The Wycombe Management Conference 2024

In the first week of March, the Lower Sixth had the opportunity to attend the Wycombe Management Conference, which is hosted in partnership with RGS High Wycombe. Across the two days we heard from speakers at the highest level of business who spoke to us about the difficulties and pleasures that come with starting your own company. As part of the conference we were then given the chance to put their advice into practice through a business simulation, where we worked in partnership with the pupils from RGS to run a mobile phone company.

Day one began with a talk from Peter Higgins, who spoke about his experiences of founding and running different businesses such as Charles Tyrwhitt and ME + EM. He emphasised the importance of finding a business’s point of differentiation that gives an edge over competitors, especially when entering a crowded market. We were then able to apply his advice almost immediately as the first quarter of our business simulation opened. We were faced with many tough choices about what kind of products to stock and which demographics we wanted to target with our marketing. After the first quarter was over, we were given a statistics breakdown of our company’s performance relative to the other teams. Despite our best efforts, our team ended up ranking 24th out of 28 teams, but with three-quarters left to go, everything was still to play for.

Day two was kicked off by Lord Bilimoria, who is a member of the House of Lords and founder of Cobra Beer. He spoke about his pathway to becoming an entrepreneur and advocated for a customer-first approach to business. At the beginning of our second quarter, we were given more information about how customers felt about our product. This increased the competition between our mobile phone companies as we were now able to respond directly to what our customers were looking for. After making significant changes to our business plan, the team was able to rise up 20 places, moving into fourth, which taught us that our fortune could move both up and down extremely fast. This showed us that we should not be complacent if we wanted to hold onto our position.

In the afternoon, our final keynote speaker, Catherine Wyman, spoke about the intersection between technology and business. As she was a Wycombe Abbey Senior, her advice felt particularly valuable as she had once been in the same position as us. We then were given the task of creating an app to pitch to a panel of judges. The creativity of the task provided a nice contrast to the more data driven side of the simulation, and it was particularly interesting to see what other teams had come up with.

Over the two days we were assigned team business mentors, whose advice was invaluable in helping us in the business simulation. We were able to draw on their experience of real-world scenarios to help us, and this allowed us to make more informed choices about issues such as how much product to stock or what colours would make a logo eye-catching. We then got to hear more about their careers during the mentor panel, and their candid discussion of challenges like work-life balance opened our eyes to the compromises that we may face in the future. We were incredibly lucky to hear from speakers who have had such interesting a varied careers. I found it inspiring to learn about their different pathways to business success, but for me, the most valuable moments were when they told us about the mistakes they made along the way. Whether it was Peter Higgins telling us about how a lack of market research had led to a failed attempt to break into the Japanese shirt business or Lord Bilimoria’s dilemma about moving the location of where Cobra beer was brewed from India to the UK, these stories provided us with valuable insight into the unforeseen challenges that can arise when running a business.

Despite the AI-driven nature of the simulation, what struck me was the way that all three speakers emphasised the importance of personal connections; they all spoke about the importance of gathering a good team of colleagues and putting your customers at the forefront of your decision-making. In a world where technology is increasingly able to outperform humans, it was both interesting and reassuring to hear that they felt the success of their businesses was due to an intangible quality that made their teams stronger than the sum of their parts.    

A huge thank you must go to all the staff who organised the conference for making everything run so smoothly. Over the two days, I learned a lot about what it takes to succeed in the world of business, and these are lessons that I will definitely take into the future.


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