Sir Kenneth Olisa awarded Honorary Doctorate by Kingston University

Sir Kenneth Olisa awarded Honorary Doctorate by Kingston University


Ladies and gentlemen, we begin our award ceremony
today by recognising exceptional achievement, through the conferment of the University’s
highest award, our honorary doctorate. The award today is to be conferred to Sir Kenneth
Olisa, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to business, diversity in business and the
non-profit sector. I now invite Sir Kenneth to stand, whilst our chairman, David Edmonds
introduces him to you. Morning, ladies and gentlemen. There’s a
biography of Ken, or Sir Kenneth, in your programme, so I won’t go through all of
that. I just wanted to make a couple of remarks, if I could, about what Kingston is about.
The governors, we sort of run the university, advised by Martin, the Faculty. We set the
strategy; we set the budget; we try and make sure that we run the thing wisely and sensibly.
But there’s more to Kingston than running a university business. Kingston has, to my
mind, certain fantastic, memorable, characteristics. We’re a university about giving opportunity
to people who may not have had it before. Many of you know, particularly those of you
who are graduating today, that about half of our undergraduates and graduates come from
a Black or minority ethnic background. About half of our undergraduates come from a background
where there’s no previous experience of university education. Many of our undergraduates
come from a background where there has been difficulty. We have a Head Start scheme that
gives special help. Many of you know that we worked incredibly hard on bridging the
attainment gap of students who come into the university who wouldn’t do as well without
that extra help. All of that’s relevant in the context of
Sir Kenneth Olisa. Many adjectives have been used to describe him. He says the 90th adjective
used to describe him is that he’s a black man. He came from a family where he was brought
up by a single mother. He went out and he founded his own – not exactly a venture
– a merchant bank that invested in small and other businesses. Not the kind of merchant
bank that goes in, puts a tonne of money in and then sells on 5 years on. Ken and his
colleagues actually worked with the companies they were actually involved with to make them
successful, to make them profitable, and to give opportunities to many others. But Ken’s
not just done that. I first met him in a previous part of my life; I was chair of an organisation
called ‘Crisis’ which looked after single homelessness, homeless people. Ken founded,
ran, a major housing association also dealing with homelessness called ‘Thames Reach.’
The recognition he’s received for his efforts in that area is well and is absolutely deserved.
So you are looking at someone today, you’re going to listen to someone today, who, I hope,
is a model of what Kingston, in its own way, is about. It’s about opportunity. It’s
about diversity. It’s about attainment. And actually, hopefully, it’s about giving
a hand to others when they need it. I have a formal bit here, which says, “Deputy
Vice Chancellor. I have the honour to present Sir Kenneth Olisa to you, for the conferment
of the degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa.” I give you Ken Olisa. Sir Kenneth, by the authority vested in me
as Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, it is with the greatest of pleasure I confer
upon you our highest degree, the degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa. In
recognition of your outstanding contribution to business, diversity in business, and the
non-profit sector. Sir, my congratulations to you.
Deputy Vice Chancellor, Chairman, Dean, ladies and gentlemen, and, as everyone else has said
this morning, ‘graduands,’ it’s wonderful to be here. It’s a great honour. Unlike
the graduands here today, I’ve done no work for this particular degree, and there’s
a lesson there for you, I think, about the rest of your lives, that some things are easier
to come by than others. But like preceding speakers, I congratulate you on what is a
wonderful day, and the family and friends – well done for supporting them through
what is a very important journey that they’ve been on. I wanted to start my remarks by picking
up on the Dean’s stories, about people chasing each other – lions, gazelles. Hopefully
you were able to follow those stories; they got a bit complicated, I felt, in the middle.
I have a version of the same story, which I remember from my days at IBM. At IBM I was
a systems engineer, which is someone who writes programmes, designs systems, writes programmes,
installs them. Really hard work, 12 hour days, working overnight in computer rooms, etc.
etc. I do need sympathy for this story, but wait for me for a second because I’ll explain
why. And the alternative job was to be a salesman, and the salesperson was the person who sold
the system that I designed and then had to write and then had to install. And he – because
it was nearly always a he – the particular salesman I have in mind in this story, he
had a Stag, which is a very very important car when he wasn’t driving his E-type Jaguar,
and I on the other hand, took the train to work. So you get the general idea of the distinction
between the two classes of people inside IBM. And there was a great story which we systems
engineers used to tell each other which follows on from the Dean’s theme, which is: a salesman
and a systems engineer went out bear-hunting in the woods. And they failed day in and day
out to find any bears. Then one night the systems engineer was inside their hut and
he was cooking dinner for the two of them, because that was of course the role of the
systems engineer, while the salesman stood outside smoking, which was the job of the
salesman; to wait for his dinner to be cooked. The salesman saw a bear approaching towards
him through the woods. So then the salesman panicked; as the bear began to attack him,
he stepped to one side and opened the door of the hut. And the bear ran into the hut.
Salesman slams the door shut behind, leaving the bear and the systems engineer trapped
inside the hut. And then the salesman shouted through the window, “I’ve caught it, you
skin it.” Now I tell that story, A, because it allows
me to do a rather cheap way in to the points that I wanted to make this morning, but the
two stories that the Dean told are about division between people, about competition between
individuals. And as the chairman has said, I actually wanted to address something slightly
different which is to do with cooperation between people. I was described as someone
committed to social inclusion and I am, and by social inclusion I think I mean, and I
