Always do what you are afraid to do”. American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson believed this was the best advice to give to youngsters. With increasing competition for highly paid graduate jobs and the hyperbolic reputation of the City, it is understandable why starting your career in the Square Mile might be a fearful prospect. I met with three recent graduates unafraid of challenging themselves, and asked how the City really looks today to those at the start of their careers.
David Mckeown, working at a leading management consultancy having graduated from the University of Glasgow, explained the continuing pragmatic attractions of London to those with initiative: “There is lots of opportunity here. Working for a big company in their headquarters is a great start to your career. You can also expand your network beyond colleagues and discover other opportunities”. Navneet Lehl, a graduate from LSE at RBS, enjoys the thrill of recent controversy. “Working in an industry of paramount importance causing vast debate amongst the population is a highlight. Also bumping into Boris Johnson riding a bicycle twice has been somewhat of a highlight!” Khan Kassim, a graduate from Kings College working at an established law firm says: “the geographical location makes London accessible to and for both Europe and the USA. There are incredible volumes of business opportunities. However, Singapore has a unique location too for trade with key emerging markets. Coupled with its efficient infrastructure and diversity, it is a key competitive, attractive hub”.
Any capital wanting to remain competitive faces challenges. Navneet, David and Khan see London’s looming problems as competition from the East, and a stifling of entrepreneurialism (albeit inadvertently) at home. Navneet explains: “China may determine how the world of finance looks in ten to twenty years. I myself, and many others, will want to work at the cutting edge”. David also sees cultural roadblocks in Britain’s path to continued growth. Whilst he appreciates the government’s stance on encouraging new business, he feels politicians cannot be solely responsible for London’s economic advance. “There needs to be a grass roots movement of young start up companies which will inspire other would-be entrepreneurs. Both of these lead to a cultural recognition of the value of innovation. When you look at the top business leaders in the UK and compare it to that of America we have a lot of old business magnates whose experience is much valued (Lord Sugar and Sir Richard Branson for instance) but there doesn't seem to be the voice of the next generation breaking through. In America you have people like Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. The UK, and London in particular, needs a new voice of leadership.”
Who will be that new voice of leadership? If these graduates are representative, London has many voices to choose from. But if it wants to remain attractive to this new generation, it cannot afford to rest on its laurels. A career in the East is beginning to rival the City in these graduates’ imaginations as a prize intimidating enough to be worth chasing.
Nafees Mahmud is a freelance journalist. He blogs at www.nafeesmahmud.wordpress.com