City Alumni Network

Category Archives: #Cassat50

#Cassat50: Dr Brian Shegar, 1979

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories.

brianDr Brian Shegar studied BSc Banking and International Finance, 1978 followed by MSc Finance, 1979. He has since gone on to work in international banking, and currently lives and works in Singapore.

Why did you come to Cass?

It wasn’t Cass then! It was the Centre for Banking and International Finance, which was an independent centre (not a faculty) that was part of the City University and not the Business School. The Centre was initially headed by Professor Geoff Woods and after a year it was taken on by the Lord Brian Griffiths (then Professor). He was from the LSE and was noted for an important monograph about competition in the UK banking industry. Back then there were only four clearing banks; an oligopoly that badly needed competition!

The BSc (Hons) in Banking and International Finance attracted a large number of applicants due to the close linkages between the City University and the City of London – the world’s largest international financial centre. I was attracted to apply for this course arising from Singapore’s aspirations to be an international financial centre coupled with my interest in this area.

Back in those days, we were competing in the rankings with the likes of Loughborough and Bangor in Wales – but no one was as bold and as visionary as we were! Also we were close to the City and could tap in to City’s expertise and prestigious institutions. Since the degree it was founded by economists, it initially had a strong weightage on economics and a lesser focus on finance. However this evolved over the years into a well-defined and structured programme.

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

There were 24 in our maiden cohort, from all over the world. I came from Singapore, there were other international students from Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa and elsewhere. It was great to be a small and cosy group and we were close to our lecturers, some of whom are still around eg Professor Roy Batchelor, Kate Phylaktis.

It was an enjoyable experience. We had most of our lectures at Gloucester Annex where the centre was based and some lectures in the main University at St. John Street. The only problem with the programme is that it was misleading in its title as Banking & International Finance, because it was mainly economics! After graduating I had not really been exposed to finance proper so I enrolled at the Business School (CUBS as it was then) and did the MSc Finance – which was quite specialised.

I graduated in 1978 from my BSc and I missed the Mais prize by one mark! Then I obtained a fees scholarship for my MSc thanks to JF Chown & Company, a leading international financial and tax consultant based in the city. I was introduced to JF Chown by Professor Brian Griffith and I have been in contact with my sponsor ever since! It was a good programme and we studied accounting and finance, insurance, operational science, corporate strategy and portfolio management. Again we were a small group, this time based largely at Lionel Denny House, at the Business School before it moved to the Barbican.

It was a full one-year programme and I graduated in 1979. We had lectures and exams followed by a thesis. Upon graduation I have had a little bit of contact with lecturers and fellow students. However what is truly impressive is to witness the phenomenal growth of CUBS into Cass Business School which is recognised as one of the leading centres for Business and Management Education in the UK. Additionally the linkages with the City have been further enhanced.

What is your favourite memory from your time at Cass?

The degree convocation at City University back then was a great ceremony in the Guildhall – totally unforgettable. It was a small University and we had an intimate convocation ceremony in one of the most historic buildings in the country. We were called one by one and had to kneel in front of the Lord Mayor of London who was the Chancellor and he would hood us personally. So my Bachelor’s convocation ceremony was certainly a highlight, although I was unable to attend the graduation for my Masters convocation.

On the whole, University for me was about the people. To be honest, the University was based in a pretty run down building in St. John Street. Gloucester Annex, which is where the Centre for Banking & Finance was located, resembled a converted warehouse office building. Back then Angel Islington was pretty depressed and not a very nice part of town, unlike today – it has become a trendy and upmarket location. London itself is an amazingly interesting and multi-cultural society with a rich history. Within London, the City with its one square mile of financial institutions from all over the world had a certain aura that mesmerized me as a banking student.

How did studying at Cass change your life?

In Singapore, after my A’ Levels, it was compulsory to do two and a half years’ military service, so I was older than the rest of the cohort by two years, and I think that made me more mature. This exposure to life after schooling helped, and it was good to not go straight to University. Coming to London to study after military service was an expensive proposition but it was a great way to learn banking & finance. And with hindsight, it was the best thing that I did!

My whole London experience changed my life because I was part of the ecosystem in London and could take advantage of it. I did some internship in the City and was exposed to some of the brightest people I have met. The depth and breadth in the City is awesome and it is the world’s leading financial centre. It moulded my future and passion and interest in the profession of banking and international finance.

My degrees launched my career – thanks to the learning, the exposure and the experience. I started at Midland Bank and Samuel Montagu in international and merchant banking largely in the Asia Pacific region where I worked for 15 years. Subsequently I established a Regional Branch of Nedbank covering the South East and South Asian. Then I moved out of banking to run a hedge fund, following which I returned to banking to establish the regional office of Emirates NBD in Singapore, covering the Asia Pacific Region.

#Cassat50: Ralf Arditti, 1970

#Cassat50, Cass Business School News.

soaring-wings-14-03-2016-002Ralf Arditti studied MBA Administrative Sciences, 1970 and was active in promoting the School to students in Turkey after he graduated. His wife created the “Soaring Wings” sculpture that stands in the courtyard at Cass today!

Why did you come to Cass?

The main reason was the location. Then, the Business School was located in Basinghall Street, really close to the Bank of England. I had finished college and graduated from Robert College in Istanbul, studying BSc Mechanical Engineering. So I saw all the people in the City and chose to study in this great business centre.

