How a City tutor predicted (sort of) I’d write the world’s first book on national anthems

Arts and Social Sciences News.

Republic or Death book cover

Post by Alex Marshall (Periodical Journalism 2003)

Looking back at my time at City a decade ago – I did a journalism post-grad – there’s one conversation that sticks out. It was a day when my tutor, Harriett Gilbert – probably wearing the biker jacket she normally did, maybe with a cigarette in hand – told me I should write a book.

I’m not sure she meant it – she was starting a creative writing course at the time, and might have just needed students – but it turns out I’ve now done as she advised, as if she was a soothsayer of the highest order.

She also told me to write that book in the first person, and said I shouldn’t be afraid of humour. My book follows that advice too. I’m starting to wish I’d asked her for some more life lessons, or at least what lottery numbers I should choose.

Alex in Kazakhstan

Alex ‘doing research’ in Kazakhstan, the only country with an anthem written by its head of state, the country’s dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev

The book in question is the world’s first about national anthems – one telling the fascinating, occasionally bizarre, stories of these songs and the people behind them, showing how in many parts of the world these songs couldn’t me more vital. It also reveals how these songs have been at the centre of some of history’s most important events: everything from the end of apartheid to the Arab Spring.

It’s a book that forced me to use all my City journalism training as it required research in 14 countries, although City didn’t teach me to pretend to be an academic to avoid being arrested, as I had to do several times in Egypt.

It wasn’t clear I’d end up doing this despite Harriet’s comments. The best thing about the City course was it forced us to try every type of journalism: writing for newspapers one day, business magazines the next, even doing bits of radio. For most of my career since, I’ve actually been an environmental journalist, writing about everything from international climate conferences to the frequency of bin collections. Music journalism was just something I did in my spare time.

But one day during the Beijing Olympics, I had the idea to listen to all the world’s anthems and rank them out of 10. The slightly-ludicrous piece I ended up writing about that quest ended up making front-page news in places like Bangladesh and Nepal (“Bangladesh wins silver!” screamed one headline) and because of that I became increasingly obsessed with these songs, why we still have them, who wrote them and what they’ve achieved.

Alex in Nepal

Alex with Amber Gurung, the composer of Nepal’s bizarre national anthem, the only one written on a Casio keyboard.

Interestingly, the place where these songs seemed to have the least meaning was here, in Britain, where most people can’t remember the last time they sang God Save the Queen, let alone all the words. Very few people here would say the anthem is integral to their sense of national identity, or claim it’s the piece of music they turn to at moments of crisis or celebration. Most actually seem to think it’s an awful song that says nothing about Britain today, and they’re right.

That explains why, in a way, I’ve been surprised by the furore over Jeremy Corbyn refusing to sing it. I keep on getting asked to talk about it on radio shows, while a piece I wrote about it for the Telegraph somehow got over 1,000 comments, most telling me to emigrate.

It isn’t the topic I’d have predicted to generate publicity for my book – I was expecting that to be a chapter on the Islamic State’s anthem – but then I imagine Harriet probably warned me about this 10 years ago. Once you’ve written a book, it’s out of your hands – you can’t decide how people react to it.

I should really track her down for a drink. Perhaps she’ll have some ideas about what I should write about for the follow-up.

Alex Marshall’s Republic or Death! Travels in Search of National Anthems is out now. His blog about the book, including more anthems than you could ever want to listen to, is at 


I left my City Banking Career to become an Entrepreneur

Cass Business School News.

bio picHenrik Ottosson has recently exchanged his City investment banking job for the entrepreneurial life, and is loving it. He is currently working for Invesdor, a Northern European crowdfunding and investment site with more than 8,000 investments so far, averaging €170,000 per round.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied Banking and International Finance at Cass from 1995 to 1998, back when the school was based at the Barbican. I must say that this building here in Bunhill Row is lovely, it really feels like an investment bank! Coming to study at Cass was the first time I’d been to the UK and I’ve been here ever since.

What have you been up to since then?

I went into investment banking in the City, and then two years ago I decided to become an entrepreneur. I am now the UK manager for the Nordic crowdfunding website Invesdor.

I understand that another Cass alumnus is part of the Invesdor team as well?

