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 d├ęcor.  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. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Don't be a Facebook slut.. ... ...

I have noted a number of web sites that I use have helpfully started offering the facility to sign in using Facebook.  Great.  I don't know about you, but I have so many different logins, I am faced with the dilemma of either using a single password, which is surely a gift to identity theft criminals and plainly a dumb cyber security strategy or writing down my passwords, again a security home goal.

I have been between a rock and a hard place on this for a while now and when I have my entrepreneurial hat on I can see a clear market need for a password authentication and consolidation service.  I had thought this might naturally come out of one of the many security packages such as Avira or Norton Defender, possibly even one of the established tech giants, Google or the Gates Foundation.  

Do you remember everyone from your graduation class ?

It reminds me, in a non-linear link that may never be clear, of the Google Earth launch, where refreshingly (or a just a cunning PR approach) the co reps said clearly and repeatedly something like "We don't know how this will be commercialised, but things will come along to use this product".  Emergent strategic development I suppose. 

Sure enough reality has caught up the vision.  British Airways used Google Earth images in an advertising campaign.  Estate agents link to street views.  Some time rich individuals look for aeroplane shadows.  I have chatted numerously with friends having seen one of the Google street view cars (clearly not that rare !) undertaking the painstaking and expensive image data collection.  All kudos to brand Google. Perhaps it merely serves its megalithic master by offering must use freeware and is fully justified by the volume of traffic generated, which drives a significant advertising revenue bang.  Anyways, it is hard to remember a pre Google Earth world.   
British Airways ad  Source linked to

Facebook seems to be commercialising its preeminent social media status in an interesting new direction.  Remember Amazon, the online book seller ?  I just bought groceries (pink toothpaste) online using them.  It is my Christmas one stop shop, starting in Sep each year.  My Scouting friend Tim, who is an Amazon trading entrepreneur, says the price hikes in the build up to Christmas offer exciting trading opportunities.  Through successful growth, Amazon has changed it's vision from eBook seller, to eTailer and now operates as a multi-national online marketplace and logistics provider.  Better to run  the game than be its leading player ?  Actually, better to run the game AND be the leading player.... It has also started allowing smaller retailers (seen as competitors in the old world) use their payment solutions.  My beloved rugby site is doing this.  Brilliant customer service that overcomes the forgotten password issue, felt particularly on infrequently used websites. Such technical hurdles can help the big get bigger and the small wither and die.   Amazon have gone to the bother of trade marking their one click purchasing it's so important to them.  Scale buying and process efficiencies that probably make a cost neutral no brainier decision.  Here I am thinking about card handling fee commissions, fraud liability and software maintenance and development.

Back to the edgy title, don't be a Facebook slut.  Another chum, Lynne, was very forthright about her online connection strategy over a glass of wine one evening a while back.  We were discussing the politics around refusing a social media invitation to connect.  Lynne was unequivocal, her view was; either you are very selective, choosing close friends and work colleagues or you are a slut and say yes to everyone.

"Is that Billy ?"    Source:

So I smiled when the offer to login via Fb last week saw me undertake a facial recognition based, multiple choice test using three photos of three different Facebook contacts, offering six real contact names as solutions for each.  It isn't as easy as you think (see image)  Not your mothers maiden name (how sexist is that ?), your favourite colour or even your first pets name.  All fixed and often short data strings that we are prone to give up quite easily.  A dream for hackers.  The Facebook approach is highly customised, and very clever.  I think it was this company that used the same approach as a tech start up as the office access protocol.  That is until the company hit 200 employees, a mystical number it seems, when staff struggled to know all their co-workers and began to fail the office entry protocol.  This mathematically brilliant (?) and hacker unfriendly approach relies on us being able to recognise, if a little prompted, our "Friends".  So please do consider this when you are accepting any left field invitations to connect, the future implications may be more significant than you think.   Deep.

Related Side Bar item

Having drafted this piece, I discovered that the Information Security group at Royal Holloway (one of the elite research groups - UK top three - that makes our College so special) has been busy trying to solve this problem too.  See the press release below for more details: