Leadership in Carillion – Part 2

Collapse of Carillion

Within the last year Carillion has faced financial issues and has gone into solvency, even before this Carilion was facing issues with how they treated their employees, including pension contributions and suppliers, which at the time of their collapse in January 2018 owning £2 billion to 30,000 suppliers (Partington, 2018).

The problems for Carillion began as it started to rely more and more on major contracts from the U.K. government, some of which proved less lucrative then the directors through. Initially a construction company Carillion took on contracts that included everything from ‘paving motorways’ to ‘ladling out school dinners’ (Freedland2018). It’s believed that the financial issues were known to the directors by mid-2016, however they refused to act to rectify them (Davies, 2018c). By the end of 2017 Carillion had slashed the value of the contracts by £845 million while at the same time company debt increased to £900 million and when the company sought a cash injection of £300 million the banks refused the loan while the U.K. government refused to bail Carillion out. This left Carillion unable to continue trading and the company was forced to go into liquidation (Partington, 2018).

The Carillion directors have been accused, by the House of Commons business select committee – which in itself can be considered a sign of how serious the collapse of Carillion is towards U.K. national interests, of putting their own rewards ahead of business sustainability, “a story of recklessness, hubris and greed” where “its business model was a relentless dash for cash” (Davies, 2018e), more concerned about their pay and bonuses than looking for signs that the company was in financial trouble (Partington, 2018). While ensuring maximum dividends for shareholders, even as Carillion faced financial collapse while at the same time treating pension payments as a “waste of money” (Davies, 2018c)

Despite the financial issues facing Carillion, the board of directions determination to increase the dividend each year helped create a perception of a healthy and successful company, with the inquiry report (Work and Pension Committee, 2018) noting that the board of directors was more concerned with increasing and protecting their ‘generous’ executive bonuses. Carillion’s own remuneration committee papers from August 2016 showing that the board of directions sought to “increase the maximum bonus opportunities” (Partington, 2018), despite shareholders becoming increasingly concerned at the way in which pay was set for senior managers. For example, Richard Howson, CEO from 2012 until mid-2017 in 2016 alone took home a salary of £1.5 million, alongside a cash bonus of £122,000 and pension contributions of £231,000 (Partington, 2018). In response, rather than make any changes Carillion decided to instead rebadge the bonuses, while at the same time weakening conditions of clawbacks and increasing the maximum bonus levels, although in the latter they were forced to back down due to shareholder revolt. Carillion’s former chairman, Philip Green, who also played a part in the collapse of BHS in 2016, was apparently not fully aware of the financial issues the company was facing until just before the £845 million write down.

The former finance director Richard Adam, who retired late 2017, was the architect behind Carillion’s accounting policy and has been described as aggressive and refused to make adequate contributions to the company’s pension schemes which he personally considered a waste of money (Davies, 2018d). Adam himself sold nearly £800,000 in shares leading up to the news of Carillion’s financial issues upon his retirement (Davies, 2018e).

Ultimately it can be considered that either the board of directors was either negligently ignorant of the rotten culture at Carillion or complicit in it. That honouring the pension obligations was of little interest to a board that thought little past their next quarters market statement, while also treating their suppliers as a “line of credit” (Wood, 2018) as an accounting trick in delayed payments to make a better appearance of their balance sheet, often delayed by 120 days.

Bad Leadership

While maximising profit margins and reducing outgoings is sound business policy, the extent to which Carilion engaged these practices can be considered bad leadership practice, even destructive, particularly as Carillion has now collapsed and ceased to function as an organisation.

The characteristics of bad leaders, given by Kellerman (2005), Pinto (2004) and Shaw et al (2011) were prevalent throughout Carillion’s senior management team in how they treated the company itself and how they reacted to the financial issues caused by their own leadership practices.

Throughout their tenure, and particularly in how they reacted to the investigation by the House of Commons select committee, with top executives being called “fantasists” (Goodley, 2018), “shutting their eyes and ears” to the financial problems facing Carillion and failing to take meaningful action that could solve the issues facing the company, instead preferring to act that nothing was wrong, despite being made aware of the issues since mid-2016 (Davies, 2018c). This displays incompetence of the highest sort, particularly in minimising the damage to themselves by instead causing financial hardship through their attitude towards suppliers and their own employees’ pension contributions.

