Tuesday, 20 December 2016

It's Christmas Let's Twist and Sprout

This chilly Monday morning a sea of low grey clouds are sleeping peacefully on their bed, or as we would call it “London”. No sign of movement. No sign of getting up and letting the sun shine warmly down upon us. Just fluffy London clouds, calmly stretching far across the Monday morning landscape, peacefully sleeping, oblivious to the London traffic thundering on below.

That’s a rather poetic view I think, but then again as a former banker you would expect me to have a gentle poetic side to my nature. In fact, please allow me to share with you this heart-warming banking poem:

Your bank account is overdrawn,
You’ve spent the lot, the money’s gone,
With interest added debt enlarges,
And just for fun I’ve slapped on charges!

Can’t you just feel the Christmas spirit flooding out from those lines? However it is not this kind of poetry I am referring to, but the poetry of seeing clouds as sleeping, fluffy entities enjoying their rest. You may be wondering if I have started on the Christmas sherry a little bit too early today, but seriously I haven’t. There is method in my madness as I shall now explain.

I started the ‘lending banker’ segment of my career looking after personal borrowing. Every morning I would go through the accounts and make decisions on accounts that had exceeded their limits. Normally a letter about curbing some retail excesses would suffice to get things back on track, though at times it wasn’t so easy. Genuine hardship can befall anyone; sometimes of our own making and sometimes not.

Christmas was a time when a lot of self-generated debt came about. You might think this was the result of extravagance, or an inability to manage money, and you would be right. Usually though it was because people genuinely wanted to give somebody a happy Christmas. They just wanted things to be nice, and their generosity of spirit clouded their financial judgment. I met many decent, genuine people who had walked themselves in to debt this way, and it can be heart-breaking to see.

I didn’t want to see my daughter get in to debt when she was older so I came up with an idea. It was raining one Saturday afternoon – a pleasant gentle autumn rain – and I took her out in to the garden and asked her to show me what she could see, hear and smell. A garden in the rain can be really beautiful if you look, and I explained to her that beauty and happiness does not have to come in a box, or need batteries or cost lots of money. It is there all around us, and it’s free.

Did my cunning plan work? Well since then many years have passed, and my daughter has had more CDs, DVDs, and computer games than I can remember. However, she has grown up with the awareness of money I had hoped for, and she has never wasted money or got in to debt. Most of all she is content with her lot. There is an old Scots saying that applied: if you can’t get what you want then want what you’ve got. This works for her.

So this Christmas I would urge you to heed these words from an ageing (but still extremely good looking) former lending banker: spend a little, make someone happy and keep someone in a job, but equally spend just a little less and sleep peacefully at night. Season’s greetings everyone!

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 13 December 2016


Our MBA students have been studying in London over the weekend. One of the highlights was the participation of guest speakers, themselves busy professionals highly proficient in masterly ability. They know the value of masterliness, and their highly informative contribution was very much valued and appreciated by our students and by ECBM.

These students are already making their way in the world, but they realise that a master’s degree develops the mind in such a way that they will become far more creative and original in their thinking, and subsequently more effective and productive in life through synergistic thinking and strategy. They develop masterliness, that intellectual ability to face any fresh challenge, familiar or unfamiliar, and manage it successfully.

In gaining a master’s you are not looking for comparison to others – in fact that is only a small factor – what you are gaining is an intellectual instrument which improves your own personal performance, which is arguably the most important factor of them all. Practical and intellectual synergistic ability are the building blocks of executive management, and it is not uncommon for our students to tell us how studying for their MBA has changed their lives.

I think our government, and especially Prime Minister Theresa May, could do with some of this practical and intellectual synergy just now, as it finds itself in what is being reported as a farce, just when it should be preparing for Brexit negotiations. What a position for a Prime Minister to find herself in. So I guess you want to know what this ‘farce’ is all about? It’s this: Leather trousers!

Yes leather trousers. Evidently the prime minister allegedly paid nearly £1,000 for a pair of leather trousers and was pictured in them when she gave a recent interview. This has launched a range of comments, principally whether it is right or wrong for Mrs May to spend so much on clothing when so many people are struggling in the UK just to get through the month.

“Theresa May's leather trousers prompt political row” trumpeted the BBC News headline. Comments from other MPs criticising her expensive clothes have started to be reported in what is being dubbed ‘Trousergate’, though what connection this has to the late US president Nixon’s Watergate scandal I do not know. Mrs May clearly needs someone to save the day. Someone to get the government back on track, focussing on the really important problems of the day and sorting them out. Yes… “This is a job for Superman!”

