Saturday, 22 March 2014

Toilet conundrum ? Which one do you choose ?

Image source:

Intriguing image on the web page recently showed a 'double' toilet.  I use an edgy, but mostly fun, construct of imaging being a toilet brand manager as a universal and ubiquitous example to connect student experience into product attributes, customer unconscious needs and wants and market competition.  It can also spark a cracking conversation that brings out some interesting cross cultural and gender differences.

In the early days of email there was a cracking interactive pop up quiz that invited you to choose the optimal 'trap' or urinal position for doing your business, based on four installations and selection in the context of other user(s).

                        Trap 1         Trap 2         Trap 3        Trap 4

When trap 2 is being used, then the clear choice is trap 4.    When trap 1 and 3 are being used, clearly trap 4 is the best choice because you have a void or wall on one side and are not likely to brush people on either side of you.  I believe these unwritten codes of conduct are little known to women.

My colleague, Dr Alan Bradshaw, has even published in the peer reviewed journal of consumer behaviour academic journal theorising  consumption behaviour in this area.  (with Canniford (2010) Excrement theory development)  

At first you may think 'what a load of poop', but then you begin to discover that there are a range of important issues all spinning around the bowl here.  First up there is gender inequality, unequal availability of facilities result in women often queuing for the loo (except in enlighten situations where toilets are co-ed; think aeroplanes, Sweden and Ally McBeal sitcom).  The cross-cultural norms and culture shock encountered with the 'seat' and 'natural' positions is also intriguing.  

Then consider public health, blocked pipes and different flushing rituals.  You may also ponder (some of us even have time to read a paper whilst on the job after all !) the water wastage, when composting alternatives are available.  Recreational use is fun, colleague Paul pointed out the protest video George Michael made following his arrest in a Californian toilet facility, 'outside'.  

And then the issue of personal safety raises its ugly head, travel blogs are littered with 'worst toilet' experiences and I have noticed women appear to be more aware of their own personal safety when needing to find a facility down dark and dank, twisting, narrow, back passages.  

One company discovered that a popular place for thinking was whilst sitting on the toilet, in our busy lives it is often a rare moment of seculsion, individual space for contemplation and taking a brief time out.  In a tongue in cheek attempt to stimulate more creative thinking it built a thunder box space in the office in the guise of a toilet and invited staff to capture creative ideas whilst in this space, posting a note of their ideas in a little box inside.  A popular and effective innovation until its primary purpose was subverted for other uses.

I've had several weeks worth of conversation with Saturday morning football dad friend Julian, who keeps getting jobs that involve him looking after toilets.  We covered the issues around the ideal colour and make up of toilet paper, the French penchant for pink in public loos being an interesting learning.  We also explored the tunnel blow back problem and what service recovery strategies are used to mop up such high pressure situations and the difficulty in justifying million pound upgrade investments on toilet facilities that just do not drive the customer satisfaction dial.

If this all smells a bit iffy to you, you might be right !  It appears that for many, it is the pong that is the problem, not the facilities themselves.

I've decided this is a rich seem and worthy of mining myself for a paper that looks to combine the service and tourism angles.  Do !, Do ! send me any interesting anecdotes...

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Pharrell Williams - Happy (RHUL)

Spring is very much in the air - after a dull, long and wet winter - the warming rays of spring weather have seen some of the undergraduates express themselves.  Happy ?  Hell Yeah !  I just got promoted !

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cirque du Soleil: a magical blend of wonder

I have just been to see Quidam at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  It turns out that I've seen the show once before - but I have been so blown away by the performances that I must say I just can't remember.  Sounds a bit silly ?   I find the shows so uber stimulating with often three interesting things going on on stage at the same time that I find the experience totally absorbing and totally enthralling.  After two showings and benefitting from after the event summaries of party members own interpretations, I'm still none the wiser.  And, you know what ?   I don't care.  

You get amazingly colourful, weird and exaggerated costumes.  A buzz of Frenchish music, that is more about tempo, passion and intensity.  You get delightful changes of pace, deliberately slow juxtaposed with quick movements, but never average or normal.  Multi-individual poses that singularly are nothing, but carried out in concert are immensely powerful and deliberate.  You eventually sense the familiar introduction, performance and withdrawal of the circus acts.  But all around are clowns, actors, dancers, performers providing enduring, stimulating and intriguing peripheral activity that means you eye is in constant motion to see what is going to happen ? where ? next ?  A performer stands perfectly still in costume, over sized brown trousers, braces, characterised boots and a battered leather suitcase.  You look once.  You look over again, still motionless.  Then you are drawn by the movement of another actor who bumps into the static figure, who then performs a jelly wobble exaggerated reaction and becomes still, to find the leather case pops open (as if by its own accord) and out floats a small, spherical and bright red helium ballon that bobbles into the lighting set.  