think, is that everybody who has merit should be given an opportunity to exercise that merit
for the common good. If you’re a business graduate, and you all are on this graduand’s
day in this sea of blue, I would argue you’ve never had it as good as it is today. Now you
won’t probably feel that because you’re just coming over the shock of having passed
your exams and all the other things that go with it and probably – seeing some of the
ladies in their shoes – the shock of getting the shoes on, never mind anything else more
difficult today. But in terms of business and the opportunities to be a businessperson,
and particularly an entrepreneurial businessperson, so Kingston’s achievement in beginning the
number one entrepreneurial business school is a very very important part of what I want
to say. The opportunities for entrepreneurialism have never ever in the history of mankind,
been greater. And why do I say that? I say that because in the old days, if you wanted
to start a business you needed to raise an enormous amount of money – tens of millions
of pounds to get something started. And you’d need to spend a lot of time building that
business. If you think about the great businesses that exist today; the GlaxoSmithKlines, the
Rolls Royces and so on, it took decades for those businesses to get into their stride,
huge amounts of capital. Today, with the advent of ubiquitous low-cost technology, it is possible
to start a business with very small amounts of capital but a very good idea and to turn
that into something real on an iPhone, on a computer, on the web, in the cloud, whatever
it happens to be. So the barriers to entry as an entrepreneur have never been as low
as they are today. The volume of capital available to entrepreneurs has never been as high as
it is today. So two very propitious forces for you as you step out on your next step
in your careers and for those of you who are going into entrepreneurial activities.
What makes it particularly exciting is that the incumbents, the people, the companies
that have ruled the roost in all of your life times, are struggling to take advantage of
what I call ‘the age of disruption.’ They’re struggling to work out how to deploy technology.
Look at what Amazon has done to the retail industry. Or what Airbnb has done to the lodging
industry. Or what Uber has done to the taxi industry – the ground transportation industry.
The age of disruption is running across the planet, and with it come enormous opportunities.
Yes, there are negatives for people that work for traditional high street retailer etc.
etc., and those companies will need to catch up. But, they will catch up because they catch
the entrepreneurial spirit, which is what you’ve learnt here in Kingston. So in the
age of disruption, whether you’re an entrepreneur wanting to start your own business, or you’re
going to work for a large established business that needs help to not become a disruptee,
the opportunities have never been greater. So rather than our lions and our gazelles,
I would divide the world into disruptors and disruptees. And the most important thing to
know, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing is to know which one you’re working
for and to make sure that if you’re working for a disruptee, you’ll somehow turn the
energy to your advantage – the energy of technology and so on – and help it to become a disruptor.
Because that’s how humanity advances, that’s how creativity advances, and you’ve got
the foundation here, from the greatest business school in the UK, to be able to take that
to the next stage. But, and it’s a very large but, with opportunity,
the opportunity to create wealth for yourselves and wealth for other people, comes, I would
argue, with an extremely strong responsibility. And that responsibility is to everybody else.
There is an image about business that you hear when you read the newspapers and listen
to the radio and read on social media in this country; that somehow business is bad and
evil. But if we don’t have business there is no wealth creation so there is no welfare
state, there are no police, there’s no social housing. You have to have business to create
wealth. Some business is indeed evil and needs to be dealt with, but some people are evil
and they need to be dealt with. But business, per se, is not. But we have a task, we have
a task, those of us who are involved in business, to make sure the world understands the good
things that business does, not the bad things. And the best way we can do that, is by showing
our love for our fellow man, which was the message that came from the preceding speakers.
And as has been said, I have been recognised both here at Kingston and in my knighthood,
for services to business and philanthropy, the two sides of a coin; a fundamentally important
message to you as you are about to embark on your own business and entrepreneurial careers.
The vision of Kingston University, as I’m sure you’ll all remember from when you were
reading the websites and deciding which university to go to, is that Kingston’s students will
be sought after for their academic achievements – that’s what you’re being recognised
for today – and their ability to shape society and to contribute to the economy. Those are
not hollow words; those are fundamentally important rules and principles that you must
follow as Kingston ‘Graduands.’. So I’m going to give you a homework assignment – oh
groan, you thought this was all over now and you can go off and get a job and earn some
money (and I hope you will do that). But here’s a homework assignment: one of the advantages
of being a knight of the realm, is that I am honoured to have my own coat of arms. Now
everybody in this audience who’s ever been a small boy or a small girl and has been a
prince or a princess will have at some point have created your own coat of arms. But there
is an official way to have your own coat of arms. And when you create a coat of arms you
do two things: you create a wonderful graphic that captures everything you ever want to
think about yourself. It’s the ultimate vanity project; it’s much more exciting
than having a tattoo, for example, because it will be there in perpetuity. But at the
bottom of every crest, every coat of arms, is a motto. And the motto should encapsulate
your message, your brand, your personality, your communication, to everybody else, for
all time. Your homework assignment, graduands, is to think what your motto should be. It
needs to be short, it needs to be in a language that everybody understands because it’s
a communication activity, and it needs to capture everything that you stand for. Ladies
and gentleman, mine is “do well, do good.” And I commend it to you. Thank you very much.

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