Iain graduated in law but his first job was at Harrods, followed by a stint in PR at Shandwick before moving to Habitat where he ended up as Head of Comms and Marketing Director, working alongside fellow Mandrake speaker Terence Conran and future M&S boss Vittorio Radice. After Habitat came a comms role at MTV and then a few years back on the agency side of the fence at Imagination.
In 2002 he was the surprise non-retailer choice to head up Liberty plc. In his six years at the helm he successfully restored what was a basket case retail brand back to its former position as a globally recognised style innovator and London’s leading fashion and design emporium. Today Iain chairs Eco Age, the fashion and brand consultancy which boasts Colin Firth’s wife Livia as its creative director and whose stated aim is to help global brands ‘achieve growth by adding value through sustainability’.
Andrew writes regular columns in The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and New Statesman and makes frequent appearances on television and radio. As the go-to man for British humanism Andrew has also found himself advising government and business in this country, as well as the Council of Europe and the United Nations.
After Classics and Ancient & Modern History at Oxford Andrew cut his campaigning teeth at The Citizenship Foundation, where he worked on a programme helping young people develop political literacy. He joined the staff of the BHA in 2005 and after five years co-ordinating education and public affairs work he became the organisation’s youngest-ever Chief Executive, at the tender age of thirty.
Mandrake members were treated to a whistle-stop tour of humanism and its relevance to business today. There was practical advice too: one audience member explained how he’d just realised he was a humanist so felt silly going to church every week. Andrew’s advice was to keep going to church – but maybe to club together with his like-minded friends and buy the church, so he doesn’t have to feel silly… No point wasting a beautiful building, after all.
It was stimulating, thought-provoking and about as far from a night in front of Eastenders as you can get: in other words classic Mandrake.
Republic was founded in 1983 and is currently the only organisation in the country campaigning full-time for the abolition of the British monarchy and its replacement with a directly-elected head of state. This lone status may be because it’s a dangerous business to be in: believe it or not, advocacy of the replacement of the monarchy by a republic remains a criminal act in the UK and is (in theory at least) punishable by imprisonment.
Graham Smith joined Republic in 1990 and has been Chief Executive of the organisation since 2005. He writes a regular column in the Guardian newspaper and makes frequent TV appearances, during which he argues that the monarchy is bad for our democracy and, contrary to what he says is popular myth, bad for business too. He clearly believes that his organisation will succeed in its ultimate aim – but he’s not putting a date on that event. And he’s not going to change to heavier-handed tactics: ‘we’re not going to be blowing up Buckingham Palace any time soon’ he said, to the presumed relief of the monarchists in his audience.
Business is booming for Graham right now, with membership revenue up 50% last year and continuing to grow. He thinks there are a lot more republicans out there than the 20% of the population who currently own up to it, and he’s relishing the prospect of having the resources to be able to reach those people in the months and years ahead. It was a stimulating debate and – as far as I’m aware – no-one was arrested as they left the event.
Alistair spent the first twenty years of his career in commercial property, handling deals like the acquisition of Canary Wharf headquarters buildings for Texaco and Readers Digest, and the pre-leasing of 750,000 square feet of space to Cisco in what was at the time the biggest deal of its kind ever to be agreed outside central London. In 2006 he was appointed head of commercial property for Knight Frank and in 2013 he became group chairman.
Alistair treated his audience to a whistle-stop summary of what’s happening in all the key property market sectors right now: he reported that residential in prime central London is mad, probably unsustainable and increasingly politically sensitive, commercial is surging in prime city centres too, retail is healthy in primary locations but dead or dying in secondary locations, while the real opportunity (Alistair believes) lies in distribution: big sheds in the country are going to be more important than ever before as the internet continues to change the way we shop.
Clearly an estate agent with a social conscience, Alistair opined that the country sorely needs a politically-driven affordable social housing plan, as well as reform of the stamp duty and council tax systems. Can’t he do something to make it happen? ‘Our lobbying influence is weak: the government doesn’t take estate agents seriously’ said this clearly very credible estate agent. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who had the feeling that Alistair might be the man to change that attitude: you heard it here first…
Simon spent most of his career in technology: one of his first jobs was working on the creation of the UK’s first commercial email system and he’s had several tech businesses of his own including a now-publicly-listed mobile payments business with offices all over the world. He took to beekeeping a few years ago as an antidote to all that tech, but you can’t keep a good entrepreneur down and before long he started to make skincare products using the honey and beeswax he collected from his bees. Fast forward to today and Simon’s ‘Bee Good’ brand is listed in Waitrose and other major retailers and has won a raft of industry and consumer awards.
Simon took his audience on a whistle-stop tour of the world of beekeeping, touching on subjects as diverse as the mysteries of propolis, the activities of the young beekeepers of the Czech Republic and the part his business is playing in the revival of commercial beekeeping in the UK. He spent some time talking about how bees are crucial to the food security of the country and what he thinks is causing the decline in the bee population today (in a word, neonicotinoids), and to the dismay of the manuka-buying members of his audience he explained how curious it is that the UK imports around 2,000 tonnes of the eye-wateringly expensive Kiwi delicacy every year when New Zealand’s entire annual production only amounts to some 1,600 tonnes…
Bees and entrepreneurialism: the perfect pairing.
Joanne learned her trade in a long early career at Marks & Spencer, where she worked in a range of roles including trading and change management. After taking an MBA she chanced across the Institute of Grocery Distribution: then a practically moribund organisation with a long (ninety years plus at that point) history of training people in the food and grocery sector. Over her sixteen years as Chief Executive at the IGD Joanne has transformed the organisation into something genuinely unique: financially independent and therefore neutral, trusted by the world’s leading food and fmcg businesses and governments alike and with a unique remit to ‘square the triangle’ as Joanne put it, where the triangle comprises the food industry, the government and of course the consumer.