I knew that the aura of the City would grab me and help me establish networks and contacts. When I started, the Business School was still not well known. It was actually a polytechnic a few years before, when it was called the Northampton Institute, and that didn’t have the same prestige. We all wanted to go to a University!

At the time most MSc (Ralf’s MSc was later changed to an MBA) courses were two years and much more in depth and specialised. One broad one-year course at Cass in centre of London was very appealing!

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

It was quite pleasant! I was happy with the school and surroundings and the student body was very diverse. They came from all walks of life, for example there were people who had studied History and Geography at Undergraduate level. People also came from many different countries, I had friends from Venezuela, and the UK. It was great to be all together. I learned lots from both them and also the teachers. I remember one teacher, Axel Johnson, was a nice chap and we had a good relationship and good contact after I graduated.

In my first semester I suffered from the fact I was not in a resident’s hall and had to share a flat in a hotel in Paddington. I shared with a Welsh guy who brought in lots of Heinz beans to cook in the room – and the smell was terrible!

In the second semester in January I moved in to Northampton Hall, which was the student lodgings – I think they were demolished to make way for Cass where it is now. I lived on the 16th floor! It was nice to be all in with students, but the problem was if I had a weekend appointment with a friend and he or she arrived on the Underground at Moorgate, I would say “ask anyone where Bunhill Row is” – but they would come out and find nobody to talk to! The City was all deserted at the weekend! However I still enjoyed it tremendously in the halls and also at the school.

Do you have a favourite memory from your time at Cass?

I remember one exercise where about 100 of us students gathered around a table on which stood a sizable brick and we had to put down ideas on what that object meant for each of a number of criteria like simplicity, shape of building, neat lines, solidity!

Also what was interesting, is that at the same time as preparing to finish my degree by writing my thesis, I also wanted to earn some money. So when the school had Coolag (a subsidiary of Shell) get in contact I saw a chance. I went up to the Midlands and they wanted me to prepare some market research on who is the decision maker for insulation materials on air conditioning ducts in construction projects.

My MSc thesis then was on the use of polyurethane as an insulation material for HVAC (heating ventilating air conditioning) and I investigated who would be the decision-maker for the insulation material on the ducts – they wanted to know if it was the architect, the HVAC engineer, the owners? I went through all these decision makers and gradually found out. It was interesting research, it made me some money and I finished my degree by doing my thesis on it – two birds with one stone! It was a nice experience and it prepared me for life, especially the need to think out-of-the-box.

How did studying at Cass change your life?

I came to Cass with a BSc in Mechanical Engineering. Once I finished at Cass I could see that my view of world was now even more open. It’s very important to learn about ideas and different networks, so that was a change – although maybe I was already a little curious and Cass developed it further.

When you finish at a School like Cass you have more qualities that enable you to get a job in London. I did just that, with an internationally-oriented dental supplies company, and I travelled a lot to Spain, Italy and France. I stayed for a year and a half and it was quite pleasant, it changed my life for a time in London.

I had to return back to Turkey after that to do military service and to look after my father. From 1975 onwards my whole business life revolved around establishing close relations with global companies, inviting them to invest in Turkey and taking participation in the joint ventures.

When MSc Administrative Sciences was changed to an MBA we were all asked to come back to Cass and get our new degrees. The Dean at the time invited me to become a member of the Board of Overseers. So I travelled back to Cass every six months for meetings and was instrumental in increasing the profile of Cass in Turkey. Together with about 100 Turkish graduates we organized conferences and dinners.

#Cassat50: Andrew Dakovsky, 2000

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

dakovskyAndrew came to Cass to study for his MBA to improve his career prospects. We caught up with him to chat about his time at Cass and how his career has progressed since graduating in 2000 for our continuing #Cassat50 series.

Why did you come to Cass?

First, the question is why did I want to do an MBA? At the end of the 1990s I worked for the blue chip multinational Bristol-Myers Squibb as Head of Clairol, their Beauty Care Division in Russia. Doing an MBA was one of the options in my career development plan that I had discussed with my superiors. Soon after the Russian financial crisis in 1998, a decision was made on the strategic divestment of beauty care business, and as a first step they closed Eastern Europe operations. I decided to use this as a natural break to do my MBA and improve my business knowledge.

I knew I had made a good career in the 1990s but to go further I 100% needed to improve my business education, as I’d only studied International Law & Politics and not business.
And as to why City University Business School (CUBS, as it was then), it was the personal connection. The Marketing Manager in my office got sponsorship from the British Council, specifically to do an MBA at CUBS. When I travelled to London on business he invited me to visit him at the Barbican and he showed me around and invited me to meet the head of International Business stream. We had a 30 minutes discussion, and at the end of which I received a personal invite to do my MBA there. I just had to pass the GMAT exam and I would be accepted. I was excited and pleased, so when Clairol was closed I immediately applied and was accepted.

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

First of all it was an important personal challenge. I was already 36, and married with a daughter, living a nice life. Now I had to move to London for a year and live in dorm room with young students. It was a big challenge not only professionally but also personally! It was a year of learning and discovery – and I think I benefitted from the studies both as a manager and as a person.

I studied lots of subjects that I was not very strong at previously and met lots of interesting people, both academics and classmates. When you study at Cass you are in the heart of international business and you feel the pulse. It’s not close to you or around you, you are part of it and you feel it every day. In the mornings I would get a fresh issue of FT and a coffee at Starbucks, and just feel you’re at the centre of London.

What is your favourite memory from your time at Cass?

