Archive | June, 2012

Brian Cox at the University of Manchester – 21/6/2012

28 Jun

ImageOK, so it’s stretching a point to say this was an event I’m closely involved in. I should make that clear from the outset. But I am on the board of the University of Manchester Alumni Association, which is a fine body of graduates from the University who guide a diligent executive team. The centrepiece event of our year is the annual Cockford-Rutherford lecture, which this year was delivered by Professor Brian Cox, the former pop star turned pop scientist. Pictured is my friend Janine Watson, the chair of the Alumni this year, conducting the vote for thanks for Brian.

A blog called Helen’s Guide to the Galaxy has written a review of Brian Cox’s talk, a Scientist in the Media. But this post isn’t about that, it’s more about what the lecture represented.

Follow the link to see Brian Cox delivering the Cockford Rutherford lecture, with a gallery of images, and more.

Last year, when I was wondering where I could take my career, my life, my passion for events, my desire to promote learning and discourse in the North of England, I attended the same lecture when it was given by Nobel prize winning scientist Andrew Geim, who spoke about Graphene. I looked around at the packed lecture hall, aware that another room upstairs was also full of people watching a video of the speech. This was where the passion for ideas and for learning was. People from all over the country flocking back to Manchester to hear a physicist – one of the world’s greatest – but a physicist, talking about the creation of a new material.

I was as convinced then as I am now of a latent and undimmed desire for ideas and knowledge and for events that can feed that desire. That’s why I’m doing what I do now. Think More. Where great minds meet.


It’s Only a Game?- 19/6/2012

19 Jun
Downtown Preston Football debate

Downtown Preston Football debate, Richard Flash. Rob Heys, John Booth, Michael Taylor and Daniel Milnes.

This was a breakfast event at Preston North End Football Club as part of Downtown Lancashire’s Business Week.

The brief was to talk about football, but not about the actual game. Football has become a unique industry with an unparalleled global appeal. The business of football however is complex, yielding billions, yet harbouring astronomical debts. Team loyalty remains a constant despite a fluctuating league table and sales of team merchandise are at an all time high…

My job was to ask the experts about the current state of what essentially is a social pastime… or is it?

I chaired a panel debate and tried to suppress all my latent anger and despair about how my football cub has been pillaged by Venky’s. We had a terrific burst of common sense from the panel – Daniel Milnes from Forbes, Rob Heys from Accrington Stanley, Richard Flash from UCFB, the new university of football at Burnley Football Club and John Booth from Sports Global, who made some timely comments about the scale of the football industry beyond the Premier League.

We ended up going way over the time allocated as everyone seemed to be enjoying it so much.

Partnership with Journey9

19 Jun

The news is here that I’ve entered into a partnership with marketing and events company Journey9 to collaborate on creating events and developing new ways of getting people to Think More. Obviously I’m delighted, but wait until you see some of the events we’ve got planned. That’s the time to be excited.

Learning Journey event video

18 Jun

I’ve been reluctant to post videos on here as they often don’t get across the mood and ambience of an event. This one does. It’s been put together by Anna and Becky from WPTV and was shot at the Learning Journey event at Manchester Airport in May.

Allan Leighton – “always remember the think” MBS 30/5/12

5 Jun
Allan Leighton at MBS, pic by James Maddox

Allan Leighton at MBS, pic by James Maddox

I’ve always wanted to meet Allan Leighton and after moderating a lively Q&A for him at the end of the final Vital Topics lecture of the 2012 series, I wasn’t disappointed. He is a charismatic and fiercely bright leader, but he’s also full of common sense and plain speaking.

We had a good chat before the lecture about a few things that were of interest that I sensed he wouldn’t touch on his speech – his politics, his relationship with Rupert Murdoch (he’s been a director of BSkyB) and what may be off limits. In shot, he was cool about all of that.

