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Stock market success: advice from an alumni mentor

Business School Stories.

Navin Chauhan (MSc Investment Management, 2007) is a partner and Head of Business Development at Victory Hill Capital Advisors LLP who have recently completed a very successful fund raise for their listed Fund (VH Global Sustainable Energy Opportunities plc) IPO on the London Stock Exchange. We spoke to Navin about this achievement, his time at the Business School and his experiences mentoring current students. Navin Chauhan

Can you tell me a bit about your time at the Business School and why you chose to study here?

The Business School very much had its own entrepreneurial spirit that ran through its brickwork. The staff and my peers shared this same drive, and this alignment was the key factor that drew me in. I did my undergraduate degree at City University, so I already had an insight into the accolades The Business School held. I still did a lot of research when it came to choosing my post-graduate degree: my research told me that it was ranked amongst not only one of the best courses in the UK, but also the world.

The location was hugely important. Being in the heart of London provided a cosmopolitan feel and attracted international connections which gave the Business School a strong global feel. My time here was very enjoyable, but also challenged me to reach my full potential. Classes were taught by world-leading professors, who clearly had incredible expertise in their field: their passion was infectious.

Choosing the Business School was clearly the right choice for me: almost 15 years on, I can confirm that having the Business School on my CV has helped me enjoy an advantage in interview rooms. I am incredibly thankful for this experience which not only provided me holistic teaching, but also directly facilitated my career path.

 

How has your career developed since you graduated?

Like so many young professionals, I didn’t start with a deliberate plan. In many ways, this allowed me to adapt to new opportunities that arose. Reflecting on the development of my career, I don’t think I could have deliberately structured or planned things any better.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to start roles at Russell Investments and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, both within the third-party funds space. From there I quickly moved into a research and portfolio management role at Quilter Cheviot. I worked on the buy-side for approximately 10 years before moving to the sell-side , joining Cantor Fitzgerald and working on the investment funds sales desk.

When the global pandemic hit in early 2020, I began to explore my options. The stars aligned when a good friend, Anthony Catachanas (Victory Hill Capital Advisors CEO), approached me to discuss VH’s ambitions and focus on sustainable energy. I joined as Partner and Head of Business Development; the firm was incorporated in 2020.

 

Your firm has recently completed a very successful fund raise for VH Global Sustainable Energy Opportunities raising £242.6m from its initial public offering! What does this mean for you and the firm?

In short, it means everything! There is no way we could have achieved this without the relentless work put in by the entire team. Every member was aligned towards a specific shared goal with the same drive and ambition.

Victory Hill LogoWe had the ambition of being an asset manager for funds investing in global energy transition. The flagship fund was recently listed on the London Stock which targets direct investment in energy infrastructure projects globally, directly supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There was a real sense of achievement to be able to work to international environmental goals – which is not something generally associated with the industry as we approached it. Being able to deliver despite the challenges seen by so many last year, makes this success all the more precious.

 

For anyone who would like to follow in your footsteps, what is your advice?

Part of success is discovering your own path. This can be quite frustrating advice as people are often after a blueprint for success. Unfortunately, a prescriptive approach rarely works as external forces are always changing the landscape. What worked for me 15 years ago, won’t necessarily work now. The best advice I can give is to follow your passion: if it’s your passion, it never feels like ‘work’, but rather challenging yourself. If you follow your passion, you’ll enjoy what you do and when you enjoy what you do, it is infectious. Others can see your passion for the project and want to join you with it. Everyone has a different definition of ‘success’, but that sounds like a pretty good one to me.

 

Thank you for speaking to us, Navin. Look out for our upcoming article about Navin’s experience as a professional mentor in the next few weeks!

‘We can make a difference’: From Business School graduate to Covid mass testing innovator

Business School Stories.

Marta KalasMarta Kalas (MBA, 1992) has had an extremely varied career since graduating from CUBS, the then City, University of London Business School in 1992. Moving between working in a big corporation to freelance consulting and finally to working for the scale-up organisation Thomson Screening, founded by City, University of London. In the wake of the pandemic Thomson Screening have turned their attention to supporting mass Covid testing across schools and businesses.

Reflecting on her time at the Business School, Marta explains “I really think I massively benefitted from the course”. She recalls how useful the lessons she learnt at the Business School have been over the years, even the more surprising ones.

