Join our mailing-list:
This form does not yet contain any fields.


    Past Speakers

    RISK - 'From Bathtub 2 Boardroom' - @ The Adam St Club - 23rd May


    Luke Johnson is one of Britain's most successful entrepreneurs and writers sharing business expertise. He is prolific to say the least, and the range of his involvement is astounding; he sees himself as a 'projector', a 17th C term for a man involved in many different businesses. His involvements range from food, to media publishers, to documentary-production, to dental practices, to car-park Greyhound tracks. It is amazing to think that it all began during his time at Magdalen College, Oxford, when he and his friend Hugh Osmond started running the Era nightclub. By graduation, the two were already serial entrepreneurs.

    Luke Johnson is perhaps best known for his role in the restaurant business, and high-street eating would look very different without him. He took control of Pizza Express with partners in 1993, before becoming chairman. In six years of Herculean leadership, the chain grew from 12 to 250 branches and the share price rose from 40p to over 900p. He sold in 1999, only to start up Strada Italian restaurants from scratch (now 30 branches), as well as Signature Restaurants, which owned The Ivy and Le Caprice. Johnson sold these two businesses in 2005 but remains involved in the restaurant industry, as part owner and chairman of Giraffe Restaurants, Pattisserie Valerie and Baker and Spice.

    Between 2004 and 2010, Johnson was chairman of Channel 4 Television, where he restructured the board and by all accounts turned around the fortunes of the channel, achieving record ratings, revenues and surplus.

    Currently, he is the chairman of Risk Capital partners, which he co-founded ten years ago to formalise what he had been doing for many years – investing in and backing and growing private businesses in Britain. It is a nimble organisation not trying to eliminate risk, but simply to mitigate it.

    All this vast experience was documented in Johnson's The Maverick column for the Sunday Times, while he currently writes a fun and readable weekly column for the FT - yesterday, for example, lamenting the disconnect between the worlds of academia and enterprise. Meanwhile, his book “Start It Up” gives encourage ment and help to anybody taking, or considering taking, the leap. It is a how-to book by someone who actually has.

    A true man for all seasons, Johnson is a patron of theatre and the arts and  has been chairman for the Royal Society of the Arts since 2008.

    Sháá Wasmund is the author of the UK’s Number 1 Best Selling Business Book “Stop Talking, Start Doing …A Kick In The Pants In Six Parts”, which she describes as 'a book for anyone with an itch'. (Everyone!)

    Sháá is a prolific public speaker, digital native and passionate champion of small businesses. Amongst other accolades, Sháá has been voted by the Institute of Directors as one of the UK’s Six Most Connected Women, one of Management Today’s ‘35 Under 35’ and Growing Business magazine’s ‘Young Guns’ and recognised by the London Stock Exchange for her services to Enterprise.

    In 2009 Sháá launched, the UK’s #1 Resource for Small Business. Smarta is a highly innovative business platform providing advice, networking and tools for business owners, backed by leading entrepreneurs Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden.

    In 2011 Sháá launched ‘Smarta Business Builder’, a groundbreaking cloud-based subscription toolkit for small businesses.

    A graduate of The London School of Economics, Sháá’s entrepreneurial career had an unusual start. At 22 she won a competition to interview Super Middleweight boxing champ Chris Eubank and ended up helping promote his next fight to a sell-out 48,000 live crowd and an 18 million TV audience. Shaa remains an ardent boxing fan.

    Soon after she set up her own PR and marketing company and won the then relatively unknown vacuum cleaner company Dyson as one of her first clients. Working alongside Sir James Dyson helping to establish Dyson as a global brand taught Sháá’s more about business than any MBA. To this day, Sháá’s credits James as being one her biggest sources of inspiration.

    She asserts that she has learnt more from the people along the way than she ever could have from an MBA - perhaps it is her early childhood in Silicon Valley which makes her such a good collaborator and e-commerce opportunist.


    Fashion and Fantasy: Whats in Vogue and why does it matter?

    @ Testbed 1 at The Doodle Bar - 16th May

    Alexandra Shulman has been the editor of British Vogue for two decades, through huge changes to society and the fashion industry. She is considered to be a journalist foremost, rather than a fashion editor, which is reflected by the OBE she received in 2005 for services to the magazine industry. Shulman insists she hadn't much ambition in her childhood, where she enjoyed to escape into the girl-gang dynamic of Enid Blyton et al. Her career began with a false start when she was fired from her first job in the music industry. So she plumped for journalism instead.

