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Smart Thinking with The Brain Exchange

Cass Business School News , , , , .

jeanetteJeanette Purcell is a Cass MBA alumna, graduating with a Distinction in 2001, and Managing Director of The Brain Exchange, an invitation-only problem-solving network for business professionals. She is also Managing Director of Jeanette Purcell Associates, a leadership and responsible management consultancy and a guest lecturer for Cass MBA and MSc programmes in London and Dubai. Previously she was the Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA). She sat down for a quick chat about how The Brain Exchange came about, the problems facing leadership today, and cheese.

Tell me about your Cass MBA experience!

“Doing the MBA was an intense year where all other life interests had to fall by the wayside. I really threw myself into it, especially the group work. In fact, getting involved with the group was the key, making sure that it was harmonious and productive. We spent a lot of time together. All in all it was a life-changing experience – a brilliant thing to do in terms of all-round business knowledge, expanding my network and gaining inner confidence. It’s also much easier to exude that confidence in job applications when you can say you have an MBA from Cass.”

Do you participate in Alumni events?

“I have my own alumni network from my MBA and I have quite a few students that I keep in touch with from my guest lectures – in fact, one of them is now a client! I also go along to as many of the alumni events as I can.”

What gave you the idea for The Brain Exchange?

“When I moved on from my role as Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and into consultancy work, I realised very quickly that I was missing having a team around me to bounce ideas off and to help with creative problem solving. Most people decide things by talking them through with people they trust and respect, and this is what The Brain Exchange does for people without that inbuilt work team. It provides a business person with a forum to discuss business problems.

“With a colleague I set up a trial event, inviting 10 business people from different walks of life, including accounting, architecture and journalism. At each Brain Exchange, one person takes the hotseat, putting their issue to the group. There is then a moderated discussion for an hour, sticking to specific ground rules, and at the end of the hour the person in the hotseat should have ideas, potential solutions and actions to go away with.

Of those initial 10 people, each invited 10 more each, and The Brain Exchange flourished, holding one event per month since October 2013. It’s just been launched as a limited company, separate from my consultancy business. From September 2015 there will be an increase in the number of events, and the Brain Exchange idea is also spreading to organisations, for example the event at Cass, and to a charity which has members that will benefit from this forum.”

What is the biggest leadership challenge for companies today?

“My immediate reaction to this question is change management. It used to be that companies could go through a programme of change and then settle into the same business practices for years at a time. Now change is constant and significant. Companies need to be flexible and adaptable to the changing environment and to new technologies, to stay on top of the developments, and most importantly of all, bring their staff with them as the change happens.”

What is your most rewarding experience?

“Apart from doing an MBA? For me, rewards at work come from a feeling that you have accomplished something and that there is a noticeable impact from that change. As an example, when I was at AMBA I had a clear mandate for change and a huge challenge to go along with that. My goals included a strategic review, a desire to change the organisation’s priorities, and the wish to expand accreditation internationally. I achieved complete success in all three of these areas. Looking back on such a gruelling, difficult and controversial time, I’m happy to be able to say “blimey, we did that!” – and that’s the reward.”

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

Favourite place in London: “Greenwich Park – it’s right by my house!”

Favourite place in Dubai: “The Old Town – it’s got a lovely marketplace and feels authentic.”

Must-check-everyday Website: “BBC News….or ebay!”

Dream travel destination: “Australia.”

Cheese or chocolate: “Can I pick cheesy chocolate – is that a thing?”

Read more Cass-related blogs here.

In conversation with Leo Castellanos, Cass alumnus and Co-founder of Comparabien.com

Alumni Notice Board, Cass Business School News , , .

Leonardo-Castellanos

Cass Business School was the perfect location to meet Leonardo Castellanos, Executive MBA alumnus who graduated in 2009. He told us about his entrepreneurial journey and business plans.

