The Blog

Business Training, circa 1987


The discovery of my old school magazine from 1987 has made me even more proud to be associated with Founders4Schools, an ambitious tech-led non-profit, whose mission is to improve the life chances of students by giving them access to inspiring business leaders in their community.

First up, though - a confession. Any of my previous (or current) employers, or teachers - you may want to skip this bit.

Business training is rubbish.

Any course that I've been sent on, whilst at school or in work, I have always been the one at the back, chewing my pencil and trying to arrange my features in a "I'm listening and open to this learning experience" face. I have always had a suspicion of anything that markets itself to the business community as "the new way" of doing anything, preferring to find mentors and advisers, and learn on the job.

With the discovery of a pile of old school magazines, I'm beginning to make sense of this.

The 1987 school magazine contains my article about the "Challenge of Industry" conference (alongside the ads for secretarial colleges) that I had been selected to attend. As an exercise in persuading a teenage girl not to go into business it was perfectly conceived. Held at the local boys' school, highlights of this day included negotiating with the trade unions over the length of coffee breaks (25 or 15 minutes?), undertaking a disciplinary hearing for a night watchman who was absconding to the pub, and dealing with the product launch of wire bound notebooks, which was delayed by strikes. Delivered by a "tall man in a pinstripe suit who resembled in voice and actions John Cleese", you don't need to read between the lines to conclude that there was at least one attendee who would rather have been left to organise - as the school magazine relates - German Club, Drama Club or the sketching in Paris school trip.

Fast forward to the '90s and a series of business training days organised by UCL. The general gist of these were military style training days where we were driven to deepest Somerset, left in a field with a tent and then asked to make a raft in the morning. This time it was the Big 4 accountancy firms sponsoring the weekends.

Both times, I was selected without any form of preamble, suggestion or discussion - it seems that academic staff were happy to send this young woman along to business training, and eventually their intuition proved correct.

However, they all missed a trick. If the idea was to get me into business, all they needed to do was give me 5 minutes with one of the many charismatic, inspirational and individual women that were hard at work carving out careers and growing businesses.

The day Goldman Sachs did that in a small and stuffy room towards the end of my postgraduate studies in Cambridge, was the day that I became a business evangelist. These women didn't need tents or rafts, pinstripe suits or industrial disputes to persuade me that working in a growth industry (at the time, investment banking), was a good thing for a woman to do. The talk was of new business products - automated trading, ecommerce - independence, travel, the chance to earn great money and build a business.

Sometimes, all it takes is five minutes - and F4S has facilitated 77,374 student-employer encounters in the classroom, to talk to students about the jobs they might hold or create in the future. No coffee break negotiations or pinstripe suit in view.

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