level four after being on these courses. Here I learnt how to maintain a high level of standards.

That was the starting point, and when I stepped down in early 2017 I asked myself what else can I do? This opportunity came up with the Department for Education to be on the panel for level three T qualifications. I applied to be a member, as this looked like great next level for me to develop my skills. So I applied and then I was awarded the Chair from the start! I think it was my prior experience that gave me that position on the panel.

I was not involved in the recruitment of the rest of the panel, which was all handled by the Department for Education. It’s a diverse panel comprising all the stakeholders, including professionals, working bodies, educational experts and trade. It’s a good mix and I’m very fortunate to lead them.

What is the panel for exactly?

Students in the UK at age 16 have three choices. The first is the academic route (A Levels), which is the route about 40-50% of students take. The next option is an apprenticeship, which is highly specialised on-the-job training. Here you spend 80% of your time on the job and 20% in the classroom. The third route are technical qualifications, where you learn a vocational qualification through training. This route is the least structured, with thousands of courses to choose from.

Just as an example, if you want to become a plumber there are 33 qualifications to choose from. That makes it very difficult to work out which course you should do, which is best for you, which has the best prospects. It’s clear to the Department for Education (DfE) that this sector is not in the best place and that it can perform much better. It’s not much benefit to a student if the course they are on doesn’t lead to a promising career. So, following recommendations from a review undertaken by an independent panel, chaired by Lord Sainsbury, the DfE has appointed these panels and we are trying to help advise the whole sector on what they need to do better to support this third option, the technical level.

What does the future of this project look like?

Each panel is made of around 10 members who will work together to outline what the minimum standard is that 16-18 years olds should be learning. The question to answer will be where can this Level 3 T level programme take you? We are looking at progression into the jobs market as well as towards other routes like academic qualifications or higher education. We want to help open up the future and keep doors open. We want to make sure that what the course covers doesn’t prevent students from either going into the job market or more study – by primarily ensuring that what they do will prepare them best for the sector.

For example, at Cass, you can do MSc Corporate Finance. Taking the course is not the same as doing the job but it is about learning the things that will help you get the job and to learn how to do the job when you have it. On a T-Level qualification 20% of the time is a work placement so you get a real taste of the job, but 80% is spent in the classroom so you get that excellent standard. For me it’s about that threshold for when you walk out the door, making sure you can go on any path in the future.

Why should other alumni get involved?

I would say pretty much all Cass alumni would have things to offer here. It’s a good way of making things happen, as well as to give back and get involved. If you work in a sector it’s great to think about all the routes people could take to get there, and how you could use your knowledge to help them do that. It matters because we’re talking about the future of all of our sectors. The urgent question is how do you get the next generation to learn the right things and gain the right skills? Answering that helps everyone. It’s all about attracting the next wave of talent to the City.

In this first phase the panels are established and producing the outline content for the T levels which will be delivered from 2020 and 2021. The next phase is to expand the sectors, for delivery from 2022, including into business administration, health and beauty; a whole range of areas. Many Cass alumni will have something to offer here, so please get involved!

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: City of London
Favourite holiday destination: Beijing
Must-check every day website: FT
Dream travel destination: South America
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

Find out more about the reforms here and see the full list of panels here. Find out how you can get involved here.

Shake It Up

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

anthony & charlotteAnthony Noun (Executive MBA, 2017) came to Cass Business School to rubber-stamp his private sector nous, after years of PR experience in the public and third sectors. Along with his business partner he is now disrupting the PR industry with Brægen, a different way for brands to communicate and engage with their target audiences. We met up in the Launch Lab for a chat.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I decided to do an Executive MBA (EMBA) because I’ve always dreamt of setting up my own agency and felt that the EMBA would give me confidence as well as the know-how. I also knew it would be great for networking, to meet potential partners, and to collaborate.

My background is predominantly in communications and marketing in the public sector and the third sector, and the EMBA is perfect for developing your business nous. Cass is really good at accepting people from a diverse range of professional backgrounds. My first interview for the EMBA was with Professor Stephen Thomas, and he stressed to me the value of the third sector and how Cass is always looking to recruit outside the typical mould of an MBA student.