This callousness towards their employees, with the pension contributions being considered a waste of money, had been in a deficit since 2010, with attempts by the pension scheme trustees to have Carilion’s directors plug the gap being constantly refused (Davies, 2018b), despite increasing dividends. This itself isn’t limited to only Carillion, with numerous companies linking bonus payments to increased profits and higher dividends (Guldi and Armitage, 2014), but does indicate that senior management puts their own self-interest before the betterment of the company, to ensure maximisation their own bonuses, meanwhile 30,000 former employees have been affected by the collapse of Carillion and their refusal to pay into the retirement schemes, costing themtheir own pension funds.

There is no clear example if the senior management team tended towards ‘evilness’, but their behaviour when going before the commons selection committee where they refused to voluntary return their bonuses got them branded by MPs as “delusional characters” showed that they were willing to blame everyone except themselves for Carillion’s collapse (Davies, 2018a), with complete disregard for the damage in which they played a major role.

While the exact decision making for the appointment of the senior management team is not clear, it can be argued that processed similar to those suggestions by Erickson et al (2015) were not in place. Indeed, it could be argued that the senior team recruited like for like, looking for new members who shared the same values as them – personal profit before long term sustainability. This is speculation however, but what is clear is that Carillion had no clear ethical framework for the values and behaviours to which their leadership was expected to conform. Similarly, it can be assumed that any employees who were aware of the financial issues were not encouraged to challenge the leadership team.

As Shaw et al (2011) note, a destructive leader can be perceived as such from only a handful of such characteristics, and Carillion’s senior management team exhibited a majority of the characteristics given in the literature receive, indicating that they truly can be considered destructive leaders.

Aftermath

The story of Carillion is an unhappy one for business, particularly so for the company’s employees who have suffered for the leadership by its directors. A story that has been felt all too often from RBS and Northern Rock during the 2007/08 financial crisis to the collapse of BHS in 2016. Calls have been made to review and change corporate governance law to make senior managers take more financial responsibility when a company collapse as the current system of limited liability often limits the damage senior leaders take to their own finances (Monbiot, 2018).

With luck, change will occur. Not only for how companies are governed but that Carillion’s end will encourage other company’s leadership teams to focus a little more on sustainability and less on personal profit.

Conclusion

This essay begins with a literature review into ethical leadership before moving on to bad, toxic and destructive leadership. The characteristics that make an ethical leader are described as are the traits of a bad leader, as bad, toxic and destructive leaders are contemporaries, sharing characteristics these are described together.

Carillion’s collapse at the start of 2018 led to a number of questions being asked, and in finding the answers the leadership style of the company’s senior management team was brought into light. Seeking to maximise their pay and bonuses Carillion’s leaders ignored signs from 2016 that the company was in financial trouble, instead pretending and giving the opposite impression that Carillion was doing fine by ensuring maximum dividends for shareholders, even thou they refused to pay into the company’s pension funds, deeming the payment a “waste of money” (Davies, 2018c) and by delaying payment to suppliers.

This has been shown in the behaviour of the former CEO and former finance director, who when interviewed by the House of Commons select committee were amongst the senior executives called “fantasists” (Goodley, 2018).

When compared to the characteristics of bad leaders, given by Kellerman (2005), Pinto (2004) and Shaw et al (2011) Carillion’s former senior leadership matched several of the characteristics indicating that they can be considered destructive leaders. The displays of incompetence of the highest sort, particularly in minimising the damage to themselves by instead causing financial hardship through their attitude towards suppliers and their own employees’ pension contributions indicate their callousness and greed.

As noted by Shaw et al (2011) a destructive leader can be perceived as such from only a handful of such characteristics. Carillion’s senior management team exhibited a majority of the characteristics given in the literature receive, and this essay takes from these that Carillion’s leadership team are examples of destructive leaders.

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Leadership in Carillion – Part 1

Preface

The following is the first half of a case-study written for my Leadership in Contemporary Organisations assignment. References will be included in part 2.

Introduction

Within any organisation there is leadership. Leadership is not only, as commonly thought, from the senior members of the organisation, but can be found in every member of staff, from the very top to the most junior member.

When leading an organisation how you behave and particularly how you react to crisis’ that occur can be considered one of the highlights for leadership (Barton et al, n.d). It should be noted however that there is no clear definition of a leader, and that depending on your point of view a person could be a good leader or a bad leader (Bennis, 2007).

The collapse of Carillion at the start of 2018 has been significant, not only for inciting public discussion of governance of large companies, but also role the role which the senior leadership team played.

