The tech industry is applauded for its innovation and admired for disrupting stagnant industries. After all, getting an Uber is much simpler than standing out in the London rain hoping for a taxi to pass by. However, recently a darker side has emerged – the dominance of bro-grammers, the identikit faces you see on most VC teams, the fact that only 9.7% of all partners at VC firms are women, and just 8.3% of VC-funded tech startups are led by them.
As the tech industry matures, it is experiencing growing pains, just like finance did before it. Diversity issues that plagued big banks are now coming to the younger and much less scrutinised private tech companies and tech investment funds. These issues have been addressed (if not rectified) in the older industries, but the battleground is still very green in tech. This is why I am so pleased that leading women’s advocate and Wall Street veteran Janet Hanson has joined Style Counsel as an advisor.
Janet founded 85 Broads after she left Goldman Sachs to keep in touch with her female colleagues. The network then grew and grew to encompass 30,000 professional women around the world and, now called Ellevate, is led by another Wall Street titan Sallie Krawcheck. I first met Janet when I was a London Chapter Officer for 85 Broads and she has been my professional role model for years.
Why is it so important for a young tech start up like Style Counsel to have this finance veteran guide us? Because Janet has shattered the externally imposed glass ceiling and has also dispelled the myths women hold about themselves. Janet was trailblazing this journey years before Sheryl Sandberg told us to Lean In, and is both an inspiration and a realist. Janet once said: “women have to learn how to become better negotiators for themselves, which is hard to do. So they need to see other women doing that successfully.”
Janet said that her legacy “will be proving to women that investing in each other is the only way to go”. As a female founder building a product for the female consumer, I can say first hand – the more supporters we have in the bro-grammer world of tech, the better.
Yesterday, Rory Sutherland, one of the gods of advertising and behavioural economics evangelist gave a talk at Chicago Booth. To introduce him officially, Rory is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, co-founder of the group's behavioural proposition Ogilvy Change and contributor to The Spectator and Wired, as well as a TED speaker.
I first met Rory when I was a student at Chicago Booth and asked him to bring his defence of the irrational to the University of Chicago – an institution known for its strictly rational approach. Like any true intellectual, Rory embraced the challenge, and here are some snippets of what he said:
Last night, Austan Goolsbee, one of my favourite Chicago Booth professors and Omaba's former economics advisor discussed Brexit with Charles Grant, Centre for European Reform head, moderated by Amir Sufi, House of Debt author and Chicago Booth prof.
Here are some quick notes I made of what they said:
- if the UK votes to exit, I don't see how the euro can survive (Goolsbee)
- if Germany rebalanced its economy, that would give a breath of fresh air to the Eurozone economy (Grant)
- the Euro wouldn't fall to pieces if UK leaves because the political will from France and Germany is so strong, they will do whatever it takes to keep the euro (Grant)
- questions of identity are far harder to deal with than questions of interest. (Goolsbee)
- the government and serious economic thinkers are winning the economic argument, but immigration is the main argument of the Leave campaign (Grant)
- education, age and geography are the determinants for whether you are for or against Brexit (Grant)
- in the US, there is very little evidence that immigration has affected wage growth, but the public perception isn't that (Goolsbee)
- globalisation is not popular as a concept anywhere in Europe, but in the UK trade is popular with the common man, while immigration often isn't (Grant)
- one of the things that makes it easy to debate against Trump is that his rhetoric is so hateful, but in the UK are the arguments against immigration seen as intolerant? (Sufi) The more the Leave campaign gets intolerant, the better for Remain because voters won't be impressed (Grant).
- two most likely models, if we vote for Brexit: the Norway option or the Canada option. (Grant)
- if we Brexit, then the next two years will be chaos as companies don't know which option the UK will take. (Grant)
It has been said that we are living through a new industrial revolution. There are in fact many similarities – advances in technology are supplanting jobs (then: in textiles, now: in manufacturing), expanding new markets (then: new canals connected Britain, now: Richard Branson will take you to outer space) and bringing consumers delightful new products (then: the bicycle, now: the iPhone). However, the industrial revolution focused on the making of things: our ancestors made steam engines and iron ore. Today’s revolution is about bringing people together.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need to satisfy our physiological and safety needs before we can focus on the others, such as belonging and self-actualisation. The industrial revolution brought more and more people up the hierarchy and the last century gave our parents and grandparents new comforts: electric kettles, vacuum cleaners and Jacuzzis.
Now our bellies are full, houses warm and we can take indulgent bubble baths, we are looking for ways to share these delights.
