Archive for the ‘Business Events & Gatherings’ Category

UK National Business Awards 2017 Re-cap

Friday, November 17th, 2017

Brains, beauty and entrepreneurial endeavour were celebrated on a searingly loud night at the Grosvenor House Hotel on London’s Park Lane, a passing resemblance to X Factor.

When “Lords, Ladies and commoners” were asked to take their seats, Sir Mo Farah burst onto the stage and broke the first royal protocol, telling us the private thoughts of The Queen at his knighthood ceremony earlier in the day. “Aren’t you retired?” Well not quite, we might see him on the final day in Tokyo 2020 chasing a marathon gold.

On a day that awards host, UBM, announced impressive half yearly figures, we learned the secret of their success, maximising profit per square foot. PR supremo and philanthropist, Charles Watson, media lawyer Mark Stephens (without his former WikiLeaks client, Julian Assange) and an eclectic crowd including me were squeezed onto a tiny table that resembled the docks at Sassoon Fish Market in Mumbai.

Three personal favourites among the tremendous British entrepreneurial success stories recognised on the night.

Bill Holmes and his business, Radius Payment Solutions, winner of the Inflexion Private Equity Entrepeneur of the Year Award (I was a judge this year). Chislehurst-born Bill has created a gargantuan global fuel card and telematics business – current sales close to £1.5 billion – over 25 years. He has given countless employees life experiences and wealth opportunities beyond their wildest dreams while being a huge benefactor for a multitude of community issues in the firm’s hometown, Crewe, in the UK’s northwest region. To top that he has brought up two wonderful daughters, who are in their early twenties are pursing their own passions with great success and energy.

Children’s food pioneer, Annabel Karmel who is a walking and talking example of taking a life-changing experience and doing something meaningful with it. Not content with being a celebrated author, adviser, marketeer and creator of innovative products, Annabel is set to bring healthy kids food and beverages to the Chinese. Having listened yesterday to Henrietta Lovell revealing the secrets of The Rare Tea Company’s marketing success selling tea to the Chinese – unprecedented trust and integrity – you would be brave to bet against Annabel doing the exact same thing.

At the other stage of entrepreneurial life, two family friends of mine, Sara and Maria Trechman, and their business, Well and Truly were winners of The Duke of York’s New Entrepreneur of The Year Award. Barely 1 year old, their business is creating amazing all natural snacks and is an object of huge interest amongst UK, and I confidently predict, global retailers. Perhaps The Duke had other priorities this week but I bet it won’t be long before he is looking for the glamorous photo opportunity (without the dodgy lighting). Well done too to my Aunt Alice, who had the fortitude to follow her instinct and back them in their first raise!

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.



Stanford for Start-Ups

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016


“There is nothing special about Stanford, everyone around the Bay Area tech scene has been there”.

Those were the throwaway words from a West Coast adviser, when I first mentioned that I had been asked to speak to this year’s class in Stanford’s Continuing Education program. Of course, those comments were directed to the university students, not the global audience of largely mature students and entrepreneurs enthusiastically engaged in a discussion about capital raising. Here is my findings from a really informative session:

  1. The dynamics of raising money at any stage are largely similar but the consequences vary immensely. When less than 25% of seed-funded startups fail to get to the third funding round (they have died, been acquired or are self-sustaining), many entrepreneurs overlook the importance of building and nurturing really strong personal support systems. Family, friends and wise counsellors, who have your best interests at heart, are willing to provide frank solicited advice and a supportive shoulder, when it doesn’t work out.
  2. The in vogue buzzwords are “agile money”. I prefer to talk about “resilient money.” Finding investors sufficiently agile to adapt to your changing needs is helpful but finding those that are sufficiently resilient in the tough and the good times, is really the gold standard.
  3. More than 80% of the class are positive about tech investment in the next 12 months and don’t believe we are in a tech bubble.
  4. Students often ask tougher questions of themselves than serial entrepreneurs. “How do I give myself the best shot at being a successful entrepreneur?” Perhaps it is the desire not to repeat others mistakes or the willingness to readily invest in improving their own skills, behavioural traits and expertise. Too often the mindset flips for the entrepreneur in the real world, “let’s save every cent”, when investing in their own personal needs (mentor, coach, advisor) is critical to their success.
  5. More than 60% are intrigued by corporate venture capital but certainly not beholden to its’ charms. Great question, “Why are corporate businesses suddenly experts in startup investing?” Many believe that CVCs remain highly susceptible to short-term changes in executive decision-making.
  6. Entrepreneurs learn best when they are willing to be vulnerable. In our case, to jump into the role play seat with little preparation and test their abilities to direct the conversation with an investor towards their desired goal.
  7. Understanding the distinctions between public and private investors such as a traditional VC Fund, a Family Office and a Corporate Venture Capital fund requires thinking about the future, not just the present or the past. What are their highest potential future needs? How are you uniquely qualified to address those needs?
  8. We over estimate geographical differences. A multi-lingual global audience of 75 entrepreneurs drawn from 5 continents, brought together by a singular objective, to learn the shortest quickest route to their desired objectives.
  9. Technology won’t replace “in the classroom” learning but tools such as Zoom, enable an increasingly intimate learning experience that certainly narrows the gap, at a a fraction of the cost for the host, guest lecturer and students.
  10. There is something special about Stanford – its’ global brand power. The ability to charge a premium price for global learning, to attract globally re-known lecturers and a culturally diverse group of students. I learn more than the students at these events and I can highly recommend it to others.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

A Dumb Englishman Abroad

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Rick Stein, the international chef is currently airing an entertaining series on BBC television about long weekends in European cities – the food, the culture and the history. Stein is a great chef, I have eaten in a number of his restaurants and the creator of an impressive brand. He comes across as intellectually curious and a decent man but his mangling of the English and Austrian language in his latest show in Vienna, wouldn’t get him a job in Burger King.

If you want to be taken seriously on a public stage, on camera or at an international gathering or event, the minimum expectation is that you demonstrate a command of your own and your host’s language. If you want to use local terms or words to impress others, make sure you know how to pronounce them properly and in the right context. If you are in doubt about the latter, ask an informed local. Don’t wing it, you’ll look an amateur.

In Stein’s case with an expensive production and abundant researchers, it is just lazy film making or you can blame it on the irritating tendency at the BBC to dumb down programme making to the lowest common denominator. Either way, it makes the speaker look dumb. Why would you do that or allow others to create that impression?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

The Value Creating Agenda In European Private Equity

Monday, April 25th, 2016

OPF_190416_202LOW RES


150 of the leading minds in the sector assembled at Private Equity International’s Operating Partner Forum 2016: Europe. Here is an exclusive snapshot of 5 key takeaways from a list of 20 priorities shaping the future:

  • Impact trumping brand. What an Operating Partners does in future is more important than the size or diversity of the PE firm.
  • Little guys on the rise. Substantial “growth” opportunity in the next 12 months for small and boutique consultants and advisors. Tightly customised products and services, absolute credibility (IP), the ability to build a seductive rapport and convert it into increased market share .
  • 6 core value creation themes in 2016 (all businesses). 1. Structural transformation, 2. Operational improvement (often seen as unfashionable but where a lot of hidden value resides), 3. Buy and build platforms, 4. Emerging market growth, 5. Strategic repositioning and 6. Growth acceleration.
  • The Atlantic Divide. Limited Partners (LPs) report increasing geographic distinction between US and European PE  buyouts. In the US, a great frequency  of institutional buyouts (“IBO”), manifest in telling managers “we own your business, you will follow our approach”, consequently, management are more subservient. In Europe, a greater frequency of working with management and a greater propensity for peer-level relationships. Skills, behaviours and expertise needed differ, particularly communication.
  • The Digital PE Value Creation Wheel. Outstanding PE firms are embedding in their portfolio company due diligence 1. Product (capability), 2. Price (transparency), 3. Channel distribution (eCommerce), 4. Marketing (how they do it), 5. Operations (managing the business), 6. People (awareness, skills, behaviour)

Want the other 15 priorities, write to  for a free copy of the full listing.

