Paul Russell is the managing director of luxury training company Luxury Academy.
Who are Luxury Academy?
Luxury Academy provide soft skills training to the luxury market, we are the only specialist training provider for the luxury market and actually it was this lack of specific training that inspired us to set up the company in 2012. As a workplace psychologist, I worked with many luxury brands and was continually frustrated by the lack of luxury training available. Luxury Academy help companies to deliver outstanding customer experience, by ensuring their staff have the requisite skills such as understanding HNW individuals, leadership, communication or customer service.
How is the luxury market performing currently and how have you adapted to market conditions?
The luxury market in the UK is in the maturity stage but luxury is a global $200 billion industry. From an initial UK base which we still maintain, we opened new offices in India to enable us to expand our international training provision. In India, luxury is still very much in its growth stages, similar to Russia and the Middle East, I probably spend about half of my time training outside of the UK now. Luxury has adapted very well to modern market conditions, and it is still in luxury that many trends originate.
What is your involvement with the finance industry?
We work with private banks and their portfolio managers, investment bankers and private client bankers on aspects such as personal branding, presentation skills, sales skills, international business etiquette, client entertaining and communication. Within any luxury business, there are staff members who liaise directly with clients and they have to be able to relate to the client at their level. So with communication for example, we would train staff in voice, pace and tone training. For the client the staff member is, to all intents and purposes, the service. They are the link from client to brand, and that they are able to deliver a service that is luxurious from every angle is paramount to positive customer experience.
How is the concept of customer experience changing?
Customer experience is concerned with every touchpoint from a customer perspective, the initial perusal of a website, a call, the first meeting, the follow up and the relationship thereafter. AI is transforming customer experience to a large extent, because now it is often about speed. But there are certain categories of customer and certain services where AI will never supersede human interaction. Certainly a client would be happy to automate minor elements of their banking for example, but at the higher end, they will always require personalised attention. In any case, it is down to the company to offer the client that choice- of how they interact with their service provider. And when they select the personal route, it needs to be of five star quality.
Why would a finance professional require training in personal branding?
Customers and clients make quick decisions, snap assessments. We all do this to some extent. You are introduced to your new portfolio manager and you form a first impression. Rightly or wrongly, subconsciously or consciously you take in what they are wearing, their manner and deportment, their style and grooming, and you decide whether you trust them to look after your fund. What we teach with personal branding is enabling the staff member to understand just how valuable developing a favourable impression is, and how personal branding is at the heart of this. Companies pour billions into branding and creating that unique brand that resonates in the marketplace. It makes inherent sense for the same attention to be paid to those that are delivering the service, particularly at the top end of the market.
How can communication skills assist finance professionals?
No matter how good you imagine your communication skills are, they can always be refined and improved. For senior finance professionals, it may be that they have to communicate decisions to stakeholders. Client facing staff have to communicate complex information clearly and concisely, and they have to instil confidence through what they say from the very first contact. Many people are astonished by how you can instil confidence and trust through not only what is said, but how it is said, varying tone of voice, pace and tone.
What is business etiquette and how is it relevant in today’s marketplace?
Etiquette is the accepted ways of behaving based on cultural norms, translate this to the business environment and there are even more aspects of etiquette to consider. Much of etiquette will be country specific, but there are also aspects of etiquette that are specific to particular companies, industries and even services. Business etiquette training is a guide to reading situations, interpreting them and knowing how to behave, particularly in an international setting. Consider senior level executives meeting with international clients as an example, what are appropriate greetings, what is the correct etiquette for dining, gift giving, precedence and many other issues. Etiquette is culturally driven, so to expect the customs and norms of one country to apply in a completely separate country would be a mistake. With globalisation, business etiquette has never been more relevant and important to individual and group success.
Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, www.luxuryacademy.co.uk, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.
DIFFERENTIATION – THE KEY TO THRIVING IN A SATURATED MARKET
Graham Glass, CEO of Cypher Learning
What has enabled Cypher to continue to grow in an increasingly saturated market?
Recognising opportunities for growth around the world is actually one of the things that has helped us grow. We realized that there were so many opportunities outside of the U.S or Western Europe and actually, a lot of our revenue comes from outside of these regions. For example, with our education based LMS, NEO, we have schools and institutions in the Philippines, Latin America, Norway, Australia, and more. The way we have created the product allows the flexibility for it to be tailored to each educational institution’s exact needs and because of this process, we can provide different languages, different elements of learning and really help the teachers in each country make the most out of the system.
You have recently expanded into four more locations: Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Russia. What was the reasoning behind deciding on these locations?
The growing popularity of our learning platforms has made it possible for the company to expand quickly and cover more of the market around the world. The selection of the new sales offices came as a natural move, as we started to get more and more customers in those locations, and we wanted to seize the opportunity to expand even more. We also wanted to provide local support to our customers, which is an important aspect in our strategy. Since we already had an office in The Philippines, opening new locations in Indonesia and Malaysia was essential. In the case of Australia, since we launched the APAC version of our platforms, with servers hosted in Sydney, it was also vital to have a sales office as well.
What is different about your products compared to your competitors?
