Presentation of Awards Evening
Chris Pope Speech
I visited at the end of last term, and met with a number of you who, over the years had taken part in a panel at our primary residential
When I asked “what is the purpose of school”, one of the answers you had was “to find yourself”.
I have read lots of papers and taken part in innumerable education conferences, but I haven’t heard that one before, and I think it’s so true. You learn about the rich world around you at school, and in the process, start the journey of “finding yourself”. (I have to warn you that it doesn’t finish at school!)
So, invited here to speak to you, impressive “Students of Stewards”, I’m rather intimidated. How can I better that?
I decided that I have only one advantage – age. Thanks to that, I have seen a thing or two. So I thought I might offer a few reflections on what I have found helpful “finding myself” in life, in the hope that you might find them helpful too.
I have three thoughts:
1) Yes, you can
2) Embrace diversity and each others’ strengths
3) Keep listening, learning and if necessary, changing
Yes, you can
I have worked with a lot of people who could be called “celebrities”. Best known is HRH, Jools Holland, Luciano Pavarotti, Tom Stoppard – even Michael Gove!
The first thing to say is that they are all human, like you and me. They have their strengths which are usually well-known, but they also have their all-too-human weaknesses. And that’s fine. We all have weaknesses, and we should do what we can to improve them, but we also need to accept that having weaknesses is part of being a human being, and be comfortable with that.
The second thing to say under my “yes, you can” thought is that no celebrity that I have ever met has achieved what they have achieved without very hard work. But, work they did, and they achieved.
Don’t be fooled by the image on social media and glossy magazines of celebrities living charmed lives not doing much. In my experience, they don’t. Those who live by their image alone spend hours in the gym honing their bodies, fearful that an inappropriate bulge somewhere will cause them to be mocked, and hours in meetings with publicists and journalists, working out how they can get on the next magazine cover and maximise their social media presence in order to keep their profile at the top of people’s minds. Without that, their house of cards collapses.
So, my message is that there is nothing mysterious about celebrities or achievement. Yes, there’s an element of luck and being in the right place at the right time, but in my experience it’s 10% luck and 90% making your luck and perseverance.
If you really want to do something, then go for it.
Embrace diversity and each other’s strengths
Over Easter my wife and I went to holiday to somewhere sunny in the Mediterranean: the Lebanon.
In the 1960’s it was THE place to go. People used to call it “The Switzerland of the Middle East”, and all the celebrity A-listers used to go there. Its capital Beirut was the “Paris of the Middle East”, and people loved the rich mix of cultures - super-exotic with belly-dancers and so on - fine food and beautiful countryside with picturesque Greek ruins by the sea.
However, some of you may know that this diverse society fell apart in 1975, as different factions with shifting alliances began a civil war that lasted 15 years.
The central area of Beirut was reduced to rubble, the economy was ruined and 120,000 people were killed.
So, did all that hatred achieve anything?
What the Beirutis will tell you is that it achieved nothing positive – except learning the hard way that embracing diversity and each other’s strengths is the way forward, not hate and war.
Now I know that sometimes that’s easier said than done, as we all feel more comfortable with people around us who are like us.
If you’re choosing a team to be in, it’s more cosy if the team is full of people like us. But if you put together a football team full of excellent goalies, you’re not going to have the best team!
As I said about celebrities earlier, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. The best teams have people from different backgrounds bringing different strengths. And you have to deal with the various weaknesses.
You are part of a stronger team, a stronger business, a stronger society, if it has different sorts of people in it who can disagree and then find solutions and work together.
Keep listening, learning and if necessary, changing
I studied music at university, and was fortunate to get my first job as a sound engineer at the BBC. From there I went into producing recordings and ended-up as the Head of Artists and Repertoire, singing artists for the world’s biggest classical label, Decca. When I got my first job at Decca I was surrounded by the world’s best sound engineers and producers, who had been there all their lives and were incredibly proud of the work they did. They were fantastic colleagues and I learnt how to make recording “Rolls Royces”. When I joined Decca, it employed 120 people in London.
Today, it employs 7. And I’m afraid they no longer make “Rolls Royces”.
The reason for that change was not Decca’s lack of success, as it is still the world’s biggest classical label. With the internet, the whole music business changed completely and stopped being a revenue-generating business as it used to be. Today, it has to pump out minis rather than Rolls Royces, and it can’t afford producers who take a month to craft just one classical recording.
So the other 113 people had to find jobs outside the music business.
Now, I listened to what was happening around me in the 1990s and saw the writing on the wall before the wall came to me. I left Decca to learn how to do something else – in my case an MBA (a Business Studies Masters), and I changed. I turned from being a sound engineer and music business executive to being a management consultant, and then I came to the PTI as a “charity start-up chief executive” and in order to support teachers.
So I have had a career path that no careers adviser could ever have predicted. But I can tell you that it has been wonderful.
Yes, I work hard. As I said before you don’t achieve without doing that.
But I consider myself very fortunate that the changes in the music market made me look outside. I loved my time in music and broadcasting, but I also loved my time in the world of big business as a management consultant, and I love my time at the PTI working with wonderful teachers like yours here at Stewards. I will leave this earth a much more fulfilled person than if I had just stayed in music.
So I hope that, with a few grey hairs appearing, these three thoughts of mine might be useful to you in “finding yourselves”:
1) Yes, you can. Have faith in yourself.
2) Embrace diversity and each other’s strengths. Take on board different views and then work together with others to find solutions.
3) Keep listening, learning and if necessary, changing. The world is ever-changing, which is stressful for those who get set in their ways, which is what we all tend to do as we get older. But it brings huge opportunities for savvy people like you who are prepared to stay curious and not leave listening and learning behind at school.
For you, the impressive Students of Stewards, the world is your oyster. Go for it!