britain – week three cultural visits // 07

Hello again!

I hope everyone’s had a wonderful start to the weekend. Today I wanted to recap my trip to the National Theatre in London (when will these London posts be over? The world may never know). The visit was part of the program so we had a wonderful tour guide the entire time. We were forced to wear these neon vests – which were actually quite awful, mind you – but overall it was really interesting. One of the first things our guide talked about was the building itself: it’s right on the water and it’s made of concrete. It doesn’t look the fanciest, but that’s the point: they wanted the theatre to be approachable and a communal space for all of London’s citizens. I thought that was unique and humble of the National Theatre; they didn’t want anything extravagant or exclusive.

We were shown to the theatre’s main stage, the Olivier Theatre (I believe the NT has three theatres total!) It was a huge semi-circular room that seats about 1,000. I thought it was really cool how the stage isn’t more than 118 degrees because that’s the extent of the peripheral vision. The technology of the stage was fascinating to hear about – there’s a revolving drum underneath the stage so that the stage can switch sets quickly during the show if need be. It revolves rapidly and noiselessly, ensuring a fascinating theatre experience. I loved hearing about it!

We also walked through the production part of the National Theatre. We saw people working on set pieces, backdrops, etc. We even got to hold some old pieces like fake food, a mask, and more. Additionally, we saw the Dorfman Theatre, which was much smaller and rectangular-shaped. I thought it was interesting how actors like to be able to see the audience, since growing up as a dancer, I knew I hated seeing the audience while I was performing. It’s interesting to see how the preference is different in theatre.

After the tour, I wasn’t able to see a show, but I did make a quick walk-through of the giftshop, which had a lot of show-branded gifts. Comparing the National Theatre to Shakespeare’s Globe, I have to say it is much more approachable than Shakespeare’s Globe and not as intimidating.

That’s it for the cultural visits from week three!

Thanks for reading,

Jen

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britain – week three company visits // 06

Hello everyone!

Long time no see, I got behind on all of my London blog posts a bit! I’m currently back in Seattle and adjusting back to the U.S. lifestyle. I’m already nostalgic for London, and writing about my time there is definitely hitting the spot. In a lot of ways, I feel like it was time for me to go home and be satisfied with what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen, but at the same time, I’ll always feel like there’s an endless list of things to do in London.

Today is all about my third week of company visits though! I’ve been learning quite a lot about a number of things through these company visits – I hope my detailed posts have taught you a thing or two. During this past week, we visited Barclays, ARM, F5, Pitchbook, and Vix Technology.

The Barclays building was quite fancy, which I really enjoyed. We were seated in a lecture-style room (with complimentary tea, coffee, and cookies, mind you!). We first had their CTO, Brad Novak, come in and speak with us. I was amazed at how our program managed to get their CTO to come speak to a group of university students – that was insane! Barclays was so generous in doing so.

Novak started off by introducing himself: graduated from Cornell with a degree in CS and Barclays was his third bank in his career. Future changes in the coming years at Barclays include increased regulation and jurisdiction, a changing legal structure, and overall everything becoming more complicated. He summarized Barclays as being a diversified global equity firm. I thought it was really interesting when he started breaking down exactly all the components of Barclays. I didn’t realize how big it is! I was particularly fascinated when he broke down the wholesale and international sector. The wealth business includes individual (private wealth), corporate, and investment banking (large customers). The investment banking sector includes large hedge and pension funds, banking services, and providing research and advice.

Barriers to entry are high because it’s so expensive to obtain the FINtech. Barclays is, in fact, moving toward Cloud (AWS and Azure), which is always an interesting conversation starter. Novak stated that they anticipate using machine learning for algorithmic trading. FINtech is actually how Barclays stays innovated: there are startups that help Barclays and they decide to invest in tech that they think will be huge in the future and get rid of the old tech. For the upcoming Cloud use, Novak coined Barclays as a “tech company with a balance sheet”, which I thought was a fantastic way to describe Barclays and help me understand what they are really after. He mentioned how it was because of the change in leadership at Barclays that the Cloud was able to happen.

