In 2010 three EMBA students, all keen cyclists, came up with the idea of using their team consulting project – part of their programme at Judge Business School – to create a mass participation cycle event in London. In August next year they will see their dreams come true.
Dubbed the “London marathon on wheels”, the two-day festival of cycling will form part of the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It has even won the backing of Boris Johnson, the London mayor, a cycling enthusiast himself. While the first day will be a family fun ride, the second day aims to attract about 35,000 amateur and professional cyclists to take part in a 100-mile challenge based on the route of the London Olympics road race.
As part of its blueprint the festival will draw on the consulting project designed by the EMBA students, Stuart Blackley, Ed Brand and Stephen Edwards, who graduated from Judge, University of Cambridge in 2011.
Simon Learmount, director of the EMBA – an MBA for working professionals – says the team consulting project is intended to give students the opportunity to understand team dynamics and individual behaviour in small groups.
“The best way for them [students] to explore these issues is to work on a real high-pressure project with real outcomes – and so this project was perfect.”
Judge faculty “offered help and support at the outset in discussing possible project ideas...but our team was pretty much self-sufficient from day one”, says Mr Blackley. “We were encouraged to use our own contacts and the alumni network to organise the project and that was the approach we took.”
Using Judge’s alumni network, they contacted Iain Edmondson, an MBA graduate who is head of major events for London & Partners – the mayor’s promotional organisation for the city.
Mr Edmondson had already considered establishing a cycling event as part of the 2012 Olympic Games legacy and was supportive when approached by the EMBA team. He is now project director for the festival of cycling.
As part of the project brief, the team consulted various experts working in mass participation sporting challenges – the London marathon for example – to understand what key elements are required to make such an event successful. The team also embarked on a research trip to South Africa – the country where some of the biggest and most established sporting events are held.
Mr Brand says that the soft skills taught on the EMBA were very useful when working with the various stakeholders on the project such as Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police.
The turning point came when the team presented its findings and gave examples of other “mega” sporting events with successful revenue models. Mr Edwards pointed out that if Johannesburg and Cape Town could do it, then why not London, a world city with vast amounts of resources.
With no prior experience of working in event management on a large scale, Mr Blackley says that everything the team learnt in terms of marketing, finance, accounting and statistics from their degree, was all brought to bear during the project, as they prepared a marketing plan and financial projections about how the economics of this event would operate.
“We were told in no uncertain terms that this event couldn’t draw on the public purse. We were delighted to discover that all of the events that we [looked at] were self sustaining in terms of their commercial model,” he explains.
The event will mainly be financed from sponsorship and entrance fees for participants, adds Mr Edmondson.
The team is understandably proud of its achievements, considering all three members held down full-time jobs while studying for their EMBAs and had only three months to deliver the project proposal.
One of their highlights was the event’s press launch. When the details were announced, it closely matched the team’s original proposal – including the financial model and the length of the route.
Mr Edwards puts all this down to the thoroughness of their research. It is not necessary to have a lot of people to generate a potentially very large impact event, he says. “If you have got the conviction and you have the belief and you have the resources, you can do a huge amount.”