My friend and agent provocateur, Peter, an avid reader of this blog, led to our discovery of 'Cirque' as we call it.  He recalls "Stumbling across the show at The Mirage that time was so fortuitous. Imagine what we'd have missed out on over the proceeding years had Siegfried or Roy been well, or not on holiday, or whatever it was that meant they were dark."  We had just arrived in Treasure Island at the head of the new Las Vegas strip, in sight of some of the old hotels (the Dunes, now blown up) that effectively founded this area of barren desert as the de facto entertainment capital of USA.  This was back before the days of direct flights from Europe to Nevada's gaming centre.  The newish MGM Grand was one of the first mega hotels, with an incredible 1,000 rooms and opposite was the pyramid shaped Luxor.  Awesome, tacky, amazing.  We had flown in over Los Angeles (best transited, I find) and suffering serious jet lag several of our party were keen to crash.  Party animal Peter wanted to hit the shows and max out every opportunity.  I was extremely dubious about the camply Teutonic White Tiger show at Caesars Palace that appeared to the the 'must see' show.  I felt major league cheese of flailing arms and bravado around risky human interactions with tortured 300kg jungle beasts.  Lucky for us the show was 'dark', we couldn't quite tell what this really meant, but Peter was determined to expose us to theatrical culture and thus we blindly went into Cirque du Soleil's Mystere.  "Like a circus, but no animals.  It's cool".  At least the seats were big, padded and there was icy air conditioning to keep us awake.

Being unexpected, and sensational, it was an amazing $65 show, one we eulogised to many of our friends about.  Since this first mid-1990's encounter I've been to as many shows as I can, including venues in Zurich, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Orlando, four in Las Vegas itself, as part of my stag weekend in Washington DC and now London.  We nearly made it to Iris in Hollywood, but the show closed days before we arrived. We have watched as this French-Canadian franchised reinvention of the circus business model, rather emasculated by societal views on watching performing animals, just grow and grow. 

A story I want to tell more of.....

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Shrenik Shah Royal Holloway MBA profile

My work experience in brief

Shrenik Shah (right)

My last job was at an automotive parts manufacturing company and my role saw me responsible for product costing and driving cost improvements. I was also aligned with a sister company in the IT industry and my role there was a more traditional accounting and finance manager. 

My education

After graduating with a Bachelors in India, I decided to study full time for the Management Accounting professional qualification CIMA in London. I successfully passed the Advanced Diploma and returned to India. I started working full time whilst completing the final CIMA papers, achieving full charter status in early 2013. 

Having worked in the accounting, finance and costing area for more than three years, I felt I wanted to change direction and grow faster, and so I decided  to study for an MBA, and headed back to London.

Why did you chose the Royal Holloway University of London MBA ? 

Presentation skills and group working feature highly

I chose the Royal Holloway MBA because of its focus on International Management not the typical Finance, Marketing or HRM. So, studying for a masters degree with a strong international management perspective will give me the chance to broaden my horizons and deepen my understanding of multinational/globalised businesses.  

Where you hope to end up after the MBA - what skills & experience will it bring ? 

After MBA I am looking forward to work in a multinational enterprise where I hope to be able to  use my international Management MBA learning. I have had a wonderful learning experience so far and experienced some excellent networking opportunities. 

What were the MBA highlights for you ?

The programme offers opportunities to engage with a range of small, medium and large companies through visits and guest speaker sessions, for example; both dimensions of the brewing industry with craft outfit Hogs Back (how small brewer compete with large enterprises) and Peroni's owner FTSE10 ranked SAB Miller (even though being on the top does not come everything easily there are several issues to look after), Thorpe Park (how to be innovative and creative as a stand alone SBU), and US mobile giant Verizon who offered us the opportunity to undertake real, in-company business problems as the basis for our dissertations. 