One thing I learned about was blockchain – I hadn’t known anything about what that was. It’s new technology that allows for anonymity, permissioned ledgers, and an overall inexpensive way to solve problems. I’m definitely going to keep my eyes peeled for that term in the tech and business industry from now on.

I was excited to ask my question regarding if Barclays purchases their FINtech more or produces their own. Novak replied saying that Barclays more often develops their own FINtech because purchasing is for smaller financial institutions. With vendors, if it’s too customized, it’s hard to upgrade. Barclays is large enough to have their own tech team to produce their own FINtech.

The next speaker to come in was a man named John Evans, who is the Associate Director of Escrow. This guy was young – I was amazed at his experience and knowledge of credit risk and time at Barclays overall. He focused his part of the presentation on the technicalities of FINtech, which is where I got a little lost, but I still learned a lot. He started off by explaining how the rumor of FINtech and startups are “replacing” banks, which isn’t true. It’s more about the startups being ambitious, but Barclays will likely collaborate with startups and legacy instead of being swept under.  There’s always the possibility that Barclays will start acquiring startups to expand their FINtech.

I was grateful when he explained what Escrow is: it’s transactional banking, where a neutral third party holds assets between two parties during the interim period. The funds are visibly there for both parties, and it levels the playing field. From the rest of the presentation, it seems like there is going to be a lot of uncertainty. With Brexit – uncertain negotiations. The M&A market being slow – uncertain, decrease in collaboration.

Evans ended his presentation talking about how millennials want change, and how Barclays is preparing for the integration of millennial employees. I really enjoyed hearing about how there is a junior leadership team that corresponds between top management in order to stay connected as a whole company and to start investigating potential change.

Our last speaker for Barclays was David Scola, head of financial institutions. He was probably the most engaging speaker, just because he wasn’t as formal and was a great storyteller in terms of his unique background. He has experience working at the Bank of New York and Deutsche Bank, but currently at Barclays, he is a relationship manager and works with other banks, who are his clients. He sells transaction services and trade finance.

With Scola, we delved deeper into the FINtech discussion. He explained how old systems are expensive since coding is complicated and less well-known as the tech team is now well-versed in updated tech. Supporting legacy systems is better then investing in new tech. I liked that he went back to discussing innovation at Barclays, just because I think it’s interesting to see how banking firms remain creative. He mentioned how they utilize labs and accelerators – sort of like incubators – to provide space for startups to develop the FINtech; it’s an opportunity for intellectual property growth.

We asked him about how Brexit will affect Barclays, and he stated “assume the worst, hope for the best”, which I think is honestly the best approach that all businesses in the UK should strive for. Barclays will lose access to the European continent obviously and their capital will have to move, but they are a global bank. They do have many locations they can move to. Overall, more isolation for the UK is looking bad since it’ll drive costs up and increases trade barriers. However, Brexit is an opportunity to update things – they’re forced to make changes.

I really enjoyed Scola as a speaker, and I was happy to ask him about if he felt that his expectations of personal growth have been met or exceeded since coming to Barclays from such a prestigious bank such as Deutsche. He answered saying that he’s become very open-minded and able to adapt to opportunities, so yes. I am overall satisfied with the company visit to Barclays because they were extremely thorough in explaining and answering our questions. While the visit was a little long, it was informative and definitely enjoyable.

The next company visit was at ARM in Cambridge, London. ARM has to be the most unexpected and interesting company visit for me. We were first presented about what ARM does as a company. They are a chip business with a focus in intellectual property. They design processors, technologies, and software. It is all licensed and they don’t fabricate. We learned about the history of ARM and how it started off as Acorn in the 1980s, and broke through when Nokia and Texas Instruments used ARM processors. ARM processors are found in phones to all digital technologies. My main takeaway from ARM is probably the fact that what they do is in our daily items that we all use. I love knowing and being aware of what’s at the root of what we utilize on a daily basis. I hate taking things for granted, so I think visiting ARM was a good way to remind myself of the people hard at work producing these processors to make our lives easier.

