Sunday, 15 December 2013

Global Green MBA Rankings: Royal Holloway in Top 30

Global Green MBA Rankings: School of Management in Top 30

The 2013 Global Green MBA survey is now one of the only rankings examining sustainability in business education on a global scale. We are delighted to announce the School is ranked 26th globally and 3rd in the UK.||

Their methodology is based on the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes Report, which evaluated MBA programs across the world for social, ethical and environmental stewardship.
The ranking examines:
  • the integration of sustainability into the curriculums of leading business schools around the world
  • innovation in sustainability initiatives
  • the promotion program development
  • the integration of sustainability into the MBA experience
The Director for the Royal Holloway MBA programme, Justin O'Brien, said "it is very pleasing to see one of our key programme differentiators, a strong focus on sustainability, recognised with a leading position in a global ranking."  

Justin O'Brien
MBA Director
Royal Holloway University

Thursday, 12 December 2013

My First Christmas in UK: Srinath B R Royal Holloway MBA candidate

"I was totally overwhelmed with the MBA alumni Christmas lunch, check out our photos all over Facebook.... It was my first traditional Christmas lunch in UK. It was such a memorable end of term celebration. The Christmas carols we sang together reminded me of my school days back in India, when I used to sing "Jingle bells" and  "Happy New Year" celebrating Christmas." 

Srinath B R First UK Christmas brought back fond memories from school in India

It was definitely our huge pleasure to meet with members of the School of Management team, various alumni and the MSc Entrepreneurship student cohort with our vibrant MBA group.  It was invaluable to be able to chat informally over lunch with the Head of the Management School, Professor Jeffrey Unerman, and learn about his extensive industry work experience and to discuss his exciting future plans. 
Jeffrey was keen to learn more about why I chose Royal Holloway to study for the MBA. I am a mechanical engineer by profession, having five years work experience in R&D, product design engineering and leading the business development team. This taste of leadership gave me the inspiration to want to develop a broader understanding of business and  management.   I am really keen to gain some international management experience and hope to use my MBA in future challenging Marketing, Branding and Business development roles. 

This was my first British Christmas and although the dinner was not a formal part of my MBA, it is definitely a brilliant memory I will take back home with me and cherish forever.  This experience was so much more than I was expecting.  Cheers for that. 

Srinath B R sparkles by the Xmas tree

Friday, 6 December 2013

Rakshak Maini: Royal Holloway MBA profile


Royal Holloway MBA: Rakshak Maini

I come from a family business background which is based in New Delhi, India, specialising in designing and manufacturing construction equipment. We have been catering to the Indian construction industry since 1987 and have been a part of a number of historic and ground breaking projects, the most recent include: Mumbai's Bandra-Worli Sea Link and India’s 2nd highest residential tower. I have been responsible for successfully generating business from South India.
About MBA at Royal Holloway:
I consider myself very lucky to have the privilege of pursuing my MBA in International Management at one of UK’s most prestigious universities. I embarked on this educational journey in September this year, so far it has been very beneficial and I have learned a lot about global management.  Our tutors encourage us to demonstrate our growing analytical skills using real life cases, which help us understand whilst inculcating the concepts discussed in the class in the most beneficial manner.  The Royal Holloway MBA is a full time programme, designed to keep the student fully engaged nearly all of the time.  But for me it has been amazing, as I wished for nothing less, and it has helped immerse me in a continuous flow of hard work and dedicated learning all term long.  
Beyond Class Social & Networking Events Organised by School Of Management:
As much as we have been kept engaged in our studies, the School of Management has left no stone unturned since day one, providing us with opportunities to interact with industry professionals, gaining valuable first hand insights. So far we have met the Chairman of Norman Hay Plc, a leading global chemical coatings business; the founder of Reed, a leading recruitment agency in the UK and the list goes on.


Arty shot of 2013 MBA candidates, Royal Holloway


Free !

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Kelliann Flies High: MBA enrichment weekend activity


MBA High Flyer Kelliann

Kelliann, like many Royal Holloway MBA students, likes to take the opportunity to maximise her UK study experience by taking in as much culture as possible.  Pictured here in front of Stonehenge, about an hours drive from campus, the world heritage site was the key pull factor behind a weekend visit to the west country, which also included the chance to visit the Christmas market at Bath.  (Bath was founded in Roman times and named literally because of its source of warm water)  

Early December is the business end of term 1, with MBA candidates fully engaged with challenging group projects, individual assignments and preparing for in class tests.  However, achieving an appropriate balance of personal development also includes taking time out to recharge the batteries and clearly there is a long list of world famous "must see" attractions and experiences that form a crucial part of living for a year in London.   

Kelliann hails from South Florida, USA and is using her Royal Holloway MBA experience to broaden and deepen her general management skill set with a view to helping her move industry and fast track her promotion potential as a strategic marketing professional in music and film.

Christmas market outside Bath cathedral

Of course, studying at a prestigious University of London College gives her access to one of the worlds mostly culturally diverse cities, which is also replicated by a very international group of fellow MBA students who come from as far afield as Chile, Nigeria, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, India and China. 

Romans founded the city because of its source of natural water, Bath is on the historic must see list

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Thorpe Park Directors set Royal Holloway MBAs Five Marketing challenges

Thorpe Park continued its highly valued association with the Royal Holloway MBA programme for a third time again this year with a fresh marketing twist.

