Archive | April, 2012

Talk of Manchester 26/4/2012

28 Apr

Introducing the panel at the Talk of Manchester by Michael de Paola

This was a new event, the brainchild of entrepreneur Paul Kilroe, which was designed to give delegates a good day out and nourish them with a diet of inspiration and amusement. Quite a few people I spoke to beforehand thought the choice of speakers and panellists and was “predictable” and “the usual suspects”. That’s a harsh view, to my mind, especially as Paul was seeking to put the best possible show on and to attract people who don’t normally get out and go to networking events. To serve them properly, you get the best.

It was indeed an honour to share a stage at an event with two people I have described as the best at what they do. My good friend Michael Finnigan is the best motivational speaker and coach I’ve seen. His delivery, his passion and his storytelling ability creates a performance that takes you on an amazing roller coaster. On this day he was the best I’ve ever seen him, he’s got something of the Michael McIntyre to his act now, but is just as nailed on with his core message.

I said back in September 2007 that Michelle Mone was the best business speaker I’ve seen. That was a long time ago, but she’s still brilliant. Phil Jones sums it up really well here.

So, to my role. Paul asked if I’d “do the Dimbleby role” during the Question Time session. The panel were first rate business people, each with a story to tell and, vitally, an opinion to give. In their own way they are also mavericks and individuals. Phil Jones, Jennie Johnson, Marc Duchenes, Gary Chaplin and the one guy I knew less well, Tim Bacon of Living Ventures.

It was important to get the best out of everyone and we prepared by having dinner together on Tuesday night. I discovered a few things about each of them I didn’t know before, and was therefore keen to draw these core themes out. Tim in particular has built up two successful restaurant businesses by watching customer behaviour really closely. He also fosters incredible loyalty from his high performers. Gary Chaplin has his own story – he was slaughtered in the press for an email he sent to a spammer looking for a job – which cost him his job, but gave him the opportunity to rebuild his reputation.

He and Jennie had differences of opinion on diversity and on shortlists for board level jobs, I was keen to emphasise this and encourage debate. Phil Jones is always brilliant on leadership and consumer technology trends. Marc has a wild and enquiring mind I was keen to provoke.

The questions I therefore chose to direct to the panel were done so with this in mind. I didn’t want a free for all – I need to control the pace and not leave anything to chance. Awkward silences can kill an atmosphere. I also insisted on controlling the microphones and walking amongst the 240 plus crowd. It stops nutters going on too long and it provides intimacy with a large audience. I also am prepared to cut off the panellists if they’re being repetitive and overly consensual.

Gary Chaplin has written a blog on the day here. Lots of great comments underneath too.

It was also great to hand back to Vince Miller, the compere for the day, an old-school pro and a really lovely man. All in all, I was really pleased with my hour, proud to take part in a terrific event, and the feedback has been superb. And here’s a thing: I know a lot of people and go to a lot of events, but this was a new crowd, there were fresh faces and therefore different reactions.


Stephen Hester at Manchester Business School 25/4/2012

25 Apr
Stephen Hester lecture

Moderating the Q&A at the Stephen Hester lecture

Introducing Stephen Hester at Manchester Business School pics by James Maddox

It’s a privilege to introduce and converse with a big hitter. And in the context of the UK economy, there is no bigger story than Stephen Hester  coming to town. The chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, came to Manchester and delivered the first of the Vital Topics lectures in the 2012 programme at Manchester Business School.

You can read the story around his speech here from the Guardian, which was actually a preview inteview. And here is the coverage in Insider this morning.

My job was twofold, to introduce him to the 280 or so guests and then to chair the Q&A session after his 35 minute talk. The lecture had already been moved to a larger theatre as the event was a complete sell out. Expectation was therefore high. So too was a slight fear that the session would be dominated by mudslinging over his bonus.

In my introduction I mentioned that all of us can remember the fear, the uncertainty and the dread of October 2008. None of us knew what lay ahead. None of us however, took the call that he did and stepped up to the plate to lead the long hard recovery of RBS, which we must remember is an important part of the North West economy as banker to 51 per cent of companies in the region. I did so as it was a way of creating empathy that he is so much more than this banking bloke who gets a rotten press. He is in the midst of a turnaround. Fortunately, he chose to build on that in his lecture, and he also mentioned how important RBS is. He also attacked the “commentariat” who give him and his colleagues little credit and continually snipe.

For the Q&A I had a stack of my own questions based on research of his 5 year plan, what he’s been doing and the perception of RBS in UK businesses. I also had about a dozen questions supplied by the audience in advance. I was keen to introduce subjects he’d usefully comment on  – like bonuses in the financial sector, and political influence – but also to respect the businesses in the audience and address their points of concern. The first question was therefore one I chose from a corporate financier about credit policy. I know, it sounds boring, but it set a tone about where I wanted the conversation. I then threw it open and got some good questions, which he answered very clearly. We got through about 5 questions, and with an eye on the clock I asked one of my own questions directly to him. This was about the ability of RBS to support British business overseas as RBS sells off non-domestic businesses. We finished on time as I handed over to Professor Michael Luger to propose the vote of thanks and to present him with a gift.

We then retired to a local restaurant for a private dinner where the conversation really spiced up. But that would be telling.

The pics of the event are also on a Picasa site here by photographer James Maddox.

Business North West – day one

17 Apr

Gareth Burton and Michael Taylor at Business North West

The Business North West exhibition has arrived in Manchester today. Insider has arranged to be a media partner of the event and these partnerships are always about making a contribution that adds value.