What a shame there are no such people as superheroes. Yet wait a moment, there may not be a Superman or Wonder Woman, but there are mortal versions of these people in the business world and they share that one special ability – masterliness – and it is that kind of person, that calibre of person, who will strategise a way out of the government’s present difficulties.

May I suggest Prime Minister that in future you should shop at Primark.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

It’s a freezing cold Saturday morning at the local football club

On hard, frost-laden grass, two junior clubs are lined up against each other ready for the contest. Breath emanating from wind-blushed cheeks turns to mini clouds of vapour in the freezing air, ascending in the same direction as their hopes and dreams as these aspiring stars shiver with a potent mixture of freezing air and adrenaline. Parents watch from the touchline, scarf-laden and hands in pockets. The whistle blows.

I think at this point I should admit that I don’t really enjoy football and I don’t support any team. I was only ever interested in the business side. Then one day one of my students explained to me that there is much more to football than just the games played, the ticket sales, the revenue streams and the merchandising. There is a human element - a heart and soul - and that is what I had been missing.

He explained that a team is the most human of structures. With its inherent human faults it battles on, then it loses, but it won’t give up, so it battles on again, it loses again, and still it battles on, and next time it wins through, and then yes it wins again! On and on the football ‘dance’ continues with faith and passion! Players, management and supporters together morph in to the collective heart and soul of a team striving to make their hopes and dreams a reality.

A few days ago the hopes and dreams of Brazil's Chapecoense football team, so positive and so buoyant, ended on the side of a mountain in Columbia. Millions of people around the world found themselves emotionally in touch with the Chapecoense heart and soul which clearly continues to live and touch people’s lives, and long may it do so.

As a teacher of ethics I have often looked for answers to life’s tragedies in philosophy, but I don’t ever find them. Are they not there or have I just not come across them yet? Should philosophy be a tool used to uncover life’s mysteries, or an instrument through which known elements of life can be explained?

I have learned from others who have been through profound tragedies that if you have to get wet in the storm then you should be determined to enjoy the smell of the wet grass and the freshness of the air which accompanies the storm. What I like in this approach is that it is positive, personal and self-contained. It does not require any well-meaning but ineffectual kind words from others. It is bespoke and self-determined.

I don’t know how the families, friends and supporters of those who died in the crash will deal with their personal tragedy. However I do hope that they can connect to the positive outpouring of all those who mourn with them, and that this will nourish them in a way which is right for them. I also hope that next Saturday two more teams - those most human of structures - are out on the field in the freezing cold, adrenaline pumping, parents and friends shivering on the touchline, and that the dance will go on and on.

This blog is dedicated to the Chapecoense team.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Coming soon to a cinema near you… Moonlight Over Great Eastern Street!

Matt Damon stars as the rough, tough, maverick accountancy lecturer who’s never afraid to push his budget analysis to extreme variance limits.

I think Matt Damon would be good to play my part. Okay we might have to fatten him up a little, and perhaps dye his hair grey, but I think he could pull it off; the part that is, not his hair.

Sad though it is to admit, my subjects just don’t have mass-market box office appeal. So what can I do to enliven my teaching? Humour! That’s it. Humour. Education inspectors who’d attended one of my accountancy classes once said that I bring humour to a subject not known for its humour. I suspect however my students might claim that my humour is not known for its humour.

I sometimes describe my subjects as ‘gear change’ subjects. Learning to change gear is not exciting in itself, but you cannot have fun in a Porsche without first learning how to do it. So it is with accountancy and finance: learning such subjects can appear ‘dry’ but they support careers which might span from being a finance director of a large company to the next Sir Richard Branson. 

Consequently the ‘gear change’ becomes the all-important link to the adrenalin rush of the supercharged engine, and that is why I can find these subjects stimulating and exciting. I find that students who are further down the line in their careers know and understand this already and share the feeling. However, what can we do for the younger students just starting out who have not yet engaged in this way? How do we help them to go down the line and share the feeling?

I have been teaching for a long time, however I believe the best approach is always to share good practice. Recently before teaching politics and economics to a young group I asked a colleague how she approaches the subject. Out of this discussion came a link to the BBC news channel, where a game show format had been used to ask people in the street about how well the UK economy was working. I replicated this in the class, and it went down really well.

