Tom’s Harvard chance shows OC commitment to learning

21 September 2022

Opencast chief executive Tom Lawson has just started the Advanced Management Programme at the prestigious Harvard Business School in Boston, USA. Here he talks about the opportunity – and how he hopes the experience will benefit Opencast.

Not many fast-scaling businesses in the UK would be bold enough to give their chief executive officer a five-week break from their day job for a period of intensive learning. Then again, not many UK businesses are like the one I have the privilege of leading at Opencast.

I was honoured earlier this year to have been accepted by US-based Harvard Business School on to its Advanced Management Programme (AMP). This offered a huge opportunity for me personally – and in the view of my fellow board members – a real opportunity for Opencast to benefit from my studies too.

The Advanced Management Programme is Harvard’s most prestigious executive education course

Deep dive into global leadership

The AMP course is Harvard’s most prestigious executive education programme and in early September I started my studies remotely. From 25 September, the course moves to Boston, Massachusetts, where I’ll be based for a few weeks at Harvard.

The AMP is a highly structured and deeply personalised learning experience. Collaborating with the world-renowned HBS faculty, a diverse group of senior executives from around the world, and a professional HBS executive coach, the programme offers the opportunity to take a deep dive into the complex challenges of multinational management and global leadership.

I’ve been preparing for the course for a while now, studying accountancy in some detail and lots of pre-reading of case studies.

The course is largely taught by reading case studies about different companies and scenarios, forming an opinion about these, which you then debate with your course peers (seven of whom I’ll live with in Boston) and some of the world’s leading professors in their fields: all in all an exciting prospect!

It’s going to be extremely stimulating and challenging to undergo an entirely different learning experience in a different country. But I now can’t wait to get to campus and immerse myself fully in the programme.

Lessons to share from Opencast

Clearly, I want to improve my knowledge, understanding, perspectives and overall capability. Specifically, I want to learn how Opencast can continually transform to deliver for our clients while further accelerating our pace of growth. 

As part of this I want to explore how we can use our experiences working in digital transformation with the UK government to work with other organisations and governments – with similar policy frameworks – around the world.

We have a team with ambitions to push out beyond the UK market in future and I intend to develop further my international business perspectives through my time on the programme.

I’m also hoping to learn more about financial performance, marketing, and management systems.

The AMP is designed to share learning from each of the participants and I’ve been thinking about what lessons I could share from my Opencast experiences.

One would be the vital importance of organisational culture, and how we’ve preserved and enhanced our unique culture while growing at such rapid pace. Another would be how we’ve successfully navigated a hugely complex set of five different tenders with one of the largest UK government departments to secure multi-million pound contracts and deliver critical services.

I also believe that my participation in the AMP sends out an extremely important message internally and externally, which is how highly Opencast values training and development. We want all our people to know that we will support them to develop themselves personally and professionally in their role, whatever that may be.

The AMP is a big commitment of my time, but one that I am sure will be worthwhile. There’s no doubt I will learn a great deal and will benefit personally from such a fantastic opportunity.

However, as well as developing my skills as a CEO, I’m sure my studying for the AMP will also benefit Opencast. For instance, I expect the AMP to equip myself, and therefore our wider leadership team, with insights, viewpoints and strategies to tackle the challenges of growing a company at pace.

Opportunity to learn and connect

It’s worth emphasising just how staggering our rate of growth has been – and will continue to be so. In terms of revenue, we grew by 50% in 2020, 60% in 2021 and are forecasting more than 150% of growth by the end of 2022 – against a background of a global pandemic and a likely recession.

To cope with such massive growth in business, we’ve had to grow our team and these numbers are just as impressive. We directly employ more than 300 people and by the end of this year we’ll have added a further 100. That is phenomenal growth and it is being recognised regionally and nationally.

From being a small, independent North East tech start-up 10 years ago, we are now a company of national significance working on major technology projects that impact at UK level. We are stepping up from being an upstart new entrant to a serious player in the tech consultancy market – and there are good reasons why this has happened.

One of those is our people-focused approach – both in terms of the way we work with our clients to the way we look after our own people. We may be scaling, but our growth will never be at the expense of our people.

While completing the AMP I’m sure there will be amazing networking opportunities. There are around 200 people on the course from across the world, with business leaders from different sectors.

What a tremendous opportunity to learn something new and make meaningful, useful connections, which could lead to greater understanding and/or new business.

While I’m away my role is being split between the senior leadership team, which means I can concentrate on immersing myself on the AMP and getting the most out of the course. The quality of the senior team at Opencast left me in no doubt that they would be more than capable of leading in my absence.

I look forward to returning to Opencast after five weeks in Boston with fresh perspectives, new insights and prospective business from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My participation in the AMP sends out an extremely important message internally and externally, which is how highly Opencast values training and development. We want all our people to know that we will support them to develop themselves personally and professionally