© James Berkeley. All Rights Reserved.

Uncommon Business Integration

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

So you are the proud owner and as CEO, guardian of the new combined business, the hard work now begins, turning the reasons why you bought the business (investment thesis) into an organisational reality.

You assemble the executives and managers in both firms with guidance on the strategic vision, financial synergies, operations, talent and culture. In all likelihood, they have interacted briefly to exchange information in the due diligence, negotiation and closing phases but they have rarely got to know each other on a personal basis.

How each party sees that you handle that first integration meeting in most cases creates an indelible impression for the ensuing relationships, the level of commitment to your objectives and your probable success.

Knowing “what to do” and “how to do it”, is largely a mixture of art and science for most leaders. “Art”, in the sense of gut feel and good judgement in creating a welcoming environment for the newly acquired executives and managers. “Science”, in the sense of knowing precisely like choreographing a play “what” business outcomes must be prioritised, “where” to devote time productively, “when” you must accelerate the conversation (agreed action points) or intervene to bring circular conversations to a close and “why” a chosen integration alternative is appropriate.

Here is seven “integration killers” you want to avoid in that first meeting of the “new” colleagues:

1. Ambiguous and Unclear Meeting Invite. The focus needs to be on performance-based priorities (crystal clear business outcomes) not tasks and activities (“getting acquainted with each other”).

2. Inviting Wallflowers. Peers want to meet, talk and reach agreement with peers or possibly employees who are one grade above. They don’t want to converse with subordinates, who cannot contribute meaningfully and do nothing more than to act as a “posse” or mute cheerleaders for an executive or senior manager.

3. Enabling People Who Arrive With An “Agenda”. Nothing kills an integration meeting like an HR person from the acquiring company, who arrives with an arbitrary alternative (“non-negotiable” policies and procedures) to force the newly acquired employees to comply to their process without first listening to and collectively examining whether it makes sense. The real crime is the facilitator who allows them to make a speech and enables their passive-aggressive behaviour.

4. Leaders Whose Behaviour Precisely Undermines The Meeting’s “Rules of Engagement”. If the understanding is that PDA’s and phones are to be switched off until the scheduled break, there is zero excuse for the leader, who blatantly ignores the rule. What the leader’s behaviour says to the other participants is “this discussion is not my priority”.

5. Kick off at the wrong starting point (integration alternative). Any discussion must start with “what is the desired business outcome?” (rapid reduction in business acquisition expenses), “what are the integration alternatives?” (adopt Company A or B’s sales approach or develop a new approach), “what is the risk and reward attached to each alternative?”, and ends with “what action is required to rapidly and effectively implement the preferred alternative” (next steps). Nothing else.

6. Priorities are given an arbitrary score (“7”) or (“High”). Organise and separate priorities into three headings (“GSI”): “Gravity”, what is the gravity of the issue? “Speed”, how fast does this need resolving or improving? “Impact”, what is the actual or potential impact on the firm’s future? Use actual descriptive sentences not scores.

7. Lack of definitive “next steps” with agreed action points (“I’ll discuss this with the COO when I next see him”). Every action point must have a time, date and accountability given to it with an understanding of the supplementary action to follow.

My observation is that most first integration meetings start with the very best of intentions. Where they go awry is that the meeting chair and participants overlook the importance of speed as well as quality. “Speed” in terms of, for example, identifying decision-making shortcuts that enhance the quality of the results (more impressive financial synergies, happier customers). “Quality” in terms of asking the right questions in the integration meeting to enhance the “speed” of accomplishing the desired business outcomes (ease of implementation, reduced risk).

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Trading Places

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Bored by taking the “tour” around your industry’s annual events ever year, seeing the same faces speaking and pontificating on the future of the business? Try this “celebrity” game at market events to liven things up:

How have the fortunes of the leading and best supporting “actors” in the industry evolved in the past 12 months and how might they evolve in the next 36 months?