Another colleague overheard our conversation. She had an idea… she got her students and mine up on their feet to do star jumps! It only lasted a couple of minutes, but those students were re-energised and their output improved afterwards. I remember that such class room creativity was encouraged during my teacher training days, when we all had to try a new way of delivery, and I taught a segment by rapping it.

The theme here is clear. Don’t be a hero, be a teacher. A hero would try and do it all alone, but a teacher should care and share. This is why we also encourage an exchange of ideas between the older and the younger teachers: the older ones have the experience, and the younger ones have the fresh ideas, and together the synergy is irresistible.

Sadly not every institution can make this happen, as personal politics can get in the way of a free flow of shared ideas. At ECBM we don’t have this problem. Someone is always ready with a suggestion or an idea. It all goes on behind the scenes, and although our students won’t see this preparation taking place, hopefully they will feel the benefits.

Now if you will forgive me, I have to climb up the outside of the building to the helicopter hovering overhead, leap up and pull myself inside, overpower the pilot and speed off in to the velvet night sky. Destination: a place of mystery far away. Route: via the supermarket.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Top of 'Brexit Towers’ hidden in the fog

The sky was calm, a drab mid-grey, as I walked out in to the energising cool breeze of an English autumnal morning. Golden brown leaves carpeted the damp spongy grass, their crispness diminished but not their vibrant beauty. Woodland trees were standing on guard on the other side of the valley, distant but reassuring, shrouded in a mellow milky mist. Such a peaceful scene.

Later that morning I was in the fast-moving current of the City which is anything but peaceful. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes rumbled through the busy streets, and pedestrians of all shapes and sizes darted along the pavements. You could never choreograph the pavement, as the opposing dance of the work-bound is far too intricate. Determination and necessity take over, and we all get to our destinations.

The City of London contains a fascinating eclectic mix of new tall buildings, and today – just like the trees in the valley – they were bathed in fog and low cloud. Ever upward they reach, but today the tops of these towers were not in sight. I knew there was a conclusion, a summit, but I couldn’t see it. Nature was mirroring life. At the moment there are many conclusions that we cannot see or predict.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has been reassuring business leaders at the Confederation of British Industry that Brexit will not result in a damaging cliff edge scenario, and that she will be seeking a transitional deal for the City even if the UK will need to continue paying contributions to the EU post-Brexit. Yes, even if we have to continue paying. 

CBI President Paul Drechsler believes that the business community is 100% committed to achieving a smooth and successful Brexit in 2019 in partnership with Government, but then again there have been allegations in the press that the British government does not have a single plan regarding how to manage Brexit, and that civil servants are overwhelmed already with preparatory work.

I would like to know what Mr Drechsler means by the terms ‘smooth’ and ‘successful’, as without such clarification they are fairly meaningless. Words alone cannot help us.

The top of ‘Brexit Towers’ is certainly hidden in the fog, of that there is no doubt, but surely that is to be expected in a process new to us all in the UK? Is there a need to panic? I don’t think so as I have faith in the EU. With the energising cool breeze of pan-EU co-operation, determination and necessity, we can all eventually reach our destinations under clearer skies.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

No ordinary days in London

Last Thursday I attended a conference about internal audit and regulation for the banking and financial services sector. What a great time we had! Fun, games, jokes, and to end it all three games of bingo with great prizes to be won. Well that would have been nice I guess, had it been true.

Actually we were a room of banking, finance and audit professionals, and addressing highly significant areas of regulation which will have a serious impact on the credibility and validity of our industries. The event was very interesting and very informative and, as everyone knows, we are always people who are great fun to be around. What? You didn’t know that?

The next day however was a day for sober reflection. November 11th. Armistice Day. A time to reflect on the immense courage and fortitude in unimaginable conditions faced by men and women in battle. At 11.00 the two minutes silence was observed by those who wished to, and in my town another minute was added for the seven people who died in a tram crash just last Wednesday, during what they thought would be an ordinary journey to work.

I often think that the men and women who died in battle must have been just like my students: full of life, with hopes, fears and ambitions, making plans and more plans for their futures. Their lives had stretched out ahead of them, but were then so cruelly denied them. As I look at my students I am so grateful that they were born many decades later. May we never forget those of all nations who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Honourable Artillery Company
November 11th was not only about remembrance, as it had another aspect of a happier kind. A day to celebrate the men and women attending their well-deserved graduation ceremony! This joyous event was held at the centrally located Honourable Artillery Company, an oasis in the midst of the city, and full of character and history.