Well there is not particularly any event I remember, but in general I have great memories of the people – my classmates and academics. I keep friendships with many former classmates from different countries. For example in our group there were English, Indian, South East Asian, Serbian, South African and Ghanaian students, and me from Russia. We were a diverse cultural environment and needed to put our efforts together to be successful as a team. There were lots of challenges and hurdles but it led to common success. I cherish the time I spent with them in studies and entertaining. The local guys invited us to local places we’d never have found by ourselves like jazz clubs!

How has studying at Cass changed your life?

First of all when I graduated I felt I’d become a more mature manager and person. I’d faced the challenge, had overcome it, and in the process acquired new skills and knowledge and a more broad view on business. I now knew how to make business internationally.

Soon after graduation I was invited to take a CEO position with a Russian affiliate of a big European construction materials company, so I managed to make the career breakthrough and got the top position I had been looking for. My task was to make a strategic restructuring of the business, and fresh from my MBA this was the dream task to do in practice. It was a successful restructure and I’m pretty sure I owe my success to CUBS. Now I’m at my fourth company in a GM position and it’s all still thanks to my MBA.

One year after I graduated I was asked to advise a potential student from Russia, so I met with her and based on our discussions she went to Cass. She’s made a fantastic career in Europe and now lives and works in London. I have to say, 15 years post-graduation, if I had to advise someone again I would still say go to Cass!

#Cassat50: Sasha Saenko, 2011 & 2012

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

sashaSasha studied BSc Management (2008-2011) and MSc Supply Chain, Trade & Finance (2011-2012), and is still involved with the Cass Consultancy Society, through which she mentors a current Cass student. She is a management consultant at PwC. We caught up for our continuing #Cassat50 series.

Why did you come to Cass?

I think the main reason was because I wanted to get a really good business management education in London. Cass was an obvious choice and there were not many competitors. I liked the location and the international feel – I wanted to be surrounded by people with different backgrounds, and I liked the access to the city. Also the course curriculum was focused on teaching tangible business skills which are essential in the real world workplace.

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

I came for my Bachelor’s degree in 2008 to do Management and graduated in 2011. I enjoyed the learning about Marketing Strategy and Supply Chain Management, and the teaching quality and lecturers were fantastic – really passionate and knowledgeable. Lots of them had industry experience and gave examples of real life problems and situations, which gave us a real life insight into what challenges businesses have.

Wayne Holland, he was teaching Business Modelling and Simulation, not the most exciting subject when you heard about it…but he made it so exciting and also very easy to understand. His lectures went really quickly and we would learn so much in just 2 hours. He was also very good at stretching us. In the first three weeks he would give you a coursework that you’d look at and have no idea what to do! We were all thinking we’ll all fail!

Actually with time and increasing understanding of the subject, we learned that he didn’t want the exact answer, he wanted to stretch our thinking and see how we understand the problem and find the best solution. So we developed our problem solving and analytical skills and were never penalised for a wrong answer – he just wanted to see how we got to the answer – so we had to show our workings and explain how we got there, which was always challenging in a positive way. At the end of the course we’d all submit our coursework and couldn’t believe that we did it. We understood and learned through the process and it was the best type of learning.

Overall all the teachers were friendly and helpful, and happy to give extra advice. Some teachers I would even hug!

What is your favourite memory?

Oooh! There is quite a few, I did so many things! One would be graduation – my Masters graduation. I came back to do my Masters, after my Bachelors, in Supply Chain, Trade & Finance and graduation was very emotional. My family came from Russia to support me; they couldn’t come to my Bachelors graduation because it was too difficult to get a visa. But for this one they came, my sister came too!

A lot of us graduating knew it would be the last time we’d see each other because everyone was from different countries and nobody had a visa to stay, and even if we did we didn’t know if we would get a job. It was very emotional but most of us are still in touch. When I went to China I met up with two classmates, when I went to Belgium I met another, and when anyone comes to London they call me and we meet. It’s an amazing network globally – wherever you are you have someone you know to show you around, it’s definitely a benefit of Cass.

How did studying at Cass change your life?

I remember when we just got to Cass in our first year, our teachers would tell us – ‘you will probably become a management consultant or an investment banker’ – I didn’t want to do anything like that! But during the course I did develop the skills essential to becoming a management consultant, like being really good at presenting, managing teams, being able to negotiate. I thought, ok, I’ll get those skills and I’ll try to do something different – now I’m a management consultant! After a few years I realised it was actually the right path and I’m glad that Cass gave me the skills for my current job success. They were right!

And what does being a mentor give you?

I mentor a second year Business Studies student as part of the Cass Consulting Society and she’s now doing an EY internship – her being a part of the society and also having a mentor who is in Consulting probably helped.

For me, I love to share my experiences and if I can help someone get a job easier or make decisions with better information I will do that. When I was here it was sometimes hard to figure out how to do applications, or what skills employers look for, and how to act in an interview. I wish I had somebody who would have given me that insight so now, after going through the whole experience, I can share it with someone who wants a similar career.

My mentee Dina is also Russian, so we relate on many things. Now that she’s got an internship in consulting I’m very happy and proud of her. It’s great to give back and if I can inspire another female I don’t see any reason not to do it. As alumni we need to support each other and participate in school activities, and strengthen and grow our network which in turn would help our school grow and attract excellent students worldwide.

Your final words on Cass?