 Things got really interesting when one of the professionals showed us a video about singularity. Basically, the internet of things + artificial intelligence = singularity. Everything will be reshaped by AI, and it’s going to be the “next big thing”. The “Cambrian Explosion” of the human race will improve mankind by being able to predict the future, eliminate car accidents, and increase life expectancy to more than 100 years old. It was freaky – we got into a huge existential discussion about if we think technology will become smarter than humanity. I asked a clarifying question about how exactly it will be able to “predict the future”, are we talking clairvoyance?? Thankfully, predicting the future just consists of using an accumulation of past data to predict the future.

ARM presented a bit on bridging the education gap between schooling and the workforce, which I thought was interesting. I think they spent a little too long on explaining all the education programs they have, but I thought the discussion on the implications was great. I didn’t even think about the socioeconomic consequences of failure to mitigating lack of tech knowledge. Overall, the visit to ARM was really intriguing because of the unexpected turn into a philosophical and existential discussion, and it also made me appreciate these companies who create and build things that are in our everyday products, but just aren’t as visible from the outside.

 The next company we visited was F5 Technologies. Their office itself was fascinating: at the reception desk, there was a glass encasement of all their functioning products on display. We eventually moved into their conference room, which was so cool. It was like a lecture-style classroom, but every two people had their own screens – it’s actually called a Polycomm room, which cost them about half a million dollars.

The presentation started off with Alastair sharing about his experience of 21 years in IT and his experience at Threecom. I thought it was great that he emphasized how culture fit was important at F5. When I hear “tech firm”, I never think of culture fit, just because it always seems like technical skill is more important. Especially with their new CEO starting in April 2017 though, culture fit seems more crucial than ever. I wish I had asked how their new CEO has brought about cultural changes or improvements since joining, but it seems like the biggest change so far has been his knowledge of a Cloud background and being able to bring that into F5.

We furthered the discussion about culture by asking Alastair what the defining qualities are that he looks for when hiring someone onto the team, and he mentioned looking for someone who has skillsets that would make a difference to the team, someone who can sit in front of any role in an organization and relate. Being flexible and credible, and being a “bank of goodwill”. This had me thinking: would I be able to sit in front of any role in an organization and be comfortable? I think it’s a skill I’m still developing, to not be intimidated by top management, but I’m more conscious of it now.

Then we met Andy from Seattle! I was expecting to hear from a remote speaker at F5 on Skype call on a laptop screen or something, but when Andy’s face appeared on the entire wall in front of us, I was amazed. It was so clear and apparently, the sound picks up impeccably. The conference room he was sitting in was identical to ours, so it was like he was literally in the room with us. He is alumni from my university so it was great speaking to him. He was very funny, even recommending us a few places to hit up in London before starting his portion of the discussion. Andy specializes in DDOS (distributed denial of services), which protects users from malicious attacks that deny use to your site or service. DDOS attacks are particularly harmful to e-commerce sites because they lose revenue quickly and sometimes even reputation.

F5 applies intelligence in between servers and the internet and look at the traffic to apply mitigations. DDOS is very easy to amplify for big servers, and the proxy sits in between the user and the server. When Andy started talking about encryption, my ears perked up because I remember learning about data encryption and security in my informatics class last year. Andy told us about the Silverline technology that they acquired. When organizations go under attack spontaneously, they can provide that service within a few hours to mitigate the attack. He also told us about Honeypot, which are intentionally vulnerable machines that attract attacks so they can analyze and observe new attacks. This was super fascinating to me, but even more so when they did a demonstration on the screens of a malware attack. It definitely freaked us all out, because of things like how attackers are now targeting CRM and LinkedIn because of similar passwords, where and what you plug your phone charger matters because you could physically infect your phone with malware.