Excited men and women came together to be robed in caps and gowns, the symbols of their character and achievement. Family and friends arrived and were greeted by the ECBM reception staff. An atmosphere of excited anticipation hung in the air. Pictures were taken, some formal and some informal, pictures that will be shown to families for many years to come.

Up on stage congratulatory hands were shaken. Applause spontaneously rang out from the audience. Praise and recognition came from eminent members of the commercial, political and academic worlds who gave time out of their busy and important schedules to support and congratulate the graduates who they clearly admired. Friends and family were so pleased to see such success. ECBM management and teaching staff, having seen at first hand many of the challenges our students faced, were delighted for them.

In one of the speeches we were reminded that, in life, we can either take a chance or make a choice. The graduates had made a choice to open up more doors of opportunity and they were determined to succeed, as they did. I will always advocate making choices rather than taking chances. And the nice part of all of this is that age is never a barrier. I last graduated when I was 53 years old.

Yes… our graduates certainly had a great time in London. ECBM wishes them all further great times in cities around the world in the years to come.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

It's never too early to start with your professional development

On a bright and breezy autumnal Monday morning I get off of the bus, and walk down Great Eastern Street to the ECBM building. For me it’s just a normal day, but for the 19 students I see congregating with their group leader on the corner of the street it is a day they will never forget, because it is ‘day one’ in London on their Professional Development Programme (PDP).

Students from Koblez on their first day in October

I say ‘day one’, but in fact the group leader and their team have been giving time from their busy schedules to make this programme offering possible for their students, addressing the necessary planning and administration requirements in liaison with the ECBM PDP team. The students have been making their applications for a place on the programme, making preparations for three weeks in London, and the prospect of studying in a second language.

There is anticipation in the air. In class, introductions are being made. The ECBM teachers are friendly, and they speak at a pace which suits the students’ language skills. We put them at their ease. We prepare them for what is to come. We know that some will be faster learners than others, or more fluent speakers than others, but the important things is that they are all here together sharing the same positive attitude and desire to grow, and so our welcome is warm and genuine.

By Thursday everyone is settling in. The London way of life is becoming familiar, the transport system is far less confusing, and yes they have successfully undertaken a range of business classes in English. They can do it! There will be taken on excursions around places of interest not on the usual London tourist map, and it will be great just to soak up the atmosphere of Victorian cobbled streets, or narrow alleyways in the City. After lessons, the students are making plans for their first weekend and nights out together in London, and probably not to the library this time! There is so much to see and do.

Students from Bad Toelz on excursion to Docklands & Greenwich

Before long it is the final week. Presentations are being perfected, exam questions are being prepared for, and on Friday a ‘farewell’ takes place. Most students want to return to their friends and family and their own bed, but equally don’t want to leave the vibrancy of London’s unique atmosphere. Some however will return for holidays. Some will return at the appropriate time to enrol on one of our Undergraduate Study Programmes. We will be pleased to see them all.

It is such a pleasure to work with these students, with their strong work ethic and positive zest for life, achieving so many things so young. Their self-confidence has grown, they know they can work in English, and their resumes have a valuable addition which employers will value. I did not have the confidence to do what they are doing at 19 or 20 years old, so it is rewarding now to be part of a team – the group leaders, the ECBM programme management, the ECBM teachers – which can provide the arena in which they can enrich their lives and build memories and experiences that will last a life time.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Do you like cheesecake?

I love it. All soft and lemony, with a spoonful of chilled crème fraîche, served up on a warm summer’s day. The best cheesecake recipe I know is from the culinary angel and goddess of the kitchen, Nigella Lawson. Ah the sheer joy of watching her at work as she creates food heaven.

Can I ask you something… at this point, are you sharing my feelings? Do you feel the joy? Will you be logging on to get her recipe? Somehow I doubt it. I have a reason for asking you these questions as you will see.

I made the acquaintance of a senior nursing manager some years back, and he had just returned from a six-week training programme in California. He was wide-eyed and fired up over new management techniques he’d learned about that would revolutionise nursing care on his hospital wards – his words, not mine. A few weeks later when I saw him again he was sad and confused, as his nursing team showed no interest in the techniques, and he could not understand it. “It’s all so wonderful and they just can’t see it” he said. However, he was the one who couldn’t ‘see it’.

While he was out in sunny California enjoying a great life experience, his team were living their same old lives, working under the cold winter clouds of South of London, dealing with sick patients and their families, working to tight budgetary constraints, and under the weight of ever-increasing paperwork. His exposition of the great things he had discovered were meaningless to his team, and nobody could get interested in his ‘brave new vision’.