This essay begins by looking at the literature on ethical leaders, before moving onto bad, toxic and destructive leadership. The leadership within Carilion leading up to the collapse and the behaviour of the senior management team is explored and compared to the literature. Based on their behaviour before, during and after the collapse it’s considered that Carillion’s leadership team are examples of destructive leaders. Particularly given the treatment of the company’s pension contributions, or in this case the lack of them, with the senior management team instead preferring to provide money towards dividends with an eye on their own benefits and bonuses.

Literature Review - Ethical and Bad Leadership

Ethical Leadership

Brown et al (2005) states that leaders are a key source of guidance in ethical manners for their employees, and in an what can be considered an echo of the past, indicates that little has changed since their study took place and now, “concerns about ethics and leadership have dominated recent headlines about business and shaken public confidence in many organizations” (Brown et al, 2005, p. 132), indeed the many corporate scandals that have occurred has led to an increased interest in the ethical standards prevalent through the corporate world (Skubinn and Herzog, 2016).

Ethical leadership, as suggested by Ciulla (2005), falls into three categories; the intentions of the leaders themselves and their personal ethics, the way or manner in which the leader leads and the outcomes of the leader’s actions. In practice, ethical leaderships often falls onto their personal beliefs and how they achieve their eventual outcome and while there is no clear distinction behind ethics and effectiveness, Ciulla (2012) suggests that leading in an ethical manner can be effective and lead to success. This appears to be supported by a study by Chikeleze and Baehrend (2017) which identified that, when faced with making a decision addressing an ethical dilemma, leaders prefer a particular ethical leadership style and notes that knowledge of ethical leadership styles is beneficial for leaders to understand the process they utilize when faced with difficult choices. Brown et al (2005) define ethical leadership as having two components, the first is the demonstration of normatively appropriate conduct by the leader themselves while the second is the promotion of such conduct to their followers.

Ethical leaders, Jooste (2013) writes, distinguish themselves by doing what they believe is right even if it is inconvenient, unpopular and potentially unprofitable (temporarily, long term unprofitability would cause the business to be dissolved due to bankruptcy) in order to sustain the long-term sustainability of the organisation. Looking at the construct of an ethical leader Mihelic et al (2010) identifies that an ethical leader thinks about the long-term consequences of their actions, including the potential drawbacks and benefits of their decisions for the organisation.

Leaders serves as role models for their followers, and how they act are often how their followers believe that they should act (Mihelic et al, 2010). As noted by Hartog and Belschak (2012) and supported by Kalshoven et al (2011), Piccolo et al (2010), Mihelic et al (2010) and Trevino et al (2003) the behaviour of ethical leaders towards their followers include acting fairly, promoting and rewarding ethical conduct, and allowing their followers to provide input, as well as showing concern when unforeseen issues arise, while at the same time demonstrating consistency and integrity in their behaviour. In addition to allowing for the follower to take of responsibility of their own actions rather than assign blame. Further as Brown et al (2005) found, ethical leaderships predicts outcomes such the perceived effectives of leadership by followers, follower’s job satisfaction and dedication to their job and their willingness to report problems to management.

How leaders treats their employees plays a role in the employee’s personal development, as Semiromi et al (2013) found in a study looking at managers within the province of Charmahal-Bakhtiari in western Iran that treating employees with respect and socialisation with them led to employees being more interested in the organisation and their personal development while being just and honest had a weak correlation.

Overall ethical leadership implicates the concept and beliefs of followers and helps to make the work of followers more meaningful and motivated. This can provide a discordant with the behaviour of the leaders for the actual business of the organisation itself. A leader can be ethical towards their followers while working for an organisation or industry that it considered ‘bad’ or even ‘evil’ by society (Thoroughgood et al 2012).

Bad, Toxic and Destructive Leadership

At its simplest, bad leadership can be considered, alongside the concepts of toxic leadership and destructive leadership the opposite to ethical leadership.