Facebook, the giant social network, helps us show off and stay in touch with friends who would otherwise be lost. However, this social network is now too big to serve the purpose of belonging, so a myriad of others are popping up with the sole purpose of connecting people. Online dating services are an obvious example - in the US alone, the online dating market had revenues of $2bn in 2015). But dating is not the only reason why people are looking for ways to connect: sites such as Mumsnet and Behance have loyal and active members who identify with what the community stands for.
On average, we are on 5.5 social networks and this number is only going to rise, as digital natives - people who grew up with social media - come of age and gain disposable income. Memberships of social communities are now an integral part of our behaviour, both online and off, as shown by the wild popularity of the selfie stick. Some of these communities, such as Amazon reviewers, help us make decisions, others help reach our goals and yet others help us learn anything from coding to Persian poetry.
In 1764, the Spinning Jenny pushed us up a notch in the needs hierarchy and was the first spark in a great upheaval. Today’s inventions cater to our needs as social creatures, who need approval, seek advice and want a sense of belonging. The social network, in all its forms, is our generation’s Spinning Jenny.
In seven short days I will be graduating with an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Exciting though it may be, it is a moment of reflection as I am not the first of my family to run late to class through Hyde Park. 113 years ago, my great uncle Pavel Miluykov taught political science at The University of Chicago, shortly after his release from jail in Russia.
Just as Chicago Booth expects its professors to be leaders in business, so does the rest of this venerable institution. So, as a teacher of political science, my uncle got some very relevant experience as a rioter and political prisoner. Rebellion continued after his stint with the maroons: when he returned to Russia he took part in the February revolution which toppled Tsar Nicholas II and then served in the provisional government overseeing Russia’s terrible involvement in the First World War. Of course, all that came toppling down in just a few months when the Communists took over and things took a sad turn for him.
Exciting biography aside, as I prepare for graduation and pack my suitcase, I wonder what this intelligent and fearless man would have thought about an MBA graduation. Is business school too commercial and thus low brow for a real intellectual? Should I have been busy standing up for principles rather than learning accounting? Napoleon’s snide description of England as a nation of shopkeepers (as opposed to enlightened intellectual France) comes to mind here.
I admit that I have at times wondered whether deriving an equity beta carries the same higher meaning as getting an understanding of Oedipus. When that thought haunted me during our degree, I reminded myself that in our world economic value (= cash in your bank account) is awarded to finance, not ancient Greek tragedy.
However, as our studies went on and the course came to fit together like a finely crafted puzzle, I began to change my mind. A truly great business school teaches far more than maths tricks and management lingo. As a class, we have become better people as a result of our experience together. I do not know how Chicago Booth does this (especially across three continents) but the people who are graduating with me next week are more humble, thoughtful and open-minded than they were two years ago. This is definitely true of myself too.
As I pack my dress for graduation, I am not just grateful for the business concepts and excellent network that I gained. The strongest feeling of gratitude I have is for the opportunity I got to think about what I want the world to be and for the belief that the class of March 2016 can shape it that way.
January is often the month when many people make unrealistic resolutions, only to break them in a few weeks. This month could be the first step on a new path, but only as long as your roadmap is realistic and sustainable. If you want to pivot in your career, then a well thought-out marketing plan should be your first step.
Just like a company’s marketing plan, your plan must contain the same key elements and rigour. If you take your personal development as seriously as a successful company, it will pay off. As you prepare your plan, consider the following:
Your aims: The first priority of any plan is to be clear about what you aim to achieve. Do you want to get promoted in your current job? Find a new one? Go to business school? Start a company? Each of these aims requires a different strategy, so decide what you want first and then plan on how to get there.
Your product: The product here is you, and while it can be hard to honestly reflect on yourself versus the competition, this is necessary to understand how to position yourself. Brands do this to decide which customer they must address and how to reach them. This step requires research, but LinkedIn makes this easy. Find the people who are doing the work you want to do and see what they were doing when they were at the same stage in their career as you. If you are missing a component, such as a language or a qualification, you can begin to address the shortfall.
Timeframe: Once you know what you want and what gaps to fill in order to achieve it, you have to set yourself a realistic timeline. Make sure to have regular milestones. It is no use saying, “In five years I will start a company,” if you have no idea what you are going to do in the next six months. Publically listed companies report their results on a quarterly basis and you could do the same thing – either to yourself or to your close network.
Budget: Think about how much you are willing to invest in this, not only in monetary terms, but also in terms of time and energy. If you acknowledge that what you are aiming for is tough, such as getting into a top tier business school or starting a company, then you can decide whether you are prepared for the inevitable stress and sacrifices ahead.
The job market has changed to become more unstable than ever, but it also provides opportunities previous generations did not have. Treating your career development with the same rigorous approach as a NYSE listed company will not be easy, but it will have impact. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably not the type to take the easy path anyway.