Doing the MBA helped me focus on the important things, and the extra-curricular activities were amazing too. There are lots of events to encourage entrepreneurs, like the social enterprise festival, which is widening the entrepreneurship net outside the private sector.

What was the most interesting thing you learned?

In the Organisational Behaviour module we started looking at change management in a different way, using dialogic organisation development.

Traditionally a company has a series of change management and restructure programmes to increase efficiency. However, these top-down change management approaches only have a 30% success rate, are not effective and often lead to demotivated and unhappy staff.

A dialogic approach puts people at the centre of organisational development. Rather than create a plan and then try to engage staff, you start with a series of dialogues internally and co-construct a shared purpose through which the company can embrace emergence and move forward together collectively. I did my thesis on applying dialogic methods to communication and engagement, to seek out if the approach can be used with external (the public, ‘consumers’) stakeholders as well as internal ones.

This really laid the foundations to help build the Brægen concept and I would never have come across ‘dialogic’ without doing the EMBA. It was amazing to realise that I could make these connections and take best practice from other industries to disrupt ours.

What happened next?

I went straight from my EMBA to the City Launch Lab – it’s been a huge plus! The Launch Lab is an exciting venture for the University. Not only can you go to events and conferences for start-ups when you’re studying here, you know there is also a University-funded start-up incubator waiting for you if you’ve got the right idea.

We pitched and won our place and it’s amazing because we have free desk space for 12 months, as well as mentoring plus that day-to-day support to really help us go from a start-up to the next phase.

How did Brægen form?

I met my co-creator and collaborator Charlotte Broadribb professionally, and we’re passionate about the future of the PR, Marketing and Advertising industry. We don’t see what’s happening currently as creative, viable or appealing to ‘consumers’, and the results are that there is more fake engagement (at best) than real. So someone needs to come in and disrupt the status quo – us!

Brægen’s philosophy and vision focuses on how marketing and communications need to adapt to meet current challenges of today’s social, political and media landscape. Today anyone can create or be their own brand. Before smartphones, traditional brands were just competing with each other for coverage. Now people, powered by technology, are able to compete with established brands for media space, engagement and visibility.

For example a vlogger’s 15 minute video can reach millions of people worldwide, which is the same reach as a multi-million advertising campaign. And this vlogger is getting better engagement too! Organisations are unsuccessfully playing catch-up, as tried and tested ‘broadcast’ methods of content and message push are no longer appealing because they don’t lead to real two-way conversations, which as we all know, is more interesting than being talked ‘at’.

People now want and expect more from brands – reading a series of announcements about what a brand is doing is no longer of interest to people. People want the opportunity to co-create, communicate and make decisions with the brands they use – just look at Monzo.

How did you come up with the name?

The name Brægen was Charlotte’s idea. It’s the original spelling of the word ‘brain’. The brain is the one thing all 7 billion of us humans have in common and what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is the way we can communicate with each other. The brain is where all the magic happens!

What does Brægen offer?

We do PR and marketing with the key focus of creating real engagement touchpoints with the target audience. What people want is changing so we’re looking at meeting that need, and we do this through a number of techniques.

We’ve always said that Brægen is a concept that will constantly evolve with the times. We are not rigidly wedded to the idea we have today as we recognise the need to respond to how people consume and interact with information and change, because it’s the failure to innovate that has created the problems the industry has today.

And you’re also coaches?

Yes, one of our unique selling points is that we are all coaches, or training to be. We also see it as a good cross-sell package. I’m training to be an executive coach and Charlotte is a health and wellbeing coach. Coaching is more about listening than talking to clients, which is a great basis for how we can dialogically work with them, their internal teams and their external audiences.

Traditional presentation training, particularly with CEOs and senior executives, always focuses on the outer communication issues like packaging the message right, but that doesn’t touch on your internal beliefs and previous experiences as a speaker or presenter which may be limiting you. That’s something you can only work on from a coaching perspective. Coaching can help you find your positive inner voice and to create an action plan for working on confidence as a speaker or a presenter.