Bad leaders tend to exhibit a number of characteristics such as; incompetence, either through personality/attitude or lack of skills/training/experience; the inability to be open to new ideas or ways of doing things; lack of self-control: callousness behaviour towards others, including ignoring or discounting the needs, wants and wishes or subordinates; being corrupt such as taking bribes, lying, stealing and using underhanded behaviour, putting their own self-interest before public interest; minimising or disregarding the health and welfare of those outside of their core group; and a tendency towards ‘evilness’, willing to commit atrocities as an instrument of power (Kellerman, 2005; Pinto, 2004; Shaw et al, 2011). A destructive leader can be perceived as such from only a handful of such characteristics, as low as one or two depending on how extreme others view them (Shaw et al 2011)

Toxic leaders tend to attract and ‘play’ with their followers and can abuse followers who have a psychological need for leadership (Romm, 2007). Interestingly in some cases followers tolerate, or even venerate toxic leaders and will aid and abet them in their endeavours, even if the end result will negatively affect them. (Grodnitzky, 2006). It can be argued that leaders are thus not the only ones to blame for bad leadership, as followers have responsibility for giving bad leaders the opportunity to lead (Kellerman, 2005), this is also considered destructive leadership. Studies of destructive leadership towards followers include a number of different forms, including abusive supervision, petty tyranny and pseudo-transformational leadership (Krasikova et al, 2013; Yenming, 2012). This is supported by the results of studies by Schyns and Schilling (2013) which have indicated that individual performance and morale is lower while there is a higher employee turnover and increased resistance towards bad leaders.

Unfortunately, destructive leadership is all too common and the task of dealing with them is difficult (Erickson et al, 2015). In order to prevent and manage bad leadership within an organisation Erickson et al, 2015 suggests that organisations must be selective in their practices of hiring and promotion opportunities with a clear framework model of the type of positive (ethical) leadership values and behaviours that are important for an organisation to flourish. While at the same time encouraging employees to feel free to voice issues in which they feel have contravened both their own but also the organisations values. This empowers the employees (followers) who are more likely to challenge toxic leadership, however once raised the onus is on the senior management team to support those who raised the issues and that the issues are dealt with.

Sometimes we Have to Take a Chance on New Opportunities

Sometimes we have to take a chance on new opportunities.

This week I decided to stand in the ARU Student Union elections as Vice President of Business.

It will be an interesting campaign, not least because I decided to run at the last minute and had only a couple of days to come up with a manifesto and initial poster design!

Straight away thou I figured that being part of a slate (a group) would be beneficial and got pointed in the direction of a couple of candidates standing for President, a short conversation later I was a member of team SU 4 YOU.

In the excitement I'll attempt to keep a log of how the campaigning goes, but no promises. I except it to be a very busy couple of weeks!

Deadline Madness

Deadlines always seem to be a bit of a mad time at uni, often with colleagues staying up late into the night in order to finish their assignments.

I can’t fault them thou, an issue with a group assignment meant that I was up until 6am before the deadlines myself.

This semester thou I found myself struggling to complete my assignments, with the notable exception of Employment Law, and this is I believe due to the lack of motivation I’ve been feeling this semester towards my studies.

Whether this is due to getting back into studying after the summer or fatigue from the last two years at university remains to be seen, although once Christmas has passed I’ll hopefully find my motivation again, particularly as I plan on getting through a good chunk of my major project in January!

Feeling Ugh and Drained of Energy

It’s now six weeks into the semester and already I have started to think ‘why stay at university?’ Feelings of inadequacy in what I’m doing, both work and uni, the sense of loss and even feeling left behind when it comes to what I would normally do before I started university.

The last two years have on one hand flown by, the teaching semesters coming to an end just after they’ve started and deadlines coming up faster than it feels possible. On the other hand however it feels like I’ve stood still or gone backwards. University has been, and will continue to be, a large commitment in not only time but also energy. Physically and mentally.

Lately this has not only left me feeling drained, but has started to effect my memory. Whole days just seem to disappear and I don’t remember a thing from them.

This comes from, I suspect, a combination of various factors:

  • Freshers flu, ugh sickness going around.This year seems particularly bad as I’ve been ill more than once within the last couple of months. 
  • Money, that lack of feeling of having a regular disposable income instead where currently each months pay-check covers only living costs. 
  • The move from a working environment to an academic one (this can be a big one, it took me the entire first semester of my first year to adjust). 
  • Dealing with many new people (I’m not naturally a social person, as I’m sure many can contest to). 
  • Making too many commitments and over-stretching myself, president of two societies, course rep, and a number of other commitments have led me to expending energy that could otherwise be put towards my studies. 
  • The lack of certainty around my fiancé’s visa is causing me a lot of concern, particularly as by the time we’ll know more on if we can stay in the UK or not will be end of April at the earlier. This affects applications for scholarships/grants as I don’t want to commit to accepting a place at university within the UK without that certainty of knowing first.  

