Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

3 Insights about London Business Culture from Spring Break 2015

International Business Insights Flowed
From Eight Meetings in London

14 Huntsman Students Learned from a Ten-Day Trip There

A trip to London with 14 business students yielded a number of insights about international business. Led by Senior Lecturer Christine Arrington and Program Director Liz Allred, the group took a one-credit course Bus. 2000, Foundations of International Business.
First, it was astounding the degree to which businesspeople in London have embraced design thinking and the lean startup process. The students spent half a day at True Start, part of Google’s innovation campus in east London, where they presented business startup ideas they had prepared and then were guided through the lean startup process. The setting was an open-space office, with no cubicles, and with large tables, white boards, and lots of sticky notes everywhere--exactly like such spaces in Silicon Valley.   
Later, the group spent half a day at a somewhat similar venue, the Barclays Bank London Escalator, in which Barclay’s funds hundreds of startup projects in return for a share of equity in any businesses that successfully get launched from there. 
A third visit, to Government Digital Services, showcased another lean startup, in which all relevant government services information for consumers is posted on www.Gov.UK. The site was created through rapid prototyping and constant iteration. A comparison with online government services information in the U.S. confirmed for the students that Americans don't have anything nearly as efficient for accessing information as do citizens in the United Kingdom.
A second insight came from a case study of the incredibly intense level of analysis required to place a giant bet on a commodity price. At Apollo Global Management, the students learned about that private equity firm’s massive bet that oil prices would fall significantly. An executive there, Rob Ruberton, described the analysis process, the quantitative requirements, and the political components. He pointed out that the entire bet was hedged, and he explained how that was done. Then he offered that the final political factor in favor of the bet was the level of antagonism that Iraqis feel for Iran and that Middle East oil operators feel for U.S. frackers; those big suppliers were judged not likely to lower their pumping in order to slow dropping oil prices. Rather, they would let the price fall and enjoy watching it drive some competitors out of the business.
            The third insight, about business culture in London, came from meeting with a digital analyst at the Financial Times. McKinley Hyden grew up in the U.S., attended St. Andrew's University, and then the London School of Economics. She explained how differently the business culture operates in London than in the U.S. The usual U.S. approach for a young, smart employee is to be a somewhat brash, outspoken underling, full of ideas and always eager to share them; that approach doesn't work well in London, she explained. More decorum and respect for authority is expected in all exchanges between employees and their supervisors.

            Additional visits were insightful, as well--at Deloitte, Goldman-Sachs, and Kantar Media. 

            Finally, the students visited Cambridge University, where they were hosted by two students there, Zach and Joe Levin; they are sons of Christine's Stanford classmate David Levin, new CEO of the $2 billion revenue McGraw-Hill Education in New York. Zach and Joe showed the group around the whole campus and shared the lore. They even pointed out the college that Isaac Newton attended, and the tree which legend has it was the one under which the famous apple fell on his head, stimulating his "gravity" aha moment.  

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