I was back out the door, and across the Atlantic to London on Wednesday, May 9. Landed at eight, onto the Piccadilly tube line, to the hotel by 9:30. It was a nice place, the Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt, and they had a clean room ready, much appreciated (unlike the Europeans, U.S. hotel chains, especially the nicer ones, have figured out how to provide early check-in).
I had the day off, time to have a look around. Showered and hopped back on the Tube, east across central London to Stratford, the closest station to the site of the 2012 Olympics, which would begin in just over two months. Security training was underway at the station; an enthusiastic Springer spaniel was learning to identify abandoned packages. When he found one, the officer provided lots of positive reinforcement, including a long tummy rub – dogs are our best friends, in so many ways. The massive, American-style Westfield shopping mall loomed between the station and the recently-completed Olympic stadium, and helpful signs directed me to the third floor of the big retailer John Lewis, which offered both a panoramic view of the games site and a shop brimming with 2012 merchandise (I didn’t buy much). Snapped some pictures, grabbed a sandwich in the mall (the young woman at Prêt thought I was French!), and headed back into central London.
Next stop was the Wellcome Collection, a museum that I passed in March (and made note then to return driven in part from their inquiring front windows and their slogan, “a free destination for the incurably curious”). Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936) was born in Wisconsin and moved to Britain as an ambitious young pharmacist, to help found Burroughs Wellcome (now part of GlaxoSmithKline), one of the companies that industrialized British pharma. His fascination with material aspects of medicine and health – and his huge curiosity – propelled him to amass a collection of more than a million artifacts. “Never tell anyone what you propose to do until you’ve done it” seems to be a perfect summation of his can-do approach. The museum featured about 500 items, thematically presented, and fascinating. There was also a way-cool temporary exhibit called “Brains: The Mind as Matter,” which explored what people “have done to brains in the name of medical intervention, scientific enquiry, cultural meaning and technological change.”
Had a big cup at Starbucks and headed out into pelting rain, then south on the Tube to London Bridge. I was bound for Holly and Lil, makers and sellers of custom dog collars, leashes, and related stuff, but as I made my way down Bermondsey Street I paused to admire glass art in a shop window. The front door was open, and I spotted glass blowers in a large workshop behind the gallery. A kindly young woman invited me in, and I watched two artists roll, hammer, and snip semi-molten glass. It was fascinating – and clearly not a vocation for the faint of heart.
At Holly and Lil I bought MacKenzie a really sweet red dog collar with white polka dots (pricy, but nothing is too good for our dear little hound!). At 4:45 I met Mark O’Brien, who owns a company that offers iPads as inflight entertainment. Mark is a longtime friend of my AURA colleague Martin Cunnison; in Hamburg in March we somehow stumbled upon the fact that he lives around the corner from Holly and Lil, and knows the proprietor. Had a pint at his “local,” a comfy urban pub called The Garrison.
At 5:50 I peeled off, back to London Bridge and onto the Tube north to Soho and a rendezvous with young friend and mentee Scott Sage, a longtime friend of Robin’s who has been living in London since 2005. I hadn’t seen Scott for more than a year. It took more than three hours to catch up, and we still didn’t catch up. He is a really bright fellow, working now in venture capital, and building both an impressive network and a huge stock of good ideas. So many that by the end of dinner at a simple Chinese restaurant I told him that he was wearing me out! I’ve mentored many young people in my time, and Scott is toward the top of the list in so many dimensions. Riding home, it occurred to me he was a bit like Wellcome – totally curious Yanks who reversed the usual flow, back to opportunity in the Old World.
Although I was totally fatigued, I slept soundly for only a few hours. Tossed and turned, finally got back to sleep, and got up just before seven. Ate breakfast, out the door to Victoria Station, and south on the Southern Railway to Gatwick Airport for a cup of coffee with the Intelligent Avionics chairman, Steve Cloran. The AURA business has been bumpy since the disappointments at the Hamburg aircraft-interiors show in late March, and we had a candid chat. Back to London, headed to a lunch meeting with a former Cambridge MBA student, Tim Letheren. I was at his workplace, the ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, early, so I wandered the neighborhood. My short amble reminded me that Britain leads the world in value added from the broadly-defined creative industry – the area around Charlotte Street was full of ad and marketing agencies, design firms, architects. I paused to admire the scale models in the long windows of the architects known simply (and cleverly) as Make. Met Tim at noon. It was good to see him again. We ambled a block or two for a plate of Thai noodles and a good chat across a bunch of topics, followed by a welcome cup of coffee.
