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Universities will propel the country forward after the pandemic, says Lord Karan Bilimoria.

Figure walking towards a gap in a wall.

The innovation and creativity of the United Kingdom as reflected in its universities will propel the country forward despite the current coronavirus pandemic, says Lord Karan Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer and Chair of the Advisory Board of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Lord Karan Bilimoria.
Lord Karan Bilimoria

In a video interview with Dean Christoph Loch, Lord Bilimoria said that while people are rightly focused now on healthcare and the economy, the UK is “still a phenomenon when it comes to innovation and creativity, and our universities are the jewels of our crown.”

“That’s what’s going to propel us forward and enable us to deal with this crisis,” he says in the video, part of the “CJBS Perspectives: Leadership in Unprecedented Times” series of videos organised by the Alumni & External Engagement team and Executive Education teams at Cambridge Judge. “I’m very confident that as a country, with the strength of our universities, we’ll be able to go forward and harness that strength of the United Kingdom.

“Business schools are perfectly placed to help businesses across the board,” he added. “In any business, you have to adapt or die, you have to be flexible, you have to be ready to learn, and the world is changing.

“This is when you need to be better armed as a business than ever before, and the expertise that exists at business schools to learn, whether through the courses or executive education, to have access to all that is I think phenomenal. And business schools have to be more proactive to get those companies involved.”

Christoph Loch.
Professor Christoph Loch

Dean Christoph Loch replied: “I agree with the role that universities can play, and here at the business school we are trying to step up. Helping the economy to get through this means we have to reach out and to get in contact, to get out of the ivory tower, and we are doing this: we have online programmes for entrepreneurs, for senior management teams, so we are indeed trying to live up to what you just articulated should be an ambition that we should have.”

Lord Bilimoria said that he launched Cobra Beer during a recession 30 years ago, so despite all the current issues surrounding coronavirus “you can start a business at any time.”

He said key factors for new businesses include a great brand, a great team, and a supportive family. “And always, always behave with integrity: it’s better to fail doing the right thing than succeed doing the wrong thing.”

Lord Bilimoria, who is Vice President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the pandemic “is a crisis like none other that I’ve experienced.” He said that British government support for business such as a furlough plan for workers has been working well because it “is done in a collaborative way” with many parts of the business community.

Dean Loch commented that it was beneficial that the UK government implemented programmes like the furlough scheme, in addition to loan programmes, because companies need fresh money now rather than “only pushing obligations into the future”.

Asked how much of the current online working will “stick” once the situation returns to some degree of normality, Lord Bilimoria said that while the House of Lords has worked very well remotely “there’s nothing like being in that chamber” and voting alongside colleagues.

He predicted that the ability of people to adjust to remote working will enable “much more flexibility going forward”, and this may save a lot of travel costs to the benefit of the environment.


The interview is part of our CJBS Perspectives: Leadership in Unprecedented Times series of talks and presentations from exceptional leaders, faculty and alumni, born of the challenging times in which we all currently find ourselves.