I highly enjoyed the visit to F5 – they gave us free notebooks and pens and the people were just overall very knowledgeable and easy to talk to. One thing I realized and found hard to accomplish at all company visits is figuring out when a good time to ask my question is. I wasn’t anticipating for this to be a problem, but it has rung true at almost all company visits. For example, when I have a management/personal question, it seems awkward asking it after someone just asked about a technical question. It’s hard to maintain a flow of questions among everyone, and to be able to read if jumping from one subject to the next is awkward for the presenter.

Next up is Pitchbook. We had 4-5 speakers, all of which were men. Up to this point, we’ve mostly had only men speak to us, which makes me a little sad because that just goes to show that we need more women in tech. It’s almost always the women at reception who take us to the male presenters. Anyway – the speakers at Pitchbook were great though. They all came from different parts of the world: Hungary, Germany, UK, US… Pitchbook is basically a platform that aggregates companies’ data. Anything you need to know about a company, from their C-suite contact info to M&A news. I quickly learned that this company’s product would be extremely beneficial for business students partaking in business case competitions. It’s a treasure chest of information!

The Pitchbook employees spent some time explaining the customer success process, and how they retain and upsell clients, etc. One question I wish I had asked was what kind of factors contribute to a client declining a renewal, and how Pitchbook executes a successful negotiation in order to retain their clients year to year.

I thought it was particularly intriguing when they talked about their locations around the world and how each city serves a different purpose. For example, their India location does most of their research, and the Ukraine office is for developing the platform. Pitchbook provides an abundant amount of information; they told us that there are 600k + web crawlers and they use the natural language process as well as specialized data teams to get the primary research done. That’s huge!

Particularly relevant to me was seeing the application within the accounting realm. Accounting and law firms use Pitchbook in order to source new clients, better advise clients on industry standards, and to help identify potential sponsors.

Looking ahead with Pitchbook, I’m amazed by what this startup has become. I think my biggest takeaway was being able to see what a successful startup looks like. They were just acquired by Morningstar, but they aren’t looking to see any drastic changes for another 3-5 years. They’re on their 3rd or 4th iteration of the product, but they’re constantly developing and improving the user interface. In relation to Brexit, there wouldn’t be a huge effect on the business side of Pitchbook. People don’t want to commit because of the currency exchange rate, but it shouldn’t be too detrimental to Pitchbook.

I really enjoyed how they went into some personal advice at the end, more specifically, one of the professionals said to “be less demanding, and more inspiring” in the workforce. When you enter a new role, do things outside of your role and show that you’re ambitious. I thought the Pitchbook visit was great, and even getting to speak to the receptionist about her role and transition from Germany to London was pleasant.

The last company visit of the week was at Vix Technology. I was really excited to visit this company because I learned a little about them during this program’s interviews. Their technology plays a huge role in Seattle’s public transportation technology, so I was looking forward to visit a company that is so relevant to the Pacific Northwest. Upon arrival, it appeared that their company is a bit smaller because they shared a space with other firms at a wework space.

We started off hearing from Aaron Ross, the managing director of Europe and Africa. He started off by giving a quick run-down of Vix itself: it’s privately held so it has a complex structure, but it provides them with flexibility because they don’t have to announce publicly every quarter. Then Ross chose to take the anecdotal route of practically giving us his life and career history; it was interesting listening to him explain how he got to Vix after so many twists and turns with his startups, but I thought he spent perhaps a little too long talking about himself rather than the company. One interesting thing I thought he talked about was how Vix is incredibly dependent on what’s being updated by other companies. For example, when Apple updated, Visa had to update their mobility as well, which meant that Vix had to update their technology to be compatible with people who used Apple & Visa. Vix is constantly updating, and I think their one of their challenges includes developing a technology that would be versatile for at least a few years so they wouldn’t have to spend so much money updating it every time there is a big tech change.