What’s the future for Brægen?

We are committed to being an agency that will remain different and ahead of the game. We want to keep away from the traditional agency model and ensure that we preserve our start-up ideals. We’re not doing this for glory or money, we love it and we think that we offer something different to the PR and marketing industry. We will keep disrupting and using our skills to create positive communications and sometimes social change.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

The concept of the Dialogic Communications Consultancy or Agency is new and different, so the real challenge is communicating an innovative and complex concept to people in a succinct way. We need to ensure people understand what we do and how working with us in a dialogic way would benefit them, their brand, their business, their team and their audiences.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share?

I’d say don’t fret – be patient and never doubt yourself. If you have an idea and you think about it all the time, go for it. If you start developing a business, keep going and see it through to fruition. You don’t always need to rely on an investor to buy into it for you to be a success.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Southbank
Favourite holiday destination: South America
Must-check every day website: Guardian
Dream travel destination: Mongolian desert
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

Find out more about Brægen on their website and follow them on Twitter.

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Female Cass Alumnae

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

claire, emilie and nancy
Our Cass alumni stories are a great way to find out where your Cass degree can take you. We’ve got alumni doing amazing, innovative things across the world – and this International Women’s Day we’re celebrating the female alumni we’ve featured recently.

Claire Hall (left) studied MSc Charity Marketing and Fundraising (2014) but has lately turned her talents to the digital sector at WordPress Agency Moove Agency and found plenty of skills crossover. Read more here.

Emilie Bellet (centre) came to Cass as part of her degree at ESCP in Paris, and then moved to London when she graduated. She’s always been ‘good’ at earning money, but saving….less so. Her new company, Vestpod, is all about informing women about how to be smart with their finances. Continue reading.

Nancy O’Hare (right) (Executive MBA, 2014) has spent 20 years in the oil and gas industry travelling whenever she could. Now she’s ditched the day job and has published a new kind of travel book “Dust In My Pack” part how-to, and part narrative based on her travels. Find out more.

Nearly 60 Minutes with Nicole Young

Alumni Stories, Arts and Social Sciences News.

60 Minutes producer Nicole Young is an 11 time Emmy winner and a mummy to be*, but before that she was an MA International Journalism student at City.  Here, Nicole talks about her time at City, as well as being an award-winning journalist in our 42 minutes and 57 second interview.

Can you tell us about your time at City?

City was one of those times in my life that shaped me in a way I could not have ever anticipated.  I applied to City because I was in a job at the time in New York I did not really like.  I was working for a PR firm, a private PR firm, out of a woman’s house.  I remember going to work every morning just dreading it, just crying myself to sleep.  I thought you are exhausted one; two, you need to find another job.  I decided to go to school and do my Masters programme, but I had already missed the deadline for all the programmes I really wanted to do in the states.  So, I literally googled, ‘what is the best journalism programme in the UK,’ and City University came up.

I remember after I sent the application to City, I immediately wrote my letter of resignation.  Not knowing if I had gotten in yet, I put it in my drawer.  I got a call maybe two weeks later to have a phone interview with somebody from City, then two or three days after that, I was accepted.  I remember it was around 12 o’clock in the afternoon.  I took that letter I had written weeks before, handed it to my boss and said ‘here are my two weeks’.

What was it like doing the course?

The course was fulfilling because I was genuinely getting the most wonderfully international perspective of journalism I could get. There were so many diverse students from so many different places and countries.  I was having conversations with people in ways I never had and I really think that changed how I thought about journalism particularly covering international stories.

What happened after you graduated?

I tried to extend my visas based on me finishing my thesis for as long as the UK government would allow. I think I left London at the last possible minute I could because I absolutely wanted to stay.  I tried getting a job anywhere in journalism in the UK, but they just did not want an American girl like me.