CYPHER LEARNING is currently the only company on the market that provides a learning platform for each e-learning segment: academic, corporate, and entrepreneurs. Our products are built on the same core platform. They share some functionalities and the overall design of the platform, but they’re targeted towards different markets. NEO is an LMS for schools and universities, MATRIX is an LMS for businesses, and INDIE is an LMS for entrepreneurs. For each of our products, we have created special functionalities that address the needs of each market.
Our platforms are very intuitive, easy to use, and visually appealing, which makes the whole experience more engaging and enjoyable for all users. The navigation is simple, and you can customize the platforms to match your brand and fit your needs.
Our platforms are built to ensure a smooth implementation and they’re easily adopted by students, teachers, trainers, and entrepreneurs. We offer support for 40+ languages, mobile apps for all devices, and accessibility features so all users can enjoy the platform.
CYPHER LEARNING products provide complete solutions with powerful features for managing all teaching and learning activities for schools, organizations, and entrepreneurs.
We’re also focused on bringing innovation through our platforms, by creating cutting-edge features that other systems do not support such as automation, adaptive learning, and competency-based learning.
How do you see the e-learning market changing and developing in the future?
I’m very excited about the future of the e-learning market. Machine learning and artificial intelligence hold great potential in terms of making learning truly personalized. We’re already on that path, taking steps forward with automation, multi-layered neural networks, feedback algorithms, amongst many other developments. And things will advance on a massive scale, rather quickly. With AI in online education, we’re not talking about 20 years until it will become the norm. Some of these technologies are going to be available and mainstream in the next few years. Keeping up with these changes and making sure the incredible amounts of learner data will be used correctly will be challenging, but I have high hopes of what the future has in store for us.
What advice would you offer other individuals and businesses in the e-learning industry?
We’re all in this together so we need to stay true to ourselves. In order to provide the best tools, the best solutions and the most memorable experiences that support people of all ages to learn new things, we need to keep on learning ourselves. That’s the only way to continued growth, both personally and professionally.
IPO: WHY GO PUBLIC?
By Sandy Campart
The main objective of an IPO – Initial Public Offering – is to raise capital in order to allow a company to grow. However, during a global economic slowdown, investors are increasingly cautious. In times like these, how should you prepare to go to the market?
Reasons for an IPO
A company’s motivation for going public is often linked to the idea of “creating one’s own currency” in order to fund internal and external growth, to diversify future sources of finance and strengthen the financial structure of the company. Listing a company on the stock exchange results in tradability and liquidity, allowing previous shareholders to exit, realising a gain on their capital. It also creates a valuation for the company which will be useful for future succession plans. At a strategic level, an IPO can enable the company to clarify its strategy, refocus its activities, increase its visibility and credibility, and ultimately differentiate itself from competitors.
Nonetheless an IPO will significantly change the way a company operates. Corporate governance has to be overhauled, support functions professionalised and financial communication must be made transparent. All studies show that, when information is withheld, the negative impact on the share price is greater than if the bad news had been announced.
2019: a mixed bag
In 2019, newly listed companies have seen their share price grow by almost 13% on average. However, the figures vary greatly. Software and IT security companies have performed the best with an average of nearly 40%.
Nevertheless, the stock market performances of SmileDirect (dental aligners), Peloton (exercise bikes and fitness) and even Uber attest to the increased scepticism of investors for unrealistic or exaggerated levels of profitability. Uber’s price has been particularly disappointing since the latest results presented were well below the expectations of the investors. In the second quarter of 2019, the turnover was more than 5% lower than expected and the profit – or rather the deficit – per share was 53% greater than expected. Uber’s growth has been slower than that of rival app Lyft, and the restructuring costs associated with many departures, lay-offs and resignations do not seem to be controlled. Additionally, Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowski, told his employees that the teams were too large to be compatible with the pace of growth needed, while Uber’s CTO, Thuan Pham, believes it could take decades for Uber to achieve its “vision”, suggesting there could be a later than expected ability to turn a profit.
Towards a better year in 2020?
For a company wishing wanting to maximise its initial flotation price, there are two strategies to pursue: the first is to float when the company is performing exceptionally, the second is to wait until the stock market is in a more favourable position.
In the context of a global economic slowdown, investors have for several months been moving towards “safe haven” shares in order to protect their assets. This, combined with the chaotic path of some recently introduced companies and the abundance of private financing, makes it difficult to see an acceleration of operations in 2020.
Even though the flotation of Airbnb remains topical, Postmates (delivery service) and Endeavor (talent agency) have paused their entry to the stock market. It is possible they are prioritizing interest from venture capitalists and risk capitalists. Palantir (Big Data) and Stripe (internet payments) could also look for private funds instead.
The WeWork failure
WeWork is the most prominent example of our current inability to distinguish a unicorn from a chimera. Investors have to learn – or re-learn – how to resist those appealing equity fairy stories and to see beyond the innovative nature and rapid growth of a concept. Cash flow, debt level and governance remain key decision-making factors. In the WeWork prospectus, the word “technology” appears more than 120 times. The Coué method of repetition is here being used to suggest that traditional valuation models should not apply to this business. There is little doubt, however that WeWork is more of a property developer with an innovative business model than it is a technology company.
About Sandy Campart
Sandy Campart is a lecturer and researcher. He is a member of the Centre of Research for Economics and Management (CREM), part of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). M. Campart is director of IUP Banque Finance Assurance de Caen – a finance school in Normandy – and author of “If we dared to invest in the stock market”.
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