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9 things we learned from Open House 2018

26 Mar 2018

Emlpoyee wellbeing panel Open House

Our three-day flagship event held at 116 Pall Mall gave you an opportunity to hear from and engage with some of the most influential and inspirational figures in British business today. 

From mentorship and wellbeing, blockchain and social enterprise, to diversity and swashbuckling innovators, our carefully constructed speaker line-up left no stone unturned for those journeying to leadership excellence.

Here is a selection of some of the key takeaways from the 56 sessions that were held at Open House 2018…

Everyone needs a mentor

During a Q&A session with Karren Brady, she was asked if she had a mentor or a coach? Brady replied, “Mentoring is fantastic. I’ve done it for all the women who have worked for me. It wasn’t something that was really around when I left school in the late ‘80s. But if every woman who works in an organisation can mentor another woman then we really will see proper progress.

“I would recommend anyone here who doesn’t have a mentor to get one and if you’re running a small business then the government has a scheme that will match you with a mentor free of charge.

“A mentor is someone who wants nothing from you and only wants to help you. A mentor will introduce you to people you wouldn’t otherwise meet and will open your horizons to new ways of doing things.”

The value of wellbeing

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson won 11 Paralympic gold medals and is currently the chair of UK Active. She opened a session on employee wellbeing by revealing that “26% of the UK population are physically inactive. This means they fail to achieve their 30 minutes of activity in a week and they put their health at serious risk and cost over £20 billion every year to the UK economy every year.

“A significant proportion of that cost falls on employers. Sedentary office environments have become the norm for many people. Supporting employees to incorporate movement into their working day should be a priority for all UK businesses.”

Reports about the impact of technology should be taken with a handful of salt

In a session on The Future of Work, RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor explained that any predictions about the number of jobs that could be lost to new technology, AI and robotics are little more than guesswork. Taylor is the author of Good Work, an independent review commissioned by the government of modern working practices. He said that 10 years ago file sharing had led to dire predictions about the future of the music industry, but the business model shifted and while record sales have declined, the money at the top end of the business is being made in staging festivals. Taylor added, "What makes it hard to predict is that we don't know what new business models will emerge.”

Trust the customer

Both Brompton Bicycle MD Will Butler-Adams and Leon Restaurants co-founder Henry Dimbleby stressed the importance of the customer as the key to long-term success. Butler-Adams said, “if you get it right for your staff and customers, your shareholders will be alright.” Dimbleby reflected upon some of the mistakes that occurred in the early days of building the Leon empire and said, “we spent months working out what would work and while the conceptual stuff stood us in good stead, we could have been better at being more instinctive rather than thinking we knew better than the customer.”

Embrace diversity and disability

Having been spent much of the opening 10 minutes stomping around the Main Room in a pair of disco boots, Caroline Casey revealed that she is registered as blind. Her extraordinary story was full of such surprises, but the key message was that there are one billion people in this world who have a disability and business can do so much more to engage with and utilise this so-called ‘invisible army’. Or, as Casey puts it, ‘disability is a massive business opportunity’.

Do your homework on blockchain

The session on what the future holds for both blockchain and cryptocurrencies was packed out. Everyone in this space is pretty much is agreed on the fact that while cryptocurrencies might represent the Wild West, blockchain could come to resemble the railroads that emerged after the gold rush and built the American economy. However, before you start thinking that your business needs a ‘blockchain solution’, panellist Dennis Baranov warned that “in about 90 per cent of cases blockchain is not the solution for an individual company or organisation,” and the first thing you should do is understand what the business case is for using this technology.

Today’s leaders should be more like pirates

Yes, really. Sam Conniff Allende is the author of a new business book titled Be More Pirate. He told delegates that the ‘golden age of piracy’ – from the 1650s to the 1730s – should be a source of inspiration for today’s aspiring leaders. He explained that over 300 years ago a small group of young professionals decided they’d had enough of a society run by a self-serving and self-interested Establishment. They decided to break and remake the rules they came up with a code built on principles such as fair pay, social equality, freedom and justice. They collaborated, they were agile, they were brilliant at branding and they drank a lot of rum.

We have a long way to go when it comes to bridging the gender pay gap

Both Karren Brady and BBC journalist Carrie Gracie tackled the subject of pay and gender. Brady explained that many companies get around the issue of equal pay by simply creating different job titles for women and Gracie revealed that when she challenged her employers on why she was being paid less than her male peers she was told that despite her wealth of experience she was ‘in development.’

Gracie said, “Do not antagonise a fighter. I’ve been the mildest member of the BBC since forever. I’m still friends with my ex-boyfriends. When I got my grievance outcome I was having a rough day and when I saw the words ‘in development’ they antagonised me.” IoD Director General Stephen Martin later said in his closing remarks, “I know that this session really struck a chord with many in the audience.”

Build a business to serve a purpose

Judging by the response on social media, a seminar from Ella’s Kitchen founder and CEO Paul Lindley on Disrupting the System clearly left the audience feeling inspired. Lindley offered a rallying cry to create people-focused social businesses, to build businesses that serve a purpose and the need to reform our economic industries due to a lack of trust following recent scandals. Lindley said, “it’s people that do business, it’s people that innovate, it’s people that create wealth”, adding that, “if you think you’re too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”


IoD members regularly get the chance to hear from inspirational, successful leaders like those attending IoD Open House. For more information on how our membership can benefit your leadership development, click here

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Donjeta Miftari, Head of Communications  

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Euan Holmes, Press Officer

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