    Shulman started at Conde Naste in 1982, working for Tatler; after a brief stint as the features editor of Vogue, she soon switched to the manlier calling of editing GQ. However, in 1992, she returned to the helm of Vogue and presided over the nineties, often perceived as the gritty era of the magazine. A 1993 cover featured Corinne Day's photo of the teenage Kate Moss, and thereafter Vogue played its part in creating an icon. The famous 'Golden Issue' in December 2000 featured Moss' silhouette, a cover echoed only this month in June's Olympic Issue. Its theme and content exemplify Shulman's increasingly ecclectic editorial dirtection: Vogue is in touch not just with the latest trends but the broader zeitgeist too. 'This month's iconoclastic mix is something I am particularly proud of' declares the editor's letter. Indeed, covers have recently featured music stars, such as Rihanna and Adele - a new turn. A recent initiative, the Vogue Festival, which included interviews and talks, also showed the versatility of Shulman's Vogue.

    The June issue's editorial also sends a more sober message to the fashion industry, re-enforcing the magazine's position on the welfare of models. The six points, signed by Vogue's editors worldwide, include a promise not knowingly to use models younger than sixteen, and pledge mentors to young models. They encourage producers to give healthy food options and encourage designers to 'consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing' (the clothes which are sent to magazines to use in their shoots). Small samples force publications to use thin models. In 2005, Shulman made the same plea to designers, but little has changed. Her concern for Vogue's role in annorexic behaviour has grown. While Shulman used to argue that the problem had little to do with fashion and more to do with poor food (in a world 'where it's unpleasantly easy to be overweight'), she now accepts that such publications have a certain responsibility, and has been proactive to do her bit.

    Outside of fashion, it seems Shulman is interested in friendship. Her recent obituary for Marie Colvin is a touching portrait of a great friend above all. And the editor's debut novel, Can We Still be Friends is a convincing examination of friendship too, as three close young women become adults in the early eighties and discover their respective values and priorities.

    Tessa Edwards is an exciting British designer who is quickly gaining recognition for her visionary aesthetic. She confronts the conformity she finds in consumerist fashion, rejecting trends and creating looks that exist in their own context. In the everyday sense of the word, her work is fantastical. It is a kind of science fiction – but then science fictions are worlds extrapolated from our own.

    Tessa's work is both fashion and art: her collections are bristling with symbolism and they are supported by a careful, yet abstract philosophy. She is concerned with identity: it has become 'society's monster' she says, 'consuming rather than enriching'. Her clothes, on the other hand, are about 'being, building and evolving the self'; they are intended to amplify the (female) wearer's identity, not provide or 'engulf' it.

    In tune with this maxim, designs, designer and even logo have a certain consistency. Tessa wears her own creations. If you wonder what she means by 'ancient futurism', look no further than the crystalline rings on her fingers. Meanwhile, the three rings of the logo refer to each outfit's dynamic of three interchangeable parts, often a juxtaposition of drapes, silhouette and jewels.

    Tessa is a producer as well as a designer. Her striking photoshoots and films dwell on themes of birth, death, creativity and self-discovery. Fashion is the place for a conversation about the human condition, and accordingly religious language and metaphors are put to work.

    Tessa has previously designed for Couturier Anne Valerie Hash and has worked for  Christian Dior in Paris.  She studied Fashion Design at Central St. Martins, who now ask her back to give talks and inspiration.

    Jas Sehmbi is a bag designer and manufacturer, to the stars and other people with good taste. African-born, Jas Sehmbi, relocated to India at the age of four, before finally settling in England in 1970 . He specialised in Art at Eastram College, Stratford. Four months after completing his foundation, Jas was already selling small canvas and leather bags.

    Jas' two loves of travel and music came together when he designed the first ever DJ record bag. Perhaps this was the beginning of his interest in the story of a given item of clothing – where did it come from, who made it? Since that pioneering bag, Jas has collaborated with many artists, designers and established brands including Miharayasuhiro and Simon Farrar, as well as establishing his own labels. He created the label Jas MB in 2000 which enjoyed immediate success: Barneys New York and cult fashion store YMC placed orders that sold out within the first day. Today, the men's and women's bags are stocked by 500 stores worldwide. They especially love it in Japan.