Students observed the innovative upcycling of a disused boat house thanks to the lure of movie franchise SAW

After an informative behind the scenes exclusive tour of the impressive collection of world class roller coasters, situated adjacent to the Thames in Thorpe (near Staines) and enthusiastically led by alumnus Jack du Pille, education facilitator  at Thorpe Park, MBA students sat down to the understand the serious business issues that sit behind the amusement industry. 

Aircraft wreckage, upturned vehicles and an alien invasion ? 

Definitely not the usual context for MBA learning

Initially briefed on customer insights, company strategy and trends in the wider entertainments industry by management team members Dare Ilori, development director Chris Edge and marketing director Jason Wills, a free flowing Q&A session ensued with highly engaged MBA's asking probing questions of the team. 

MBA candidate Srinath

 shows his heavy lifting credentials

Previous iterations of the group consultancy challenge have seen the Thorpe Park leadership team invite consideration of a range of topics ranging from strategy, operations, marketing and sustainability. 
This year, with recently appointed marketing director Jason Wills spearheading an innovative direction,  the focus of the five areas for investigation had a strong focus on marketing issues. 
Students found the experiential nature of the business visit, with the briefing held in one of the staff training rooms, very motivating.  They were all keen to use their developing academic knowledge and test its application in the context of a real group consultancy context.   Later in the year the Thorpe Park team will be invited on to campus to interact with student groups as they make their recommendations, drawn from academic learning and the broad, international work experience they possess.
Many MBA students hail from warmer climates and although it was raining at points, as you can see from the fotos, not everyone believed that this was merely a typical autumnal day.  I am not sure they believe us locals that significantly colder weather is coming once winter properly sets in.
Next up ?  A pizza night with the chance to catch the episode of hit TV series InBetweeners* with the Thorpe Park visit.  (*note: InBetweeners is quiet edgy and is not for the faint hearted, I think it might be described as cult humour, Thorpe Park features from 12 minutes in)

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Emotion branding: making a search engine have feelings

Ridhaa came for a chat about marketing this week.  I relish these kinds of conversations with under graduate management students, it is one of the reasons why I love my job at Royal Holloway so much.

We got talking about the Google stories advertising campaign.  Ridhaa had seen this execution (below) via a viral, or word of mouth, peer referral.  You do not need to understand the dialogue, although it does carry English subtitles.

The equivalent UK version of this campaign features the story of a social entrepreneur who wins a contract to build a temporary skate park on a piece of urban derelict land near the Olympic park in east London,  In thinking about this I've noticed a number of Google "Stories" executions and I think eventually I answered my own question "Why would a non-paid at point of consumption premium search engine service provider want to build its brand though emotional engagement ?".  Microsoft have done it too
The nub of a response might come from technology convergence; look at how Apple, Microsoft and Google are the leading triad building powerhouse portfolios of software and hardware applications and brands.   Umbrella logins offer consumers a convenient reason to stay in-house and I think we'll see bundles of brands looking to attract and keep users and paying customers.  Example: Google's brand extension into technology hardware (physical product, no longer just a software service provider...) and the newish £229 Chromebook web surfing device.  With a plethora of competition in the thin client tablet marketplace Apple knows well that creating positive emotional bonds with consumers is an effective way to leverage (my chum Andrew who works in low cost airlines uses the more provocative 'gouge' term here...) chunky price premiums. 
Why not join the Apple world ?  Everything is beautifully designed, simple to use, reliable and desirably expensive. 

British Airways - #lookup in Piccadilly Circus

Following on from a surprising (and particularly well received) sponsorship hit at London 2012 with its Park Live concert/chill out space on the banks of the reclaimed river, British Airways marketing team have #lookedup (sic) for inspiration in their latest marketing initiative.  Since the late 1980's generations of British Airways fmcg trained marketers have trail blazed ahead of other service brands, stylishly presented different aspects of the emotions of flying. 
Claiming this clever use of technology as an advertising first, the ‘magic of flying’ campaign seeks to remind people how magical flying can be by the playful and fresh use of the perspective of a child.  You can perhaps imagine the advertising creative team pitching this concept.  It certainly does stand out and a powerful conceptualisation that is innovative for the British airline that has most recently be plugging its patriotic flag carrier status via the "to fly, to serve" campaign. 
Digital billboards located in London's Chiswick and Piccadilly interact with overhead aircraft. "The system tracks the aircraft and interrupts the digital display just as it passes over the site, revealing the image of a child pointing at the plane, accompanied by its flight number and destination it’s arriving from." (Marketing Week, 19 Nov 2013)
I wonder what it says when a competitor aircraft flies over ?  "Another of Richard's planes" ?

Friday, 15 November 2013

End of the line ? Or is it just me ...