It’s a great school and I see a lot of potential. It’s gone from strength to strength. I’ve seen growth in student facilities, teaching quality and I’d love to strengthen the relationship between Cass and PwC and hopefully help other Cass students to get a job at PwC – even more as we are already well represented there.

I think our students are really amazing, smart and well-rounded individuals, and definitely a great employee at any firm. Sometimes firms don’t see enough of the value of the teaching at Cass and instead mainly focus on Oxford, Cambridge and LSE graduates but for me Cass students are different in a very positive way and a great new pool of potential employees for companies who are now increasingly focussing on diversity and better employability skills. Global acumen is definitely our strength, and Cass alumni bring this along with practical skills and a strong business acumen too.

#Cassat50: Jeanette Cowley, 1982

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

jeanetteJeanette Cowley studied for her MBA at Cass, graduating in 1982, and is pictured with Steve, who she met at Leeds University in 1980 and married 32 years later. She is now the Managing Director of Go For Growth. We chatted for our continuing #Cassat50 series.

Why did you come to Cass?

I think, quite simply, I wanted a good job! I contracted TB during the final year of my undergraduate degree and had to take a year out to recover. By the time I was studying for my final exams at the end of the 1970s the job market was in a bad way. At University I had experienced a couple of terrible interviews on the milk round where the interviewer could not answer basic questions about how the business was doing! So, I decided that a commercially oriented Masters degree would help translate my first degree in social sciences in to the world of work. In particular, I thought the addition of an MBA to my CV would put me in a better position in what was a tough and changing market.

I had received offers to study at the LSE and Manchester Business School but, and this might sound bizarre, my choice to go to Cass came down to the interview process. I liked that it was difficult to get a place on the course because I was coming relatively straight from University – I only had nine months off, to earn money to pay towards my postgraduate degree. I came down from Manchester for an interview where they asked a range of probing questions like: What will you get from attending the course and most importantly, what will you bring to the course? I really enjoyed how the interview made me reflect on my motivation and skills – so I chose Cass over the other options.

Plus, I wanted to live in London! Theatre was my passion in my twenties and, at the time, Cass was based in the Barbican, where they had a fantastic theatre. I wanted to experience all aspects of living in London, and also hoped being in London would mean more opportunity for part time work to help pay off my hefty postgraduate loan.

Since moving down to London to go to Cass, even though I’ve worked in many countries, I’ve always had my base in London. You could say I’ve lived here forever – or at least since 1980!

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

I absolutely loved it – particularly because the other students were so diverse. Many of my cohort had worked full time in what I considered to be proper jobs with real careers for quite a number of years, and for them the MBA was either a sabbatical funded by their company, or a personal investment in their longer career. I have a working class background and had worked since the age of about 12 in part time jobs: running errands for small business owners, then working in a discount shop and for Great Universal Stores – that sort of thing. However, back then, I was still quite new to professional work so being with this group of students was a real eye-opener. It was really interesting to study with people from such different backgrounds.

The second highlight of the course was the tutorials: they were very feisty. I think Cass, more so than my undergraduate degree, taught me to really listen, and how to ask probing questions, especially when you’re with people with such different experience. That skill in hindsight was extremely useful when I became a negotiator and involved in dispute resolution. At Cass we were encouraged not to hold back in tutorials: but it was important to give evidence based responses. People would come back to you as well – so preparation was important. Also, I loved working and living on London. For one of my assignments I completed a large piece of coursework about the brewing industry: I analysed early microbreweries. It was the first time I’d combined quantitative and qualitative research methods. Being based in London provided the opportunity to do this research. The fieldwork turned out to be really helpful later on in my career, when I joined Grand Metropolitan (now Diageo).

What is your favourite memory from your time at Cass?

I seem to remember laughing a lot about the way data was presented as facts! At Cass I always thought there was lots of wiggle room for interpretation in the case studies we were asked to look at: maybe I have a warped sense of humour! Throughout my career I have been heavily involved in conflict resolution with teams and individuals and I think my experience at Cass taught me to be challenging and really curious in a way that has helped throughout my career.

The other memory is that I loved my graduation ball. I actually still have the green and purple dress I wore to the ball! When I knew you would ask this question I got the dress out of its dust-bag in the spare room to have a look. I’ve only ever kept a couple of things from back then: one is a black velvet dress I used to wear to the Bowie Rooms in Manchester and the other is this one! It’s got a huge peacock across the shoulder. Well it was the 1980’s! I had a lot of fun at Cass as well as the hard work of course.

How has studying at Cass changed your life?

I can’t say for certain. However, reflecting on that original interview – where I had the question about why should Cass accept me, I think my experiences at Cass gave me courage. Completing the MBA at an early age taught me how to ask questions of people who were more senior and had much more experience without feeling inferior.

The first evidence of this courage was pretty audacious! Mid-MBA I contacted Ford Motor Company, who I didn’t work for, and asked for money towards my MBA. My tutor suggested it although I don’t think they had a sponsorship programme at the time. In any event, the Industrial Relations department at Ford agreed to pay me a small sum of money in exchange for a piece of consultancy work on their recruitment process. That piece of work turned out to be my thesis. After the MBA I actually went back to Ford at Dagenham for about three months to help them think about how to use the results of the research. What a great experience.

Also, my memories of Cass still encourage me to refresh and question what I know and what you think I know. I believe you really have to keep your development going: both personal and professional. So I would say this early experience has affected me throughout my career and is still a part of who I am. With this in mind, four years ago I decided to revisit my area of expertise and took myself back off to business school to study for an MSc in Behavioural Change and Coaching. My research into how senior leaders sustain momentum is central to my work today and I am sure the idea in some way stems back to my time at Cass as well as many years working across a number of sectors.

