For most students, the thought of a 9am start on a Friday morning would be enough to make them wince with pain and hit the snooze button on their alarm ‘just one more time’. However, 50 lucky students ranging from first years to third years from Pearson College London turned up to their parent company, Pearson PLC's, HQ at 80 Strand bright-eyed and looking debonair for their 9am meet ahead of one of their industry days.
The day had been meticulously planned between Pearson and Pearson College London to organise a day that would be auspicious to all in attendances’ career. The morning would be filled with talks from Pearson’s senior management team, including CEO, John Fallon. The afternoon would consist of a challenge set to the students which would culminate in them pitching their ideas from the challenge to a panel spearheaded by John himself.
The students arrived and spent time taking in one of the best views of London from the 10th Floor of 80 Strand, before the day's opening speaker John Fallon took to the stage.
Opening with the line ‘I didn’t get the memo to dress smart, otherwise I would have’ was just the beginning of a speech filled with humbleness and humility; he was dressed smartly in trousers and an open-collared shirt. This was a man who lived, breathed and personified the Pearson way of working. He explained to the students the rich history of the corporation that started way back in 1844 by Samuel Pearson in Bradford, West Yorkshire. He illustrated how the company had gone from a building corporation back in 1844 to the world’s largest education company in 2015, as well as the rich heritage of the company’s head office - 80 Strand.
John moved on to talk about his own personal journey, right from his upbringing in North Manchester to this very day - the CEO of a FTSE100 company with annual sales of £5bn. He claims to have had no interest in business in his teenage years, instead holding the ambition to be a professional footballer - ‘half a game for Hull City reserves was the pinnacle of that career’ he sniggers. Many would deem that a success - and although he may not have his desired success in football, he certainly has in business. Claiming to have a love for politics and journalism, he told the students of how he arrived at Pearson back in 1997 as one of Marjorie Scardino’s first appointments as Director of Communications, how fitting that 16 years later he’d become her successor.
John spent most of his time answering the questions of students who wanted to rack his brains. Unsurprisingly, the first question related to Pearson’s recent sale of The Financial Times - his mellifluous answer personified his humility, claiming that although the FT was property of Nikkei, that he was in constant communication with their CEO, lending a hand wherever possible to make sure the iconic brand of British journalism upholds it’s fine reputation.
I’d never been in the presence of a FTSE100 CEO, and had this perception that all had this ruthless approach both in life in business. This was no doubt a man who had every hour in his diary filled, yet he still found time to engage with students. My perception has changed as a result, they are human after all!
One of the students I spoke with afterwards felt ‘John was easy to approach and this opportunity was great because you’d never get a better chance to communicate with him on a one-to-one level’.
What I remember most was John’s answer to the question ‘what has been the most enjoyable part of your tenure as CEO?’. His compassionate answer had all in awe. He recalls the time he was at a school in the most southern point of Texas, USA, which had views of the fence that signified the border between Mexico and the USA. That day, John was delivering a speech to a number of immigrants who had found themselves migrating to the USA, in search of ‘The American Dream’. He recalls of how a boy who had arrived in Texas speaking no English presented him with an essay titled ‘The Death Train’. The young Honduran had ridden a cargo train from Honduras into the USA, labelled ‘The Death Train’ due to the number of lives it claimed. He was now an educated man, speaking English and John felt humbled at the impact education had on his life.
Three other presentations were made before the lunch-break, Tom ap Simon, SVP of Finance for Growth Markets gave the students an insightful workshop on entering growth
markets, such as China. Giles Grant, SVP of English Learning Teaching & Global Marketing gave the students a helping hand for their task that lay ahead by divulging some of the techniques he uses in his role. Finally, the charismatic duo of Craig Strong and Chris Locke brought to an end the morning’s talks with a great insight into product life cycle - with a very much interactive workshop.
Lunch followed, and the students were duly put into their groups before the break. The brief was explained, and the challenge lay ahead.
There were 180 million people enrolled in higher education worldwide in 2013, and that number is estimated to rise to 500 Million by 2040. How can universities/colleges adapt their existing models to handle the influx of larger volumes of students in a way that is inclusive and realistic?Please design and share your model for a "university of the future", and explain what role Pearson could have in supporting it.
Students had 2.5 hours to produce a five minute pitch to the panel of judges, and in doing
so, overtook the ninth floor of 80 Strand - mingling amongst some of Pearson’s 40,000 employees. Such a task was a brilliant ice-breaker for the students involved as this was the first time this year's freshmen were able to showcase their skills, and the opportunity to integrate themselves with students whom were in their second or third year.
I was in the group ‘Lowood’, and we can honestly say we’ve never seen 2.5 hours of our life
disappear so quickly. There was an incredibly inventive panoply of ideas, but we finally came to the agreement on one - it took over an hour to finalise it. We were soon feeling the effects of
Each second of our presentation was methodically planned - and after only two run throughs, our 15:30 deadline was upon us. An amalgamation of suited and well-groomed groups sat together, locked in the heat of battle. No group had an idea of the running order - my group was last. We were feeling the pressure; the previous groups had set the bar high.
As a group we had identified a huge growth opportunity for Africa; the education market in this region is set for exponential growth. For our university of the future we wanted to address the problem that many Africans suffer - not being able to further their education due to lack of personal wealth. For our idea, we would exploit the content produced for PCL students and because it’s all online, broadcast it live in central locations for numbers of Africans to benefit from. The reason behind our idea was that not only did it align with Pearson’s mission ‘To help people make more of their lives through education’, but it also required minimal capital investment. Not only would it be a cheap project to run but also one that would break even. We would charge a small, affordable fee to cover our costs.
John gave feedback on each and every presentation and said ‘the fact I can remember details of each presentation is an indicator of how good they all were’. He explained of the difficulties of choosing a winner, but the panel in the end came to the conclusion that team Xavier were the winning team. Their idea of universities like PCL constructing courses designed by employers for graduates. The courses available online, are designed to bridge the gap between graduates and workplace readiness. An issue present within numerous corporations. As a result, the university could design a course that fills that shortage, making graduates more employable.
Many students may never again present to people as senior as the judging panel, and each and every one in attendance can take away the experience as a positive one, as the level of public speaking on show was impeccable.
Luke's final thoughts
From my perspective, the day was a complete success. It was incredibly insightful to hear from the speakers in the morning, and then undertake a task in the afternoon that was a real challenge. I felt the challenge was a great learning curve, having to produce a pitch in such a short period of time, and then having to pitch to a panel as daunting as ‘Dragon’s Den’ typified a great day. I think we all took an awful lot out of the day, which, not only set us in great stead for the academic year, but the careers we have ahead of us.
Such industry days like this are what stand Pearson College London at the forefront of business degrees. There is so much more to be learnt outside of the classroom, and days like this are why I decided to undertake my degree at PCL. Experiences like this enable me to be confident in interviews, as I feel I have a wealth of experiences like this that would separate me from other graduates.
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