Leonardo, who is originally from Venezuela, arrived in the UK back in 2002. He was already working for Price Waterhouse Coopers, a big consultancy firm. In 2007 he decided to start his MBA at Cass Business School because he was really keen on making a change in his career. He said “Half way through the MBA I decided that I had enough of consulting for big firms. I have been doing it for nine years and, you know, I had a good career, it was a great school. I really thought that at the end of the day what I achieved, could have been achieved by someone else, it was just another project. That’s why I decided that I really wanted to go and head into entrepreneurship and venture capital, and started working within that space.”

How was the experience of working and studying at the same time?

“It’s a challenge, it was a part-time MBA and it’s obviously a huge commitment to have a full-time job and do well in your studies. There is course work, exams and your family. Your social life suffers quite a lot, but in the end is a commitment that you know that you’re making and it’s for a certain period of time, and so you just have to go through with it.”

Comparabien.com and Leonardo’s role during its development.

A few months after Castellanos finished the MBA, he co-founded his start-up called Comparabien.com, a price comparison website. He and his partner Alfredo Ramirez, also a Cass alumnus and originally from Peru, followed a successful model in the UK and developed it for the Latin American (LATAM) region.

“We agreed to the fact that Latin America had a huge potential and we wanted to tap into that. Obviously it was a personal project and, you know, we both had bills to pay, in my case, I had a student debt to repay as well, so we couldn’t just forget about all of it and follow that route. We had to keep our jobs while working on the idea” he said. After a few hard-working months they finally launched in Peru in 2010.

Leonardo’s role has always been developing the business and, most importantly, finding investment to keep it growing. He says “Alfredo’s skills and mine were complementary. His background is in technology so he was in charge of developing the websites, and mine were in accounting and finances so I took charge of the business and money raising strategy. In 2012 we started working on an expansion model and by March 2013 we raised a small round of over half a million dollars” This big achievement allowed them to expand their business to four new countries including Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

What’s the future of comparison sites?

Castellanos knows that competition is inevitable, but according to him Comparabien.com has the biggest foothold in Latin America and will lead in the years to come. “We have two competitors we worry about. They are in two or three countries where we have presence in, but we certainly believe that, like in the UK, there will be room for four or five big companies aggregating for national products and we want to be really leading that pack” he said.

What are your business expansion plans?

“We will certainly be looking, not in the next 12 months, but in the next 24 to launch in specific regions within LATAM. That may include the Hispanic states of the US. We are seriously considering launching in places like Florida, California, New Mexico and Texas. There is also the idea of launching in my own country, Venezuela, which we are not doing due to the lack of clarity to do business, but we believe that that would be a good market to be working in. There are other smaller countries that are also presenting a good opportunity, but it’s a matter of focus. We really want to consolidate in the countries we already are. Doing what we are doing well and then go beyond that.”

What are the “must have” qualities of an entrepreneur?

Leo-Castellanos-at-Cass“Being an entrepreneur is about working with people, in my view. You have to try to be good at many things, but not try to excel at everything because it is impossible. I think that recognising things that you don’t have and assigning it to others and being resilient is very important. Sometimes, you have to be quite stubborn and always follow what you think is a good opportunity. Also, make sure that you bring people together and create a vision that they will follow.”

We finished our conversation talking about the Cass Entrepreneurs Network (CEN) and the very important role it plays at facilitating a forum where entrepreneurs can meet investors and connect with potential partners.

Leonardo said: “I think the next step for CEN is to facilitate the connexion between Cass alumni and Cass students that are passionate about entrepreneurship and also to provide a little more support. I think that it’s important to drive that community spirit and I am very sure that people like me, and another people that have been to Cass are happy to contribute to that.”

Find out more about Leonardo’s business: Comparabien.com

The French Tarte Flambée is in London to stay!

Alumni Notice Board, Cass Business School News , , .

Matthias Gilles, Olympia de Proyart and Jules Couten are three BSc Business Studies alumni who are following the same ambition: making the traditional Tarte Flambée recipe an exclusive dish for Londoners.