Can you spot who are

The “Sean Connerys”: the wealthy, sun-tanned and revered still rolled out to awards and benefits for their kudos

The “Leonardo DoCaprios”: feted for their enduring talent and image and still drawing a fashionable crowd

The “Philip Seymour Hoffmans”: feted for their heroic talent and presence but unlikely to live with the fame

The “Eddie Murphys”: revered for their “past” commercial prowess, now living in the Hills largely out of fashion save for the need to collect the odd cheque

Trust me there is a serious purpose to this, aside from the humour. Are you hanging out with the right people at the right time to impact your personal and professional success?

It is great reflecting on the wise cracks from Trading Places so long as you are not vesting your time and career prospects in people whose star has long since faded and to whom others suppose you are in the exact same company.


© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Global Gaming and Lotteries To Twist

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Here is a few reflections from the largest global casino, lottery, mobile and social gaming event, ICE Totally Gaming 2015, held in London this week:

  • With regulation on a par to the nuclear and energy sectors, can investors really be sure that the valuations for most gaming businesses today have adequately priced changes in regulatory risk?
  • Industry faces unparalleled level of intrusion. In the next 5 years a prominent gaming or lottery business will be a target of cyber terrorism from those whose values conflict with gaming and lottery operators.
  • When the overt marketing message is pushing girls in skimpy outfits with bad fake tans rather like a tired 197os porn film, does it really create a seductive rapport to your brand and its’ products and services or signal that your business has runs out of new ideas and excitement?
  • The sector doesn’t lack for people with abundant enthusiasm but it does lack abundant leadership prowess. Crossing that divide arguably biggest challenge.
  • When the immersive mobile and social gaming experience is so life-like why get on a plane or train to travel to Las Vegas or a London casino with the added cost of rooms, food and beverage and transport?
  • The future of gaming and lotteries is either (1)  a fully immersive gaming offering or (2) fully immersive gamification
  • Expect a significant rise in strategic collaboration, particularly additional services added to the lottery’s offerings
  • “Live” gaming experiences (casinos, sports betting, and so on) will close in even bigger numbers this year, when the consumer can find more excitement and value at home or in other pursuits.
  • The failure of major casino, sports betting and lottery operators to embrace innovation within their business will preface exponential growth in reactive/defensive investment in early-stage growth business this year.
  • Technology vendors in the sector face an increasing gulf between the “have’s” (knowledge, capital and scale) and the “have nots” predicating increased merger and acquisition activity in 2015. (IGT-GTech, Amaya and Scientific Games just the start).
  • Government agencies that are tethered to outdated legislation (Canada, US, Europe) are accelerating the irrelevance of regulated gaming and lottery products as the market diverges with changing customer preferences, demographics and so on. Expect greater friction and legal disputes in the next 12 months.
  • With few barriers to entry, the sector doesn’t lack for entrepreneurs wanting to create and build businesses but how many really “cash out” with a meaningful cheque? Expert a rise in incubators, accelerators and corporate venturing in the next 12-24 months.
  • While ICE like G2E has positioned itself as a “go to” trade show event, the learning opportunities (seminars and conferences) and the value derived from them are still no greater than 4/10. Organisers, sponsors and participants have a lot of work to do to attract a more impressive crowd. Expect the smarter exhibitors to fill this thought leadership “gap” in the next 12-24 months.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Only One Direction

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

24 hours before my Panel Session at the World Gaming Executive Summit in Barcelona and the level of anticipation has reached unprecedented levels….

Harry Styles and his One Direction band mates doing a great warm up!


photo 3

W Barcelona













photo 1

Fans Awaiting A Glimpse




photo 2

Unparalleled Excitement in Barcelona











© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.











Studying Success or Adapting & Exploiting Success Practices

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Why do conferences demanding a change in the relationship between business and society reveal so little about business improvement  and so much about the fears of the speakers? If the objective is to make capitalism work more effectively and efficiently in generating and distributing wealth, shouldn’t we start by identifying someone, who can help businesses adapt and exploit success practices rather than simply studying success. The former helps hugely, the latter is insufficient to improve our own success. I am reminded of this today when a global elite drawn from business, academia, politics and so on are assembled by Lynn Forester de Rothschild to a London conference, titled, Inclusive Capitalism. The energetic host has been all over the airwaves galvanising interest in the event, indeed her’s was the first voice I heard at 5:40am on a BBC business breakfast radio show today. Yet I haven’t heard or read a single word describing where business can get impartial advice and practical help.