Joanne’s theme was that change is coming: in fact we’re on the verge of nothing less than a revolution in grocery retailing, and the grocery establishment knows the revolution is coming. A lively Q&A session showed that Joanne’s audience were as passionate about the sector as she clearly is.
Paul’s had ‘a diverse career’, to quote counsel at the Leveson Enquiry (in front of which he was hauled for publishing a draft of Alastair Campbell’s evidence before Campbell had even given it). Active in student politics, he then spent the tail end of the Cold War (in his words) ‘chasing round Angola and Central America firing off AK-47s’. Next came rave organising, professional blackjack playing, futures broking, bond dealing and managing hedge funds in Hong Kong and Tokyo, before founding Guido Fawkes in 2004.
Now compulsive reading for everyone in the ‘Westminster Bubble’ from David Cameron downwards, Guido Fawkes has won a reputation for breaking big political scandals and delivering relentlessly mocking, right-up-to-the-minute political gossip. Paul also writes a weekly column in The Sun, pens occasional pieces in The Times and The Spectator and in his spare time founded and runs a digital advertising agency counting among its clients the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson’s 2012 mayoral campaign and the Russian Government.
Paul’s account of the early days of Guido was hilarious, evoking images of him freshly post-bankruptcy, sitting on his sofa in his dressing gown, trying to ignore the builders working around him and repeatedly punching the ‘refresh’ button to see if anyone had posted a comment on his nascent blog. Two key developments got him off the sofa and on his way: one was a front-page story in the Standard (which delivered thousands of regular readers to Guido Fawkes literally overnight) and the other was realising that if he did the media sales for his competitors as well as himself, he could make a decent living. The advertising agency which grew out of that realisation is thriving today, as is Guido, with daily readership well into six figures.
Paul recounted how the mainstream press savaged him the day after Guido’s high profile tenth anniversary party recently, saying how the ‘maverick’ had sold out, become part of the establishment he so despised. He didn’t care: that morning he felt a satisfyingly long way away from that bankrupt on the sofa.
You really couldn’t make this stuff up.
Brian delivered a whistle-stop tour of his early career, which in its early stages included his being the unwitting recipient of a number of post-buyout redundancies. It didn’t take him long to realise the best way to stop this happening again was to be the person driving the buyout, and he’s successfully followed this route ever since.
After selling Gala Bingo for a handsome profit in 2003 Brian retired, only to find himself climbing the walls just three months later. A contact suggested he talk to 888 Holdings, who were just about to go public, and he became an independent NED for the business. By 2011 things were looking tough: the US government had decided yet again to throw out online gaming companies and profits were down to just $28m for the year, with a $36m earn-out payment waiting in the wings. The company’s founders asked Brian to step up as CEO.
Five years later and 888 has been completely re-engineered by Brian and his two trusted lieutenants, his COO and CFO. It’s less a gaming business these days than a technology business: proprietary software allows 888 to calculate a customer’s lifetime value to within 5% accuracy while they’re actually in the process of completing their account application: from then on it’s a simple matter of firing marketing communications at the customer to ease their lifetime value northwards.
Brian made it sound like child’s play: it’s nothing of the kind of course and it takes a special kind of person to thrive in this most cut-throat of sectors. Regulation and taxation are the two things that keep Brian awake at night: the things his clever software developers can’t protect the company against. It’s a great story and it made for a fascinating Mandrake.
Steve’s clearly a man who relishes a challenge, and he took his audience on a white-knuckle ride through the numerous challenges he’s faced since he took up his post at the Co-op back in July 2012. He’d joined thinking the only major problem was the disastrously-timed £1.6bn acquisition of Somerfield just days before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, but he very quickly found that things were a whole lot worse. As the toxic nature of the mortgage book from the Britannia Building Society (which the Co-op had bought in late 2008) began to reveal its true horror, it became clear very quickly that not just the banking arm of the Co-op was under threat, but the entire business.
Months of fire-fighting ensued – at one point the whole Co-operative Group was hours from folding – until new stakeholders were found and the crisis was finally averted. Within 48 hours however a new crisis came along in the form of a chairman displaying a range of character flaws which were perfect tabloid fodder: Steve talked of the ensuing nine month period when all he could do was keep his, and the organisation’s heads, down.
Turning the business around began in earnest in 2014, with a fundamental re-think on corporate governance – this £13bn business had until then been overseen by a board of 22 lay people, including a bricklayer and a nurse – then disposal of some assets (including the Co-op’s Farms business and the Pharmacy business), some heroic cost management, moving the wrong people out and the right people in and a new focus on cash. New ranges were introduced, prices were cut, staff were energised: the business started to move away from big stores to convenience stores. A year on, it looks like the medicine is working: it’s early days but the signs are that Steve will soon be able to start leveraging the historical characteristics of the Co-operative movement, with its focus on the community and doing good by decent people, to create a business that’s perfectly suited for a 21st Century, connected world.
It was a bravura performance by a man who’s clearly fired up with enthusiasm for what he’s doing. And it was a classic Mandrake: an extraordinary story, told by the man at the very heart of it.
Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB, HonFREng, FRGS, FCInstCES, CCMI, CGeog was the longest-serving Director General and Chief Executive of the Ordnance Survey for more than a century. In her fourteen years at the helm of our iconic national mapping agency she oversaw the transition of digital geography from a fledgling business opportunity to its position today where it underpins most of our lives, in most places around the world, every single day of the year.