Call me a saddo - but I have collected stamps on and off since I was a boy.  I was set to inherit my grandfathers complete collection of post WW2 UK stamps, unfortunately he sold the lot to a dealer for a pittance. 
How long will pre-printed picture stamps remain ?
As with many things in life, and along the lines of every door closed sees another open, I ended up inheriting my wifes uncle Johns collection which was far larger than the one I had missed out on.  Karma ?  Now I have an annual subscription to purchase every UK mint stamp issue, thinking that one day the whole thing will be worth a small fortune.
Unfortunately, a short visit to a stamp dealer has highlighted that my money making strategy is never going to work and the only way to see real capital growth is to spot the 'rare' issue first day covers and early stamps (of the penny black era) & these are engineered each year to bolster the inaccurate misconception that stamps offer an investment opportunity. 
Thus, my historic collection is probably worth less than the value of the stamps, but I can't give up collecting.  Why ?  Well, stamps won't be around much longer and this might either see them become worth even less or perhaps a little bit more.  They say that paintings can appreciate in value once their creator dies, knowing that the supply is finite.  In any case, I like the collecting process and the investment I put in is relatively small fry in the bigger scheme of things.

Southwest corner of Founders, Royal Holloway University of London by Carey 1890

This got me thinking about other things that are on the brink of extinction.  Verbatim, the Japanese multinational makes profits from markets that continue to buy diskettes.  (You won't have seen one of these for ten years in UK).  A great example of taking opportunities with products at the end of the product life cycle. 

I wrote post cards two times over the summer during our various visits (as featured in this blog), but failed to post them.   Weren't paintings early post cards ?  I am still in shock over paying more than £2 for postcard stamps in Stockholm and threaten to send email based Christmas greetings now that the Royal Mail wants to charge 66p for a first class stamp.  The tourism literature is beginning to address the simultaneous experience exchange now feasible due to widespread wifi.  I sent gloating images of my kids in the pool with regular temperature updates to family and friends back home whilst we were away - what is then the point of postcards ?

Software companies (like  appear to be in the process of shifting their business model to a service or lease basis, enabled by web 2.0 broad band delivery and away from the intriguing iterative release product concept.  The end of software piracy ? 

The iPad has shown that these days you don't need a disk drive or USB stick any more, unthinkable and a major product flaw when it was launched.  Bam ! and virtual memory skydrives are all the rage. I certainly don't covet bigger, smaller, cooler memory sticks any more - I have a collection that is little used.

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are being developed by leading Universities (including our very own University of London) offering free access to leading teaching using innovative, scalable teaching approaches.  Might we see campus based education propositions lose their "right of passage" status in favour of cheaper, work friendly learning propositions ?

Can virtual reality and imitation tourist experience obfuscate the need for holidays that see you travel ?  Surely it is possible to construct a full range of experiences that would satisfice this need without using up precious carbon credits. 

Might shareware programmes, as trail blazed by Mayor of London and the Barclays/Boris's bikes scheme (and various car pooling options) see us forgo conspicuous consumption that sees many expensive assets underutilised ? 

Smart phones and touchless near field technology could see virtual payment become main stream and replace centuries old physical money.  Cheques are used less and less each year,  young people even claim not to write cheques (or watch real time terrestrial television for that matter), soon banks will charge big bucks for using cheques, which will be seen as an expensive and antiquated system. 

What else do you think will be gone or on its way out by 2020 ?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

John Lewis Christmas Ad: Pure Experience focus transcends product placement

Each year John Lewis puts out probably the best (certainly one of the better) Christmas advert.  The creative direction over years has without doubt set a high water mark.  Unlike gauche imitators who ape the moody, atmospheric tunes and carefully crafted story telling, John Lewis this year has jumped ALL THE WAY into using an emotional story telling approach that avoids show casing its range of products.  In the words of a successful leading service brand British Airways campaign "It's the way we make you feel that makes us the world's favourite airline."  This single minded proposition encapsulates my feelings very well.  Gone is the story telling using actors wearing and using promotional products and JL appears to have moved on to a new form of different. The neo-neo perhaps ?
Totally productless ?, well, apart from a single, short shot of an alarm clock, that is.  I can't see a big sales run on those this Christmas. 
And how this marks the transition !  I predicted last year that, with intense competition from facsimile retailers, the approach would have to change.  I would like to claim a partial victory.  The music is totally John Lewis - a contemporary (gender inversion) of an old classic song, probably by an up and coming artist.  The story telling remains, with the tease revealing the sponsors identity arriving only in the final frames of a two minute ten slot. 
This year the JL creative team appear to have gone a step further, last years star, the lifelike yet fictional snowman sporting a very human scarf is replaced with Winnie the Pooh/Disney style cartoons and a the tale of the fable of the hare and bear which seems to pull on familiar ground, yet different and new. 
How funny, I have just looked at the media coverage and discovered the £7m campaign creative lead was by Aaron Blaise, whose resume includes genuine Disney magic dust credentials in the form of Pocahontas and the Lion King.  Cartoon characters, particularly wild animals, do not generally wear real clothes, nor use real products, thus their use imaginatively and conceptually reinforces the experiential conceit. 
My services management guru and colleague Dr. Sameer Hosany has been looking out for this ad for a couple of weeks already. I have already owned up to a secret hankering for the surprisingly Aldi ad (value brand, quality products, expensive feeling ad, ummm) As a keen proponent of experience marketing, Sameer will no doubt be delighted.  I would like to say I had to tune into X-Factor especially to catch the ad, but family life at the O'Briens requires me to never miss a moment of this low brow entertainment.  Clearly I watch commercial TV only for professional interest in the advertisements. 
I look forwards to discussing further in our double width and sprung (aiding Royal Holloway ladies comportment) corridor of marketing power, the clever inversion or story twist, a John Lewis favourite ploy.  The Hare appears on first view to be disappointed and presentless, whilst all around are demonstrating the materialistic, hedonistic joy of receiving well chosen gifts, whilst the reveal shows the behaviour was hope and anticipation of celebrating Christmas with a best friend, the Bear.  So pure, so sweet, so authentic and meaningful. Or should I be unforgiving and critical and suggest that well executed heart strings pulling using child friendly plot lines and pastiche images is clichéd and transparent.  Or is that Downton Abbey ?
We may also consider another perennial inversion, the gender blend cover, this time by established (but retired ?) artist hip Lily Allen and whether this will make number one AGAIN in the download charts, help the ad to the public "most liked" status AGAIN and why the lead (media hypes yet also snipes) news coverage suggesting twitterati consumers are critical.  (ooh ! The Sun, Nov 10, 2013)
What do you think ?  Which are your favourite Christmas ads this season ?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sir Alec Reed meets Royal Holloway MBA candidate Amy Sharath