Invesdor started in Finland two and a half years ago, by Lasse Mäkelä (Banking and International Finance, 1997) and a few others, focussing on the Nordic region as there were no crowdfunding sites in the region. I actually came to the business as an investor. With crowdfunding it’s easy to move from investor to getting involved in the companies, and a year ago became part of the team, charged with expanding into the UK.

In April they became the first crowdfunding company to be regulated in all of the EEA, and are now looking for more entrepreneurs to bring into the portfolio. They want entrepreneurs both who are starting out and who are looking to expand. But it’s not just about the money, it’s about the marketing. Running a crowdfunding campaign is a great way to both get investment and increase recognition of your brand.

What are the benefits of crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding has removed that distance between the investor and the recipient. Traditional private equity investments involved a middle man who managed the money and the relationships, and the investor just sat back and watched the money grow. Now, with crowdfunding, there’s that closer connection, and in fact there are many more cases now of the investors actually getting involved in the company, like I did, bringing contacts and expertise, and really helping it grow as well.

Do you attend many alumni events?

I am increasingly going to more alumni events. When I was in investment banking, I had my own network which worked for me, but as an entrepreneur you really need to reach out much wider. The alumni events are fantastic for this because you already have that connection with people. It’s also much easier with the social media that the alumni network has, which really adds to the community feeling. I’ve also just taken part as an advisor on the City Starters weekend.

What is your top tip for entrepreneurs?

Start early! It takes much longer than you expect for things to get going. Most companies that we work with usually want to get up and running straight away, but it’s more important to get the marketing, network and funding in place first.

With the benefit of hindsight, what would you tell yourself in the past, when you were thinking about becoming an entrepreneur?

I became an entrepreneur two years ago and I have never looked back! You’re never really ready to strike out on your own, but if you have an idea you really should believe in yourself and get on with it. I could have done it earlier, but there is a time for everything.

What’s next for you?

Invesdor already number 1 in the Nordic region, and are launching in the UK, so we are busy building their entrepreneur network. The UK as it has the largest crowdfunding market in the EEA and we want to make an impact here.

Personally, I want to carry on being an entrepreneur, it’s really interesting to meet lots of people from different industries, and I’m really excited to be part of the emerging FinTech industry. It’s really disrupting traditional finance and London is the best place to be if you want to be part of it.

Crowdfunding, social media, networking and brand awareness are all part of starting up a new business today and it’s so exciting to be part of the process.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London? Churchill Arms in Notting Hill
Favourite holiday destination? Lebanon
Must-check every day website? Invesdor
Dream travel destination? There are too many to choose from! Greenland would be amazing
Cheese or chocolate? Cheese

For more information on Invesdor click here.

Read more Cass-related blogs here.

Phuong Nguyen, Monaco 2014 Bursary Recipient

Cass Business School News , .

Phuong NguyenAt the Monaco 2014 Alumni Weekend, money was donated at several of the events, which went towards a Monaco Bursary for a Cass student in need of financial assistance. The recipient of this award was Phuong Nguyen, and one year later she has been in touch to tell us a little more about herself and what receiving the bursary meant to her.

“Thank you for having chosen me among many excellent applicants as a recipient of the Monaco Bursary. I am immensely grateful and honoured to have earned this opportunity. By receiving this bursary, I feel my academic accomplishments have been truly recognized. I am also very pleased to have helped lighten the burden of high tuition fees pressed on my parents. However, with great opportunity comes great responsibility, I understand the need to hold myself more accountable towards my study to meet the trust and expectations I have received. This will play a substantial role in motivating me to work harder to show my full potentials and achieve my set goals. I will try my best to show that you have made the right decision. I am very eager to continue to reap great academic results, contribute my abilities to the university community as well as experience my university life at Cass Business School this September.

“Why I chose to study in London and my background:

“I was born and grew up in Hanoi, the beautiful capital of Vietnam. This energetic city, which never sleeps, has led me to be familiar with the fast-paced lifestyle. However, despite its chaos, Hanoi still retains its cultural beauty with many historical attractions and traditional cuisine. I found London also having the harmonious coexistence of modern and medieval lifestyle, which is what I love most about my homeland. Being a multicultural city, London also offers me a chance to discover various cultures, contemplating the art and history of each, which are displayed in numerous museums and galleries. Additionally, London is considered one of the biggest financial hub in the world, making it’s the perfect place to develop my interest and potential in this field.