Vanessa’s self-deprecation and modesty was charming but she’s clearly one of the best-connected people on the planet: she talked of conversations with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, of the day she went to see ‘the man who invented Google Maps’ and asked him if he’d like to use OS mapping data and of the speaker slots she’d shared with soldiers, scientists and ‘the man who’s now Number Four in the hierarchy in China’.
One of the charities Vanessa’s involved with is MapAction, which sends cartographers to the locations of humanitarian crises around the world: it’s probably never occurred to you that the first thing disaster relief workers need is to know where the greatest needs are, and to know that you need reliable, up-to-the-minute mapping. MapAction relies on donations of course: why not have a look at the website and offer your support.
Our speaker in January 2015 was the founder of the ‘Positive Money’ movement, Ben Dyson.
Ben’s got it in for the global monetary system in a big way: he thinks it’s behind a whole range of problems from unaffordable housing to unsustainably high levels of personal debt, from growing economic inequality to unacceptably high levels of unemployment and from environmental vandalism to recessions and financial crises.
What he’s campaigning for is a move to a ‘Sovereign Money’ system, where the power to create money is held by an appropriately accountable body – not banks, nor politicians – and the profit from the ‘seigneurage’ or creation of money given to the government rather than retained by the financial institutions, as the present system allows. It’s not a new idea – it was first suggested in the thirties as a reaction to the Great Depression – but thanks to Ben and his team it’s really starting to gain traction: take a look at the Positive Money website if you’d like to know more (and trust me, you really do need to know more).
Ben thinks another financial crisis is inevitable unless something fundamental is changed: in the meantime you might want to try alternatives like peer-to-peer lending by way of discouraging the banks from abusing their position. He would have approved of the first guest speaker after the revival of the Mandrake, which happened to be ten years ago this month: that speaker was Richard Duvall, the late founder of the then-revolutionary peer-to-peer lending platform ZOPA.
We don’t just throw these things together you know…
Our speaker in November 2014 was Amit Pau, who runs the corporate finance and entrepreneur advisory arms of tech VC Ariadne Capital. Amit had something of a meteoric rise in business, starting his first company while still at college and ending up running AT&T’s multi-billion dollar product development unit at the tender age of 25. A spell at Vodafone followed before Amit succumbed to his inner entrepreneur and switched back to the Dark Side, advising start-ups and young businesses and helping them find funding to grow.
In an entertaining gambol through his highly colourful life and times Amit talked about the lessons he’s learnt on the way to where he is today. He ended with some predictions: we love predictions at the Mandrake! Amit’s were (1) that banking as we’ve known it is doomed – FaceBank et al here we come – (2) that the Chinese are very shortly going to take over the internet economy, (3) that sharing is only going to get bigger as the likes of Airbnb and Uber make everyone realise they have the wherewithal to make a business, (4) that analytics will literally change the way we live and (5) artificial intelligence is coming, and things will never be the same again… You heard it all here first (possibly).
Our guest speaker in October 2014 was the eponymous founder of the Jimmy’s Iced Coffee business, Jimmy Cregan.
Jim grew up in Dubai and says it’s the endless sunshine there that has made him the positive person he is today. ‘We keep going, and never take no for an answer’ he told his appreciative audience, ‘because what people don’t realise is, when they say no, it’s just a step away from saying yes’.
This seemingly throwaway comment tells you everything you need to know about Jim Cregan the entrepreneur: he may be relaxed to the point of horizontal-ness on the surface but he’s clearly totally committed to his business, totally clear on where it’s going and totally prepared to give everything to make sure it happens. It’s this determination that’s taken him from delivering his first cases of product to his first stockist Selfridges in his own knackered old van to a business with a multi-million pound turnover in less than four years – and this is just the start.
We pride ourselves on our eclectic range of guest speakers here at the Mandrake: it’s not all silver-haired chairmen or even precocious dotcom start-ups. There’s always room for a classic entrepreneur, and Jim Cregan was the perfect example of the breed.
Our guest speaker in June 2014 was Mark Reigate, head coach of Lambeth’s Fitzroy Lodge Amateur Boxing Club.
Mark’s background is a bit different to that of most of our speakers. Raised on a south London council estate, one of his earliest family memories is being body-searched while going to visit his dad in Wandsworth Prison: Mark is sure that’s where he would have ended up too if he hadn’t discovered boxing as a twelve year-old. Now he’s a veteran of more than 100 amateur bouts and spends his time coaching an eclectic mix of boxers.
The Fitzroy Lodge has been ‘taking in waifs, strays and street lunatics’ (their words) since 1908, when it was established by a local family doctor as a way of improving the life expectancy of Lambeth kids. And that’s what it still does today: very little has changed, apart perhaps from the threats the kids face (these days it’s not so much typhoid and cholera as gangs, street crime and video game-related torpor).
Mark talked eloquently and frankly about how boxing pretty much saved his life: he very much sees himself as following in the footsteps of legendary Fitzroy Lodge characters like his late mentor Mick Carney, who coached kids for more than fifty years. “He did it for me” says Mark, “so the least I can do is pass it on to the next generation of kids”. Mark’s generosity isn’t matched by government or local authority support: the Fitzroy Lodge has had just one cheque for £500 from Lambeth Council in the hundred-plus years it’s been operating. If you want to find out how you might be able to help Mark with the brilliant work he’s doing for London kids, take a look at the Fitzroy Lodge website.
Sir Michael faced an audience who clearly felt passionately about education. He talked about his 43 years teaching in London schools and the things he’d seen in that time, from the first lessons he learnt himself as a new teacher in Bermondsey through the unregulated days of the Seventies and Eighties and into the more accountable times we’re in today.