Sir Alec Reed is widely recognised as an iconic figure in the recruitment industry and must rank as one of the greatest social entrepreneurs of our times. A long time friend of the School of Management Sir Alec enjoys meeting with bright Royal Holloway entrepreneurial students every year.  MBA candidate and IT recruitment professional Amy Sharath said "Being present in one of Sir Alec Reed's seminars was truly a once in a life time experience. His energy and enthusiasm, even at the age of 79, were incredibly inspiring and totally infectious."  

During his talk to eager students and academic staff Sir Alec, founder of Reed recruitment found on many High Streets nationally, emphasised the importance of coming up with at least one new idea everyday and to resist the temptation of judging it too quickly.  Amy felt this was her big takeaway.
Sir Alec shared several anecdotes from his early life which clearly highlighted that failure is an integral part of success. He encouraged every "Wannabe Entrepreneur" in the room to be impulsive, creative, innovative and curious. Having had a chance to talk informally with Sir Alec Amy was struck by his warmth and generous spirit. She reflected "As a professional recruiter and a great admirer of  Sir Alec, I aspire to literally follow his footsteps someday."   

Royal Holloway MBA candidate Amy Sharath meets Sir Alec Reed
Amy Sharath joins the 2013/14 MBA full time cohort having worked for a number of years in the IT recruitment industry.  Having completed her undergraduate studies she joined R2 International an emerging IT Recruitment & Staffing company, based in Bangalore, India and worked there for 5 years. R2 recognised Amy's potential early and despite her relative inexperience, was given the opportunity to start a new business unit that focussed on delivering of IT Contractors with skills in the German software SAP.
Amy has closed major deals with Fortune #100 companies such as Arcelor Mittal, Total Petrofina, Levi's, Ferrero, Accenture  and maintained the relationships, growing them into some of her companies top clients. Within its first year of operation, the SAP Recruitment division became the highest revenue generating business unit in the company.  Amy, despite being widely recognised as a star performer, decided to take a year out and study for an MBA to enhance her overall understanding of businesses and broaden her experience beyond the head hunting and recruitment. 

Inspired by Sir Alec's session Amy concluded "I have been very successful growing the SAP business at R2 International and this makes me extremely confident that after I complete my challenging MBA journey I will be more than prepared for an exciting future career, where ever this leads."

Saturday, 2 November 2013

MBA winning group toast their success

Royal Holloway  MBA's toast their success
Challenged by MBA Director Justin O'Brien to create an introductory YouTube video as part of an extended team building induction to their demanding MBA programme (from left and clockwise) Cosel, Gopesh, Rachel, Sharon and Manolo picked up the winning prize, a team dinner out at a restaurant of their own choosing. 
The video task required the group to work closely together to plan and execute a project that required demonstration of not only important business skills of interpersonal communication, team working and delivering to a specific time bounded brief, but also some creative flair in generating original content and editing it together.  Not usually the stuff of a rigorous academic business masters degree.  This fun endeavour appeared to be widely enjoyed by the whole group and is typical of the practical and experiential (learning by doing) approach taken on the innovative Royal Holloway MBA programme.
In appropriately democratic fashion the MBA cohort of 2013/14 voted for the winners, having seen all four groups introduce their clips during a presentation skills workshops.  Justin O'Brien summarised the learning thus "Fundamental to effective presentation giving is expertise and confidence.  The former comes from hard work, confidence is a function of practice, learning from success and identifying opportunities to improve."   Justin highlighted the importance of regularly asking for feedback and shared with the MBA candidates the feedback sandwich model, which sees developmental, constructive criticism offered up either side of positive, appreciative comments.

Watch the winning video here.  Enjoy.

Friday, 25 October 2013

100 Not Out !!


Just a short note, as the videos posted here really speak for themselves, the Royal Holloway MBA cohort 2013/14 were challenged to create a short YouTube based team video that introduced themselves and explained why they chose to study at Royal Holloway.