After Ross, we had Robert Holton come in to speak with us, who is a key account manager. To be completely candid, I got a little lost with the intense overload of products he shared with us. There were a lot of different types, and Holton sped through the products. However, I do think the implementation portion of his presentation was engaging.

I had travelled to the Greek Islands earlier this summer and noticed that their public transportation technology was incredibly weak. The process to collect bus fares from passengers basically consists of passengers just getting on the bus, and as the bus was moving, there would be a man physically collecting coins and ripping off a ticket for the passengers. My question was regarding the process of integrating/implementing Vix into a new city or country, because the Greek Islands desperately needs technology from Vix, in my opinion. Holton responded saying that Vix technology fits in mid-tier cities at the moment, and they want to expand to bigger cities for the future, but not underdeveloped ones. This is because they have to wait for the technology to catch up with the city, and there might not be enough demand for public transportation technology. The negotiation process consists of Vix approaching cities and vice versa. It does take years for the tech to get implemented though.

My takeaway from Vix? Not what I expected – I thought it was going to be a lot more interesting to hear from a company that’s so applicable in Seattle, but both speakers didn’t quite live up to what I hoped to hear about.

That’s all I have for week three’s company visits!! What a long post – if you’re still reading, I applaud you. Stay tuned for my cultural visits for the third week!

Thanks for reading,

Jen

 

 

 

dear london | week one

Happy Friday!!

I can’t believe this is my last weekend in London – how the time flies by! I hope you’ve been enjoying my detailed cultural and company visits, I know they’re photo-less, so I thought I’d post my photo-diary from week one in this post. It’s been a whirlwind and I honestly don’t remember a lot, so here it goes:

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High tea @ the Shakespeare’s Globe‘s restaurant, The Swan!

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Me & The Little Dancer @ Tate Modern! Fun fact: I went to Paris to the Louvre and totally thought this statue was there – it wasn’t. Since then, I’ve been waiting to come see this statue!

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Lunch with my good friend Jo @ Pure.

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Our walking tour of London was pretty much focused in the financial district, since our tour guide use to work in finance, haha.

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The “Walkie-Talkie”!

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Made a trip to the Kensington Gardens!

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The best part about London? All the free museums! Here’s the National Gallery.

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Van Gogh’s SunflowersThe National Gallery

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Got some blog posts and work done @ TAP Coffee. Highly recommend. Delicious Eggs Royale before 2:30pm.

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Met up with some friends, old and new!

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The Big Ben himself –

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We had to visit 221B Baker Street, of course!

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That’s it for week one in London! I can’t even explain how much fun I’m having with everyone everyday. The relationships I’ve cultivated with some people on my program are going to be truly unforgettable. I can’t wait to share with y’all the photos I have for my second week! Look out for my trip to Edinburgh in the next post as well.

Until then,

Jen

britain – week 2 cultural visits // 05

Hi!

How is everyone’s week going so far? Nearly everyone on my program has caught some sort of cold at this point (except for me!! Who would’ve thought?). Today I want to recap the cultural visits we got to last week. We had a pretty lax week in terms of required sight-seeing, but we did make it out to Greenwich. It’s still considered part of London, but it’s way out on the outskirts, east. When we arrived, we were right on the water and the town itself reminded me a lot of Bath. The main attraction was the ship, Cutty Sark. This ship was a tea clipper in the 1700s and considered one of the fastest (if not the fastest).

We were able to go on the ship (unfortunately, it is no longer mobile). It was pretty much a museum on a ship, but it was huge. It’s crazy to think that people lived on this ship for long periods of time! We walked into a role-play where an actress was talking about the letters that were written – she even roasted one of the students on our program for being 20 years old and wearing a trousers and a cap. It was hilarious!

After visiting the Cutty Sark, we climbed our way to the Royal Observatory. We were warned that it was going to be quite a hike, but it ended up being just fine compared to other heights I’ve climbed this summer. The view was stunning – we could see pretty far out of Greenwich! The museum was fascinating as well because they explained how the time zone, GMT came about (Greenwich Mean Time!!) Because the British traded by sea back in the day, it was really interesting being able to see what kind of technologies they used in order to do so, a lot of which had to be operate-able at sea or astronomically.