This article was originally posted on Forbes.com
Last year, I started my MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and wrote here about why it is a better choice than studying in a full time programme. Full of enthusiasm, I said that you apply what you learn in class in your job, build your network and don’t have to give up an income while you study. A year has gone by and I am now in the middle of a very demanding programme and a very full time job. I am often asked if I would advise others to take the same path and the answer is nuanced. Working and studying full time has its benefits, but it is also very demanding. If you are thinking about this option, here are some points to consider:
Does your boss have an MBA? Doing an MBA and working full time will have an impact on your colleagues and your boss. You will have to take time off work to attend classes, which means that your colleagues will have to be accommodating to your needs. This will be a far easier process if your boss has an MBA and sees the value of the degree.
What do you want to get out of it? There will be times when all you want to do is relax in front of Netflix after a demanding day at work, but instead you will be sitting with your head in an accounting book or trying to figure out how to use your financial calculator. If you do not have a clear idea of why you need this degree, you are far more likely to decide it’s not worth it after all. You will have to give up friends’ parties, walks in the park and your hobbies. Make sure you really want this before you get on this road, otherwise you might end up doing an embarrassing and expensive U turn.
Remember you can’t have it all. You simply will not have enough hours in the day for work, study and life. This means that some things will not be done as well as they were before you started the MBA/work journey. Maybe you will be less healthy because you have no more time for the gym, maybe you will not get the most out of every lecture because you are tired. Don’t be disappointed if things are not perfect. You have to remember that sometimes just turning up is already winning half the battle.
What about your family? MBA courses are notorious for their divorce rates and have even been dubbed “divorce degrees” by some. If this is true for full time courses, where students have more free time, it is even more so for the Executive MBA. If you are in a relationship, plan what your life will be like on this journey with your partner. You will have less time and energy for your family, so make sure they are ready and supportive of your choice.
Be prepared for unexpected changes. The MBA should teach you more than just technical business skills, it should open you up to new opportunities and uncover talents and interests you did not know you had. This is an exciting and rewarding process, but it is also disruptive. Many Executive MBA students report going into the programme with one aim, which evolves to be something different. Maybe you will decide to leave your industry or move home. If you are starting a programme, don’t think that your attitude at the start will be the same when you graduate.
The Executive MBA is a great experience, which will give you skills, introduce you to new friends and open new career doors. However, it is not for the faint hearted and requires a serious long term commitment from you, your colleagues and your family. Make sure you’re prepared.
This post was originally posted on Forbes.com.
Years to build and moments to lose. What am I talking about? Your reputation of course. How others view us is one of the key reasons why we succeed or fail, both in our personal and professional lives. Perception is more important than reality because if no one knows that you predicted the economic crisis, this clairvoyance is irrelevant. While this is harsh but true, it is not difficult to build and maintain a reputation. A great reputation will help you achieve your goals, so here are some basic tips to get you started.
1) Decide who you want to be seen as. Are you the best technical specialist in your field? Or do you have a network that people could benefit from? It is better to focus on two to three key points than attempt to make the whole world love you. We all want that, but it is not realistic and attempting it is too time consuming. A good way to start is to think about whom you admire and pick the best qualities of your heroes. (My favourites are Larry Summers’s intellect, Bill Clinton’s charm and Jay Z’s commercial instinct).
2) Define your audience. Is it your peer group at work? Is it a community group? It could even be your family and friends. Once you know whom you are trying to target you can work out how to reach them.
3) Overcome the self-promotion dilemma. In his book “Power”, Stanford Business School professor Jeffrey Pfeffer says that while we need to advocate for ourselves, self-promoting behaviour can lead to people not liking you, or worse, not believing you. The solution he proposes is to get other people to tout your achievements. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues, recruiters and friends in high places to help you. Generally, if you ask nicely and give people clear instructions of what to say and to whom, people will be happy to help.
4) Take care of your appearance. This is not about being a supermodel, but about looking healthy and well groomed. In the age of marathon careers, demanding working hours and long haul work flights, you need to look like you can handle the pressures. Even academic studies back up the idea that grooming is used to signal our ambition and social position, and this study demonstrates that looking after one’s appearance can lead to higher earnings. A well put together outfit, neat hair and a good physique indicate that the individual has self-control and pays attention to detail.
5) Be proactive. Invest at least a couple of hours every week to enhance your reputation and build a body of evidence which establishes you as an expert in your chosen area. In the age of social media, this is not hard to do. You can start writing a regular blog, speaking at industry events and joining organisations which will help enhance your visibility. Even asking an intelligent question from the audience at an industry talk will get you noticed in the right way.