His excellent talk spanned some key points in his career, but also drew on many of themes in his excellent book Tough Calls. I’ll add a link to the video interview he did beforehand with my friend Jim Pendrill.

He started by questioning the brand name behind him – Great Minds Think Alike – something we’d talked about earlier – I’d already Googled the full quote – but fools seldom differ, which puts a new spin on it. The conversation also came about as I’d asked him if he liked my new brand – Think More – which he said he did.

Part of his lecture style was to engage and interact as he went. So when it came to the Q&A he had built up an empathy with the audience. The questions came thick and fast and the challenge was not to fill the time, but to manage it with different types of questions from a wider range than the nosey journalists at the front (me included).

I asked him what it was like working with Rupert Murdoch. He told a fantastic story about getting the call from Murdoch and asking for a meeting in London the next day. As the boss of Asda he was actually due to be at a store in Hull. Murdoch flew to Hull to meet him there, showing Allan how wanted he was. Murdoch also caused all kinds of panic for the team back at Wapping when he found out the store ran out of copies of The Sun.

It’s these anecdotes and stories that you have to tease out sometimes. It proved the benefit of arriving early and spending time talking. As I liked him I also plugged his book and am delighted to hear that it sold out. He signed my copy – “always remember the think”.

These lectures have been a delight. And it was a real touch of class by Professor Michael Luger, dean of the school, to thank his events manager Helen Power so profusely afterwards. These events don’t happen by accident and she’s played an important (and often unseen) role in creating a unique sense of purpose around them.


Interviewing Dr Herbert Loebl 29/5/2012

2 Jun

Dr Herbert Loebl

A few weeks ago I was offered the exciting prospect of interviewing Dr Herbert Loebl at a business event in Newcastle. A legend of the industrial North East, Herbert is much loved and revered by colleagues and associates at Newcastle University Business School.

Now 89 years of age, Dr Loebl founded Joyce, Loebl and Co with Robert Joyce, a fellow graduate in electrical engineering from King’s College, Newcastle (now Newcastle University) and the son of an unemployed Jarrow shipyard worker. Together, Joyce and Loebl started their first company, specialising in electronics and scientific instruments, under a railway arch in Newcastle in 1951 with £200 worth of capital.

Today, there are four companies in the region that grew from the original Joyce, Loebl and Co: Loebl; Sevcon, of Team Valley; Applied Imaging, based at Times Square, Newcastle; and Phasor, based at Sunderland Enterprise Park.

As Herbert is 89 and a little hard of hearing, the format presented some challenges, but I was determined to make it work.

The logistics of getting him there were thoroughly investigated by Claire Turnbull and Lynda Craig from Insider’s fantastic events team – wheelchair access, taxis and seating for example. The breakfast was staged at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle, an art gallery and venue and the staff there were terrific.

Before that however I needed to meet Herbert and understand how I could make the stagecraft work. Two weeks beforehand I went for tea with him at his gorgeous house in Gosforth, a smart suburb of Newcastle. I let him talk and worked a few things out. He has a terrific sense of humour and a real charisma, and this was essential to convey. Getting him to speak, especially if he was nervous or unsure, would fall flat, so I talked through some of his life’s highlights with him and had some ideas of how we could make this work.

My idea was to read three extracts from his autobiography – and then ask him for a recollection after each one. I got agreement from his carers – the people who know him best – and sent him the three extracts with the follow-on question. One was about his escape from Nazi Germany, another was about electric cars, the final one was about the ambition of businesses in the industrial North East to export.

It all went really well. He came very prepared, as you’d expect from an experienced engineer, and added some flourishes. What pleased me most though was the esteem and hushed respect people had for him. This was exemplified by the way the other panel members in the discussion that followed kept referring back to the points he had made.

I feel very strongly that we have to respect the views and experiences from the past. Sometimes it is hard work and to do so is inconvenient. This was proof that it’s always worth thinking differently and taking a risk.

The coverage of the event is here, and here.