One of these technologies include a navigational instrument, which helps find longitude at sea. John Hadley invented the octant that measures up to 90 degrees. Finding longitude requires accurate instruments that can measure the angles between objects in the sky. Of course, this object wasn’t perfect upon creation, so John Bird improved the octant by increasing the size of the scale – the sextant, which can read up to 120 degree angles.

Another helpful device was Harrison’s many timekeepers. The fourth one in particular was based on a watch and not a clock. This was especially helpful because it has high-energy balance and is thus unaffected by the rocky movements of the ship at sea. Prior to the fourth timekeeper, the watch couldn’t be proven to be a conclusive method for finding longitude. Harrison was finally recognized and rewarded in 1765.

The other technological device I found compelling was the the chronometer used at the Royal Observatory to measure temperature. Basically, it runs slow when hot and fast when cold. Over a given time period, people would track its rate of changing temperature and calculate the average. A machine that’s related to the chronometer is the time-ball, which was dropped at 1pm each day to signal to mariners on the Thames to check their chronometers before heading out to sea for safety.

Overall, Greenwich wasn’t somewhere I was expecting to visit, but I’m really glad I did. It was a great mix of a port town, Bath, and London. I highly recommend visiting if you want to learn something new and just enjoy the coastal side of London!

britain – week 2 company visits // 04

Happy Monday everyone!

I hope y’all had a wonderful weekend kicking off September. Football season has officially begun (#GoDawgs!!), and as you’re reading this, I’ve just spent my weekend in Edinburgh – look out for my post on that soon! Today, I want to discuss the company visits from this past week through my Britain study abroad program. We visited Marsh Insurance, Lloyds of London, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and Amazon Business.

First up is Marsh Insurance. Upon walking into their building, I was already really impressed. We were taken to a lecture-style meeting room with complimentary coffee and tea. They already treated us so well within the first 10 minutes. The next big thing? A huge packet with the entire slide deck – in color. It’s the little things in life, y’all. The CEO came and introduced us to Marsh very briefly. In short, Marsh is part of the Marsh & McLennan Companies, and Marsh itself is concerned with insurance broking and risk management. They work within the aviation, construction, and marine industries, but our speaker, Stephen Harris, a senior VP, spoke to maritime insurance. I remember my professor from one of my business classes sophomore year was a maritime lawyer so that was interesting to hear the actual insurance policies that were covered with that in comparison to court cases.

I really appreciated the fact that the entire presentation was up-to-date: when the CEO mentioned how the stock in warehouses are affected by the Houston hurricane, situations like that need to be insured. London is involved. He also mentioned how there are marine insurance courses four times a year in Norwich, UK. Marsh is the most global out of all broker companies, and when they’re dealing with maritime insurance, cargo is the biggest area because goods from raw to finished are insured.

Stephen started off his portion of the presentation teaching us about maritime insurance history. It’s crazy that people started doing this stuff more than 300 years ago! I also thought it was interesting that even though it is maritime insurance, there are more claims on land than on water because goods in transit on land are still insured.

Next, he started going into the technicalities of maritime insurance, like how there is a risk transfer from the company balance sheet to the insurer’s balance sheet. Insurance is essentially protection against consequential financial loss, so purchasing insurance helps the company’s profits increase, but also the the investors/financiers’. At first, when he started using the term “underwriting”, I was a little confused but I quickly gauged that it meant signing and accepting the liability. I learned that they split the insurance between underwriters, and that more than $5m goes to reinsurance. I also learned a fancy term called “benchmarking”, which is how much each underwriter reacts to certain risks in order to be “quoted”. Then they use a matrix system to develop and assign an underwriter with the certain insurance. Data at its finest!