Not forgetting of course the module assessments and my major project. The module assessments I’m not too nervous about, the major project has me nervous enough that I’ve even thought of dropping out of uni!

We’re also coming up to the winter months, and as usual my mood is starting to fall. This year I really should invest in one of those special lamps for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Good news is, I know that I’m not alone. Bad news is, I tend not to discuss my problems…

ARU International Business Society Taster Session

The International Business Society held it’s first event of the year with a taster session on Tuesday 17th October. The session was split into three parts:

  • The introduction presentation,
  • The International Trade Game,
  • The debrief.

Presentation

 A quick brief on who the Society are, our upcoming activities for the semester and reasons for joining.

The International Trade Game

The International Trade Game began with the attendees split onto five tables, each representing a country.

  • 1 Developed country,
  • 2 Transitional countries,
  • 2 Developing countries,

The objective of the game is for the countries to produce shapes cut out of paper, which they could then sell to the central trader for cash. The country that made the most money won.

Each country was given an envelope with their starting resources, with each country type having different resources. For example the developed country began with all of the ‘machinery’ to produce the shapes – scissors, compasses, etc, while given only a few sheets of paper (the raw materials), they did however start with the largest liquid cash. Transitional countries however were given large quantities of paper, some ‘machinery’ – rulers, and a medium amount of cash. The Developing countries however were given few sheets and even fewer other resources – no rulers, and very little starting cash.

The key to winning would be not only selling shapes produced but also trading with other tables for the materials to produce further shapes once their initial resources were exhausted.

The game began in expected fashion with the developed country getting stuck in, and the transitional and developing countries finding ways to produce shapes without the equipment to cut paper.

Within minutes shapes were starting to be sold to the trader and economic theory started to take place… A large supply of small triangles led to the price suddenly halving. Throughout the game prices would fluctuate depending on the type of shape being sold, with shapes that had few or none sold increasing in value while common shapes decreased. A simple case of supply and demand.

After 10 minutes a pair of scissors went to auction, and despite having the ability to the Developed country declined to place the highest bid, the winning bid going to a developing country. This turned out to be a reoccurring theme as at the second auction, for 10 sheets of paper, the same country won the bid.

Just after starting the game coloured stickers, representing rare materials, were given to the developing countries, but where not informed of their purpose. The developed country was informed that shapes with coloured stickers on would be worth double their value. Failing to act on this however the developed country declined to trade with the developing countries.

After 35 minutes it was made common knowledge to all countries that shapes with coloured stickers on would be worth double. However at this point only one was able to effectively take advantage of this.

With a surprise win, a developing country that won the game. Having taken advantage of both auctions to increase productivity and resources (paper and scissors) and being in the best position to make use of the rare materials

Further details of the game can be found here: https://www.economicsnetwork.ac.uk/showcase/sloman_game.

Debrief

The debrief was led by Dr. Imko Meyenburg, a lecturer at Anglia Ruskin and the BSc (Hons) Business and Economics course leader. Linking the actions during the game with economic theory, including price elasticity that he had given a lecture on just the day before to first year undergraduates!

Overall the event was well received, with positive feedback and new members joining the Society.

One Year On

It’s been a year now since I first started my blog, and looking back I have to say that I’m a little disappointed in myself.

My goals when I started this website were to:

  1. Blog about events that occurred and subjects that I found interesting. 
  2. Learn more about running a website, including the back functions.  
  3. Learn a bit of code to eventually create my own website design rather than the current pre-made version.  
  4. Promote myself, my activities and projects.

So far I’ve managed a bit of the first, maybe some of the second, none of the third and a little of the last. This is particularly disappointing when considering that a number of my posts refer to events/topics that I planned on writing and posting within a month or two of the first post.
Looking back at why I can identify several trends:

  1. Procrastination, a lot of procrastination and wasting time that could be spent on productive activities.  
  2. Not devoting the time required despite saying to myself to spend at least a couple of hours a week on writing content/learning more about running a website. 
  3. Prioritising other activities such as the Enterprise and International Business Societies, work, spending time with family, my girlfriend… wait, ignore that last one! 
  4. Life – life just gets in the way, the hunt for next years accommodation, increased commuting time (although when I manage to get a seat on the train it’s not too bad).  
  5. Tired after work, work is exhausting and spending my day in front of a computer screen doesn’t help. I’ve got to get away from the screen sometimes… 

Some of the above could be considered laziness, oh well.