And now you run your own business?

Yes. I had the idea in the back of my mind for about 20 years (I had never said out loud) – that if I ever sat on the Executive Committee of a FTSE 100 company I would start my own business. So when I was headhunted and got the opportunity to do just that, I went for it! Then, when the time was right, I took myself away to the States for a couple of weeks to think through my strategy including what I wanted and really cared about for my own future and in business. That’s how Go For Growth, focusing on personal and business growth, was born.

My own focus at Go For Growth is on individual and group development as well as dispute resolution and mediation: I am a coach, mentor and mediator. I also give my time to the International Women of Excellence and from time to time I am asked to run workshops or speak at events about how to build trust, resilience and resolve conflict. In my spare time I swim (I learnt how to swim front crawl last year). I am also an avid singer songwriter.

Most importantly, at the moment I am writing a series of articles on reflective leadership and have just started writing a book entitled – Breathe Out: How do you want to spend the next 20 years?

You can contact Jeanette by email

#Cassat50: Zaheed Nizar, 1999

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

zaheedZaheed Nizar studied BSc Banking and International Finance, 1999 and is now the CEO of a family office who owns hotels and real estate. We met up for a chat for our continuing #Cassat50 series.

Why did you come to Cass?

CUBS (City University Business School, later changed to Cass) was actually a recommendation. My sister went to City nine years before me to study economics and I wanted to study economics but also to get in to banking. Her friend, who was at CUBS at the time, told me studying at CUBS was brilliant and I thought that this is the place I need! I didn’t know anything about banking – but I focussed my mind and A’ Levels towards the course. It was all I wanted to do!

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

It was really interesting because it was very different from college. There were lots of international students – including lots of Greeks, mainly on the shipping courses. It was a completely different ball game. We had a lot of work to do, and quickly, with lots of lectures and tutorials. There were lots intense characters in my lectures, but some of them turned out to be my best friends!

We had lecturers that were actually more like your friends, because the age gap was not that large. We had to become more mature and more responsible, because we had to take ownership of our work. We were not told what to do when, we just had to get on and do it. That’s not a good thing to land on an 18-year-old! I found the first year was easier than A’ Levels, then the second year, which comes very quickly, was way harder, especially the complex maths. I took it more seriously then.

Do you have a favourite memory from your studies?

The best part was being given the option between my second and third years to take a year out and work, which I did. It was brilliant, as I was not ready for my third year! In industry it was really good, I found my placement and had a really good time. Personally it was great too, a handful of guys on the course also took a year in industry and we made really good friends – now at the age of 40 I’ve been to some of their weddings. I’ve no specific fun memories of the course, it was more about the time we shared together staying up late doing presentations; it taught me a lot.

How did studying at Cass change your life?

You know what, it didn’t change my life when I went in to banking. During my year out I had been working in asset management and it didn’t help then. It helped a little post-graduation when I worked in equities and then sales.

However, when I left banking in 2003 to join the family business, which is in hotels and real estate, the value of my degree became apparent, especially around presenting and pitching, balance sheets, profit and loss and general business acumen. I graduated in 1999 and left banking five years later, and then realised how important my degree was! My studies were centred on banking but delivered elsewhere.

I think a degree can take time to become relevant. Between 2006 and 2007 I decided to get back involved with alumni because I felt a great need to say thanks, and there were a few lectures specifically that I wanted to pay back.

How have you given back?

We had course director Shelagh Heffernan, who passed away. She was had been ill for some time and passed away after I left Cass. When I got back in touch with the School, a fellow student Luca Del Conte I set up the Shelagh Heffernan Fund in association with her husband, which was our way of saying thanks. I went back to my classmates and together we funded several students – we funded tuition fees, especially for overseas students.

Are you still in touch with the School?

Since then, I’ve worked various jobs and now run various businesses and I still see the value of the alumni network. For example, through a seminar at Cass I met the owner of Metro Bank, Vernon Hill. It was brilliant meeting him and one of my partners and he have done some stuff together since. Post-Cass the collaboration continues so it’s very worthwhile for all students to realise that, and keep their foot in the door.

I’m also part of the Finance Board. All the other members are very young, they all graduated around 2010 and they understand the importance of contact with Cass and how much help and assistance they can give and get.

Also, my eldest daughter will soon be going to the City of London School for Girls, in Frobisher Crescent. Its location in the City and the connections between the University and both the Girls and Boys schools was a big influence on what school she went to. When we went to see the school there were so many memories!

#Cassat50: Peter Johnson, 1968

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

IMG_0439Peter Johnson (MSc Administrative Sciences – now MBA Administrative Sciences, 1968) left the UK after studying at the Business School, and went on to career successes in Holland and Canada. We chatted about how his life evolved after studying with us for our continuing #Cassat50 series.

Why did you come to Cass?

My first degree was in Electrical Engineering and it was a “sandwich course”. I did six months study and six months work, sponsored by an electrical company in Manchester who paid me a small amount of money 52 weeks a year for four years.

Even though I did pretty well, it was clear to me I didn’t want to work as an Engineer. The small amount of experience that I had led me towards sales. At that time MBA programmes were relatively new, and they were all two-year programmes. There was no way to get government support or financing, so I did a bit of research and City was one of the few places that was offering a twelve-month programme, so that was critical.

