Wow. I attended a world class event on 3 October 2014 – the Institute of Directors Annual Convention held at the iconic Albert Hall. The line-up of speakers was incredible and they all presented slick, world-class performances.

It was a great opportunity to listen to Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) and, as expected, he presented impressive figures to show how Wikipedia is used across the world. For me, the most interesting part of his talk was in relation to access in Africa where Wikipedia have negotiated free data access over mobile phone networks. This is a revolutionary change and it enables school children, university students and others to have access to this information. In the UK, we are often very critical of students who don’t use the vast range of print and electronic sources they have available to them via our libraries but in countries where there is limited access to information then Wikipedia is an important, indeed sometimes the only source. Jimmy Fells talked about the medical information available on Wikipedia and the way in which articles on Ebola are currently being translated into local languages to help ensure accurate information is quickly disseminated.


Another interesting speech came from Andy Bird, Chairman of Walt Disney International, who talked about creativity and gave some insights into the technical demands of current productions including an in-depth look at some of the sequences from the recent film, Frozen. He also talked about globalisation and how the Walt Disney company had shifted from exporting their products to different countries to developing products and projects in-country so that they were aligned with the cultures of those countries. The example he gave was the development of Disneyland around the world and we all got a glimpse of the new Shanghai Disneyland which is built around Chinese culture and myths.

It was back to Africa with a talk by Mo Ibrahim, Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Celtal and Satya Capital. His talk was inspirational as he has used his expertise to develop mobile phone networks in Africa. This included building the infrastructure. He talked about how the availability of mobile phones and mobile phone networks has produced secondary employment for more than 500K people and increased the GDP by 10%.

Another presentation which struck a chord with me was by Susan Sobbott, President of Global Corporate Payments, American Express. It was great to see a woman speaker (more later on this topic). She talked about building your business purpose and galvanising the force of purpose into employees’ actions. She used the image of a rowing team to demonstrate everyone working in a team to achieve the same purpose – winning the race. Susan presented many business examples including Gandy’s  and Ella’s Kitchen . She also talked about Small Business Saturday – in the UK it is the 6th December 2014 – in which everyone supports their local and small businesses.

There were many other exciting talks and the whole day gave the sense of excitement and change. The phrase ‘Where game changers do business’ was the title of the day and it really captured the spirit of the conference.

Some additional personal impressions

First of all it was really great to see so many students attending the conference and this included Westminster Business School students. They all appeared to enjoy the day both in terms of the speeches and also networking with each other. I was also pleased to meet up with some of our alumni who excitedly told me about their new jobs and also further studies e.g. Master’s programmes.

Secondly, it was frustrating to note the lack of women on the stage. This was clearly illustrated by the conference brochure which on its title page pictured 17 people and only 3 of them were women. In terms of game changers this would be an easy first step – there are many brilliant and charismatic women who could be represented at the conference. We need to see women equally represented at these events which send out such a strong message to the business and wider communities.

Finally, the lunch was incredible. It was a top class aeroplane meal packaged in what looked like a giant black brief case – this gave a great photo opportunity for the Institute of Directors. The food was great BUT the packaging was not good for the environment – simpler packaging which is cheaper to recycle would really help demonstrate the Institute of Directors commitment to corporate social responsibility including the green agenda.

If you would like to watch the speakers please take a look at the Highlights of the IoD Annual Convention 2014.

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