He believes great progress has been made since the bad old days of the Seventies – but conceded that much remained to be done. Q&A was relentless and covered everything from discipline (crucially important and plenty of room for improvement in Sir Michael’s opinion) to standards of dress (‘you’ve got to look the part’), the need for leadership and the challenges of developing leaders and finally school funding, which he predicted would get more challenging after 2015.
It was classic Mandrake: the highest calibre of speaker, a subject which touches everyone and an audience fired up with passion.
Paul’s a modest man whose self-proclaimed lack of ambition belies his astonishing achievements. The organisation he started in London’s Bushy Park in 2004 – when just thirteen runners turned up – now boasts nearly a million registered runners at almost 400 locations all round the world, and is growing at a prodigious rate. Paul pointed out that twice as many runners will take part in a parkrun event than will run in the London Marathon – and parkrun happens every single weekend, not just once a year.
Paul explained how he came to start parkrun: far from being the culmination of a life-long dream, it was more a way to keep in touch with his running club friends after a serious injury meant he couldn’t run competitively for several years. Today it’s the third-largest sponsored sporting event in the UK and will turn over more than £1m this year. Central to the success of the event are the volunteer organisers, 30,000 of whom helped run parkrun events in the last year alone.
Paul and his fellow full-time parkrun employees are paid a salary but the organisation is firmly not-for-profit: his view is that ‘there’s a business model in there somewhere but it probably wouldn’t work if it was constantly trying to deliver returns to shareholders’. The same not-for-profit constitution is in place in each of the countries around the world where parkrun operates, with a Board of Members that ensures every penny of surplus is ploughed back into training, infrastructure and yet more events.
Paul’s rightly proud of parkrun and the pleasure it brings to the runners – kids and grown-ups alike – who take part every week. It’s an inspirational story and if you haven’t tried parkrun for yourself, search out your nearest run and give it a go!
He may be best known as an actor, but Neil spent most of the evening talking about his love for old books. He started collecting when he was appearing with the late great Leonard Rossiter in the West End production of Loot in 1984: on his way to the theatre one afternoon – happy in the knowledge that he’d just earned his first proper pay cheque – he found himself in Cecil Court, the heart of the UK rare book scene. The book he bought that day (for the princely sum of £30) was the first he showed his audience at the Mandrake. Others included a unique first edition of Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying signed by both the author and his mother, a pristine set of Dickens’ Bleak House partworks and a stunning first edition of Hemingway’s first book.
Having spent 25 years collecting books Neil decided to see if he could turn his passion into a viable business, and so Neil Pearson Rare Books was born. Today Neil balances his time between his ‘day job’, acting on stage and in popular TV shows like the BBC’s Waterloo Road, and the life of an antiquarian bookseller – and as might be expected, he finds that if he does too much of one, it affects the other adversely. This year he’s looking forward to replenishing his stock of rare tomes before heading back to the studio again in the Autumn.
We always enjoy hearing from business owners who have a passion for what they do – and to hear that passion delivered in the rich tones of one of the country’s finest actors was a rare pleasure indeed.
Family history has played an important part in the decision Frances made to spend the majority of her career in the trade union movement. She spoke with affection about her ‘Dublin grandad’, how he viewed his role as ‘helping the Brits organise themselves’ and the respect he had for women despite the male-dominated era in which he lived. And she talked of her father and his time as a union convenor at Leyland in the Seventies: how the unions had pro-actively consulted with academics, researchers and their union counterparts in Japan and come up with a pioneering plan to develop hybrid and electric-powered vehicles – and how the management at the time rejected that plan out of hand.
The more Frances talked, the clearer her personal style became: she talked a lot about common sense, and the need to respect the needs of all sides in industrial relations, and how the humiliation of a ’100% settlement’ either way is always something to be avoided. She spoke of the importance of conciliation, and of calm discussion: it might have been easy to dismiss her as a moderate if it weren’t for the clear flashes of anger and passion she showed when she talked about the inequality and imbalance that exist in our society.
Frances only took up her position in January 2013: those present at her talk will be watching future developments in industrial relations with close interest.
Former Lib Dem MP and now CEO of the International Fur Trade Federation Mark Oaten spoke at the Mandrake in September 2013.
Accused of attempting to murder his opponent, the subject of the longest constituency count in history and the closest result in history, the only MP ever to trigger a by-election without resigning or dying: Mark’s political career was going at a hundred miles an hour right from the very start. He talked revealingly about reputation and perceptions, and how the two can combine to sometimes disastrous effect.
An enthusiastic audience heard about Mark’s rapid rise up the greasy pole of power, and of his tabloid-triggered political downfall and how he’d do things differently with the benefit of hindsight: he also talked movingly about the impact of those events on his reputation and how he never expects to be able to repair some of the damage. Back in those torrid times Mark was a victim of phone hacking by News of the World journalists: in an ironic twist he now finds himself being called as a key witness in the trials of NoW editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. But he’s not vindictive, and feels that a prison sentence isn’t the right way to deal with those who were responsible for what happened: ‘Maybe I’m collateral damage’ he says, ‘and what happened to me is the price of retaining a free press in our country’.
Running the International Fur Trade Federation – one of the more controversial organisations in the world – is surely a piece of cake compared to what Mark Oaten’s experienced in the past.
Nigel talked about the good year he’s having and posited that what we’re seeing now is not so much a new phenomenon as simply a continuation of the political re-alignment that started to happen in British politics in the Nineties – and which he believes will culminate in the end of the ‘two-and-a-half party’ system at Westminster.
He gave his audience three reasons why he thinks being out of Europe would be good for British business – and then proceeded to field a barrage of questions on every subject from immigration to candidate screening, the budget deficit to the challenges of developing a rounded political platform on which to fight coming elections. His focus for now, he explained, was the May 2014 European and Local Council elections: after that he’ll decide on his party’s approach to the general election of 2015.