In an attempt to rectify some of the above I’m setting myself a set of SMART objectives for the remainder of the year. The first to encourage writing posts and the second for adding content to the website.

Objective: Blog once a month 

Specific

Post once a month on my blog with a university related subject that either covers an activity I took part in, an event I attended, or an item of interest that occurred. 

Measurable

The posting of one blog post a month that involves university. 

Achievable

Very achievable. 

Relevant 

A post for my blog that is related to an aspect of my life. 

Time 

 The last day of each month per post. 

Objective: Update the Recommended Reading page

Specific 

Update the recommended reading page with the latest books I’ve read that I recommend for anyone who seeks to better understand or improves themselves, to learn new things and build on their knowledge base, or alternatively is a good read. This includes writing a brief blurb and personal thoughts of the books.

Measurable 

At least 5 books with a blurb and personal thoughts are added.

Achievable

There is a moderate chance that this objective is achievable.

Relevant

Self-improvement is always vital, as is learning new things even if they may not appear relevant at the time. By recommending some of the more interesting books that I’ve read than I hope that it’ll encourage others to read them.

Time

By the end of December 2017.

Let’s see when I revisit them at the end of the year how I’ve done!

Taking on a New Challenge

Even thou the new academic year has yet to begin it’s already looking to be a busy first semester. The LAIBS Intern Programme is continuing and culminates with an awards evening in November, with a session on communication booked for the latter half of September. 

A timely session it appears as I’ve risen to the challenge and taken on the presidency of the Cambridge branch of the ARU Enterprise Society, and in addition have begun the development of a course based International Business Society. I’ll need to put my communication skill to the test in order to promote the societies.  

I’ve taken on this challenge because I did not wish to see the Enterprise Society at Cambridge come to an end, it also provides both an opportunity to take on a leadership position and develop by skills but to also give something back to the university. The extra-curricular activities put on by the Society previously, by the business school and the SU have enhanced my university experience and contributed to how well I’ve done with my assignments, network, friendships and overall helped make university as enjoyable as possible. Without these I would have not done as well and have been a lot lonelier for it! 

Previously the Enterprise Society has been the only business related society for Cambridge, the Chelmsford Campus also having the Finance Society, and I believe that this may have caused some confusion. Being the only business related society members may have either joined but, with low or no interest in entrepreneurship, disengaged or alternatively may have decided not to join as they had no interest in enterprise in the first place.  

There is also the potential that students from other facilities may have refrained from joining due to the business heavy focus. ARU heavily promotes entrepreneurship but each faculty appears to be operating separately, one aim of the Enterprise Society is to allow students from different faculties to come together and collaborate.  

Along with the International Business Society, the Students Union is promoting the introduction of further course based societies throughout the university, and I hope that by separating the link between the Enterprise Society and LAIBS than this would reduce the confusion about the Society. With new course based societies there is also the potential to increase the number of LAIBS students who engage with societies, and once they get involved could lead to further involvement in LAIBS activities. 

To sum it up, the approach chosen is that the International Business Society focuses on business related activities for business students while the Enterprise Society would focus on entrepreneurship throughout the university as a whole. 

One area of concern is society longevity, while recognising that societies are student led and focused and that societies come and go with varying lifespans, one of my objectives for the year is to develop a programme to early identify and “train up” future committee members/leaders in order to reduce the chances of either society folding with a change in committee. Possibly even developing a link to committee roles to related modules – a sort of “you’ve learned the theory now put it into practice”. 

Internship Programme First Update

Last month I was accepted onto the LAIBS Internship Programme, and added to an already busy month. There were two intern events in March, and one at the start of April.

The first event was network training in preparation for the second event where we met our mentors, although my mentor was absent on the day we had made plans beforehand to meet up at a later date.

The April event took place in Ely with the day split into two. In the morning an adventure hunt solving clues to find a missing person, with the afternoon looking at teamwork theory, including Belbins team roles and John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership.

Adventure Hunt

First we had to get into line, without talking, in the order of our birth (day and month only), and than split into five teams based on date of birth (first six, next six, etc.). The goal was an attempt to get a mix within teams of people from both Cambridge and Chelmsford and people who don’t know each other. Amusingly I was in a team with three others from Cambridge, whom I already knew, and two from Chelmsford.