Just about all the career types you can have coming out of the Business School, I had them”

Since she left the Business School, Marta has had a very mixed career. She explains “just about all the career types you can have coming out of the Business School, I had them”. Despite graduating in the middle of a recession, Marta successfully landed a job with General Electric (GE) working in logistics and supply chain. Since then, she has primarily worked in the healthcare industry, ranging from turning around small clinics on the brink of bankruptcy to working for the NHS in a transformation capacity to “actually practice what [she] learnt at the Business School”.

Throughout her varied career, Marta has been able to reach out to the Business School to offer placements for students to complete their final projects. Marta explains how important it was for her to find a project which suited her during her MBA, and therefore whenever something suitable comes up she gives back to the students who were once in her position.

It has been a chain of coincidences, but that is the thing about life – you never know how it will turn out”

Marta’s career has come somewhat full circle since leaving the Business School: she is now the Director, Co-founder and COO of Thomson Screening, a company formed by City, University of London. Thomson Screening is a school and public nursing software company.

“It has been a chain of coincidences, but that is the thing about life – you never know how it will turn out”, Marta reflects. She found out about Thomson Screening when attending a networking event where companies pitched ideas to executives. She had no idea that a City company would be represented there. She explains, “I think certain institutions have a certain ethos and culture and they will attract a certain kind of people” and in this way her return to the University was natural. Prior to the pandemic, Thomson Screening’s board meetings were still held at the University, and Marta tells us how certain room and lecture halls gave her flashes of memories from her time as a student. Marta relishes being able to return to her alma mater in this way, stating simply “it makes me smile”.

It’s really exciting and really rewarding… we can make a difference”

Marta jokes that the impact of the pandemic on Thomson Screening has been almost like a classic Business School exam question about adapting a small company to unexpected change. “Public health and school nursing touch a huge number of lives with one tiny intervention” but they are tied down to a very paper heavy system. Marta’s company focuses on updating this process with a digital system, SchoolScreener®.

SchoolScreener-COVID-MANAGERWhen the pandemic broke out, they had to adapt. They realised there was going to be a very similar need for mass testing: “we knew how to make it simple, and how to make it easy and how to be secure”. In the summer of 2020, Thomson Screening made a successful bid to Innovate UK to develop their product to support test management, and they are now working with schools to support mass testing. The system allows schools to monitor parental consent, student status and, eventually, to upload bulk results to NHS Test & Trace. Marta explains that, in addition to schools, the product also works for care homes, businesses and universities giving it the potential to have a huge impact on society. “It’s really exciting and really rewarding. It’s a tiny thing, but it’s something we are really good at and we can make a difference”.

Don’t be afraid of taking your own footsteps and following your own path”

Marta has previously volunteered as a professional mentor for current students, “I am really glad every time City reaches out and pulls me back in, it’s a good feeling”. She reflected on how she would have benefitted from having had a mentor and made the decision to give her time to  provide students with career advice. Marta explains that while she enjoyed giving back, she also enjoyed learning about the student experience now and the whole process around mentoring: “it was just fun… it was a really nice community”.

Closing our conversation with some succinct advice, Marta says “find your own footsteps and don’t be afraid of wherever that takes you”.

The quest for the hero inside: From MBA student to published author

Alumni Stories, Business School Stories.

Since we last spoke to Nicolai Schumann (Full Time MBA, 2009), he has moved away from the fashion industry to work on his storytelling consultancy, Universal Storyteller and focus on his role as a visiting lecturer at the Business School. He also teaches innovation and business creativity through his agency Horizon Innovation Lab. We sat down with Nico to discuss his new book The Hero Inside: What We Can Learn From Heroes, which will be taught on his Storytelling in Business class at the Business School (formerly known as Cass).

“Everybody loves a good story”Nicolai Schümann

Nico combined his background in storytelling with his business experience to create his course on storytelling in business which he successfully pitched to the Business School. He explains that storytelling is vital to all businesses: “stories are a very subtle and very powerful persuasion tool… everybody loves a good story”, he goes on to add that “if you tell someone a story… people will make up the moral of the story in their own mind, they will make a decision by themselves and they don’t feel like somebody pushed something on them”. Since his first year of teaching, his class has “ballooned to over 80 students” and he now teaches across multiple MBA and MSc programmes.

