.. of Summer School at Keble College in fair Oxford

Summer School? I hear you ask. Yes! I was delighted to win a scholarship from bira  to the Oxford Summer School which is one of the ‘jewels in the crown’ of UK retailing – run for the trade, by the trade. The school was established in 1923 and apart from the War years has been running ever since. What an experience! We formed the 82nd Oxford Summer School and I was honoured to be part of Team 1 – otherwise known as “Número Uno” as a tribute to Lucas Ricoy, a member of our team who was from Barcelona. This was an intensive week of work, work, work and more work and then some serious play too! We certainly lived up to our name in the Karaoke competition – we came first with our “Chippendales does It’s Raining Men” wearing bin liners, foil and tissue paper along with charity dresses for our larger “women singers” and wigs I happened to pack (just in case!) against 24 other, very worthy teams. I am proud to say I was in charge of that task, but what a team! All leading lights and very talented folk from Ralph Lauren, Debenhams, Nike, Marks & Spencer, Matalan, Fenwicks, Signet and Masseys. Pictures? I hear you cry. Oh, ok, then..


We were urged to “seize the challenge” and the school promised to “deliver an inspirational experience that challenges and develops retail managers, helping to give them the confidence and motivation to realise their potential”. It certainly lived up to this promise – in spades! In return we were asked to show “commitment, respect and integrity” – how could we not?

The speakers for the week were so inspiring – from Marco Capello (chairman of Liberty and ex MD of Merrill Lynch) to David Meckin, amazing finance guru and author of “Naked Finance” (thank you for signing a copy, David). We also met Beverley Aspinall, MD of the newly refurbished Fortnum & Mason (and yes, she was totally in charge of the refurbishment project, which is an awe-inspiring achievement). Other speakers included Tony Wheeler, the MD of Peter Jones, Steve Connell, MD of Inspire and Chris Walton, a fabulous and inspirational Performance Psychologist. We had merchandising experts, marketing experts, finance experts, IT experts and retailing experts extraordinaire! The tasks followed the themes of these speakers – a merchandising day, a finance day (I’ve never seen so many calculators in one place), a marketing day and a ‘business exercise’ day (where we had the simple task of setting up a department store from scratch in eight hours!)

The organisation was seamless – 225 delegates, 25 group directors plus speakers and guests and numerous tasks every day. Jeannie and the Team in the admin office certainly had their work cut out and the preparation in the previous year must have been enormous from all involved. The timetables worked to precision – I think even our sleep was timetabled!  The paperwork was all ready in time for us every day, the group directors were fabulous in their support and guidance and the organisers bubbled over with enthusiasm all week. On the social side, the week began with a warm registration welcome and lovely champagne reception; the Sunday offered up a beautiful Chapel service in this architecturally stunning building, replete with the Blessing being sung to us a capella by the 5Ways Barbershop Harmony group – this brought a tear to my eye (and to the eye of our rugby-playing group director!) Our meals were delicious and were served in the wonderful “Hogwarts” dining hall of Keble College by wonderful waiting staff, the karaoke was immense fun and the Thursday evening was a delight from start to finish with a superb dinner where we were serenaded by the 5Ways Barbershop Harmony group once again from the balcony, to the Champagne welcome and the fabulous disco in the marquee (and boy did we strut our stuff) .. all the way on to bacon butties and coffee at 1.30 am!

The daily work tasks were not easy but we learned much – from eachother, from the group directors, speakers, from the organisers and from the comprehensive content of the course. We kept learning logs to record our key learning points and to provide an action plan for the future in our work, our businesses and our personal lives.

May I express a huge thank you to Alan Hawkins and all at bira for this wonderful opportunity and I would also like to record a special thank you to our Group Director, Steven Bradley for his wonderful support, enthusiasm and guidance throughout the week and who, along with the fabulous Dominic Prendergast (he knew all the words and moves to all the karaoke songs), Cheryl Owen and Ryan Cooper (and the other 8 members of our Número Uno team) made this a week I will never forget.