The adventure hunt itself was interesting, and challenging. We were given a folder with maps of the area, a small envelope with ‘open first’ and a walkie talkie. One of the maps was the immediate vercinity with stars on, at each of the locations we found more envelopes. Within each was a jigsaw puzzle, which when put together spelled “Costa”, which was where we met out first contact.

Given a map to a park and parts to make a compass (just missing the water) we made our way where we found ourselves in a game of Chinese whispers. Passing along an origin of common English phrases, the person at the back had to figure out which phrase it was. We passed with no faults.

After this we made our way to another park, went South for 69 paces, found a picture of a crab. Made a crab out of felt, went behind Ely Cathedral, matched up six names of famous books and from these found the first code word, worked out a four letter word (this was probably the hardest part) for the second code word. And won, having figured out the word first and identified the code words as Ursa Minor.

The Afternoon

The afternoon built on the morning, remaining in our teams we looked at Belbins team roles, identifying each other’s strengths and weaknesses and matching them to the nine roles Belbin identified. We also looked at Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership, although only the basic theory – it should fit in with a module I’m taking next year, Leadership in Contemporary Organisations.

There are a couple of upcoming events in May and a further event, date tbc, that involves climbing the O2!

University Business Challenge 2016/17 Semi Finals

UBC Semi Finals 2016.17 07.03.2017 - Copy
Team Sonic, left to right: Jamie, Team Captain Ana, Rosie, Connor, Joao

Last week, on Tuesday 7th March my team was at the University Business Challenge (UBC) 2016/17 semi-final round in Sheffield, one of four semi-final rounds.

The day was split between four activities, each giving points depending on how well each team did. The four activities were:

  • Start up
  • Planning
  • Running
  • Scaling up/continuity

Start Up

A creative activity, each team had to come up with up to three product ideas incorporating a hen theme. A fun starting activity, the team came up some interesting ideas including:

  • Egg on the go: An app allowing people to locate and buy eggs from local producers.
  • Chickflick: A subscription service for chick flicks films.
  • Hen Bomb: A novelty item that causes chicken feathers to go flying everywhere.

The creative juices were flowing all around, and it was a pleasure when our ideas were mentioned among the top five groups that the judges liked.

Planning

The planning activity introduced two new concepts that I had not come across before: the problem matrix and the business model canvas, both of which I’ll expand on in a future post.

The activity itself covered putting together a business model canvas for the social enterprise Social Bite. The canvas itself is an interesting concept and one I’ll look to apply in the future.

Running

Starting after the planning activity, the third activity was a simulation split into three parts throughout the middle of the day to allow for the results of each period to be calculated.

This activity was probably the most intense for me on the day, where we had days to come to a decision in the first round of the UBC here we had minutes. While we had an hour to make our decisions for the first period, this included having little prior information expect for basic financial information (rent, utility bills, and cost of materials/labour) and marketing information. Additionally, we also had to decide on the type of location (small, medium and large) to run the business from, which would affect our initial starting capital. The second and third periods we had 20 minutes to analyse the previous period’s results and make our new decisions.

Scaling Up/Continuity

Imaging that we’d been running a business for at least two years we had to put together a 60 second elevator pitch. Of the 40 minutes given for this task we spent more than half coming up with an idea and managed to crack together the who, why, and finances in record time. We were also fortunate that one of our team members is great at presentations and was able to pull it off without a sweat.

Networking

While not one of the core activities of the day, the last before the results given, we were ‘encouraged’ to speak to members of different teams and lecturers. I do feel however, while understanding why this was at the end in order to put together the final scores, that this was not the best time to encourage networking on the basis that at the end of the day the majority of attendees to me seemed, to one extent or another, worn out from the day.  Which for me at least isn’t the best of states to be in when networking!

End Thoughts

Overall I enjoyed the experience, with the team placing 5th out of 30. While this did not guaranteed us a place in the finals we have entered into a pot with the remainder 8 runner up teams from the four semi-final rounds, with one team being randomly picked to go through. With luck we’ll be picked and going through to the final, but if not I would like to end this post with two sentiments.

The first: To the team, thank you for a truly enjoyable experience. It has been a pleasure and while as a team we may not compete together again next year, it would be an honour to compete together in other competitons.

The second: To anyone reading this and thinking of entering two words, do it. You will not regret it, and will learn a lot, not only about business but also about yourself.

Best Part of the Day: The best part of the day was the team work, with the pressure of limited time to complete the activities

Worst Part of the Day: The pressure to complete the activities within short time periods.