The other critical thing was that one of the four specialisations was International Marketing, so those two made it a very easy decision. I applied, and was accepted and it was only the second year the programme was run. I was living in the Bunhill Row residence (which is where Cass Business School now is) and the school itself was at Gresham College and it was such a beautiful building, right in the heart of the City.

What was your experience studying at Cass?

A key thing I can say is that year was absolutely critical in helping me to shift from a left-brain Engineering nerd to a more socially-aware qualitative thinker. There were a couple of modules related to sales with a particular emphasis on human behaviour and that was something that fascinated me. It was so basic, so elementary but to me it was new and a revelation. So that was a component of the course that, to me, was very, very powerful.

To be honest, I had the feeling that the faculty was sort-of making up the programme as they went along – it was the second year – and I have to say that that made it a little less academically onerous, which actually suited me fine, because another important thing for me was having a year in London.

Previously I’d lived a very narrow existence in Manchester. I was there for four years, at a college of advanced technology that was 99% male, where there wasn’t really any university experience. Suddenly, in London, even though I had little money, I was exposed to a lot of new things, culturally and socially, and that was a really important part of that year.

I think back and it seems that one year in London was really like living anywhere else for three years!

What did you do next?

When I finished, I knew I wanted to leave the UK, and I knew I didn’t want to work in Engineering. Towards the end of the year there was a career day where representatives from various companies in England came to the the main campus, London College.

Most of them were recruiting for technical people, and weren’t expecting to meet students from the business school – nobody knew that it existed! And it just so happened that someone from Phillips Electronics knew they were looking for international recruits for their HQ in Eindhoven.

My qualifications with MSc Administrative Sciences (as it was) in International Marketing, and an Electrical Engineering degree, rang bells for them. I went there for a couple of interviews and immediately I had a very attractive offer, so that was absolutely perfect for me. I certainly couldn’t have got that offer without the City degree, regardless of what I may or may not have learned during the year!

How did you get on there?

Though the three years that I spent in Holland were incredible from a professional point of view it was not very interesting socially because Eindhoven was a company town, and I was totally focussed on my career. After three years I was transferred at my request from Holland to the same company in Toronto, so that’s how I came to Canada in 1971.

I quickly switched my orientation, making up for lost time, and decided to create a more balanced life. I then had eight years where the job was relatively easy. I enjoyed it, I was paid well, and I started to really enjoy life. I became socially more active, I bought a sailboat, obtained my pilot’s license and skied in Quebec during the winters. I met a young lady from Quebec City who later became my wife and we bought a house together in Toronto. So my focus I have to say was 70% outside work and 30% work.

Then after eight years I decided it was maybe time to restore the balance in the other direction. Phillips in Canada was solely a sales organization so I applied to another international company, Pirelli (cables, not tyres).

Pirelli cables then was much bigger in North America than Pirelli tyres, and they had a manufacturing facility in Guelph, an hour outside Toronto. So I applied there and got the job as marketing manager, which was broader than the sales role that I had with Phillips. I did very well with them, and the company in Canada improved its profitability and market share as a result of my efforts. After 10 years I became Vice President and General Manager, and I would say that I had only been hired by Pirelli because of my Engineering/MBA combination – which was more unusual back then.

How did you end up self-employed?

In 1990 Pirelli lost money internationally and that eliminated expansion plans for my operation in Guelph. I moved with them to Montreal for a couple of years, but then the Montreal operation was downsized, Pirelli Canada ceased to exist and was absorbed into Pirelli US. I was made redundant. I was 48 years old, financially sound and thrilled at the prospect of redesigning my life.

I had an excellent severance package and the support of an exceptional outplacement company, Murray Axmith. In an interesting twist they asked me to join them and I set up their 17th office in Canada. It was very successful and I really enjoyed helping other senior executives redesign their lives in similar circumstance to mine.

After three years I became aware of, and interested in, the concept of executive coaching. After some research I left Murray Axmith to set myself up as an independent executive coach. After some extensive training and education I became probably one of the first few professionally qualified executive coaches in Canada. I then had 10 years that were exceptionally satisfying, with some fantastic clients and a well balanced life. With no shortage of business I let things get out of control for a couple of years and when my wife retired from teaching I decided it was time for me to do the same. I’ve kept on a few client since then to keep the grey cells working, but only to match my schedule of activities.

I had never thought of myself as becoming self-employed or as an entrepreneur but I do think of myself as being self-reliant. I have always believed the principle that I am responsible for my own destiny, even when I’ve been part of a large corporate identity – that’s been there, maybe since my years at school. Would it have happened if I had not been made redundant? Probably not. But I’ve always been very sensitive to relationships – that was a transition that took place at Cass in London – part of my switch from left-brain to more of a human orientation.

What exactly is an Executive Coach?

The “elevator speech” is… “a coach engages a client in a spontaneously composed conversation that causes the client to develop new ideas that bring great clarity, focus and the strong desire to act in more effective and satisfying ways”. It took me years to develop that!

At the start, when people said to me “so what does an executive coach do?” I’d say “well spend an hour with me and experience what I do” and I would find that after that 7 out of 10 people would say “So when do we meet next!” For those people who get it, it is life changing, it’s astonishing. One of the points [of an article I wrote] is – who hires a coach? It’s someone with a combination of self-confidence and humility. They are confident enough that they can be transparent and self-aware but humble enough to know that they can, and want to, become more satisfied and effective.