As you’d expect, he was completely at ease and his audience came away feeling they know him quite a bit better. Which is what the Mandrake is all about, of course.
Our guest speaker in June 2013 was the legendary campaigner for human rights, democracy, global justice and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender freedom, Peter Tatchell.
Peter talked movingly about his childhood, growing up in a devoutly religious, working class family in Melbourne, Australia – and how he recalled the first stirrings of his social conscience at the age of just 11, watching TV news coverage of the civil rights movement in the United States. His first campaign at the age of fifteen involved a local man accused of a fatal shooting: having worked out from the publicly-available evidence that the alleged murder was a near-physical impossibility, Peter campaigned – without success – to have the death penalty lifted. As the sentence was carried out, Peter described how he felt his ‘confidence in the Establishment and its ability to protect him and his family evaporate’.
More than forty-six years of tireless campaigning followed and Peter took us through it all, touching on subjects as diverse as East Germany’s first Gay Pride March, East Timorese independence, Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion, the OutRage! movement and Julian Assange. Peter gave a measured, rational account of his feelings and actions at all times: the story of his extraordinary citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe and how it led the British tabloid press to re-brand him from ‘homosexual terrorist’ to ‘national hero’ was both hilarious and inspiring.
Thirty years after Peter’s first unsuccessful campaign, the executed man at the centre of the case was pardoned by the Australian government – and so Peter’s work continues. You can sign up to his organisation’s newsletters here if you’re interested in learning more about his work.
Our guest speaker in May 2013 was the banker, internet dealmaker and champion of digital entrepreneurship Jonnie Goodwin.
Jonnie started his career at Coopers & Lybrand before moving on to Apax Partners, where he quickly built a reputation for making deals in the media and internet space. A stint running The Wireless Group added to his media credentials and by the time he left his next role as Global Head of Media and Internet at US investment bank Jefferies in 2011 Jonnie had been involved in more than 100 deals, with a combined value in excess of £20bn.
These days Jonnie’s day job is helping to run Lepe Partners, the ‘old-fashioned merchant bank’ he co-founded after leaving Jefferies – but in his spare time he works with his chums Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox to develop the Founders Forum Foundation, an organisation which encourages young people from a broad range of backgrounds to consider careers in the fast-growing digital space. Oh and he founded, and runs, Venture Capital firm PROfounders Capital with Hoberman too, investing in British tech start-ups like Tweetdeck, which I’m sure you know was bought by Twitter not too long ago for £25m.
Jonnie talked about his belief that entrepreneurship is the answer to the challenges facing young people everywhere in the world today – and in particular the ‘NEETs’, who aren’t in employment, education or training. Jonnie’s convinced that British ingenuity and entrepreneurialism can give kids a real future – so much so that he spends a significant proportion of his time spreading the word. He’s a charming, self-deprecating speaker and was disarmingly honest with his audience, who loved him all the more for it.
Our speaker in April 2013 was the retired yachtswoman and now ‘circular economy’ campaigner, Dame Ellen MacArthur.
It’s twelve years since Ellen became a household name as both the youngest person and the fastest woman ever to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly, coming second in the world’s toughest round-the-world yacht race, the Vendee Globe. By 2005 she was at the pinnacle of world sailing, having established a new round-the-world solo record and been appointed a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, an honorary Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve and Britain’s youngest-ever Dame at the tender age of just 29.
At that point it might have been natural to assume she’d be sailing competitively for decades to come – but as she explained to a packed house, two other factors were already beginning to take hold of her mind. The first was the thought that she’d ‘done it’ – she’d achieved her childhood dream of sailing round the world – and felt it was time to move on. The second was inspired by the very finite nature of the supplies on board her beloved boats: she knew very clearly that once those supplies ran out, there was no replenishing (not when you’re 2,500 miles away from the nearest town). She began to see that the same argument applied to the global economy, that once our equally finite commodities are used up, there’s nowhere else to go. This led her to five years of study and research and ultimately the creation of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org), with the objective of transforming the global economy from a ‘linear’ to a ‘circular’ model.
Ellen is an impressive speaker, and a woman clearly driven by passion and a prodigious amount of energy. Her description of the challenges of sailing single-handedly around the world left her audience in no doubt about her courage and determination – and she’s found a cause which is going to need every ounce of that determination if she’s going to achieve her objectives. You should keep a close eye on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation: it’s going to play an important role in the changes the global economy will undertake in the next twenty years.
Mike Darrington trained as an accountant and spent the first 17 years of his career at United Biscuits before moving to Newcastle-based Greggs in 1983. In his 25 years at the helm he created one of the biggest success stories of the UK high street, building a modest regional bakery business into a multinational retail giant with 20,000 employees, more than 1,600 outlets and £750m of turnover.
Mike’s an old-school businessman, if by ‘old-school’ you mean someone who respects business values and ethics as much as profits. So when he retired from Greggs in 2008 he decided to spend his time campaigning on boardroom greed: an issue he felt was inflicting increasing damage on British business. He started speaking out in public and in 2012 launched Pro Business Against Greed with the aim of reducing the growing gap between the highest paid and the majority in society. Critics have accused him of being anti-business, but in his plain-speaking way he counters ‘that’s a lot of bollocks – it’s the greed of the people at the top that’s anti-business’.
Mike talked about how common sense and valuing people as individuals proved good business for him during his career, and how he watched as a combination of bureaucracy, good intentions and plain old-fashioned greed gradually got us into the situation we are today, where values seem to have been forgotten for many businesses. Something needs to be done, he argued – it’s not going to fix itself – and he challenged the government to draw a line in the sand, to make it clear to the bankers and the ‘fat cats’ that enough is enough, and to invite them to walk away if they want (and in doing so, create room for the next generation of capable managers to step up).