This is where the fascinating stuff – and Lloyds of London – comes in. Lloyds is not an insurance company, but rather a market. It’s a trading floor for underwriters and insurance brokers to sign deals. Active underwriters would write his own policies using his own assets and get premiums, which help them make money. The more policies one writes, the greater the wealth and assets. Lloyds has, impressively, always been there to pay every single claim.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the lecture was the part about pirates. It’s scandalous and scary, I’ve learned. There are modern-day pirates out there! Marine piracy is heavily concentrated in northern South America (mostly petty thieves at sea), west and eastern Africa, and Indonesia. As of right now, Indonesia is the problem area because of the growing ISIS concentration, which I didn’t even realize. There was a high number of attacks in 2016, but has since gone down due to the armed guards on ship. I thought it was interesting how underwriters charge extra for ships to go to Venezuela, West Africa, and Jakarta, Indonesia because of the higher risk of war and strikes.

Another term I learned during the lecture was “protection and indemnity”. The formal definition is that P&I protects vessel owners by paying legal defense costs when facing a liability and indemnifies them against liabilities incurred as owners of the vessel. These P&I clubs protect one another on a mutual basis. P&I is part one of four insurance departments; the other three counterparts are marine hull machinery, cargo department, and marine liability, of which the latter two are controlled by separate people because of conflict of interests.

I always get excited when companies we visit talk about how they anticipate the future. New challenges for Marsh include possible new crew-less ships that are autonomous, and of course, Brexit. Premiums are going down because there are too many insurers and not enough businesses (simple supply and demand issue). However, big data has been extremely helpful and accurate in navigating maritime insurance.

I found that Stephen wasn’t the most eager to answer our questions, which was odd because he did such a fantastic job presenting. The slides were animated and engaging, which I appreciated. I didn’t get to ask him a question during our Q+A time since he cut it off to take us to Lloyds for a tour, but I did get to ask him one-on-one on our walk there about how insurance companies get rated a “BBB-“, for example. I was curious to see if the ratings were based on being able to pay claims, etc. He answered that no one knows what the criteria is, that it’s not really revealed to the insurance companies. However, the rating correlates pretty accurately most of the time. There are only rare cases in which insurance companies are infuriated by their rating.

When we set foot into Lloyds, my jaw dropped. They call it “the coffee machine”, and I can see why. All the amenities (bathrooms, elevators) are on the perimeter of the building, and the offices are on the inside. I believe there are 10+ floors and it was so fascinating seeing the underwriters at work at the insurance companies’ desks and little cubicle areas. People were in suits and hustling, y’all! Stephen was kind enough to also show us some rooms that had more traditional history and grandeur. I highly enjoyed the tour around Lloyds!

The next day, we went to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). I wish I had been more prepared for this visit because I honestly had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know who the FCO was. I had a feeling it would be similar to our Confederate of British Industries visit, but less business-oriented. In short, FCO safeguards the UK’s national security. We first got a tour of the building itself.

My favorite part was when our tour guide showed us the Dubar Court, because he mentioned how the London premiere for the Twilight: New Moon film was held in the court. I was all ears at that point! The court itself was stunning. I thought Matthew Digby White, the artist himself, was really clever in signing his name in secret all around the court. The tour guide also did a fantastic job telling the story of the Britannia Pacificatrix painting, and how it was a representation of what Britain used to be, not what they are.

Two last really cool aspects of the tour were that they showed us the enigma machines from World War II. There’s only 15 left in the world, one of which is in the FCO. If you’ve seen The Imitation Game movie with Benedict Cumberbatch, you’d know how life-changing the enigma machine is – it saved lives and cut off years of the war. Lastly, we finished off the discussion talking about how the Prime Minister does not have a salary. However, the PM is also kind of the boss of the finance industry, which does make a salary. I love learning little tidbits like that.

Once the tour was over, we headed over to a meeting room and had two employees of FCO answer any questions we had. We were again treated with tea and coffee. The employees we spoke to work in the UK and US trade strategy in the department of international trade. It was fascinating hearing their backgrounds, especially the woman who graduated from Oxford and worked in the counter-terrorism department prior to coming to FCO.