The experience of living in UK

Although studying and living in the UK is not new for me, living on campus was.  It has been wonderful so far, I have had the best time being in close, regular contact with the other MBA students.    I have also made a number of good friends with students following other study programmes and learning about a wide range of cultures and countries has been amazing, especially students from EU countries. 

Working in multi-cultural groups

Drama class

 Before the MBA I rarely worked in a multi-cultural environment.  I found that things can develop very unexpectedly and sometimes it is hard to work with people from different cultural and professional backgrounds. Most of us found it challenging to work in groups as everyone seems to have different perspectives and motivations to study.  Differences here have created some conflicts at times, often because the workload is very demanding, but we all have learnt how to manage new approaches to these challenges, bringing valuable experience to our   management and leadership skills. 

Monday, 10 March 2014

MBA Profile: Scholarship candidate Amy Sharath

1. Why you decided to study for an MBA (including your work experience background) ?

Amy Sharath: Presenting 

in the Picture Gallery

My name is Amy Sharath and I come from Bangalore city, which is situated in the southern part of India. Soon after I graduated, I joined a start-up organization called R2 International. Although I had no formal work experience, the company gave me an opportunity to set up a new business division that focussed supplying IT consultants with knowledge in SAP (German software) to some of the largest companies in the world. Although initially I faced my own share of hurdles, within one year, the SAP division was the highest revenue and profit generating unit within the company. The business was successful and I moved up the corporate ladder within the company and got hugely recognized. Nonetheless I felt a need to add more skills to my profile.  Interacting with CEOs, Directors and Board members of Fortune #500 companies on a daily basis made me realize that although I have expertise in my field of headhunting and recruitment, I need to expand my overall knowledge of businesses and I believed that an MBA would guide me through the next milestones I plan to achieve.

2. What attracted you to Royal Holloway ?

Royal Holloway was attractive to me due to a lot of reasons:

* It is a part of the University of London (which is very prestigious to have a degree from).
* It is listed as one of the top 40 universities in the UK
* It is close to London and well connected with the train service
* The beautiful Founder’s building

There were a few more reasons why I chose Royal Holloway: I had a very positive impression about the school of management. Justin O’Brien, the MBA Director, his transparency, real world business experience and candour made Royal Holloway more attractive. It was a particularly tough decision to make, since my company was very keen on offering me a promotion to work in our headquarters in our London office (but I finally chose Royal Holloway)

3. How the scholarship has helped you ?

The scholarship from Royal Holloway was a great blessing for me. It lifted a huge financial burden from me, at a time where Indian currency was at an all-time low against Sterling.  Winning the scholarship also filled me with more confidence in my decision to do my MBA. The fact that the University was ready to invest in me made me want to excel at my course.

Amy meets Principal 

Professor Paul Layzell

4. How you have found your course so far ?

To say that the course is intense would be an understatement. We barely get any sleep and have course work through weekends.  It has been 5 months into the course and I firmly believe it is one of the best decisions I have ever made and am going through one of the happiest and most exciting phases in my life. The course has already given me significant amounts of ROI, i.e. return on Investment.  Meeting people from all over the world and understanding their cultures and opinions has been a thoroughly enriching experience.  The cohort has become very close and as much as we study, we party really hard; hence we aptly term MBA “Master of the Balancing Act”.

Link here to the Royal Holloway scholarship page

Thursday, 6 March 2014

International Management Masters student: Faye Ekong

Faye Ekong at Royal Holloway

My name is Faye Ekong and I work for an international humanitarian aid agency called Action Against Hunger. We provide live saving assistance for people affected by natural or man-made disasters in over 40 countries worldwide. One of the key elements in ensuring that we provide quality services to populations in need is through having a workforce that has the necessary capacity, knowledge, skills and attitude to carry out this important work. This is where I come in. As the Director of our Training Centre which is based in Nairobi, Kenya my job is to make sure we offer our staff training, capacity building and professional development solutions that are tailored to their needs and country context. 

As part of my work I get to travel…a lot. It’s not the glamorous kind of travel to Dubai and Hong Kong nor do I get to stay in swanky hotels. Over the past few years, I have visited so many countries that I have almost lost count.  Some of the favorites include:  South Sudan, Tchad, Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Liberia, Ivory Coast and DRC. This year my list of countries include Ethiopia, Yemen, Haiti, Indonesia and Burkina Faso. Sometimes my accommodation in the field consists of a tent or mud hut, other times it does have some basic amenities such as running water and generator powered electricity.