Looking back I do recognize that I have been extraordinarily fortunate, with good opportunities that most people never have, Cass being one of them.

#Cassat50: Tatiana Serganova, 2011

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Photo_Tatiana SerganovaTatiana Serganova studied BSc Business and International Finance, 2011, and now works for an advertising software start-up. We caught up with her for our continuing #Cassat50 series.

Why did you come to Cass?

I’m was an international student and I did a foundation programme in London – which is like A’ Levels but a programme specifically for foreign students. I fell in love with London and knew Cass was one of the top schools in London, so when I knew I wanted to stay in London, I researched more and the School ticked all the boxes. Most Bachelor’s degrees are pretty broad, covering subjects like accounting, and I wanted to do something applicable for my future career. I chose Banking and International Finance which was very specific on one hand, with no broad knowledge base, but it also covers lots of different aspects and including insight in to the world of investments.

What was your experience of studying at Cass like?

My experience was very funny! One thing I remember is that I had this teacher in banking who taught the core banking module, and she was really great. We joined the course in 2008 at the peak of the financial crisis and as soon as we entered the room she said “It’s the financial crisis bankers are jumping out of windows and crazy things are happening, so it’s a good time to study!” I had such an interesting time, and I wrote numerous essays on why the crisis happened. Historically it was a great moment to study finance, very different from the normal experience.

I did a Masters afterwards (not at Cass) so I can compare, and Cass has a very good quality of lecturers. Everyone is very accomplished and we had people from the Bank of England, and big financial firms speaking to us. I really acknowledged the quality of the academics.

Do you have a favourite memory from your time at Cass?

My first memory and also a highlight was when I entered and saw all the crazy stuff like the timetable and essays I was going to have to do, and I felt very overwhelmed. I thought there was no way I would be able to finish the course, it was so complex and I’m from another country the ways things are done are so different. Just looking back it’s funny I thought that. I graduated with honours – so it’s great to see your progress!

How has studying at Cass changed your life?

Well essentially for me it was a game changer. When I moved from abroad, Cass introduced me to the professional work environment, a new country and new friends and I’m grateful for all the experiences. I’ve got lots of good friends from Cass that I’m still in touch with, and some went with me to do a Masters. It’s great to be connected to so many like-minded people.
I didn’t pursue a career in finance but my degree gave me a good start and a very solid base in accounting, finance and economics, which are very applicable for any profession. Doing my degree was a big part of my life, when you’re in your 20s it’s a big deal and if counts for a lot.

After I finished my Cass degree I did an internship but then decided going in to finance was not the right career move. The studies were great but I did not see a career for me, although my parents wanted me to pursue it. I had the realisation that I wanted to do something new and tech-driven so I did a Masters in Digital Marketing. I was accepted into the programme without any questions because Cass gave me good breadth. When people ask where you studied, and hear Cass, they always say “Wow! Good school!”.

And you’re a mentor too?

Yes, I’m a mentor in the Professional Mentoring Programme run by City. I really always wanted to and so when I got email about how to be more involved, I had to volunteer. I remember myself being a student and not knowing how to apply for jobs and what to do with my career – I was not sure of the path or where to turn to. So I was very confused and didn’t know what to do, and hopefully my experiences can help someone else now.

This is my first year in the programme and I’m working with a 2nd year student from City. It’s going well. He had the aim to increase his employability skills and get a placement, so we worked on that and he got a placement and felt very motivated by me. I’ll always remember how I felt and how wished I had someone to guide me, so it’s great to give back.

#Cassat50: Dr John Mitchell, 1988

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

john then and nowDr John Mitchell came to Cass to study for his PhD. Today he is Managing Director of LHS Business Control. We asked him about his time at the Business School.

Why did you come to Cass?

I had completed an MBA at Middlesex and had commenced a part-time PhD on the thesis of using risk management techniques for audit planning purposes. Unfortunately, my supervisor left after less than a year and they had no-one else suitable. I already knew that CUBS (as it then was) ran an internal audit programme, because I was a visiting lecturer to it and I knew the team quite well, so I approached Professor Andrew Chambers who was departmental head and Dean to the school to ask if he was willing to supervise me. He was, so I transferred to CUBS.

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

Doing a PhD is a very different thing from studying for an MBA. It is very lonely life. The thing about a PhD is that within six months you know more than your supervisor, so what you require is encouragement from your supervisor. Fortunately for me, Dr Georges Selim had been delegated this task by Professor Chambers and as I knew Georges well from my visiting lecturer work I felt that the required back-up was there. I was spending at least 9 hours per week on my research, which was on top of a demanding day job. Fortunately, my day job, provided much input to my research, as I was Group Computer audit Manager at British Gas, and had a wide range of contacts throughout the world. British Gas paid my fees (which were quite modest) and also paid for my attendance at conferences. I was also active as a speaker on the international conference circuit and was able to meet many people to discuss my ideas. Basically it is up to the student to be self-motivated and to keep at it. I believe that only around 20% of people who start a PhD actually finish it. It would be interesting to know the Cass statistics.

John's PhD Graduation - 1989What is your favourite memory from your time at Cass?

Having fun with the entire internal audit programme team, including the administrators and secretaries.

How did studying at Cass change your life?

I graduated in 1988 and receiving my PhD provided the impetus for me to set-up my own consultancy which I have run for the last 27 years. The software which I had developed to support my thesis provided a good income stream and the consultancy area grew on the back of it. Having a PhD provided the gravitas needed by a consultant.