Time is the scarcest resource for business executives, social commentators, reporters, politicians and meeting hosts. The next time a conference or meeting invitation lands on your desk, read it quickly and remind yourself that not all events are equally valuable, irrespective of the “star” names. Here is three qualifying questions:

1. Am I going to listen to others’ success, which is largely unique to their own circumstances? (non-transferable or irrelevant)

2. Will I find and listen to someone, who can help me  adapt and exploit success practices in my own organisation? (credible expert, track record of success, third party testimonials)

3. Could my time be spent more productively elsewhere?

Asking yourself those three questions might save you an immeasurable amount of time and money, and increase your productivity more than you ever imagined.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.


iSpy A Dinosaur: State and Provincial Lottery and Gaming Boards

Monday, February 10th, 2014

140210 ICE

This friendly beast adorned the ICE Totally Gaming Show in London last week, where the great and good from the casino, lotteries, online and social gaming world converged to exhibit the latest technology, network and strike deals in the cavernous exhibition halls. Surprising to many was the noticeably higher attendance of senior lottery executives and government agencies from North America. The irony of the dinosaur cannot be lost on those running North American lottery and gaming associations. Mired in political machinations, declining customer spend, unfavourable demographics  and a chronic need to rapidly reverse these dynamics, the pace of change and results from top management is shocking at present. If six recent dialogues with Board Members and senior executives at State and Provincial agencies charged with a rapid transformation are a reliable bell-weather, the time for talking, hiding and procrastination must stop. Boards need to become assertive. Top management needs to achieve results. Here is a checklist for proactive Board Chairs:

  1. The Lottery/Gaming organisation has a competent top management (demonstrably possess the skills, behaviour and experience needed to achieve the organisation’s goals).
  2. The Board has established adequate benchmarks for top management’s performance and accountability in four key areas: allocating capital productively, hiring managers and key people, innovation, and the adequacy and reliability of strategic plans.It goes without saying that, of course, there must be accountability for return on investment.
  3. Top management are required to articulate their expectations in each of these areas  and the actual results are rigorously assessed by  the Board, at a minimum annually.
  4. Board Members have ensured that top management is properly staffed and structured.  It is not sufficient just to simply use the Board power and influence when there is a dysfunctional management group.  The Board is willing and demonstrably able to wield the axe where there is mediocrity amongst the top management.
  5. Top management are held accountable by the Board for succession planning and career development and ensuring that both are properly synchronised.
  6. Top management are held accountable by the Board to think through the businesses the organisation operates in today, and those that they should be in, and, equally critically, those business or businesses it should not be in, what businesses it needs to abandon, subordinate or even exit.  The Board though is not responsible for working out the strategy – that is top management’s responsibility.
  7. The Board holds top management accountable for the productivity of the capital and resources invested in the business and routinely sets improvements. I am talking here about investment in facilities and equipment, cash collection, people and time usage in key strategic functions that are critical to realising the lottery and gaming agency’s goals.
  8. The Board holds top management accountable for appropriate policies for key external relationships (unions, government, public disclosure, legal and regulated activities).  It is not enough just to have the policies, each area has performance standards in place, against which performance can be routinely measured.
  9. The Board requires top management to bring additional information to their attention, specifically, decisions on mergers or acquisition or exiting a product line, notification of lawsuits and decisions on long-term research and development investment.
  10. The Board has a clearly thought through role, clear goals, crisp objectives and transparent individual accountabilities for each Board Member.

My observation is that 90% of the Boards in North American Gaming and Lottery organisations cannot say “YES” to all of these points. Until that level of rigour and discipline is brought to bear on Boards by their direct reports in State or Provincial government agencies, no significant improvement is going to happen. Fact.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.