Faye pictured with an antelope crown

With that having been said, I am perhaps not your typical profile for an International Management program. Working on some assignments and during exchanges with other students I certainly did at times find myself pondering to which extent ROCE, 6 Sigma or Porter’s 5 Forces may be applicable in my context. Nonetheless, I choose this program for several reasons and have found it to be the right fit for me.

Firstly, I believe the non-profit sector can learn quite a lot from the private sector in terms of approaches and strategies aimed at rendering services more effective and this was an opportunity for me to gain an insight into business workings.  Secondly, I wanted to ground some of my practical experience in management with the theories behind it.  Lastly, given the context I work in, the flexibility of the program really fits my needs.

Networking during summer plenary on campus

The best part of the course for me were certainly the plenary sessions in London as they gave me the chance to interact with fellow students and tutors which helped to boost my motivation, since much of a distance program involves working away alone behind a computer.

Consultancy presentation

During the plenary week 2 I don’t remember how many hours we poured over the final version of our group assignment checking for grammar, fonts, phraseology and cutting words. Similarly in preparation for our group presentation we must have done at least 50 dry runs to get it just right. A lot of my work involves giving presentations and conducting trainings.  So I would say I am quite accustomed to getting up in front of a group of strangers and talking.  However, this presentation was certainly a new experience for me, most notably because I was getting up to talk about a subject which a few weeks ago I knew absolutely nothing about. I really enjoyed the challenge though of working with the group, researching a new area and seeing the final product at the end.

Now I am working on my dissertation and grappling with the questions of how we can measure the impact of capacity building initiatives in the humanitarian world where “standard” business indicators such as increased sales, profit, turnover, market share or number of clients do not apply. I am sure I will be able to apply my learning form the course to date to this final step in my Master’s program.

Detailed Q&A with Faye

1. What was your career path to your current role? Can you tell us a bit about your career and education background please?

This is always a complicated question because the response is not such a straight forward one. But I will give it a shot. I am half British half Nigerian but grew up mainly in Germany and in Ghana. I have an undergraduate degree from the University of Bath in European Studies and Modern Languages. As part of my bachelor’s degree I did a one year work placement working for NGOs in Brussels and Rome. Once I finished my studies I moved to Kenya and worked for a Dutch training and consultancy firm focused on strengthening the management capacity of organizations, their projects and staff. One of my clients was, my current employer who hired me to work on a range of projects for them. When a permanent position opened up there in 2011 I applied, got the job and in February 2013 was promoted to director.

2. How did you hear about the International Management programme?

Once I decided I wanted to further my education with a Master’s degree, I did a lot of research to find a program that would sustain my interest for long enough, be beneficial and equip me with a range of practical skills for whatever future career path I choose but as well offer the necessary degree of flexibility during studies. I came across the RHUL MSc in International Management via the UoL website. RHUL is a prestigious university, the program is accredited by AMBA but more over I like the flexible study approach it offered, the fact that it had face to face plenary sessions and lastly I found the fees reasonable. So I decided to go for it. I know I made the right choice.

3. How did you overcome the challenge of working while studying?

To be honest I am still trying to overcome that challenge to date. Having a full time job with non-regular hours and a lot of travel to places where there is no access to electricity let alone the internet really makes it difficult to plan and schedule for study time. At the beginning I would take my books with me on the plane hoping I would find motivation to study during the long flights but surprisingly in most cases there was always something else more pressing to do such as watching a movie, having a glass of wine or sleeping.
In the end I found that there is no point in forcing things. Sometimes I will go weeks or even months without opening a course book and then all of a sudden the inspiration and motivation just hits me and I start typing away at my TMAs, reading and studying till late at night or during the early morning hours; books, highlighters, papers and colored cards all scattered out across the room. It may not be the traditional approach but this strategy has really worked for me.

4. Were there any particular course modules that you found particularly inspiring and interesting?

I have to say I found all course modules useful. However my top two would be 1) Finance and Accounting and 2) International Business Analysis. The Finance and Accounting module was a mandatory one and it was the last mandatory unit I took. I was quite worried about taking it since I have no background in finance and accounting at all and had always had a bit of a phobia towards numbers. When I started working on it, I really enjoyed it and found it to be quite straight forward. That inspired me then to venture a bit further and take the business analysis unit. Looking at companies’ shareholder reports, being able to interpret them, learning how to calculate different financial ratios and having a better understanding of how the stock market works was something I never expected to be able to do as it is so far removed from my line of
work. But my fear of numbers has since been cured and maybe in another life I will come back as an investment banker.

