Business leaders offer behind-the-scenes look at City working in first day of MBA London Symposium

Students attend first virtual version of the popular elective with themes including change, tech and inclusive leadership.

Some of the leading voices from business and industry in the City spoke at the eighth edition of the MBA London Symposium — discussing the values and power of ‘Perseverance and Ingenuity’.

The three-day 2021 elective — the first virtual edition of the Symposium — welcomed participants from all the School’s MBA programmes as well as guests from South Africa, Italy, and the Netherlands. The theme this year is ‘Perseverance and Ingenuity’ in homage of the resilience, changes and growth shown post-pandemic as well as being the names of the latest space probes that have landed on Mars.

There were sessions led by The Lord Mayor, London First, Tech Nation, Carayol & Sportsology who discussed progress and barriers to progress, while there were also afternoon discussions with leading experts and entrepreneurs at a panel entitled ‘leadership lessons in tech’.

The Symposium also used a virtual hosting platform, which featured an interactive display, virtual coffee rooms, a networking meeting with London's famous resident Sherlock Holmes and magic performed during the breaks.

Dr Sionade Robinson, Associate Professor at the Business School (formerly Cass) and Faculty Lead for the Symposium, opened the event on the first day.

‘A reinvention is upon us’

Dr Robinson discussed the progress made by London as a centre of commerce, with the city ranked as number one in the Global Power City Index in each of the last nine years. However, the problems posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the rising homeless population because of increased unemployment means times are changing.

“Over the last 2000 years London has continued to thrive — unique in many ways as the political, the economic, the cultural and the creative centre of the UK.

The theme of Perseverance and Ingenuity creates an opportunity for our speakers to share their thoughts new approaches to business, new strategies to respond to changing environments, new technologies, opportunities and leadership responsibilities.

"These themes are very relevant. Perseverance is a core competence of an MBA — accelerated in those who chose to study in a global pandemic, while ingenuity means the quality of being clever, original and inventive. I hope you recognise yourselves here too. They will help you be bold.”

Re-imagining London

Dr Robinson was followed by William Russell, 692nd Lord Mayor of the City of London.

The Lord Mayor gave the opening plenary of this year’s Symposium, offering his thoughts on the Changing City of London, in a year that has caused sizeable challenges to big business and industry.

He commented on his desire to reimagine London and to seize the moment and commented on the City’s contribution to supporting the Arts through the City of London Corporation and the City’s commitment to the green agenda.

London has shown ingenuity and perseverance time and time again in the face of adversity: it rebuilt itself after the Fire of London, after the Blitz and will do so again after the Covid-19 crisis.

“London must focus on its strengths — such as a strong maritime & insurance industry — which makes up 27 per cent of the UK's GDPR. I am proud to be the fintech centre of the world, and I believe greentech will be the next big opportunity for us.”

‘The best in the world for business’

John Dickie is the Acting Chief Executive at London First, which campaigns for businesses in the capital, discussed how perseverance and ingenuity make London the best city in the world for business.

He said the ‘biggest common challenge currently facing London is recapitalisation’, adding ‘whether it be the deferred tax payments, or rent payments, these are chickens that are coming home to roost. It is vital to deploy a range of strategies to get the Central Activity Zone prospering again”.

Mr Dickie closed by sharing London First’s ‘strategies of no regret” to support London’s core strengths – including professional services, start ups and higher education.

Future CEOs must represent diverse society

Parveen Dhanda is the Head of Programmes at Tech Nation, a support network for entrepreneurs outlining the challenges and opportunities that UK faces post 2020.

Ms Dhanda, in her discussion on ‘how tech pioneers are creating the future’, found that investment in tech in the UK hitting a record $15 billion during the pandemic.

“There have been drastic advances in different forms of tech and 2020 marked a step change in how healthcare is provided in the UK and globally. UK companies are at the front of the pack in delivering on this future.

“But there are challenges. Female founders make up only 11 per cent of venture funding in the last 10 years, black founders 0.24 per cent, while 0.02 of total venture capital funding over the last 10 years was for black female entrepreneurs.

It's important we have a full mix of founders and CEOs to reflect our nuanced society. It's up to all of us to step up and inspire and mentor the next generation of founders and CEOs."

‘Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice’

René Carayol, Chief Executive of Carayol and Honorary Visiting Professor of Leadership at the Business School, addressed the significant topic of inclusive leadership. He spoke from personal experience about the value of incorporating leadership from the early phases of a person’s career.

Mr Carayol said that while the challenges remain sizeable, with 70 per cent of ethnic minorities earning £17,000 or less, he believed the actions taken since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 marked a significant step forward in addressing inclusivity, particularly in the private sector.

“Leadership is not about rank or status, it is about you. It is important that leadership development occurs at the start of a career. Developing management skills is important but leadership is vital, and inclusive leadership. In all the years of pushing for inclusivity I don’t think I have seen pace like we have since the death of George Floyd. I believe it is about to bear fruit. We are so much stronger together.”

‘Next wave of marginal gains will be thanks to AI’

The final expert session of the day was led by Professor Chris Brady, who discussed the future of artificial intelligence in sport. Currently Chief Intelligence Officer at Sportsology, Professor Brady spoke about different types of machine learning and how it would impact teams, tactics and the fan experience in the future.

“So much is already being influenced by and enhanced by top quality AI, and there is a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines - not the battle. It will change coaching, as there will be access to virtual coaching assistants that will be taking data throughout matches so it can be discussed at half-time. It is impacting nutrition; tactics and the next wave of marginal gains will be identified by AI. Fan engagement will change, with supporters able to get data from their seat in the stands and clubs are already hiring e-sports specialists to play for the club, asking them to predict how the opposition will play.”

About the Symposium

The Symposium will continue on Tuesday.

The Symposium is an elective element of the MBA course which brings together over 150 students from all Cass MBA cohorts, as well as MBA teams from partner schools in South Africa and Europe.

The first Symposium was held in 2014 to celebrate the Business School’s unique network inside the heart of one of the world’s best global cities. The Symposium mixes thought leadership in plenary sessions with a ‘backstage pass’ to some of London’s most iconic brands and organisations which drive the city’s prosperity.

It is now the flagship MBA elective, providing students with excellent networking opportunities and access to some of London’s most prominent and respected business figures.

You can tweet about or from the Symposium using #PercyandJenny2021.