    Jas has many strings to his bow. He has designed furniture and all manner of lighting. In the higgledy-piggledy offices of his East London workshop, among the thousands of fragrant leather samples, you spot a hat, or an oddly-shaped bulb, or a shoe – footwear, he says, might be next. 'Who knows?' And now and again, into the lining of an unsuspecting customer's bag, creeps a line or two of Jas Sehmbi verse. 

    Jas has always made a buzz and he'll be doing just that later tonight - on the decks.


    Obseving War @ Conway Hall, Holborn - 9th May

    Aernout Van Lynden began his career as a newspaper correspondent , with a bit of radio on the side. In 1979, while working for the Hague-based Haagsche Current, he was one of the only Western journalists in Iraq when Sadam invaded Iran. In 1982, Aernout reported from Beirut for The Observer, covering the start of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict.

    His next destination was Afghanistan, where he bravely accompanied the Mujahideen on raids against the Soviet and Afghan Armies. During this time, Van Lynden reported to The Washington Post and sent occasional radio dispatches to the BBC.

    From 1989 onwards, Aernout worked as a television correspondent for Sky News. He is clear that he was never a solo 'video journalist' but always worked with the backing of a full crew, an editor and usually a local producer.

    Aernout started at Sky as a news anchor, but soon became the channel’s senior foreign affairs correspondent. He continued to report on events in Lebanon and Afghanistan, but also covered the Romanian revolution in 1989, the 1990-91 Gulf war, and the Yugoslav conflict. Horrified by the desecration he saw in and around Sarajevo, Aernout produced a series of powerful dispatches exposing the principally Serbian atrocities. For this he received two international awards.

    There is never complete closure to work such as this, and in 2010 Aernout testified as an expert witness in the ongoing trial of Slobodan Milosevic's accomplice, Radovan Karadzic, with whom he had held conversations at the heat of the Bosnian conflict. At that time, he also interviewed the recently-detained Ratko Mladic.

    From 2002-8 Aernout lectured on print and television journalism at the American University in Bulgaria, where he was the head of the department of journalism and mass communication. He played himself in the film Behind Enemy Lines.

    Dr. Mark de Rond is a social anthropologist; he is an expert in how people organise themselves in difficult situations and he studies this by living among them under the same conditions.

    Mark spent a year training with the Cambridge boat crew and wrote a book about his experiences entitled The Last Amateurs: To Hell and Back with the Cambridge Boatrace Crew.

    His studies of teamwork have won him a host of awards and he is currently a Reader in Strategy & Organisation at the Cambridge Judge Business School as well as a fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge.   

    His expertise is highly sought-after in the business world and he has consulted many predigious companies, including IBM, McKinsey,'s a list as long as your arm. He has lectured in ESSEC business school in Paris, and in Oxford University; he has written books about the psychological considerations involved in strategy.

    Tonight, Mark will discuss a more sober difficult situation. He recently spent six weeks shadowing the British surgeons in Camp Bastion in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He saw 174 casualties arrive, and observed 23 amputations and 134 hours of operating. His work tries to get to the heart of the astonishing teamwork he saw, but also to highlight the psychological dangers of such work. One of them, he recently told CNN, is boredom – the moments when there is nothing to do. (Boredom, he argues is a danger for any organisation – having 'nothing worthwhile to do')

    Mark is interested in the solutions too. How do the surgeons, or other people in high-pressure environments, defend themselves against these pressures?



    From Bathtub 2 Boardroom - Bread and Butter - Wednesday 25th April @ The Adam Street Club

    Nick Jenkins worked as a commodity-trader in Russia for 8 years.  When a client stole $10m of sugar and then pinned a death threat to  his door when Nick took legal action, he decided enough was enough. His exit in 1998 was timely, three months before the Russian economy collapsed.

    Nick then took an MBA at Cranfield Business School while he 'came up with something clever'. That 'something' was allowing customers to customise greetings cards online., the online, personalized greeting card retailer was born.

    In 1999, Jenkins bought some factory space in the Lotts road, Chelsea, at £25 a square foot and put £160,000 of his own money into the business. At first, there was 'no marketing budget' (hard to believe when that jingle is so familiar). So for six years, the business ran on word of mouth.

    Nick soldiered through the bubble bursting and the economy working against him for another 4 years before started turning profit. Now eleven years since it's launch, has a turnover of £40m and was sold in July 2011 to Photobox for a cool, breezy £120m. We wonder how many congratulation cards Nick got for that.

    Now days, he gives back to young entrepreneurs, giving talks like this and mentoring for the Prince's Trust.