Friday, 11 October 2013

You've been Pranked ! Undergraduate disrupts Marketing Management lecture with clever stunt

It isn't often that a student asks to be sprayed with their own shaving foam, having made a "surprise" (and particularly loud) entrance to a half-way through lecture.
But first I need to back up a bit and give you some context.  To emphasise the life skill of being on time for meetings I asked late arriving students not to come through the main doors, but to enter quietly at the back. There are probably rules about preventing late joiners and clearly securing doors would be in breach of health and safety rules. This is the 21st Century, after all.  I wrote and asked the small and intimate class of 250 odd over email and reinforced this on Moodle, our virtual learning environment. I challenged anyone arriving after :05 and invited them to present themselves to the whole class using the microphone. Quirky, jokey - but hopefully putting across a serious and important message in a way that will not cause any lasting harm or upset.
So this week Philip (pictured below) fulfilled his promise to a friend on being gifted a formula one driving suit to use it in some way with big impact. He pranked his class mates by bursting through the doors I am so precious about and shocked the living daylights out of everyone.  Me included.  Just two minutes before I'd remembered that the stunt was going to happen, but then in full flow I'd forgotten and was genuinely taken aback by the particularly lion like roar that Philip produced.  No acting was required (I'm a good thing) as the gobsmacked audience watched on.  I was told afterwards by a few students that at the point when I got the shaving foam out and started blasting this, the penny dropped for many.   
The lecture was on the topic of positioning and rather fortuitously we had been considering advertising's need to create a differentiated position in the minds of the consumer using creative, entertaining, highly memorable (meh-mor-able) impressions. 
I go to bed tonight a happy marketer, that was certainly a lecture that Royal Holloway BSc Management students will remember for a long time.........
Lecturer foams student during lecture prank


Monday, 7 October 2013

"To be or not to be ?" Philosophy of Management: Royal Holloway MBA

MBA 2013-14 Candidates Exploring London & building powerful teams 
Having spent the freshers week completing necessary registration protocols and getting involved in a number of introductory team building sessions that included careers, academic writing and input from the MBA director, the second week of the Royal Holloway MBA takes on a different format, with the so called 'short and fat' delivery mode used to expose candidates to managerial perspectives on philosophy. 
Nigel Laurie
In reflecting on an intensive second week focussed on building a strong foundation in management philosophy module leader Nigel Laurie stated "The MBA cohort was very responsive with high energy levels in the group work.  The black gorilla video was a great warm-up.  They clearly appreciated the theatre trip and the play ("Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas" see previous blog entries) made a really useful extra case on human nature and motivation which they were keen to discuss."
London icons: phone box, Big Ben and a red bus

Seema Bhandari stated "I really enjoyed the philosophy of management module we studied in our second week. I think it is  a great kick start to the MBA programme.  The concept,  theories and relation to the real world provided useful insights into the management world.  It will definitely help to develop a powerful thinking process which is essential for this course.  It also helped obtain a sense of relief from various anxiety and stress related feelings experienced during the pre-joining, anticipation phase of the MBA programme." 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Ritual Slaughter ? Royal Holloway MBA's theatrical learning experience