At 3:00, I suited up and walked from the hotel to Imperial College and the Imperial Business School, where I delivered a quick lecture to a EMBA class. At six I needed some exercise, and rather than head to the hotel gym, I walked a block down Cromwell Road and rented a bike from the Barclays Cycle Hire, the mother of all urban bike-rental services. The silver bike was solid (= really heavy!), but the gears and brakes worked well, and I zipped north for ten miles in Kensington Gardens. It was a lovely spring evening, fair and windy, and the park was packed, which meant you really had to pay attention. But it was tonic.
Washed my face, changed clothes, and rode the Tube one stop west to Earls Court. The original plan was to head east and across the Thames to Lambeth and a highly-regarded Indian eatery called, appropriately, Hot Stuff, but I was sorta worn out. Found a pint of London Pride and a stool in The Blackbird. The change of plans enabled me to meet and visit briefly with Douglas Arrowsmith, a documentary filmmaker from Toronto, and his friend. A nice and unexpected T-t-S moment. They departed, I had another beer, then ambled up the street to Masala Zone, a chain Indian place, but a good one. Walked back to the hotel and clocked out.
I slept better Friday night, but still woke up early. At 50° N, It’s well light by 5:00 a.m., so I pulled on my bike shorts and a sweater and headed out for another ride on one of the Barclays bikes. It was perfectly clear and quite chilly. Headed north to Hyde Park, then east, through Mayfair, around Berkeley Square, north to Regent’s Park, then east past Kings Cross. South, past Wesley’s Chapel and Museum of Methodism, then into the City. Passed the SwissRe “gherkin,” and across London Bridge. The path along the south bank of the Thames was narrow, with lots of zigs and zags. Passed the wonderful reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The path eventually widened, with splendid views of Westminster and Parliament, golden in the early-morning light. Continued along the river, inland a bit in the pleasant, late 19th Century district south of Battersea Park (who knew it was so big?), across the old Albert Bridge into Chelsea, then back to the hotel – a nice 16-mile workout, with a bonus of retrieving an iPhone power supply with UK connector that was in the middle of Portland Place. Showered, ate breakfast and hopped the Tube to Euston Station.
A courteous older fellow asked me for help as I disembarked. He said his eyesight was poor, and needed help finding the platform for the southbound Northern Line. “I live in Clacton, by the sea, and don’t get into London much,” he said. It didn’t seem to be a scam, so I walked him to the right line, enjoying a T-t-S episode. He was born 80 years earlier, 1932. I asked him if he was in London during the war. “No,” he replied, “they evacuated my sister and me, gas masks in hand,” to a farm in Somerset, where they lived with strangers from 1939 until 1945. I asked if his father fought. No, dad was “a cripple, who spent most of World War II drunk.” I explained my penchant for Talking to Strangers (he probably already figured that out!), and told him a bit about myself before saying goodbye. A small good deed.
At Euston, I bought Dylan and Carson a postcard, and climbed on the 9:07 Virgin train to Liverpool. I was pumped to see that famous port city, and the home of The Beatles. First Class was only five bucks more, so I was riding well that morning as we zipped west at 120 mph, past bright-yellow canola fields, spring lambs, grazing cattle and horses – the lovely English countryside. Arrived Liverpool at 11:15, and I walked south five blocks to my accommodations.
I decided to try out AirBnB, an online brokerage that lists a range of accommodation in people’s homes, condos, and apartments. The target market is youngsters, but that’s me, too, and I found a single room in a great central location for $63, half the price of even a modest hotel. The flat was on a street Brits would describe as “dodgy,” but the room was large and the bath spotless.