    Tim Roupell lost his job as a broker 23 years ago and wondered what to do next. After rounds of demoralising interviews, he began to realise that he had never really found that fifth gear and perhaps the city wasn't the place for him. As a result, Tim founded sandwich company Daily Bread in his kitchen, using his mother's famous chutney. He got a friend on board and one morning walked back into his old offices with a platter of home-made sandwiches.

    The business grew and grew, and Daily Bread's clients expanded from city firms in London, to bigger outfits across the South of England. He expanded his capacity ingeniously and determinedly, always putting a mezzanine into rented units to double the working space.

    Tim's story is detailed in his great book Bread and Butter, after which this talk is named. Tim remained the sole-owner of the business, despite tempting opportunities to sell when the going got tough. For a period he commuted from France, where his family had moved to get a better education for the children.

    After 23 years of sweat and blood, Tim had build a committed team and established Daily Bread as the foremost quality wholesaler in Southern England with a turnover of £14m. The icing on the cake was a royal warrant to supply Buckingham Palace.

    Tim, like Nick, gives back through his Fellowship at the Prince's Trust; and can occasionally be found on the ski-slopes.


    Americas Gift - Is democracy the answer - Wednesday 18th April @ St Stephens Church, Westbourne Pk Rd.

    Andrew Alexander is an esteemed columnist and currently writes for the Daily Mail.

    He covers issues economic and diplomatic, often with a voice untramelled by the line of the paper, for example when he spoke out against the invasion of Iraq. Prior to The Mail, he wrote sketches for The Telegraph but left that paper largely because of his opposition to the Common Market. Alexander is a fierce opponent of the Eurozone and a critic of the EU, which, he writes, 'has become a high-cost, socialist welfare state'. His column correctly predicted that Greece would default and recently speculated that the Eurozone will collapse within the next twelve months.

    As concerns tonight's topic, Alexander's new book America and the Imperialism of Ignorance contends that the Cold War - far from vindicating America's general foreign policy - was avoidable and resulted from poor US diplomacy. Wilson, Truman, Reagan, even Carter get it in the neck for creating and perpetuating the 'military-industrial complex'. And as for the post-Cold War campaigns of a 'new moral order'...

    Alexander's articles in the field of foreign affairs come from a similar angle. He is pessimistic about any detente between a Republican US president and Iran; he laments the Afghanistan campaign's increasing unpredictability and the misleading communications between US generals and the White House, urging a speedy withdrawal from a far-away land.


    Timothy Stafford is an Associate Fellow with the Henry Jackson Society. He previously worked for the former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, and at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Tim is instantly recogniseable for his perennial cowboy boots, which he wears even in Westminster and lead some to conflate him with ___________ in The West Wing (fastest correct answer gets free ticket). Timothy holds a degree in American History and Politics from Oxford, and will begin a Masters Degree in Security Studies at Georgetown University this summer. His job tonight is to bat the American corner, which he is often called upon to do. It seems the outspoken and articulate Republican is a dying breed this side of the pond. This biography is rather shorter than the other two in this pamphlet, which only reflects the length of Tim's life thus far. We are extremely grateful to him for taking up the daunting task and opposing two such seasoned speakers.

    Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles is a retired British diplomat well-known for his independence of mind and historical understanding of diplomacy. He currently works as BAE Systems' international business development director, focusing on the Middle East and south-east Asia, where he puts to use his Arabic, Hebrew and Pashto.

    Sir Sherard served as ambassador to Afghanistan in Kabul from 2007-2009  before becoming special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He resigned from this post in September 2010 because of his frustration with the allies' military strategy and refusal to work with the Taliban, 'who had never been defeated in 2001-2'. And the special relationship loomed large. Last year, Sir Sherard published a candid account of his experiences and views, entitled 'Cables from Kabul' – it pays tribute to the servicemen while questioning the purpose and feasibility of the greater project. One and a half years later, it looks as if Sir Sherard's advice is being heeded and talks with the Taliban may be part of an exit strategy.

    Prior to his time in Afghanistan, Sir Sherard (an Oxford-educated classicist) rose through the Foreign Office, working in postings around the world, including as First Secretary in Washington. He worked as foreign secretary Robin Cook's principal private secretary (1999-2001), before serving as ambassador to Israel (2001-2003) and to Saudi Arabia (2003-2006). Charles Moore's words will balance my rather dry biography: 'I can testify to his excitement at the drama, his pleasure in the ridiculous'