Lights, camera, action ! Ooops, that's the wrong genre ! Take your seats please we are about to embark on an archetypal London experience, live theatre.  The MBA group attended a sexually charged biopic of an average chap whose live took an unfortunate path, whilst offering huge financial success, combined personal ruin.
Clever introduction of social media promotion ?
Whilst many MBA candidates had seen opera or musical theatre, for several it was a double first experience.  The world class offering of rich productions is often taken for granted by those of us lucky enough to live and work close to central London. 
The play (The ritual slaughter of Gorge Mastromas at the Royal Court, written by Dennis Kelly, famous for hit West End show 'Matilda') had a rather obvious and simple core proposition around power, greed and personal ethics.  Put simply the inversion pitched to the audience was that as a young man Gorge did the morally right thing, but often faced poor outcomes from this behaviour e.g. handing in a wallet he found and being accused of stealing it.  The pivotal turning point came as a young adult in business when he chose personal greed over sound ethics and thence began his simultaneous journey to material success but personal ruination. 
As a signatory to the the UN treaty for responsible business education, Royal Holloway prides itself in significant and engaging approaches to ensuring students benefit from a strong ethical dimension to their programme.  The inclusion of a challenging experiential drama input on the MBA saw the teaching team awarded a prestigious College teaching award in 2013 and the experience learned from this novel approach will hopefully lead to a publication. 
MBA students were challenged by  drama professionals Alex Turner and Dr Emma Brodzinski to consider a number of factors beyond the obvious story presentation, looking at theatrical constructs, use of body and props/scenery.  Which got me thinking more critically about what was beholden to me.  I must admit that I am a cinema person.  I don't understand the motivation for live performance - all that stress, rehearsals, to do the same thing 5,6 or even 7 times a week, for weeks and months on end.  Surely it gets mechanical, uninspiring or just old ?  Isn't it better to spend lots of time getting the perfect delivery and capture it forever. (I'm thinking Ann Hathaway's tear ridden performance (take 4 I think) during the film version of Les Miserables, or Les Glums as it's know by the in crowd.)
I found the final twenty minutes played out a rather slow and predictable Christmas Carol pre-ghost Scrooge like ending of a 'successful' business man living out a lonely, pitiful existence, quite tricky to put across without the benefit of a passage of time constructs (e.g. costumes, make up, grey hair - remember THAT scene in Notting Hill when Hugh Grant's character forlornly walks through the market whilst the seasons change around him ?) 
That said the long show had pace and energy, which is quite surprising given that the first scene plays out with the whole cast front of stage sitting on cheap, grey, plastic chairs. No real scenery to speak of. I love contemporary, edgy theatre, but surely they were going to have some props and a bit of a set ?  I don't think I can sit through two plus hours of line up ping pong, even if it was sublimely timed, poignant and often funny.  The story telling, using a simple life story from conception (graphically described as an unplanned pregnancy) and entertainingly through childhood's embarrassing lows, with the occasional high.  This frank, blunt and well crafted dialogue clearly touched the audience (a cracking technique, most of us can easily related to stories of adolescence ?) sufficiently  to carry forwards through a rather elongated office based set that provided the ethical turning point in Gorge's life.
Impact lighting par excellence
During the line up the powerful technique of using three different voices conveying the same or similar idea using different forms of words was quite powerful.  Repetition of key messages (just like the news at 10) should have left most of the audience with a clear understanding of the key dilemma, goodness or cowardice.  Super silky smooth timing saw lines flawlessly delivered, with mesmerising impact carrying a sedate and simple story forwards in a highly engaging manner, a function of the clear multi-layered tapestry woven by the dialogue.  The writer is famous for having penned hit musical based on Roald Dahl's book "Matilda", the only show I have actually walked out on. I have slept through a few, but never actually walked out.  Thankfully this one was different.  Enough trails were left dangling to avoid telegraphing the various surprising twists and turns (that didn't feel like surprises when you actually got there...).  (Un)certainty about the shape of things to come was an intelligent dual edge intertwined into the fabric of the play.  No dumbing down here, complexity kept us guessing where the story would lead.  My ever so clever friend, and arty type, Fiona didn't guess it right either.
I found some elements still left me feeling ambiguous.  Red stars in the night sky signified progression, but how ?  Red light lines were indicative of share price indices (or cardio outputs ?) and a portacabin office board room was meant to convey the idea of big business hard nosed deal making.  The set came up lacking here, (cheap, empty, unrealistic space) perhaps because there was a huge attempt at greedy make or break deal making that just didn't feel authentic. 
MBA candidates were very positive about the experience (but it's always nice to have a few drinks and a bite to eat with your new class mates beforehand) although I was a tad concerned that the snappy humour (coarse I suspect is an appropriately technical description), cultural references and fast delivery might be challenging to non-native English speakers.  The gloomy conclusion was notably polar to a typical Hollywood block buster hero-saves-the-world everyone-lives-happy-ever-after ending, but that must be one of the joys of straight plays in theatre, the challenge is to engage and move people, not proffer false dawns and temporary trans location from tedium and misery. 

I didn't feel a numb bum, nor nod off - signs of a positive experience.  To be repeated me thinks !

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Views from a just started Royal Holloway MBA student

It is often assumed that out of term time a lecturers life is one long holiday !  If only it were.... although there is more freedom, we are required to undertake teaching prep, admin and research. We are like most of the rest of the UK given 5 weeks vacation time. So, what have I been up to since returning from leave ?
Helen and Dawn in our marketing team want me to make a video, so rather than do this, in classic must do task diversion I decided to invite one of the incoming MBA students to do some filming instead.  I hate being filmed in particular - photos are bad...videoing just plain awful. I don't know what to say, my face goes bright red & it really isn't something I feel comfortable doing.  This task aversion problem is one that many of us seem to share.  I've found even MBA students with assignments and looming deadlines often have the tidiest rooms !
Pritsana Wasana Royal Holloway MBA Candidate
Pritsana Wasana came to campus early with a number of other MBA students to follow a pre-sessional English programme, offered by Royal Holloway International.  I have found students benefit not only from upskilling their operational English, but seem to settle into campus life more quickly and crucially appreciate the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) teaching that forms part of the programme.  We often find students who have followed the EAP programme have a deep understanding of what is required for writing successful UK University assignments and are able to share these insights with fellow MBA students.
With three years work experience in a private charter helicopter company in Thailand, Pritsana has been encouraged by her boss to develop herself by studying for an MBA.  She notes one of the particular challenges she faces as a bright, young professional is dealing with much older, experienced and male captains to ensure the operation runs efficiently.  It is important to note as elsewhere Thai culture reveres maturity and perhaps sex equality still has some way to go.  She hopes the MBA will help her develop managerial knowledge experience so she can return home to step up into an operational management job.  Like most MBA candidates Pritsana is self-funding her studies, and in addition to salary based savings she is involved in a number of entrepreneurial businesses, keen not to rely on her family for further funding. 
Whilst making a film that is now added to the MBA Director YouTube channel I was surprised by some of Pritsana's responses.  After three years as MBA Director, this is note worthy & therefore I thought I would share this with you.
Pritsana was not overly focused on the innovative use of drama in the personal development module (an innovation which earned the team a prestigious College teaching prize), the week long Stockholm University Business School study visit, or the integrative programme ending live business consultancy, elements that applicants often cite as key differentiators.  Instead, she was keen on developing her critical thinking, managerial practise and exposing herself to international management and strategy.  She feels that she is very lucky to have received an offer from the University of London, a brand that resonates strongly with family and friends in Thailand.  Compared to home, the cost of living is high and she prefers to cook for herself, finding easy availability of key Thai ingredients that are even sometimes hard to find in Thai cities.  However, she has enjoyed traditional fish and chips and finds fizzy wine and English beer particularly enjoyable.  
Royal Holloway's Windsor Auditorium
Having lived as part of the campus community for several weeks already, Pritsana has found the green spaces our leafy campus provides are ideal for focused study, but regular trains offer cheap and efficient transportation to the multi-faceted attractions offered by central London, where she heads for a bit of culture, fun and relaxation during the weekends.  Compared with home she feels very safe on campus, and enjoys the freedom of being able to walk around. 
I thanked Pritsana for her help in filming, she headed off - where to ?  Where else  - the library. 