One of the things we learn in the academic world is that a concept cannot live in a vacuum. It must touch, and be touched by the world around it if it is to ‘live’ and add value. Connections must be made, and we call this ‘application’. This is what the nursing manager apparently failed to understand. He was so motivated by what he had experienced that he stopped thinking about the world in which his team lived. There was no connection between what had motivated him and what was needed to motivate his team. He had failed at the application stage.

Would you or I ever make such a mistake and sacrifice such an opportunity? It’s possible. Experienced people get things wrong just as inexperienced people do, which is why study is so valuable to us all, as it reminds us to think, re-think and re-evaluate critically what we see and experience, even in familiar areas of our lives. It reminds us that we live in different worlds which must be connected to facilitate the sharing of concepts if those concepts are to work.

An example in the business world can be seen when a new restaurant comes to town. The owners know that their love of food – their concept knowledge - is not enough. They step out of the vacuum and on to the pavement. They hand out samples of their food to local people to make that all-important connection. To make the concept ‘live’ and add value. The motivation is passed on and the public are subsequently more likely to book tables.

So if you ever see me standing in front of ECBM handing out samples of cheesecake, you will know why. Find out more about study programmes at ECBM.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

It’s a grey day here in Shoreditch

The sun cannot penetrate the clouds; it looks like it might rain; the air is chilly due to a moderate breeze coming in from… somewhere. Not a very nice day, and it is Tuesday. Well, I hope that is sufficiently negative for you. This view from my window. This dull grey view. However… please challenge me. You must. Don’t just accept what I am saying. How authentic is my view of the day? How valuable are my words?

There are no strong winds, no ice, no snow, no torrential rain, and no flood. The sun might be out later, and the breeze might drop, but so what if it doesn’t? Is there going to be any major impact on my life? And if it rains, it helps crops to grow. We need crops to grow don’t we?

Well, I hope that is sufficiently positive for you. Soon it will be Tuesday night and I will be home in a warm house. It sounds like you would be right to challenge my initial negativity. Then again, somewhere near here there will be a person sleeping rough, among the City splendour of towers of glass and steel. They will be wrapped up in a doorway probably not thinking of crops when it starts to rain. And so the pendulum swings. We live our personal lives in a world of subjectivity, which can be skewed and restricted but which makes life a little easier to understand and order, as it is based on elements of our own creation. However this view of the world may not be feasible beyond our own personal transactions.

‘Humanity’ and ‘Progress’ require of us something more… critical objectivity. A more truthful view of life which forms a solid foundation for humans to build upon. How truthful is that truthful view? I cannot say. What I do know is that through academic study we learn to see the world more as it really is, and less as it is convenient to see, and that this sets us free on so many levels. So I will now leave my subjectivity at the window and return to the critically objective world in my classroom, where student and teacher alike will enter a fascinating and noble world of discovery. Join us here at ECBM for some critical thinking!

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Welcome to ECBM in the heart of London

Today is a typical London day: white clouds float in a blue sky, over red buses and black taxis. The roads are humming with cars and lorries, all going somewhere, and doing something for someone. The pavements are filled with a rich diversity of people: hairstyles and dress sense sometimes challenge the imagination, but lift the soul as London ‘smiles’ on its open-minded diversification. Yes London is open for business.

I grew up just a few minutes from the college, when it was an area for the poorer members of society. Our first flat had no hot water or bathroom. Opposite where I lived you can now find designer flats worth in excess of £1,000,000. Shoreditch has pulled itself up in a transformation which has been the result of courageous and far-sighted people who could see the potential of bringing in better class restaurants, bars and bistros, and who could see the appeal of living so near to the City.

And here in Shoreditch is ECBM. Solidly the building stands in Great Eastern Street, as it has for many years, and watches over the transformation of the area, the attraction of the young and fashionable, the City people, the artists, and the evolution of Shoreditch in to a brighter vibrant place. Inside the building there is continuity, as more transformation and evolution takes place, of the lives of our students, who will focus and apply themselves, open their minds, learn and understand, and rise to even brighter careers.

I realise that I don’t feel part of Shoreditch as an inhabitant anymore; too much has changed.

As an ECBM academic, sharing the transformations, being part of the evolution of our students, I would not wish to be anywhere else. Come and join us in the heart of London, here at ECBM.

Graham Harman-Baker