Friday, 15 October 2010

The Establishment

Those amongst you who are keen readers of the Court and Social announcements section of the Daily Telegraph will have been excited to read about a dinner at Haberdashers Hall last week to mark the installation of the new Master of the Information Technologist's Company, a City Livery Company.

You will have been even more excited to note that at that very event, one Tom Ilube was installed as Panels Warden of said Livery Company. My mum reckons that I am now part of "The Establishment", but if I am it is only because I have climbed in to "The Establishment" through a broken downstairs window and am currently hiding in "The Establishment's" basement hoping that they don't spot me and toss me back out on to the street.

City Livery companies are ancient (and some not so ancient) guilds that represent trades that are or were practised in the City of London. In the old days you had to belong to the relevant guild to be able to practise the trade - if you wanted to be a goldsmith, join the Goldsmiths. They date back hundreds of years, some even claim a thousand years. The "Premier" Company is The Mercers, grand old fellows who I believe used to trade silk and such like around the world. Others include the Goldsmiths, Tallow Chandlers, Glovers, Skinners and many others, including the Information Technologists.

The Information Technologists' are the 100th Livery company. I am told that we could have been higher up the list but we deliberately held out for this binary number and we are very pleased with ourselves (although no-one else seems to care!). We have over 700 members, mostly CEOs, Chairmen, Directors from across the IT industry and a few honorary luminaries such as Sir Tim Berners Lee, Vint Cerf and Bill Gates.

Everyday phrases such as "Hallmark", being "at sixes and sevens" and (possibly) "keep it under your hat" derive from Livery traditions. And tradition is what Livery companies do best. The world around us changes but Livery companies keep to their traditions generation after generation. I think that's what I like about being involved. It fits well with my Tai Chi/Yin Yang mindset. In the innovative, fast moving, constantly changing world that I live my life and thrive in, I enjoy the periods of calm and constancy that come with the Livery movement. The same dinners, the same speeches, the same long meetings discussing the same agenda points, the same little jokes that I have heard for the last ten or more years make me relax and say inside "ahhhhh, thank goodness, some things don't change".

The main thing that Livery companies do, apart from upholding City traditions, is charity work. We collect and distribute tens of millions of pounds and this is were I get busy. Spending it, that is! My company, the Information Technologists', and the Mercers are sponsoring the Hammersmith Academy, our new school that will open in September 2011. This new school, specialising in ICT and Creative and Digital Media, is an exemplar of combining the old traditions of excellent education with the new creative and digital industries. We are raising over a million pounds for the school and all of that is coming straight out of the pockets of the members of the Livery company.

So, if you are wondering what a modern, high tech entrepreneur like me is doing hanging out with old Livery companies, that's the reason. Leveraging the deep roots and traditions of the City of London over the past thousand years to get exciting, innovative, charitable things done today is why I do it.

And I'm very proud if it.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

PIPhobia: Alert the BBC !

Am I alone in the land in being terrorised daily by the BBC? As the nation's public broadcaster I feel it is incumbent on Auntie to be more responsible to minorities such as myself who suffer from PIPhobia rather than leaving me with sweaty palms and a pumping heart-rate practically EVERY MORNING!

I refer of course to the PIPs.

Whenever I listen to the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 I dread the clock ticking towards 9am. I enjoy "Thought for the day" especially if we are treated to the great Lionel Blue. I relish the ritual skewering of slippery politicians as the loincloth-clad, spear wielding John Humphries creeps up on his prey.

But I feel the tension rise as we approach the dreaded hour. At 08:55 I debate whether to switch off the radio or tough it out. At 08:57 sweat breaks out on my brow as some waffling interviewee meanders around their answer with the clock ticking down. At 08:59 when Evan Davies decides to squeeze in one final question I have been known to scream at the radio in horror. What is he doing? And please God don't let it be Robert Peston who gets the final word.

At 08:59 for goodness sake! Can't they see the PIPs standing silently, menacingly, black cloaked just outside the studio. Can't they feel the terrifying presence of the Five plus The Great One, their chill breadth permeating the glass surrounds? You can't fight the PIPs. You can't.

And then. And then. In a desperate dash for the line Sarah Montague realising their dreadful mistake and in a cry for mercy and forgiveness screams "THAT'SALLWEHAVETIMEFOROUREDITORSWERE..." and with a smash of glass and the howling of banshees the Five plus The Great One burst into the studio, seizing control. Leaving silence. It is over. It is done. Fade to black.

I collapse back into my chair, spilling tea over myself. Dazed. Stressed. Heart pounding.

Today Programme, I beg of you. Glide us in gently. Reassure us. Don't fight the PIPs day in day out. They will win. Submit to their greater will and stop giving me a near heart attack every morning.

Friday, 1 October 2010


We all had heroes growing up. Football starts, freedom fighters, rock stars. Mine were physicists.

So I was very excited the other day when I tuned in to a BBC Radio 4 programme about the wonderful life of the physicists equivalent of a rock god, Richard Feynman.

It was guys like Feynman, Paul Dirac and Murray Gell-Mann who inspired me to rebel in my teens and read physics at university instead of a sensible subject like engineering or accountancy. I tricked my Dad by claiming that it was just my strategy to get into University and I would swap to Engineering my second year, but as soon as I got in amongst the electromagnetism, weak nuclear force and wave particle duality I was smitten.

Unfortunately as the maths got harder I came to realise that my dream of the beautiful life of a physics professor was not to be. How sad. As Feynman said, maths is the language of physics, and I'm afraid my halting, pidgeon maths was just not strong enough to take me to the higher levels.

I did meet one of my boyhood heroes in real life though. I bumped into the Nobel-prize winner Murray Gell-Mann himself.

I had to go quite a long way to bump into him to be honest. Nearly 20 years ago I got married and for our honeymoon we (okay "I") decided to go to the States, hire a car and cruise along the legendary Route 66 through Texas and all the way to New Mexaco. Little did my wife know that the journey would end in a little town called Santa Fe, the home of a world famous scientific institute for the study of complexity. Fortunately Santa Fe happens to be a lovely, artistic, creative town so it wasn't a complete disaster.

After a week of driving around together, I was given permission to go and roam around on my own, so off I went to the Institute.

And so it came to pass that, while I was photocopying papers on the behaviour of ant colonies or genetic algorithms or something, I came face to face with the Great Man Himself.

He looked at me. I looked at him. Paused. A moment, frozen in time. Then in that unmistakable, gravelly voice he said "excuse me young man, I want to use the photocopier."

Wonderful. Wonderful. My hero. I will treasure those words for ever.