A good image cannot be based on PR alone and if you are establishing yourself as an expert, you do have to be very good in your chosen field. However, in a globalised competitive environment, no one can afford to be the world’s best kept secret. If you don’t highlight your achievements, someone else will highlight theirs and beat you to the finish line. And surely you’re too clever to let that happen.
This article was originally posted on Forbes.com
THIS IS A REPOST FROM JAN 2014. The original post was accidentally erased when my site migrated.
The Christmas break has just come to an end and there is a general feeling of the January blues. Everybody is detoxing, threatening to behave themselves and signing up for the gym. I also have a case of the January blues, but not because I don’t like my job (I love it!) and I am certainly not giving up tasty treats. I have the January blues because Crisis for Christmas is closed until December 2014.
I volunteered at a Crisis day shelter for homeless people this Christmas break and it is the best thing I have ever done. The shifts were eight hours each. They were hard work. I spent one of my shifts in the kitchen, serving breakfast and lunch. Combined, we served around 500 meals, after that I mopped the floors. It was exhausting. However, I got so much more than I put in. Here is why:
I was needed. In a society where it is fashionable to be afraid of commitment and constantly proclaim independence, it was a refreshing feeling to be needed by human beings. Being needed by another person, even if you barely know them, gives you a reason to exist. Knowing that you do something that is needed by another human being justifies your place in the world.
I got the best gift I have ever received. A guest named Zachariah drew a portrait of me. I got a gift from a man who had nothing. This is a poor man, who came to the shelter for food, warmth and company, because these things are lacking in his life. Yet, he still had enough tenderness in his heart to give a gift to another person. Even when you think you have nothing to give, you are wrong. Do something, make something, give your warmth – you will feel richer.
I know the people I helped. I have given money to charities before, but having contact with the people you are helping does not compare. You make connections. You see the gratitude. The odd thing is that the more gratitude you see, the more you think that you are not worthy of it. The warmth you get is totally disproportionate to what you give, which only makes you want to give more. This was an interesting lesson.
All these things came as a total surprise to me. I am not a hemp wearing do gooder, but a red blooded capitalist. However, when it comes to the big issues, these labels are just that – labels. It was a gift to be reminded of our common humanity.
Now that the centre is closed and normal life has resumed, I cannot help feeling a certain emptiness. Being needed and serving others give you the warmest feeling in the world.
This August, the Chicago Booth Executive MBA class finished its first quarter. Already, so much has changed and while I can’t claim to be a different person, there have definitely been some tectonic shifts in the way I think and approach things. We still have 13 weeks stretched over one and a half years left and if this pace of change continues, I wonder what we will be like when we go to Chicago to graduate in March 2016. Cleverer? Yes. But what else?
The first quarter has given me a strong dose of humility: I have admittedly been quite used to feeling rather impressed with myself, however being in a class with people who manage international hedge funds at the age of 34 or have Computer Science PhDs has taken me down a peg or two. This could be construed negatively, but I think it isn’t – these people open up the realms of possibility and inspire one to reach for greater heights. The world is no longer enough.
Another positive is that my memory and analytical ability have improved. I became curious about this phenomenon and did a little investigation – apparently this is normal and is a result of something called neuroplasticity. This basically means that our brains are pliable throughout our lifetimes and can develop new abilities. Learning new skills, such as a language, a musical instrument or doing maths, is a brain training technique which helps to increase intelligence. Since I arrived at this highly analytical programme from a media background, I am probably one of the first to feel this effect. By the time the Statistics and Financial Accounting courses are done, I expect many more of my classmates will. (For more info, read this book).
So far, balancing studies with work and life has been very challenging for us all. Some things have had to give. A former gym bunny, I now look down at the pavement whenever I bump into one of the trainers on the street. General impatience has also sometimes reared its ugly head and I have eaten far too much chocolate in the last three months. I began wondering if I was turning into the Incredible Hulk and was thrilled to read that many of us probably are! One of our assigned readings is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. In it, he talks about the fast System 1, which “operates automatically and quickly, with little sense of voluntary control,” and the slow System 2, which “allocates attention to effortful mental activities.” Kahneman says that when our System 2 is busy working on hard tasks which require self-control, like microeconomics, our System 1 runs riot! He says “people who are cognitively busy are also more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language, and make superficial judgements in social situations.” In other words, when we are already making an effort with a hard task, it is much harder to control our impulses. You have been warned.
Next time we meet, our year of 250 students will be split between three “home” campuses: Chicago, London and Hong Kong. I have heard that from next quarter, our studies are going to get very tough indeed (in fact, a friend called next week’s Financial Accounting and Statistics syllabus “sadistic”). However, aside from the studies, I remain more curious than ever how we will change as people. As always, until next time.