My hosts were Ruzanna and Ayuni, sisters from Penang, Malaysia. Roxane, as she likes to be called in the UK, was working on her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and Tina (I insisted on calling her Ayuni, her proper name!) was a first-year accounting student. I felt good about helping provide funds for their university education. We visited a bit, and I headed to explore Liverpool.
Like nearby Manchester, the city has some wonderful large commercial buildings from its heyday, but much of the downtown retail district had been converted into something that looked a lot like a shopping mall – not unpleasant, but surprising. First stop was Albert Dock, a huge complex of red-brick warehouses built in the middle of the 19th Century. (Liverpool, I learned was a quite small place until some foresighted citizens hired an engineer and created a sheltered dock in the 1780s and ‘90s.) Today the Albert houses museums, including The Beatles Experience, which tells the story of the four local lads who remade rock and roll in the 1960s. It was really well done. For me, the lesson was how hard work (for example, their three years in Hamburg were essentially practice and more practice) enabled them to transcend a difficult and constrained environment.
Pressed on, to the Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum, both very good. The former had a special exhibit on the Titanic (registered in Liverpool, painted on its stern), and great permanent exhibits on the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-45, shipbuilding in Merseyside, and more. The latter told the story of Liverpool’s role in the “triangular trade” of cheap goods sent south from there to Africa, exchanged for slaves sent to the Americas, thence sugar cane, cotton, and other commodities produced with slave labor back to England. There was also a focus on more recent forms of forced labor. Really interesting.
Grabbed a quick sandwich and walked along the estuary to the ferry terminal, and hopped on the celebrated “ferry ‘cross the Mersey.” The ride was windy and cold, but relaxing. Ambled around the center a bit, steering well clear of revelers (lots of boozing in Liverpool, and the spring ritual of stag and bachelorette parties), then back to the flat for a needed nap.
Out the door at 5:45, up the hill to The Philharmonic, a pub built1899-1902 and described as “the most ornate in England.” Got a pint and sat in the Grand Salon, where the Liverpool Symphony Orchestra performed after the Nazis bombed the hall across the street. Wandered around the rest of the pub, sipping Pressed Rat and Warthog ale from the fff Brewery in Hampshire. Nice! Just before seven, had a nice exchange with four lads from nearby Warrington, one of whom caught my eye earlier – he was wearing a University of Southern California T-shirt. “Did you study there?” I asked. No, he replied, he bought it in Washington, DC, adding “but my uncle lives in Fort Worth, Texas.” The Lancashire accent is distinctive, and I sometimes strained to “get it.” We yakked a bit, and each of them shook my hand as they left the pub.
I walked two blocks to The 60 (its number on Hope Street), a restaurant I found on the web. After meals from elsewhere in the former Empire, I was ready for some British cooking, updated. The 60 was in a Georgian town house, gutted and contemporary inside. I was hungry, and tucked into a salad with ham hock, grilled salmon and potatoes mashed with capers, and trifle, one of my favourite (yes, with a “U”!) English desserts. My server, a friendly young woman from Dresden, Germany, asked if I wanted to take my time, and it was a relaxing dinner, broadened by a wi-fi connection to my iPhone. I could find answers to various questions that popped into my head earlier in the day, like the fact that King Henry issued a royal warrant for the founding of “Livpul” in 1208, seven years before the Magna Carta. It was light past nine, so I ambled north on Hope Street passing a smaller Beatles-themed version of the Superlambanana (I did not see the original, a fanciful, 17-foot-tall cross between the fruit and a young sheep, which was a mile away, and is 17 feet tall):
Walked up the steps and around the grounds of the (Catholic) Cathedral of Christ the King, then back down the hill to the flat. Did a little reading, including this interesting snippet about Liverpool from a recent issue of The Economist:
Liverpool was once one of the most enterprising cities in Britain, a shipping superpower with a thriving network of insurers and trading houses. Liverpool invented financial derivatives, in the form of cotton futures. It created Britain’s first underwriters’ association, its first accountants’ institute, and its first intercity railway (to Manchester). In 1800 two-fifths of the world’s trade passed through the city. At various points over the next century the empire’s second city was wealthier than its first, London.