“How I intend to fund my study:

“I will get a part time job to become even more financially independent of my parents and support my living and study expenses. City University offers many on-campus job opportunities, which I will make use of to make my working more convenient, better my soft skills, and also collect hands-on experience. My time management skills will ensure that my part time job will not interfere with my study so I can develop my full potential and continue to perform well academically at university.

“Bursary Application:

“This bursary will enable me to continue my study in the UK and follow my passion in Accounting and Finance.

“Various experiences during my study in London prompted me to develop the study skills required to become a great candidate for this bursary. Unlike the traditional learning style in Vietnam, I realised that it is necessary to go beyond what was given in lectures and ask questions and do further research to understand the subject to the full and gain an individual perspective of it. It is through active search for deeper knowledge that the beauty of each subject is revealed. Therefore, I did not focus solely on my favourite subject, Accounting, and performed well in all subjects.

“The high tuition fees have posed a substantial problem to me, a student coming from a developing country. Despite being a meaningful career, doctor is not a high paying job in Vietnam. In addition to being a doctor at the National Cardiovascular Hospital, my mother also runs a clinic outside of working hours to try to earn enough money to pay for my tuition fees. This means she works 12 hours on a weekday and Saturday as well. This has damaged both her physical and mental health. As my parents will reach retirement age soon, our financial problem will be even more serious in the near future.

“This bursary will help me become less financially dependent on my parents, contribute my strength to the university community and fulfill my dream of being a successful chartered accountant.”

Read our news story about the Monaco 2014 event here.

Read more Cass-related blogs here.

Cass Alumnus is Barnet’s Youngest Ever Mayor

Careers, Cass Business School News , .

Official mayor photoCouncillor Mark Shooter, Mayor of Barnet, is the youngest ever person to hold this position, and an Actuarial Science graduate from 1992. We went to interview him for a chat about how he got into politics, the diversity of Barnet and the pressures of funding cuts, as well as going on safari in South Africa.

What was your time at Cass like?

“I studied Actuarial Science at Northampton Square, and it was a very hard course requiring lots of studying. The exams in particular were very intense. I thought it was a fantastic course and it let me to a top job in an actuarial consultant’s office straight after I graduated. I was also exempt from six of the formal actuarial examinations thanks to the academic rigour of the course.

How did you go from Actuarial Science to Mayor of Barnet?

“I stayed in that first actuarial role for two years, taking two further examinations towards being a certified actuarial analyst, but then I decided I wanted to do something else. As a profession, it’s too risk-averse and I wanted to do something that involved a little more risk. I moved on to Swiss Bank, dealing with investment banks, trading and hedge funds.

“In 2010 the market became quite volatile and I decided to seek new challenges. I was after something where I could give my time and energy to the community, as well as developing my charitable foundation. I wanted to do something really meaningful and then one day an information leaflet about ‘becoming a councillor’ dropped through my door. I didn’t really know what one did, and the only real interactions I’d had with the council were to get them to fix the pavement, to pay parking tickets, and for rubbish collection. I learned that Barnet council has a £1bn budget and is responsible for education, social welfare, the environment, voluntary organisations and more, and decided to get involved.

“I helped Matthew Offord become an MP and in return he backed me to become a councillor in Hendon. I have been a councillor for five years now, and enjoy making small differences to people’s lives, whether it’s by sending an email, going to a meeting, or by lobbying for someone’s interests or rights.”

Brooklands Junior School with Mayor

Was entering the public sector an easy transition?

“When I was first elected I wanted to take over the whole council but I missed out on becoming the leader. I realised then I actually needed to take a step back and take some time to find my feet in the public sector before pushing on forwards, so I focussed and took it a bit slower. Gradually, I took on more responsibility, before becoming the chairman of the pension fund, which ties in nicely with my actuarial background, as well as being a member of the planning committee. Barnet Council has £1bn pension fund, and together with all 33 London boroughs we have pension assets of over £30bn. The Government is trying to save on administrative costs, and to gather resources together for efficiency, so now I’m on the board of investors of all the London pension funds with an aim to push down the costs of administering the investments and return a high level of savings.”