Discussing the course Nico says, “when I teach my students storytelling I always tell them about the hero’s journey, which is an archetypical story structure. At the end of the class I explain to them what a hero is and what a hero does.”  And what does a hero do? “The lowest common denominator of all heroes is that they are willing to sacrifice – so to speak – themselves for the greater good. The opposite is not a villain but a bystander”, Nico explains that he believes bystander behaviour has led to bad, unethical business practices and scandals in the business world – “there were too many people who didn’t step in and didn’t act heroically”.

“How can we become more heroic?”

Nico explains that his students were the primary motivator behind his desire to write a book on the role heroes play in society and business. “My students kept asking me, ‘we understand the concept of a hero, but can you elaborate on that and how can we actually become more heroic?'” He realised there wasn’t much literature on the topic and decided to tackle the topic himself.

The Hero Inside aims to motivate people to consider how they can behave more like a hero and improve the world around them: “I believe if there were more heroes then the business world would be way more ethical”. But the book isn’t just for business students or professionals, it is aimed at anyone who is lacking inspiration. He hopes his book will create a ripple effect of people acting positively, even if it only impacts a few people directly then Nico says he will be happy with the contribution his book has made to society. He believes firmly that “we learn from stories… and we learn from heroes. If we believe in the deeds of heroes, then that might create this ripple effect and might lead us onto a more heroic path”.

 

Such is his quest to spread the universal benefit of the hero’s journey that Nico has recently published a children’s book The Little Asteroid which seeks to convey the message to children. The book is told through the eyes of an asteroid who leaves his orbit to explore what is really out there: the aim is to motivate children to always be curious (a key trait of a hero) and begin their own heroic journey.

Teaching at the Business School: “it felt like coming home”

Nico has found returning to the Business School as a teacher very rewarding, he tells us “you try to be the teacher you always wanted to have” and has relished the opportunity to share his wisdom and experience with the students who sat where he once did, “it almost felt like coming home”. He goes on to discuss the impact lockdown has had on his teaching: “I had the pleasure of teaching both my MSc and MBA classes online… it worked surprisingly well!” He highlights the benefits of using breakout rooms and inviting guest speakers more easily but admits he can’t wait to be back in the classroom.

 

Sharing a final piece of advice, Nico encourages not only his students but everyone to invite more inquisitiveness into their lives: “always stay curious!”

Find out more about  The Hero Inside and The Little Asteroid

A lockdown start-up: a Smoofii ride

Alumni Stories, Business School Stories.

Launching a start-up takes self-confidence and nerves of steel, regardless of when you decide to take the plunge. But setting up your own business during a global pandemic while still studying? That takes more bravery than most could summon. Yet this is precisely what Fabian Ronig (MSc Entrepreneurship, 2020) has done, launching Smoofii a new brand selling and delivering ready-to-blend smoothie kits.

Fabian completed his Bachelor’s degree in Germany before deciding he wanted to move to London to study MSc Entrepreneurship at the Business School (formerly known as Cass), where he was a recipient of the Stelios Scholarship – funded by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou. Fabian explains, “on the financial side, it was a huge relief”, adding that “the scholarship wasn’t just about the financial support, it was about really being part of the Stelios Foundation as an ambassador”.

 I always had [an entrepreneurial] mindset… but the foundation relieved the pressure of feeling that you are all alone”

As part of the Foundation, Fabian attended a reunion with the previous Stelios scholars which he said, “opened up great networking opportunities”. Meeting inspirational people with the same entrepreneurial spirit, who had been in the same position as him in years before, gave Fabian the inspiration and courage he needed to start his own business. He notes that he has always had an entrepreneurial mindset but “the foundation relieved the pressure of feeling that you are all alone, they created the community feeling”.

This environment said to me ‘hey, go for it!’”

Beyond his experience as a Stelios Scholar he explains, “I was more inspired to actually found aSmoofii the book company, by London as a city: it’s a crazy place. The people on my masters had different ambitions and different perspectives on life and their journeys”. He explains the combination of the diversity of his course combined with the energy and support of “basically everyone from the Business School who were into entrepreneurship… be it lecturers or people from the LaunchLab” built a thrilling network of people eager to support young entrepreneurs. “This environment said to me ‘hey, go for it’”.