Keep an eye on Mike’s campaign as the AGM season gets into full swing: it might be an uncomfortable ride for some CEOs out there…
Mark built his career specialising in defamation and privacy, so when he was asked to act on behalf of the Professional Footballers Association Chief Executive Gordon Taylor in 2007 he had no reason to expect it would be anything more than another press intrusion case. What he found out in the process of winning a £725,000 payout for his client was to have major implications far beyond the media industry.
As Mark explained, the case was to have some significant implications for him personally too. As media interest in the case grew, so his life went into freefall – and before he knew it he’d lost his job, his marriage was broken and he was being accused of lying to a Parliamentary Select Committee and sued by the Metropolitan Police. His advice on this period was “never to think to yourself ‘well at least things can’t get any worse now’, because they probably will…”.
Mark Lewis’ turning point came when Sally Dowler left a voicemail asking him to act on behalf of the family against News International. The successful prosecution of the case led to many more cases, and Mark now acts on behalf of more than 80 phone hacking victims. He talked about one week during the Dowler case when he met the Deputy Prime Minister on the Monday, the Leader of the Opposition on the Tuesday, the Prime Minister on the Wednesday and Rupert Murdoch on the Friday. A friend with a dry sense of humour remarked that seeing Mark on television all that week ‘was like watching a real-life Mr Benn’.
It was a frank, revealing and thought-provoking talk from a man with an exceptional story to tell and a disarmingly self-deprecating way of telling it. It was classic Mandrake.
Alternative financing and disruption was on the menu when entrepreneur Anil Stocker spoke at the Mandrake in November 2012.
Anil’s business MarketInvoice (www.marketinvoice.com) offers SMEs an alternative way to access cash tied up in invoices to their larger customers, thanks to a digital platform which auctions those invoices to the highest bidders from a community of global investors. Practically everyone benefits: the SMEs get to access growth capital when they need it, the investors get a decent rate of return and Anil takes his slice too: in fact the only people who aren’t too happy about MarketInvoice are the banks, whose fusty, inflexible and expensive invoice factoring products are suddenly starting to look distinctly last-century.
Anil talked fascinatingly about the experience of being a tech-led financial services start-up too: the struggle to raise seed capital, the challenges of the platform build process, the agonising delay before the first customer came on the scene and now two years later, the whole new set of challenges offered by the need to change up a gear and take the business to the next level of growth. It struck a chord with his appreciative audience: in a nice ‘square-the-circle’ moment I realised Giles Andrews from Zopa.com was in the audience, nodding knowledgeably at everything Anil said. Zopa was of course one of the first tech-led businesses into the alternative financing space back in 2004 and Zopa’s founder James Alexander was our first guest speaker when the Mandrake itself re-launched in January
Our guest speaker on October 9th 2012 was Ian Cheshire, Group Chief Executive of home improvement giants Kingfisher Group plc.
We’ve a solid track record of retailer speakers at the Mandrake, numbering Sir Stuart Rose, Sir Philip Green, Mohamed Al-Fayed, John Lewis chairman Charlie Mayfield, Sock Shop founder Sophie Mirman and Poundland boss Jim McCarthy among our illustrious alumni. Cambridge economics and law graduate Ian Cheshire joined Kingfisher in 1998 after spells at Guinness and Sears, and was appointed Group Chief Executive in 2008, since when he’s built Kingfisher into Europe’s largest home improvement business (and the third biggest retailer in the FTSE 100, bigger than both Sainsbury’s and M&S).
Ian was a relaxed and entertaining speaker, and talked illuminatingly about the challenges of life running a FTSE 100 company in the teeth of a recession. He talked about his three key priorities as a CEO: first, always be crystal clear and consistent about where the business is going, second, get the right teams in place (Ian was happy to say he always tries to employ people that are better than him: self-deprecating or not, it’s a sound principle) and third, keep communicating, inside and outside the business, all the time: whether the news is good or bad, keep it coming.
It’s a simple formula that’s delivering some startlingly good results at Kingfisher, whose market cap has more than doubled since Ian took the hot seat. Ian’s one of those CEOs who come across as friendly and informal but when the questions started, you could tell straight away that he knows his business inside out, right down to the last nut and bolt on the shelf. A charming and generous speaker, and a great Mandrake evening.
Our guest speaker on 11th September 2012 asked to remain anonymous up to the event, and rather more challengingly has asked to remain so afterwards.
One of our biggest ever audiences heard from the man with no name – let’s call him ‘Mark’ – as he talked about his decision in 1998 to leave the safety of Oracle and join what was then a struggling tech business with far fewer devotees than it has now. The influence of another man, this time let’s call him ‘Steve’ – who re-joined the company around the same time and who was the subject of a number of fascinating stories – in creating and nurturing a culture of innovation at the nameless company led it to change the way human beings use technology: not just once but three times to date, with products including a music player, a mobile phone and a tablet computer. The result is that a few weeks ago the nameless company became not just the most successful tech company around today, but officially the most valuable corporation in the history of mankind.
You know what company we’re talking about here of course: let’s just keep it between ourselves… Like all his colleagues, ‘Mark’ is discouraged by his employer from speaking in public: he generously made a once-every-few-years exception for the Mandrake, and we’re very grateful.
Digital entrepreneur Tom Adeyoola spoke at the Mandrake in July 2012.