What does being Mayor of Barnet actually involve?

“As a Mayor I have three main duties. The first is my civic duty to meet and greet royals who come to my constituency and to be present at official events such as Remembrance Day and Armed Forces Day. I get to open schools and libraries and also raise the profile of other local events by attending in my Mayoral capacity. The second is in upholding the council constitution. I chair the full council meetings, keep decorum and my decision is final if there are any disputes on rules. And my third duty is to raise money for charity. We pick an annual charity and I have actually convened a committee to help with this because I wanted to support a number of local causes. In the end we chose four different ones: a local cancer charity, a charity that works with homeless people in Barnet, a charity for muscular dystrophy which came about because a couple of the mothers on the committee have children with this condition, and an educational charity that supports children who require extra educational assistance but don’t have this provided through their school via a special needs statement.”

Would you recommend becoming a Councillor to other people?

“Becoming a councillor has been such a rewarding experience. I have had the chance to do so many and varied things, and it’s really enhanced my social life as well. I also like that it’s not a full time role, so that still gives me time to spend with my five kids, and on my charitable trust.”

What’s next for you?

“I’ve taken on a consultancy role within the Government, advising on pensions and investments, and I’m finally studying for my last actuarial exams, which have increased in number since I was last part of the profession. It’s hard to go back to studying as there’s huge competition from very bright youngsters with lots of energy. Competing against them with all my responsibilities is hard but I’m still feeling confident, energetic and nimble.”

Barnet Music and Literary Festival with Mayor

What’s the biggest issue facing Councillors today?

“Barnet council is the largest in London, with a very diverse 400,000 people living here. 35% of my constituents were born outside the UK, it’s home to the largest Chinese community in the country and there are large Jewish, Indian and Greek-Cypriot communities too, plus a large number of elderly residents. This diversity is good, but it also presents challenges locally, in terms of looking after all the different communities. This area is so successful because of the excellent schools, there are 124 here and we have to maintain standards. All of this is difficult because we are facing severe cutbacks in our budget. Other boroughs have been shutting down libraries and services, but we are trying to do it by making efficiency savings and schemes like turning some libraries into community libraries. We’ve also got 6 museums which we’re fighting to keep open, we really need to keep the cultural side of Barnet alive, so we’re outsourcing some things to save money. We’re struggling with the extra cuts from the new budget announced in the summer though. We are also committed to building a large number of houses, although that’s presenting us with some infrastructure challenges.”

What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?

“Well, I actually have a 16-year-old son, so I’ve been practising this lately. I’d say make sure you get good A-levels, they are crucial for university, so keep on with those GCSEs and make sure to get at least a B in English. Politics is good, but go through a roundabout route. Start a career first, so that you have some life experience when you go into politics, and make sure you get professional qualifications too. That doesn’t mean you can’t get involved along the way though; you should take an interest in politics, join local associations and get involved in events and electoral campaigns, they will build your experience and social skills, and you can make a difference as well.”

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

Favourite place in London: “It’s got to be Barnet!”

Favourite holiday destination: “Israel.”

Must-check-everyday Website: “I have several – I always check the markets on the IG Index, Sky News and the Daily Mail app.”

Dream travel destination: “South Africa – I want to take my kids on safari.”

Cheese or chocolate: “Chocolate every time!”

Any other facts about yourself? “I’m 6’1”, I support Spurs, and I worked for 10 years at the Business Design Centre in Angel.”

Read more Cass-related blogs here.

City’s Vision and Strategy 2026

City News.

Vision--Strategy-logoThe University is working on its Vision and Strategy for the next 10 years and has launched a series of engagement sessions with students, staff, the community and other key stakeholders with an interest in the institution’s future direction.

The Vision and Strategy 2026 and the supporting plans and strategies will be developed over a year and will come together from different strands of work – analysis, input from students, staff and other stakeholders and steered and led by the University senior leadership team. A final Vision and Strategy 2026 will be considered in May 2016 by the University’s Council and launched from 1st August 2016.

How you can get involved

As lifelong alumni of City, you are invited to attend a Business Breakfast Meeting on Wednesday 22nd July 2015 from 8.45am – 11.00am at Cass Executive Education, 200 Aldersgate Street, London EC1A 4HD to give us your views on three specific areas: student employability; work placements; and, building partnerships.