Turned off the light and slept hard, finally. Up before seven, shower, out the door, wandering the center. Grabbed early breakfast at a Tesco Express minimarket, eating on a park bench on the river, a repast reminiscent of early travels with backpack and little money. Hopped a suburban train south, under the river and over to Hamilton Square, a nice but somewhat forlorn set of Georgian and early Victorian buildings facing a courthouse. Back to Liverpool, cup of coffee, pausing to admire a statue of Bessie Braddock in the main hall of the Lime Street Station. Bessie was a Labour MP and reformer – and second cousin of Tim Letheren, the fellow with whom I ate lunch two days earlier.
Caffeinated, I strode up the hill to Christ the King. I was between masses, and had a good look around the circular church, completed 1967. I’m usually not one for modern churches from that era, but this one was really interesting, and with quite a back story: in the 1920s the plan was to build a sanctuary second in size to St. Peter’s in Rome, designed by the English design superstar of the day, Edward Lutyens. Work began in the early 1930s, but halted when the big war began. After 1945 there was no money, but a revised plan emerged, using footings and foundations of Lutyen’s design. Massive amounts of stained glass provide distinctive light.
By contrast, the redstone Liverpool Cathedral (Anglican), completed 1978 (also after decades of stop-and-start construction, in the Gothic Revival style), was quite somber. It was, nevertheless, a fine place to worship that morning, with choir and organ following Sir William Walton’s Missa Brevis. The preacher had a marvelously calming voice. We celebrated Communion. Sadly, the average age of the congregation was likely 70. Sigh.
Grabbed my suitcase and a quick lunch, and hopped on the train back to London, spending most of the time bringing this journal up to date. With my iPhone I also recorded some videos of the countryside to send to our granddaughters. Arrived London, walked four blocks east to Kings Cross Station and hopped on a slow local to Cambridge. Was in a familiar guest room at Sidney Sussex College by 5:20. It was good to be back – my 12th visit to college. From the open window in my room, I could hear the choir rehearsing for Evensong, which I joined at 6:15, greeting friend and chaplain Rev. Peter Waddell.
As is tradition, after worship we repaired to the Old Library for a glass of sherry or wine before processing into the dining hall. The master, Professor Hadrill-Wallace, was not at college, so Dr. Peter Flynn led us to high table. Peter is a fascinating guy, a biochemist on the Faculty of Medicine; he has lots of U.S. experience (at Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, and biotech startups), with huge ability to make the complex understandable. We yakked a lot that night. I also chatted at length with the domus bursar, Keith Willox, a former Wing Commander in the RAF; I was not familiar with that title; later that night I looked it up – he’s akin to a director of operations, the guy who makes it all run. We chatted about practical issues, and it was clear that he ran the college like a well-trimmed aircraft. I also enjoyed speaking with his wife, who served in the RAF as a nurse-midwife.
Was out the door at 8:30 Monday morning, walking through light rain to Judge Business School, where I once again set up my “office” in the common room on the second floor – it was my 13th visit to the school. Worked through the day, had a meeting with members of their executive education team, and at 4:30 ambled to Barclays Bank on St. Andrews Street to cash a small (about $50) expense-reimbursement check from my March visit – for some reason my host for that visit was unable to set up a wire transfer. Cashing a “cheque” without a UK account required extensive intervention by both the business school’s accounts manager and a finance guy from the university. Whew!
Back at college, I worked a bit in my room and headed out at six, in a cold, light rain, toward the Pickerel Inn, across the street from Magdalene College. The Pickerel is the oldest licensed alehouse in town, from 1608. Between then and now, records show it had been a gin palace, opium den, and brother. Whew, I was just there for a friendly beer, firstly a half-pint of the splendidly named Hobson’s Choice from the local City of Cambridge Brewery. My longtime favorite pub, The Eagle (which was closed for ten days of renovation), claims as alumni Isaac Newton, A.A. Milne, and DNA-meisters Watson and Crick, but the Pickerel was host to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien – not exactly an obscure former clientele.