However, in March of 2020, Fabian’s studies were disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic. Rather than feeling demoralised, Fabian used this as an opportunity to innovate. He recalls the change to virtual learning, “I have to say the Business School managed it quite successfully, they took around a week to shift everything online”. Finding himself suddenly with more time on his hands, Fabian explains, “I wasn’t going to sit around doing nothing but my studies”.

I wasn’t going to sit around doing nothing but my studies”

Fabian explains he has always been interested in fitness and keeping healthy, but this was thrown into a new light during lockdown: gyms were closed and exercise was limited. He found himself hunting for a book on the benefits of specific micronutrients. He realised, “there is no such book – I just have to write it” and using his university access, he plunged into his own research.

Smoofii: smoothie ingredients

Armed with his new knowledge, Fabian decided that not only would this make a great book, but it would make an excellent smoothie product: thus, Smoofii was born. Smoofii delivers frozen smoothie ingredients packed with specific micronutrients to produce specific health benefits, offering door to door delivery across North London.

 

Any budding entrepreneur would be right to be inspired by Fabian, who has shown that the most trying times can still produce bold business ideas. Wrapping up our conversation, Fabian shares some advice for anyone seeking to start their own business: “Decide how much you are willing to trade – money- and timewise. Don’t be afraid to hire other people early on, be honest with your strengths and weaknesses. Spending money early on will allow you to economise your time and build on your specific skill set”.

We can’t wait to see how Fabian gets on!

Meanwhile, do visit and check out Smoofii.

Migration Made Easy

Alumni Stories, Business School Stories.

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, Business School Stories.

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 Vicar’s Picnic – Kent’s Biggest Little Festival 

Business School Stories.

Our alumni go on to do some pretty extraordinary things after they graduate from Cass Business School. Philip (Phil) Keeler (Executive MBA, 1993)  is no exception. Having “retired” from the City six years ago, Phil now co-organises the ‘biggest little festival’ in Kent. Here Phil tells us about his time at Cass and the upcoming Vicar’s Picnic. 

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?
The time at Cass was a challenge as I was working full-time as Head of IT at a major investment company, having two young children and still managing to complete the Evening MBA.  However, it was worthwhile as it allowed me to develop the business understanding and skills that I needed to further my career.

Phil Keeler

What happened after you graduated?
I was head-hunted by another investment company to manage the integration of a business that they had acquired, which then evolved into a business product management role for an outsourcing business.  The MBA allowed me to move out of a technical IT focus into business management which a specific focus on business stagey and business transformations.
 
What has been the most rewarding experience, in your career?

Taking responsibility for a complete business transformation working with the management to agree the business strategy, designing the operational and systems solutions and then managing the three-year transformation process, which was completed on time, close to budget and the program was also recognised by winning a national innovation award.

What are you involved with now?
I “retired” from the City six years ago and have undertaken a number of interesting part-time consultancy assignments, with a focus on helping small companies through supporting their management or providing coaching and mentoring to senior people.

About The Vicar’s Picnic:

The Vicar’s Picnic is back with an outstanding musical experience held in the picturesque setting in Yalding between Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells in Kent.  The Kent’s Biggest Little Festival in Kent takes place on the banks of the River Medway on Friday 20 and Saturday 21 July 2018, which will be the sixth year that the festival has been held.  The festival is run by a small group of volunteers with the aims of providing a true value for money experience.  We aim to provide a great weekend for first time and regular festival-goers from both the local community and from further afield catering for the needs of all ages so that everyone can experience a wide range of musical acts within a safe environment.  In 2016 the Vicar’s Picnic was short-listed as finalists for two national festival awards.  Last year we sold out of tickets prior to the event and had a total of more than 3,500 people for what was acclaimed to be the best Vicar’s Picnic yet.  This year the headline acts on the stages will be Fun Loving Criminals, Star Sailor, Cast, Nine Below Zero and in the dance tent we will have Norman Jay MBE, Mr Doris, Nightmares on Wax, Crazy P and many others.  As always all the profits from the festival will go to local charities, which this year are Dandelion Time, Kenward Trust and the Yalding Supper Club.

 

For more information about The Vicar’s Picnic, or to purchase tickets, please visit: vicarspicnic.co.uk/

Future-Proofing Finance

Alumni Stories, Business School Stories.

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, Business School Stories.

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, Business School Stories.

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.

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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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