Tom’s ‘digital journey’ began after he left Cambridge University and plunged into the hectic world of the late 1990s internet boom. Early jobs included Head of Digital at Sportal.com - which went from a valuation of £400m to nothing in the space of two weeks – Hutchison 3G and Inspired Gaming, where as Head of Gaming he created and launched 73 new products in one mad six month period. He’d always wanted to run his own business though and while he was at Inspired the idea for Metail.com came to him after a chance meeting with 3D computer modelling pioneer Professor Roberto Cipolla at Cambridge. Coincidentally Prof Cipolla is technical partner of another Mandrake speaker, the sculptor Antony Gormley – who Tom told us is in the habit of sending the Professor naked pictures of himself as part of the process of making his anthropomorphic sculptures.
Tom’s idea was inspired by his girlfriend complaining how much she hated having to try clothes on in shops: he wondered if he could create a way to ‘try on’ clothes without the hassle of either going to the shops and squeezing into the changing rooms, or ordering several sizes online and having to send back those that don’t fit. Five years of fund-raising, patent-filing and frantic R&D later the business is really beginning to take off: Metail has just won a ‘Best Online Innovation’ award from its first retail partner Tesco, and is launching with a raft of major clothing retailers this Autumn.
Metail is a brilliant business: at the time of writing it’s live on Tesco’s Facebook page so give it a try – you’ll be impressed. And like many Mandrake speakers, Tom’s now on the Mandrake database and plans to come along to future events: look out for him in the audience when you come to your next Mandrake event.
World Land Speed Record holder and serving RAF officer Andy Green spoke at the Mandrake in June 2012.
Andy’s CV reads like some sort of Boy’s Own saga: a First in Mathematics from Oxford (and a rowing blue to boot), then fighter pilot training and service in Phantoms at the tail end of the Cold War, Tornados over Bosnia, Iraq and the Falklands, spells ‘flying a desk’ in Afghanistan and most recently Southern Italy, as Chief of Staff for RAF operations over Libya. That’s the ‘day job’ of course but it’s what he does in his spare time that’s brought Andy to the attention of the world’s media: as driver of the 763mph Thrust SSC ‘car’ Andy captured the World Land Speed Record in 1997, he holds the world record for the fastest diesel car and he’s driver at Project Bloodhound SSC, the jet-and-rocket-powered car aiming to break the 1,000mph land speed barrier in South Africa in 2013.
Andy reduced the room to silence as he talked through the experience of driving a car at supersonic speeds. Modest and self-deprecating in style, he talked down the scale of the challenge – ‘all you have to do is keep it shiny side up, pointy end forward: what could be simpler than that?’ – and made the hairs on the back of our necks stand up when he answered a question about the degree to which he worries about something going wrong. It’s a team effort, he explained, and everyone has a vote: ‘if it all goes spectacularly wrong then the whole team knows that I’m the only one who won’t have to live with the consequences’. Stirring stuff.
You might think Project Bloodhound is all about the car and the 1,000mph barrier, but Andy put us right: it’s actually about inspiring and exciting the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians – and to that end Bllodhound has now signed up more than 5,000 schools, reaching more than 2 million kids. It’s an inspiring project and Andy Green was a truly inspiring speaker.
Quick plug: fancy a 1,000mph joyride for a tenner? Click here http://goo.gl/mIBzi to find out how you can get your name on Bloodhound’s tailfin for just £10.
Sandy Gall CMG CBE had a distinguished career as a war correspondent, reporting from Suez, Hungary and the Congo in the 1950s and 1960s, and filing reports from Vietnam (he was shipped out of Saigon by the Communist authorities after the last helicopter left the US Embassy), Uganda (where he was arrested by Idi Amin’s secret police) and the Middle East on numerous occasions throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Part of the original team of ITN’s flagship News at Ten when it started in 1967, Sandy quickly became one of the programme’s main presenters but far from being stuck behind a newsreader’s desk as might have been expected, he travelled widely for the programme: most notably in Russian-occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s. The three documentary films he produced about Afghanistan in that decade rank among the all-time greats of television reporting.
In 1983 he started the Sandy Gall Afghanistan Appeal, which outlived the Russian occupation, operated all through the Taliban years and is now (to his great regret) more active than ever. In nearly thirty years the charity has provided artificial limbs to more than 20,000 people, and physiotherapy to more than 50,000. Sandy is Chairman of the charity and his wife and two of his daughters are also actively involved. Now retired from journalism, he travels regularly to Afghanistan and writes extensively on the challenges of the region. His latest book, War against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan, was published to widespread acclaim in January.
Sandy was a spellbinding speaker, with brilliant grasp of detail and an endless stream of stories about the events which shaped the second half of the Twentieth Century. Asked if war correspondents have an easier time of it today he replied in the negative: the technology may have changed (it took Sandy and his ITN crew three weeks to get his films from the US evacuation of Saigon back to London, via Laos and Bangkok) but the nerve required to get close to the action is the same. ’War is bloody dangerous, you know’… As for Afghanistan – why are we in this mess? Pakistan, Iraq and corruption, in short. It’s not insoluble, but the start point is an agreement between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. No-one’s holding their breath.
Sports promoter Barry Hearn charmed everyone when he spoke at the Mandrake in 2011. Back then his plans for rejuvenating World Darts and Snooker were in their infancy, but he’s making great progress and getting more exposure than ever. In this quirky piece from the Independent rising star and former-part-time-playboy Judd Trump talks about his desire to please his mentor: http://ind.pn/ID6Dhi.
We seem to have been reading about the inevitability of mobile connection on aeroplanes for years: this piece from ‘Travolution’ is typical: http://bit.ly/IsbkLV. Mandrake speaker Willie Walsh makes a good point, but why is no-one talking about the real benefit of in-flight connection, which is access to data? I’m not desperate to call my Mum and tell her I’m on a plane, but it would be mighty useful to be able to check emails, social media, use the internet…
Our speaker in April 2012 was Conservative Member of Parliament for Stone in Staffordshire and the ‘Eurosceptic’s Eurosceptic’, Bill Cash MP.
