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Symposium Day Four: Disruptive Innovation

The final day of the Cass MBA London Symposium continued at the Museum of London.

The fourth and final day of the Cass MBA London Symposium was held at the Museum of London, with talks from Vernon Hill, Faisal Galaria, Mark Sherwin and David Phillips.

In the afternoon, students also enjoyed site visits to the Royal Opera House, BNY Mellon, Central St Martins, Metrobank and Moody’s.

The morning began with a lively and humorous talk from Metrobank’s founder and Chairman, Vernon Hill.

His talk, “Fans Not Customers” explored why the model of the American community bank was a success and why, despite being in the midst of a financial crisis, the British public readily welcomed a new bank.

“We’re a retailer that just happens to be in banking. Our stores are as ‘non-bank’ as banks can be.”

Recalling his earlier success with Commerce Bank in the USA, Hill was adamant retail banking was all about the ‘retail’ and less about the ‘banking’. He said, “Customers care more about the experience than the price. You don’t buy an iPhone 6 because it’s cheap, you buy it because you’re buying the Apple experience.” 

Vernon Hill was determined to bring his successful business model to Britain. “Everything we did in America worked better in the UK – except ATMs! We put them in nice, warm atriums - out of the weather - but you Brits prefer to stand in the cold and rain to get your money.”

Joking aside, Hill did not hide the fact that he believes the old big banks are antiquated and out of touch.

“The big five banks are too broken to be fixed. Traditionally, British banks were set up in the 18th century to serve the government not the community. Today, there this attitude among the big banks of ‘we’re doing you a favour by letting you bank with us’. In America there are thousands of banks that were built to serve the local community and we continue to use this model at Metrobank.

“We’re building fans not customers. Your brand is who you are, what you are and what your customers expect. Great brands create great market value in any business, and if we can turn the mundane, low-growth business of retail banking into high-growth, exciting high-return business, there should no business where you can’t do the same.”

Next was Faisal Galaria, founder and CEO of W!ldBrain and former VP of Spotify, whose talk was entitled, “When to Bet on Yourself.”

Galaria has worked for an amazing array of traditional business, but he found fulfilment in the risky world of internet start-ups with the likes of Skype and Spotify.

Galaria believes that the path to being extraordinary is to not do what everyone else does.

He said: “Twelve years ago, trying to explain to my family and friends that I was leaving Ofcom to help build a company that allowed people to talk into their computers was laughable. However, I wanted to be on the other side of the table, discussing the future of VoIP and building the company. So I took a job at Skype. I was employee number 13.”

Galaria is a firm believer of knowing when to bet on yourself. “Building a start-up was great. It afforded me opportunities. It was a job without description and I was on a quarter of the salary I’d earned as a Management Consultant. But when I thought about it, I was convinced that these guys [Skype] were going to do what they said they were going to do, and connect the World, albeit through laptops in the beginning, and for the first time in history time and distance would bear no impact on the telephone call. I couldn’t sit there. So I took a chance.”

He challenged those willing to embark on the entrepreneurial journey to feel the disturbance and embrace differences. “Where there is risk there is reward.”

Third on stage was Mark Sherwin, a Cass Executive MBA alumnus and Managing Director of Accenture Interactive. His talk on “Digital by Design” focused on the breakneck pace of digitalisation and how Accenture successfully adapted their strategy with the formation of Accenture Digital in 2014.

“No business is too big to fail or too small to succeed,” Sherwin began. “Digital is changing all aspects of our lives – it is a radical disruption. In one minute, 2.4bn people are connected to the internet and the number of connected devices and items will only proliferate.”

Sherwin believes that no one is safe from digital disruption – “Even regulated industries think they’re protected – that they’re safe. These smart, new disruptive forces will find ways to break into your model and work around that regulation…it’s not a protection in this environment.”

“We don’t pay our utilities bills as a family, all seated happily around the laptop. The market is mobile, social, always on and time poor.” 

But what does it mean to be digital by design?

“It means you need to be digitally transformational. Business, operational and digital strategies will be created and developed in synergy with each other and the business will always be customer centric.” This is in direct opposition to more traditional models where the digital strategy was often an afterthought. 

He continued: “The same basic business principles still apply. However, the process of innovation has to be about failure more than success. Fail fast but learn from your mistakes! Start small, think big, act quickly!”

The day’s lectures were closed by David Phillips, a Partner at SR One, GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) independent corporate healthcare venture capital fund.

His talk, “The Role of Corporate Venture in Financing Innovation” focused on how SR One helped facilitate GSK’s relationships with the venture capital community in Britain. 

After 16 years at GSK, Phillips joined a fledgling chemistry services company based in Cambridge. “I was employee number seven and it was an adrenaline scramble.” After building that start-up into a successful business, he returned to GSK in 2008 to concentrate on financing innovation in the pharmaceuticals industry.

He said: “Our focus is on health care and biotechnologies. We identify market opportunities and unmet needs, in which to create companies or drive investments.

“Being at SR One is great. We invest in early stage companies and only in innovative technology. The amount of science I see – sometimes several years out – is amazing. I love my job!”

The Symposium is an elective element of the MBA course, and brings together more than 100 students from Cass's Full Time, Executive and Dubai Executive programmes and guests MBAs from partner schools.

If you feel inspired to be take your career to the next level, read more about the Cass MBA programmes here:

Read about Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 of the Cass London Symposium.

You can follow the Symposium using the hashtag #CASSLS2015

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