With that in mind I agreed to programme and present three short sessions in an area of the event called the Insider Innovation Zone.

The first one was brilliant – but that brilliance had little to do with me. It basically involved me and Gareth Burton leading a discussion on our recent Learning Journey to Silicon Valley. The best speakers at events, the best talkers, the ones you remember are rarely the slick and polished power point salesmen. No, they are the ‘from-the-heart’ tell it straight, honest storytellers. If you read any of the accounts from our trip that passion burns through. So it did with Gareth today – the lessons he learned, the funny moments as well as the serious pieces of analysis.

Post event mingling at Business North West

The second session at 5.35 saw five really good, very senior, corporate finance guys explain how much money they have to invest. I’ve worked with all of them on panels and conferences before and they are all funny, wise, smart and knowledgeable. What could go wrong. Honestly? The audience was a little below their investment levels, I think. The questions were basic and some even a touch naive. Nothing wrong with that, these guys have to talk to all kinds of businesses, it’s how they make their returns. But I would guess the most productive discussions came at the end – where the serious entrepreneurs could have an intimate one-to-one chat. That’s how it works sometimes and that’s why I wrapped things up with 10 minutes to spare.


The Talk of Manchester – coming soon

10 Apr

A lot of the more successful business and corporate events in the North West have the official backing of a media title. Sometimes it is a publication itself that is staging the event. On other occasions, the publication is a media ‘partner’. In either situation, publicity is guaranteed in at least one title, because it has a vested interest.

There’s an event coming up soon called the Talk of Manchester which doesn’t have a media partner and so it’s interesting exercise in event promotion to see how it has promoted itself and sold tickets without relying on that kind of relationship.

The line-up certainly helps. Excellent speakers like Michael Finnigan (pictured above, right) and Michelle Mone have a broad appeal and, media partner or not, journalists do want to speak to them. The Talk of Manchester team has made the most of this and interviews with Michelle in particular have acted as important pre-publicity for the event.

Tickets have been sold on the back of the subsequent press coverage, but it’s in social media, away from the printed page, that the event has really made a name for itself. It quickly built up a twitter following and the organisers have encouraged conversation on its own Linkedin pages and by reaching out to other relevant Linkedin groups that interest the North West business community.

Extending its reach further, The Talk of Manchester has attracted the support of a whole range of online influencers. It has featured in personal and business blogs (this is another!) and on the websites of some of the region’s most influential networking groups. It regularly appears in these groups’ twitter streams too.

And, going back to the quality of the line-up, the individual members of the Question Time panel are playing a big role in the build-up. Phil Jones, Marc Duschenes, Jennie Johnson, Tim Bacon and Gary Chaplin will all feature on the panel and the fact that most of them have tweeted that news to their long list of followers will have really helped spread the message about the event.

I’m hosting the Question Time panel on the day and I’m told there are still a few tickets left. If you visit you can find out more.

Inside City: CSR – 30/3/2012

1 Apr


Manchester City Football Club may be making a hash of their bid to land the Premier League title, but make no mistake, behind the scenes the club are working hard at building a global brand and a global supporter base befitting a winning culture.

I hosted an event for City in the Community, introducing the managing director Sarah Lynch and the delivery executive Mike Green. The audience were business people connected with City and third sector executives who work with the club in the delivery of social programmes. Sarah speaks four languages, so can converse with Uwe Rosler, Patrick Vieira and Roberto Mancini as well as Adam Johnson.

It was a straightforward event to do and really good to work with professionals like Sarah and Mike who are energised by what they are doing. 

Northern Ireland Business of Finance – 29/3/2012

1 Apr

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is pictured with Michael Taylor, Director of Insider Media.

The ambition of the Business of Finance conference in Belfast’s Europa Hotel was to bring together investors with local businesses and their advisers. To do so, the content of the morning would feature an eclectic mix: three different sized businesses from Northern Ireland with funding stories to tell; Graham Hallworth, a friend of mine and a proper heavyweight entrepreneur from the North of England; a good mix of different funders; and a strong inspiring opening from no less a figure than Arlene Foster, the enterprise minister of Northern Ireland (above).

I have to say that each speaker was first rate. They all projected a unique message that will have given the 120 or so paying customers some insights into the changing world of raising finance for their business. I did a relaxed interview with two entrepreneurs, Michael Black and Grainne Kelly, and was fortunate they were very expansive and revealing. My judgement prior to the event was that both would have responded better to this format than giving a presentation. Equally, Eoin Lambkin, one of our other speakers, thrives in an environment where he controls the messages. I knew that Graham Hallworth would deliver, he always does.

I’ve been let down by politicians before so was particularly pleased at how well minister Arlene Foster MLA performed. I appreciated that Invest NI, the business agency, saved an announcement for the day which got good coverage in the next day’s Belfast Telegraph.  Due to the security situation we weren’t able to publicise her appearance, but she was a real pleasure to work with.

In the final panel session we had some spark debate between four different funders – all private equity, but from slightly different parts of the market. They disagreed on a few points, which was good. My job, as chair, is to allow debate to flow and to think how their disagreements add to the understanding of finance, not just to stir things up. The questions weren’t exactly free flowing at the end, but often that’s the case when the panel seem so good and project such authority. There is nothing worse than a stupid question to bore everyone else – rather no questions – I’ll always have a stack I have prepared earlier.

This was a great day. The dinner afterwards and the experience of being in a city that is so determined to build a bright future after the dark days of its recent past.