This is an exciting moment for City and the event will also be a great opportunity to network, so please do come along if you can. Refreshments will be provided, and you can register to attend by emailing who can let you  have further details about the event.

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent Visits for Lunch

Cass Business School News.


The Langham Hotel was the swanky destination for a lunch with the CEO and Chairman of the Coca-Cola Company Muhtar Kent (MBA Administrative Sciences, 1977) with the winners of the Defne and Muhtar Kent Prize in Entrepreneurship and the Coca-Cola Foundation scholars. Muhtar personally congratulated all scholars and presented them with a gift from Coca-Cola. Muhtar spoke very warmly about his time at then City University Business School and praised Cass for its achievements to date.

Prizes were awarded to Barbara Lisa (Executive MBA, 2014) and Daniel Riddett (Executive MBA, 2013) on behalf of the Defne and Muhtar Kent Educational Foundation, whilst Coca-Cola scholars Kajal Kanbi (BSc Investment, Insurance and Real Estate, 2017), Sameer Syed Alam (MA Publishing, 2012), Lynn Yu (BSc Actuarial Science, 2016) and William Johnson (BSc Banking and International Finance, 2016) were also there, and some took their chance to take a selfie with Muhtar Kent himself.

First runner-up in the Defne and Muhtar Kent Educational Foundation Prize in Entrepreneurship Barbara Lisa gets her prize from Muhtar Kent:


Second runner-up in the Defne and Muhtar Kent Educational Foundation Prize in Entrepreneurship Daniel Ridett gets his prize from Muhtar Kent:


And we had a rather large gift for Muhtar Kent to say thanks for his generosity:


For all the photos head on over to our Facebook page!

Academics and alumna share their experiences to mark National Women in Engineering Day

Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering News.

Lara Yusuff, BEng (Hons), Aeronautical Engineering

As long as you’re driven, determined to succeed and hardworking, you’ll prosper in engineering.

Lara Yusef

Lara Yusuff, studied for a BEng (Hons) in Aeronautical Engineering at City. After graduating, she went on to gain a Masters in International Business Management. After completing her studies, she worked for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and an aircraft interiors manufacturer as the Deputy Chief of Office of Airworthiness. Currently, she works for British Airways as a Quality Engineer. As part of her role, she conducts competency assessments and quality checks to ensure high standards are maintained at the airline.

How did you become interested in engineering?
I was introduced to engineering by my grandfather who is a mechanical engineer. Also, I’ve always had an interest in planes and aviation, so aeronautical engineering was a natural choice. As a child, whenever I travelled anywhere I would always find the airport and flying experience exciting and interesting.

I had a natural curiosity about how planes fly, the fact that they could seemingly defy gravity fascinated me. At school, maths was my best subject, which was a bonus as this was one of the subjects I needed to study aeronautical engineering.

Do you notice the gender gap in engineering?
Now that you ask, come to think of it, there are only a few women in my department and I happen to be the only female from my ethnic background but it’s not something I think about at all. I see myself as an engineer, not as a female engineer.

I’m not sure whether the gender gap is as a result of insufficient role models, or lack of interest or even information about the prerequisites for studying engineering which means that many young women don’t realise that they can actually do it.

Back at university, as a Student Ambassador for both alma maters, I had the opportunity to give talks to young people on the importance of higher education. As part of the Widening Participation Scheme, I worked with the Career Development team and educational institutions such as AimHigher to encourage our future leaders.

What do you need to be an engineer?
I think you need to be hardworking, passionate and determined to overcome the challenges one might face.

What are the common misconceptions about engineering?
It’s often thought that you have to be physically strong to be an engineer and that it’s a man’s job. In fact, while you might have to do some experiments, practical work and/or be hands on, generally I focus on the theoretical, scientific and managerial aspects about how things should work.

People also often think you have to be a genius or a geek, which isn’t the case either! As long as you work hard, you’ll do just fine. You definitely don’t have to be some kind of mathematical genius.

It’s also a misconception that only boys can excel at it or that you have to be a tomboy.

What’s the best thing about being an engineer?
I get to work with planes every day, which isn’t something you’d normally come across and on a daily basis too so I’m humbled to do this and for such a prestigious company.

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