5. What are your ambitions for the future career wise?

The answer to that question really depends on the day. Sometimes I just want a job which has regular working hours, no tight deadlines, negligible stress where you finish your shift and that is it for the day. Though I am not sure to what extent that kind of a set up actually exists. For the immediate future I think I will remain in the field of Capacity Building, Organizational Development and Institutional Strengthening as it is quite a broad area. I am still learning new things and it has many different interesting angles to it.
However, at some point I do see myself venturing into the field social business as it would allow me to combine the use of business strategies and approaches to achieve sustainable social outcomes. Or to borrow a bit from the sub-title of Prof. Muhammad Yunu’s book, contribute in my own way to a “kind of capitalism that serves humanity’s most pressing needs”.

6. Looking forward – what do you particularly want to contribute to the humanitarian industry?

Looking at the humanitarian sector, I have to say we are quite a committed and passionate bunch. We work long hours in difficult conditions and often with great personal sacrifices. And lets me be clear there is no bonus pay out at the end of the year. However sometimes we get a bit stuck in our ways and lack some of the expedited decision making processes and innovation found in the private sector. Do I think I can change the sector single handedly, of course not. But I would like to walk way eventually knowing that I have contributed in a small way to us thinking outside of the box and approaching things in a slightly different manner at least in the field of capacity building.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Management "Roller Coaster" theme for College Science Festival

Aptly situated up the curved staircase, through a ninety degree right hander and in the lee of a slow left bend in the upstairs corridor of Royal Holloway's show case conference centre Windsor building, this years Management stand chose the theme of roller coasters to entertain children visiting this popular annual science outreach activity.
Families from around the area, school groups and even the uniformed 1st Egham High Cub pack came onto campus to engage with senior academics and students from the full range of science departments.  One school boy from Gordon's Sandringham house found the maths puzzle workshops particularly interesting. The Cubs have made an annual event of attending during the morning, able to access a wide range of activities for free as Royal Holloway seeks to encourage enthusiasm for studying science. 
The Harry Potter theme saw an interactive display of beautiful owls, whilst in the I-Robot room, live images of a miniature steam railway, using historic technology, were streamed into a seminar space that allowed participants get hands on with a range of 21st Century IT kit, including a raspberry pi mini-arcade pac-man game and a movement sensitive, mobile phone driven, mindstorms robot hill climb challenge.  With 'sold out' shows (tickets were actually free !) such as seamonsters in the 400 seater auditorium, an alternative village fete using a February friendly indoor location, a treasure hunt and access to the prized Victorian picture gallery (as featured in the most recent Christmas special episode of ITV's Downton Abbey) for talks and an art challenge there was more than enough interest to fill an entire day.
The management stand, staffed by academic and administrative volunteers Laura, Marie, Helen, Sameer, Andy and Justin, offered a big 5 of roller coaster activities designed to appeal to a range of age groups.  For the younger ones, designing a poster to show how it feels to be on a roller coaster and on a corner blanket to use Lego bricks to build coaster trains.  One boy suggested eating ice cream before a ride, because it tastes the same going down and coming up !!   Rather surprisingly many of the images created by children on the feeling of roller coaster comprised of  big, wide grins. (see image right)  Pre-teens were attracted to the laptop based simulators.  Inbetweeners were invited to design a roller coaster theme and offer up ideas for partner Thorpe Park on what children would like to do whilst waiting in their new virtual queuing system. 
A wide range of ideas were collated, such as watching TV, playing with toys (e.g. Lego, Play Doh, Soft Play, puzzle games), eating (pick n mix, coffee, snacks), a ride simulation screen, visiting other rides, benches for sitting down, playing on mobile phones, singing, visiting the toilets, and a live video feed of riders faces. Ideas which will be shared with Education facilitator and Royal Holloway alumni Jack Du Pile. 
MBA Director, Justin O'Brien, who co-ordinated the management stand, said "It was fantastic to see the School of Management join the Super Science Saturday event again.  Volunteering with colleagues to help Royal Holloway offer a free family day out based on stimulating interest in learning underscores the strong sense of community that permeates our campus."