Working on an entrepreneurial project at City University London made them realise the potential of making this dish a profitable and fully branded business and so they founded Flambée, a pop-up style restaurant.

We met them to have a quick chat about their current plans for their business, entrepreneurial experience, and also to ask them a bit more about their time at City.

Meeting the Flambée team

From left Matthias, Olympia and Jules

From left Matthias, Olympia and Jules

Matt grew up in Alsace, Northern France. He is also a qualified optician and has always been fascinated by entrepreneurship. Olympia was born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland. She is very social, loves art, fashion, food, seeing her friends and going out, but also hates to fail, and Jules is from Paris and he really enjoys anything to do with finance.

Tell us about Flambée

Flambée originally started as a Uni project, Matt says: “When I moved to London, the Tarte Flambée was nowhere to be seen and I had the idea of opening a restaurant selling this dish exclusively.”

“When we were asked to create a fictitious business as well as a business plan and financial statements as part of one of our classes, we thought about this idea. While working on the business plan we realised that the margins could be as high as 80% and we therefore decided to give it a go.”

The team started catering at private events, first through friends, and then trading at Brick Lane Market and Camden Lock Market and have more recently been at Old Street Terrace on Old Street roundabout and Canary Wharf.

When asked about the uniqueness of their tarte’s recipe, Matt told us that as it was a very special one, they would keep it secret! But we still managed to get an answer. They described their recipe as a modern version using some “trendy” ingredients such as smoked salmon or pulled pork, and still keeping its authentic flavour. Fancy a test? Then you will have to visit their next pop-up location!

What are your current plans for the business?

“We are writing a formal business plan in order to evaluate its real potential to be opened as a restaurant” says Olympia. “While we do it, we are still trading on markets, and we will be launching in our new location in Shoreditch, from October 8th, the pub is called “Catch” and it’s located on 22 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DA. We will be there Wednesday-Friday from 6:00pm – 10:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 4:00pm – 10:00pm.”

What has been your experience like as entrepreneurs?

At first, we all thought that running a business would be less hard work than a 9-5 job, but then we realised that it becomes the main part of your live and it also brings its challenges, Matt says.

The main challenge, according to him, is having and making enough money to carry on. He had to look for a part-time job when they reduced their trading days and, on a personal basis, his social life suffered as all the activities of running a business are very time consuming.

Olympia, on the other hand, thinks that getting on very well with team members, and listening to each other has helped them to work as a unit. She also emphasises that truly believing in the project is key when the challenges arrive. Jules also adds that having people skills and considering all the stakeholders involved in a project is important.

Why Cass?

They all agree that Cass Business School’s excellent reputation played a key role when choosing a place to study, and also coming to London was a great opportunity to develop their language skills as well as being closer to ‘home’ as Jules explains: “I really wanted to go away from France so I had two possible countries where to study: the UK and Canada. As I wanted to be closer to my family I chose the UK.”

On the experience and benefits of studying the degree, each of them has their own point of view:

“I think my degree gave me some skills I will definitely be able to use when working on the venture as a whole. I think it also enabled me to have a better understanding of the business/finance world which again would have an impact on the decisions I would make regarding my own business. However, I do believe you are born an entrepreneur and do not become one. Entrepreneurship is a passion more than a job.” Matt

“The accounting lessons helped me, as well as the branding and marketing ones. But I think that I really acquired the skills required to be an entrepreneur while conducting our project. I definitely learnt much more in the three months I was being an entrepreneur than during the whole degree!” Olympia

“The degree focused on big ventures and finance and not that much on small companies, but I still think that it helped me to be more open minded and accept that people have different goals in life.” Jules

Don’t forget to visit Flambee’s new pop-up location!

Where: Catch, 22 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DA. From Wednesday 8th October
Time: Wednesday-Friday from 6:00pm-10:00pm and Saturday & Sunday from 4:00pm-10:00pm.

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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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