So, I brought myself home and it was the best thing I could have ever done.  I got some freelance work, particularly at CBS news because I interned there.  For about 7 months, I worked for nothing with my Masters degree, wondering if I had made the right decision to spend all this time doing it in the first place.  Eventually, I started interviewing and got a call from 60 Minutes II, it was a sister show for 60 Minutes.  A correspondent who was up and coming named Scott Pelley, needed an assistant.  I raised my nose a little bit at first, being an assistant, because I thought it’s not really what I wanted to be doing as someone with a Masters degree.  But, one thing that I’ve learned is your pride will be the one thing that can step in your way of opportunity.  So, I interviewed for the position and would you believe, I liked Scott.  He was a great guy and I really enjoyed the work he was doing.  I got home from the interview that day and I had a message on the answering machine from Scott Pelley.  It said ‘I’d really like to offer you the position.’  I guess the next 15 years is history.

So in the course of those 15 years you’ve won 11 Emmys?

Yes, 11 Emmys among other awards.  I have now come to a place where I used to say, ‘I was really lucky’ a lot, but I’m actually not allowed to say that anymore.  I got lucky once, when Scott called me and offered me the position, everything after that, I made for myself.

What was it like winning the first one?

It was surreal.  I was blinded by the fact that I still have so much to do.  I am just beginning.  So, I probably didn’t take it in as much as I should have.  I have this tradition that every year I have won an Emmy I kiss it.  I can also see how I have evolved in wardrobe and in my confidence.

With each one, I get people joking ‘aren’t you tired?’  I answer, “I’m not, because for me it’s not about winning.”  For me, it is more about the stories that I have had the opportunity to work on, the ones that have affected change or that have given a voice to the voiceless or that have shone a light into a dark corner of the world that didn’t otherwise have it.  To tell epic stories of human struggle and to tell stories in places where people do not have people listening to them.  That is the real award.

What has been the most challenging part of all of this?

I think the most challenging part of it is really the content.  It is heavy, particularly the last few years with our Syria coverage.  I have never seen death and destruction on this level.  I have read about it and the only thing that compares would be World War 2 and the Holocaust.  So, to bear witness to a war and to atrocities like the ones we have covered in our pieces, have really been something that I never thought in my lifetime I would witness one on one.  That has been one of the hardest things.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

The most rewarding experience is when you know your story has affected change or has affected people in a certain way.  We do not do stories for fundraising.  That is not our goal, but we try to tell as fair and as balanced a story as we can.  We let the audience decide if they want to react to it. When the audience reacts in the right way, it is humbling.  That is the whole point of why you go out there and risk your life.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue journalism or humanitarianism?

Well, the first thing I would say is, that it is hard and to expect it.  You are not going to get paid a lot to do this kind of work, but once you get over that and you’re willing to put the work in, then go and be the best journalist you can be.  There is nothing more important about journalism, for me, than taking your time and doing stories that matter.  Make sure your stories are correct, making sure your stories are well thought out.  For me, that’s what journalism is about. It does not matter whether or not you are the first person to get a story, what matters is that you are right.

City gave me a foundation that I did not expect to get and I am grateful for it. I think it has helped shape me to be the journalist I am today and with all the things I have been able to accomplish now, I still feel that I am just beginning.  I do not know what the end for me is or what success means to me.  It does not mean 22 Emmys, it is more about how many more places can I go to that need a voice.  Unfortunately, I do not think I am ever going to run out of list of places that are going to need that, but I sure as heck am going to try to do as much as I can.  Being pregnant, I‘ve never had more of a desire to do it.   Being around children, particular now, I feel blessed for the opportunities I’m hoping I’ll be able to give my child.  If, I can help other children in the world have even a fraction of opportunity, I want to do it now more so than I ever.

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

What is your favourite place in London: Hyde Park

What is your favourite holiday destination: I’m in love with Turkey, Istanbul right now.  Rome is a fantastic city as well, particularly around Christmas time. Those would be my 2 favourite places to go.

Which website do you check every day: Really it’s probably Facebook. It is a plethora of information.

What is your dream travel destination: Namibia, Africa

Cheese or chocolate: Cheese

Click here to watch the Yemen coverage on 60 Minutes.

*Nicole has since given birth to a healthy baby boy.

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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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