Walked up Castle Street to Cocum, a small restaurant specializing in food from the state of Kerala on India’s southwest coast. Tucked into a masala dosa to start, and two vegetable dishes as main course, beans and spinach in one bowl, and really wonderful stir-fried shredded cabbage in the others. Outstanding, and a perfect base for a nine-hour sleep.
I had a late opportunity to meet a new colleague, Paul Whitnam, for lunch in London, so walked to the station and hopped on the train at 10:30. Met him at noon at Imperial China, an upmarket place not far from our simple dinner venue four nights earlier. We had a good yak and some wonderful dim sum – turns out he had his stag party at The Philharmonic in Liverpool, and the fact that I had been there three days earlier gave me cred! Heading back, I had a nice T-t-S exchange after I got off the Tube at the Kings Cross Station – a fellow on the train was clutching a very thick book titled “Criminal Practice 2012.” Walking toward the railway station, I caught up with him and prefaced my question “What’s inside the book?” by telling him I was incurably curious (that nice phrase from Wellcome) and that I always talked to strangers. Cautious at first, he opened up, and we had an enthusiastic four-minute exchange about his work and Linda’s. He was from the northeast, practicing in Durham and Newcastle, and – unlike the U.S. – did both prosecution and defense work.
Was back to Cambridge and the B-school before three, did a bit of work and yakked with Paul Tracey, a bright faculty member described in this journal last December, and with Bobak, a student I met in March. From 4:50 to 5:45 it was time to stand and deliver to Omar Merlo’s MBA elective in branding. It was not enough time – the original allotment had been 75 minutes (at quarter to six we were booted from our lecture room). Students were tired, and a couple vented their frustration with flying. So I pushed back, as articulately as I could, but I was cranky with their inability to understand the clear constraints that I introduced at the beginning of the talk. It was the first time in a long time that I was unsatisfied with a presentation. Still, they clapped loudly.
At 6:30, seven students, Omar, and I convened for what has become a tradition following the annual Judge MBA lecture: dinner at the splendid seafood restaurant Loch Fyne. It was, like previous editions, both a lot of fun and a fascinating. There was a ballet dancer from West Virginia who had worked in the Netherlands for the past 12 years; an Argentinean who had worked in banking in New York and Santiago; a former TV anchorwoman from Taiwan (who said “your body language in the lecture was just superb,” which I took as high praise!); a Pakistani who grew up in Abu Dhabi and previously worked in consulting; a Finnish woman, Maja, who had worked for Finnair; a Chinese woman with whom I did not chat (because she was at the other end of the table); and Nicolas, an ethnic Greek who grew up in the former East Germany. As we walked out the restaurant, I regretted that I didn’t spend more time talking to him – in a group of interesting people, he was clearly the most interesting. A bit older than the others, Nicolas was fluent in Russian, and had spent a lot of years in banking, but good banking: helping developing economies in the republics on the southern tier of the former Soviet Union, in the Balkans, and elsewhere. Microcredit was a specialty. What a cool guy. He’s headed back to Berlin, and I vowed to look him up on my next visit. Around the time we were finishing dessert, Helen, a New Zealander of Polish ancestry, arrived, and we chatted briefly. I needed to get up at 4:45 the next morning, else I would have followed them to the Anchor pub for a last pint. Walking back to the hotel, I marveled again at my good fortune to be able to see the future of global enterprise. Wow. My contemplation ended when I stopped to admire the window of the Cambridge University Press bookshop, which as usual was filled with the widest-possible range of titles, from economic policy to its new The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles.
The cock crowed on schedule, and I was out the door, beneath the light-violet wisteria densely blooming along Sidney Sussex’s front wall, 1.5 miles briskly to the train station, onto the 5:45 to London, the Tube to Paddington, Heathrow Express to LHR, and home on the Silver Bird. Enroute, had a nice chat with Gina, a flight attendant who had worked in head-office management when I led the food and beverage team 1998-2000. What a wise woman she is. And I was home and walking MacKenzie by 3:00.