Watch the video here if you like : -


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Personal Brand failures: Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart, Inc.  Managing a corporeal brand (embedded link) is a recent blog post and promotional trail for an upcoming journal publication co-authored by the newest member of the Royal Holloway marketing team, Professor Giana Eckhardt, who will include MBA marketing teaching in her portfolio of activities.  

Martha Stewart is a huge personal brand in USA, having dominated the homemaking segment in accessorising, fabrics, entertaining and even through a self-named magazine title. 
Professor Giana Eckhardt, Royal Holloway Marketing
There is no equivalent brand in UK but think Liberty, Mary Berry, Grand Designs and Dragons Den put together and you might have something approaching the magnitude of the Martha factor.  Imprisonment a decade ago resulting from a financial scandal has seen the company's fortunes take what appears to be a permanent reversal of fortune.  David Beckham, ex-England captain, style clothes peg and footballing superbrand, seems to have recovered his wholesome, family man image despite an unfortunate G-string twang text incident.   Lord Jeffrey Archer was able to rebuild to some extent after his sojourn in jail, with continued success with his novels  (250m worldwide sales ?)  but his Conservative party grandee status was permanently revoked.  Popular culture icons in the entertainment industry e.g. George Michael, Boy George and Lindsay Lohan appear to emerge unscathed from a short spell of chummage.  (Victorian term for prison and source of contemporary term 'chum' or friend, the penal system inversion association now lost in the winds of time).  Giana's paper provides some insightful thinking around the celebrity-personality-becomes-major-brand idea, where the entrepreneur owner fails to find the right way to loosen their personal control.  Entrepreneurial business school graduate Stelios, founder and majority stakeholder in low cost airline easyjet, and founder of the easygroup, appears to have done this at about the right time and left in his wake a grown up management team to lead the airline into middle aged maturity.  Richard Branson, who has devolved operational control of many of his businesses to experienced industry silver backs, appears to be preparing his children for succession, although a family flight on one of the inaugural Virgin Galactic space jaunts may not be strategic.  Very, very on brandson though (weak pun !), with his flair for adventure projects/PR stunts e.g. Blue Ribbon speed boat record setting, elephant riding and high altitude ballooning endeavours. 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

How many MBA candidates can you fit in an academics office ?

Royal Holloway MBA 2013- 14 Candidates
Ever heard the joke "How do you get two whales in a mini ?"    Answer "Down the M4" ...Groan, Groan (homophone word play on two/to and Wales the country/whales the large mammal).  My chum Peter told me this joke about twenty years ago on a beach in Cape Town, South Africa. 

I would love to imitate this same question along the lines of "How many Royal Holloway MBA students can you get in an academic office ?"  but as yet I have not found even a cringe inducing pathetic attempt at a punch line.  So I will have to leave it there.

However, as we live in a world that requires us to evolve and develop each and every day, today I learnt that you can have at least 20 people in a modestly sized office without any problems at all.  Shame we didn't have any bubbly handy to start a party !!  Next time....

Lego Architect constructs MBA teams at Royal Holloway

Freshers week is truly in full flow, with a beautiful sunny afternoon on campus allowing student societies to promote themselves. 
The Royal Holloway MBA group, of course, were already in full swing getting their teeth into their first real case study and being challenged to break the ice using a Lego team building challenge. No time to sit out in the sun luxuriating in the beautiful environment provided by the stunning Egham campus. 
MBA Candidates, who hail from a wide range of professional and cultural backgrounds that includes the Bahamas, Iran, USA, China, Nigeria, Thailand, Taiwan, India Chile and UK, have just this week embarked on a year long personal and professional development programme. 

MBA students organised themselves into groups according to their business backgrounds (a crucial element of MBA learning is peer-to-peer exchange) and were given an emergent problem to solve, designed to fast track important team working skills and encourage learning.  The set task (a metaphor for 'work') was to use plastic blocks to create a scale model of a global, iconic skyscraper - Chicago's Willis Tower, Dubai's off shore Burj-Al-Arab, Seattle's Space needle and the Empire State building. 
On completion of the task MBA Director (eerrr...that's me ?) Justin O'Brien invited the groups to reflect on what they had learnt using the US military knowledge management technique of After Action Review (AAR), that encourages groups to identify winning and losing behaviours and enables formal, wider (organisational) dissemination. 
In addition to noting that additional (unneeded) parts are often included in Lego sets, there was much reflection on ideas of effective planning, communication, trust, identifying strengths, the need to have fun and degrees of risk taking. 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Super Size Me ! I'm a retro brand