#Cassat50: Juliet Valdinger, 2013

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

JVJuliet Valdinger studied MSc Grantmaking, Philanthropy and Social Investment, 2013. We chatted about her experiences for our continuing #Cassat50 series.

Why did you come to Cass?

My desire to get an MSc in Grantmaking, Philanthropy and Social Investment at Cass Business School came from fracturing my skull. Quite an unusual reason for most people (thankfully). But it was mine nevertheless.

Let me take you back to put that in context. I’ve been more than mildly obsessed with philanthropy since 2003. Before then, I didn’t really have much understanding of what ‘philanthropy’ actually was. My first job showed me how much impact high-profile people can have on society. I was persuading individuals ranging from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Giorgio Armani to George Clooney and the King of Spain to get involved in a charity project. Quite an achievement you might say. Well, yes it was but it was because by getting them to support our project, they raised funds for the charity they already supported themselves. That was my first exposure to the power of philanthropy. If you’re interested check out

I’d loved travelling through Africa on my gap year so then took myself off to South Africa. The aim was to go and do ‘good stuff’. However, a horse riding accident rather disrupted my plans.

In a nutshell, I was in hospital with a fractured skull and collapsed lung for two months, in rehab for three months and recovering at my mum’s house for four months before I was ready to go back to work. I received incredible support from family, friends and strangers during that year – and that has contributed massively to my commitment to philanthropy. Experiencing the direct, positive impact people can have on others’ lives, even if they don’t know them, reminded me about the power of philanthropy.

So what tipped you towards choosing your MSc?

My first job after the accident was working for a travel consultancy (not exactly charity work) and there was an opportunity to go to Rwanda. I’d always wanted to go, both to see the country and go gorilla tracking (both of which I highly recommend). However, it was one specific place there that re-ignited my determination to be part of the philanthropy world.

The Pears Foundation has funded a genocide memorial in Kigali, which I visited. It was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had. It was not like reading about the genocide in the Sunday Times. The memorial is a tutorial for tourists to get an authentic reflection of what happened and showed me what funders with serious amounts of money can build.

After that visit, I wanted to follow that pathway and create something that has a positive impact on others. I wanted to find a millionaire and help build a school or hospital in Africa. Or something like that. I looked for months and months in 2008 (not a good year to job hunt) before I got a temp job at Macmillan Cancer Support on their grantmaking team. Cancer patients apply for grants to support them though difficulties they face in paying for things like heating costs, transport, etc. Their nurses are the intermediaries between the patients and Macmillan, which means Macmillan can remain more objective and not influenced in the decision about who does or doesn’t get the funding.

There was a day when a cancer patient who Macmillan hadn’t funded got through to me on the phone. And I understood why we needed the nurses to be the intermediaries. The patient had applied for £250 to cover his heating costs and it had been declined. He spent 20 agonising minutes on the phone telling me that he was going to die because we had not given him the money and that it was my fault. This experience showed me that giving away money is not always an easy process. There is so much more to philanthropy than that – and that building my school or hospital in Africa would not be straightforward.

So, discovering that there was an MSc in Grantmaking, Philanthropy and Social Investment at Cass Business School felt like someone had shone a light down on me. It taught me there are many sides of the dice in the philanthropy world: social investment, impact investment, social impact bonds, development bonds, standard grants and many more. The MSc changed my perceptions of the whole charitable sector. Although it was quite a mouthful to say, “I’m doing my MSc in Grantmaking, Philanthropy and Social Investment at the Cass Business School” it gave me the credibility and courage to march around London, meeting people at events, encouraging introductions or just cold emailing. I met so many people I would never have had the opportunity to meet if I hadn’t been doing the MSc. I have a folder packed with business cards as a result of those two years.

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

One of the key things which made the course so effective to me was that our lecturers were a perfect blend of academics and practitioners. Theory is important to build a structured and objective framework of thought, but too much of it and I’ll be snoring in the corner before you know it. The practitioners brought the theories to life and talked to us about applying them to their work on the ground. This provided us with a platform of discussion points about what works in practice and whether there were any holes left that still need to be filled.

I was so excited about this experience that I was nearly always the first person to ask a question in the lecture hall. I admit I’m not good with silences and there was so much to learn that I just couldn’t wait to get the conversations started. It was also great to sit there listening to all of the other questions which often provoked the lecturers with new thoughts. My interest and fascination was clearly noted (I think my excitement exhausted some lecturers) as when the Guardian got in touch with Cass asking to interview a student about the course, I think I might have been the first person they called. I never thought that someone would interview me – and certainly not such a big newspaper. But I agreed because I wanted to (and still do) encourage everyone to understand how this MSc is intellectually stimulating and provides an insight into the philanthropy world in a way nothing else does.

I crossed over from Macmillan to work for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation during the MSc. This job provided me with a deeper insight into the many facets of the philanthropy world and I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have been offered the job if I wasn’t in the middle of doing the course. I might never have done the course if I hadn’t fallen off a horse, fractured my skull, gone to Rwanda and visited the genocide memorial and worked at Macmillan on their grantmaking team.

It was the MSc at Cass that provided me with the knowledge, tools and contacts that allowed me to bring my interest in the philanthropy sector into reality. And I intend to use those in every stage of the rest of my career.

Find us

City, University of London

Northampton Square

London EC1V 0HB

United Kingdom

Back to top

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.

Skip to toolbar