After they introduced themselves, we had a really open Q&A session. Some things that stood out to me:

  • Due to the US’s changing political party, there has been a rise of populism in the UK, but the relationship between the US and UK transcends the political party. In fact, the UK has had a close relationship with the Trump administration.
  • The only two things that the FCO employees dislike about their work are that a) there is unnecessary bureaucracy, and b) lack of IT. But, they believe that AI will really impact the government in the future.

I’m grateful I was able to get my question answered; I asked: “in such a tumultuous climate, have there been any striking or unexpected aspects of your role, and what did you learn from it?” They hesitated for a second, and answered saying that their role is all about smoothing out the surprises that happen daily, and being able to digest information from the US is all about adaptability. As a whole, I think FCO did a fantastic job answering our questions not only about their role at FCO, but also giving advice for university students and pursuing something in the future that will help change the future.

Our last company visit of the week was with Amazon Business (AB). I have yet to make an office visit to the Seattle campus, but the London office was so amazing. It’s brand-new (launched in April 2017) and very modern. Even when we were waiting in the lobby, I felt super hip. As we walked around the building, I got a mix of corporate but also start-up vibes. It was absolutely stunning! We were able to see the rooftop as well.

We were led to a meeting room, where Bill Burke, the representative who also worked in Seattle, introduced us to a lot of other Amazon professionals. I wasn’t able to catch all of their names and titles, but there was a constant stream of professionals that kept coming in to tell us about what they did, which was awesome. I loved how eager and excited they were when telling us about their job. We had professionals coming from the sales operations team, marketing, and the best part – Alexa.

We started off the meeting with a live demo of how Amazon Business works. The website is optimized for the business consumer, and the website URL is the same, but if you’re a business consumer, the website looks different. I thought it was great how they described Amazon Business is an open market place, and that they have a strong feature such as catalog curation, which allows for both freedom and limitation for businesses when purchasing through Amazon Business. It was particularly helpful when Bill stood up to use the whiteboard to draw a graph of AB’s consumer market – I loved that they thought on their feet like that and were able to come with diagrams to help supplement their explanations. He described how AB focuses the most on micro-spot customers, but are striving for enterprise-planned because they haven’t dived into that area yet.

Their biggest challenge at the moment is acquisition of consumers, because getting 5.6 million companies to sign up is no easy task. I really enjoyed hearing the difference between marketing to on-site vs. off-site businesses.

However, I think the most engaging part of the conversation was regarding Alexa. I only know one or two people personally who own Alexa, but I was thoroughly fascinated by the entire conversation we had about it. They described Alexa as an “automated personal assistant”, which I suppose is exactly who she is. It’s amazing that Alexa has so much potential, like enabling customers to shop on Alexa, and essentially becoming an expert on Amazon products. The privacy component still freaks me out, but the woman speaking for the Alexa team was enthused. I wanted to inquire about the language barrier aspect that Alexa has to decipher, and thankfully, my curiosity was satiated. The language barrier is a 2020 goal for Amazon, since Microsoft, Google Home, and Alibaba are strong competitors for Alexa.

I thought we would be visiting Amazon Corporate in London as well, so I didn’t ask my question, but I wish I had asked about their culture in the London office. Back in the states, Amazon is mentioned in some shape or form in every business class, and especially recently in my management class I took in Italy, it was brought to my attention how Amazon employees work in teams. I wanted to inquire about their workplace strategies in London, but it didn’t seem as relevant to the conversation we were having in the meeting room.

My biggest takeaway from Amazon Business is that, yes, I would definitely want to work for this company and industry! I wasn’t able to ask about their accounting department, but meeting the people and seeing the office was truly eye-opening. I was thoroughly impressed!

That’s it for now, I hope you enjoyed another long, detailed company visit recap. Look out for my cultural visit recap next!