Don't tell anyone  - but I am on a diet.  It is working (currently), I've shed lots of kilos, but clearly I was so fat that only one person has commented on the 7 kg loss.  The diet involves eating tiny portions, limiting really bad food (anything with sugar or fat really) and avoiding snacking.  Soon I will need to up my exercise as the easy first 10 Kgs will have come off & my aggressive target for Easter 2014 sees weekly steps of 1.5kg.  Therefore I have developed a very different relationship with food, as you might imagine.  
Justin O'Brien MBA Director at Royal Holloway

One of my more diplomatic colleagues, when notifying me of free food offers (over ordering at lunchtime events) puts it thus "You look like a man who enjoys his food ?".  Cabin crew use a different tack, "Have you got your seat belt on sir ?", as clearly they can't see any sign of the belt underneath my stomach.  Embarrassing, but true.  Other euphemisms include "You look well !" (either 'you've got fatter' or sotto voce - 'he's still not lost any weight'..).  I'm hoping to experience some positive reinforcement that I've lost weight.  But I'm not sure with all this photo shopping and over awareness of body image that necessarily celebrating getting thin is politically correct either.  The good news is that with my current trousers I am at a tipping point.  Belts, formerly used to pull stomach blubber in, are now not necessary.  Shortly they will become en vogue again, but this time to keep flappy wasted numbers from dropping down below my knees.

Whilst out with some MBA alumni last year I met a guy who was the call centre voice behind a slimming company.  Well, a man, a desk and a phone.  More start up.  He claimed (but it was his pitch....) that the only genuinely effective motivator for weight loss was money.  Thus he signed contracts with overweight people such as myself, offering them cash rewards if they hit their target weights, based on a monthly subscription model.  If you lost weight, the reward payments were significantly more than the subscription dues.  Easy money you'd think ?  But so many people failed this was an attractive betting scheme, where the house or market maker always won.  Worrying that even with hard cash on the table, not the community feel good factor you can get from Weight Watchers meetings or the natural endorphin release you might luxuriate in after a Rosemary Connolly fitness class, lots of people were continuing to fail.  I was convinced money would work for me.

I'm pretty careful with my money (I have an academic salary, remember, the only six digit number I am familiar with is the mortgage) and didn't like the idea of giving away money to an outsider.  So I decided to set up a bet with my wife, after all it's meant to be "our money", so I couldn't lose.  She liked the idea - so we have matching bets and if I lose a third of my body weight, I'll stand to win £1,000.  Not nearly enough to fund the new clothes I'll need (I might even see my feet shrink back to size 9 & have to buy shoes too !) but, the kind of firm, clear target I need to make this life changing transformation. 

Clever Retro Twist or Super Sized Calories ?

Thus I was horrified the other day at Costa coffee (cappuccino's are 200 calories, but so much more pleasurable than a practically nothing flat black Americano,........ I called this 'lunch') to note that the super sized Custard Cream biscuits my older son loves to buy are over 400 calories.  In response to the obesity lobby that targeted McDonald's in a big way, many 'responsible' purveyors of fast food and coffee bars now share calorific information.  400 Calories is nearly as much as a big Mac (580ish ?).  Now, that's an easy call....take the burger every time. 

Now, Costa (which sometimes claims that it's Britain's favourite coffee bar) is innovative in looking for ways to 'delight' their customers and differentiate themselves from the mighty global Starbucks.  Both brands revere the coffee bean and find different ways to put this single minded focus across to customers in their servicescape.  Starbucks uses the form and colour palette of the raw and processed bean to inspire its yellow, green and brown interior décor.  It also looks to educate it's consumers with collections of different beans (as you may have seen half a century ago), connect ethically with the coffee farmers and provide expert home manufacturing paraphernalia.  So clever, you may miss it.  Recently they have launched a small discount for reusing their branded cups.  Check it out next time you are there. 

Costa permeates a more human feel, with images of coffee beans and drinking, but also the idea of Italian style with the effective use of black and white photos.  Costa offers hot Panini, where as Starbucks banned unpleasant burnt cheese aromas because, whilst highly profitable, it masked the alluring and authentic smell of the core proposition.  [coffee init]. I prefer the taste of the Starbucks coffee blend and the fond ski holiday associations of drinking java in Seattle, the green mermaids home.  Unfortunately, my wife hates the tea there (& doesn't do coffee), thus our family outings on the weekend to a coffee shop are to Costa, which is now a firm favourite with both our boys.  Lucky we now have a Starbucks franchise on campus !

Costa offer clever sweet snacks (as well as hot, smelly sandwiches) that includes giant sized custard cream and chocolate bourbon biscuits.  Stuff if you are a forty something like me harks back to childhood, before all these clever new fangled offerings like Hobnobs and back in the day when chocolate coatings were a luxury and considered expensive.  So a clever twist, not a presented regular size on a white plate, or even paired up in plastic wrapping, but super charged and enormous - nearly the size of a sandwich.  They say nothing is new in marketing, it's just about finding ways to recombine existing ideas.  Clever.

Brilliant case in point, until you understand that this biscuit has the energy value of a small meal.