Politics was always in Bill Cash’s blood: his family has sent no fewer than seven Liberal Members to Parliament including the great Victorian thunderer John Bright, the man responsible for (among many other things) the now well-worn phrase ‘England is the Mother of all Parliaments’. Bill read history at Lincoln College, Oxford and practised as a solicitor before being elected Conservative member for Stafford in 1984 (an occasion marked no doubt by his Liberal ancestors turning in their graves), and give or take the odd boundary change he’s been representing the area ever since. His areas of special interest include small businesses, constitutional affairs (he was Shadow Attorney General and Shadow Constitutional Affairs Spokesman from 2001 to 2003) and the developing world, but it’s his views on Europe for which Bill Cash is best known.
He first joined the Parliamentary European Scrutiny Committee in 1985 (he says it was ‘by accident’) and as leader of the ‘Maastricht Rebellion’ in the early 1990s he was a large and uncomfortable stone in John Major’s shoe, almost bringing down the government over the question of the Maastricht Treaty and earning himself the title of Parliamentarian of the Year in the process. As founder of the European Foundation think-tank Bill has been active on the issue of Europe ever since, and he remains on the European Scrutiny Committee to this day, having been unanimously elected chairman in 2010.
Bill explained to his appreciative audience that his position on Europe has its origins in his affinity for, and understanding of, both the history and constitutional law of the United Kingdom. Perhaps surprisingly he voted ‘Yes’ in the 1975 referendum on Europe as well more recently in favour of the Single European Act, but he was clear that he still feels both actions were correct at the time: it’s the path Europe has taken since then that he believes to be wrong. Bill’s command of his subject is total and his enthusiasm for debate is un-dimmed after 28 years in Parliament. Look out for the publication of his diaries: no punches will be pulled…
Tom Allason, founder and CEO of Shutl, wound up the Mandrake’s three-month Entrepreneur Mini-Season in March 2012.
Tom caught the entrepreneur bug in his teens and has been creating new businesses ever since. Sadly his hilarious story of his first business can’t be repeated here for legal reasons… But suffice to say it did very nicely for him for a while, funding his US college education as well as a penthouse apartment with heated pool and a Range Rover outside. Cut down in his prime and obliged to leave the country in a hurry, he worked with a friend in what turned out to be a super-fast-growing shipping business – managing over 180 oil tankers at one point – before leaving to start his first ‘serious business’, the ‘purple van delivery company’ otherwise known as eCourier.co.uk.
Five years later and having acquired a staff of 250 and a lot of lurid purple delivery vans, the company was sold to TNT and Tom started Shutl: the world’s fastest delivery company! Unlike eCourier – which had a lot of moving parts – Shutl has none, being a technology company. Shutl aggregates thousands of local point-to-point delivery companies all over the country, offering multi-channel retailer customers the option to specify practically instant delivery for the goods they buy, at no price premium.
It’s a brilliant concept and Tom’s customers love it: so much so that Shutl is confident enough to stream live, unedited customer feedback on their website and Twitter accounts. The company’s been a massive success in the two years since its inception and has won a host of industry awards too, including VC-backed Startup of the Year in 2010 and the Guardian’s Breakthrough Technology Award in 2011. Tom’s a great ambassador for his business and for entrepreneurialism in general, and he was a great way to draw the Mandrake’s Entrepreneur Mini-Season to a close.
Art and homelessness aren’t the most obvious bedfellows but this thought-provoking quotation from Mandrake alumnus Antony Gormley makes it all crystal clear: ‘The most powerful social sculpture of our times is made by the quiet performances of the homeless within the shelter provided by the entrances to the shops and restaurants of our inner cities. This exhibition allows one to think about those bodies that have no place. I believe that sculpture can powerfully evoke the nameless, the voiceless and the placeless and I am proud to be part of and am inspired by this visionary project.’
Read more about this brilliant project at http://bit.ly/x3e20H.
Self-confessed ‘mobsessive’ and former AdMob (www.admob.com) high-up Russell Buckley spoke at the Mandrake in February 2012. Russell’s audience turned increasingly ashen-faced as he explained how technological singularity – the point at which the computers become cleverer than us, basically, at which time we all go and ‘live’ in the cloud and it’s hasta la vista, mankind as we know it – is, thanks to the hard-to-get-your-head-around concept of exponential growth, coming to a planet near you sometime around the year 2045… Q&A was limited in scope: ‘what about my kids?’ was more or less the sole topic, and Russell’s advice was to shepherd them into occupations the computers will find hardest to manage. As for our generation, the best we can do is to stay healthy, stay happy and ‘enjoy the ride – you can’t stop it now…’.
Former BP Chief Executive Office Tony Hayward spoke at the Mandrake in June 2011, noting wryly that if he’d been ‘a six-foot-four Texan’ he might have stood more of a chance with the US media. Recently BP reached a preliminary agreement on compensation payments for the more than 100,000 claimants resulting from 2010′s Deepwater Horizon accident: the company agreed in a Florida court to pay a further $7.8 billion, bringing the expected cost of the accident to more than $43 billion. Read the full timeline of the disaster here: http://tinyurl.com/7vvoaqy.
IAG boss Willie Walsh – who spoke at the Mandrake in July 2011 – was in his usual buoyant mood as the company announced full year 2011 pre-tax profits of €503 billion recently – up from €84 billion in 2010. Ironically though he thinks the Olympics are going to slow down the numbers for 2012 – here’s the full story as the travel trade sees it: http://tinyurl.com/79fvltz.