President John Gee-Grant addresses AGM


30 November 2017

Deputy Head, Members of the Common Room, senior prefects, fellow Old Citizens,

I want to thank Andrew for his kind words and just say how great it is to see such a strong turnout this evening from the school and JCC.  I believe strongly that the experiences you have in your formative years at school are the most endearing in your lifetime and I certainly look back on my time at CLS with great fondness, both for the teachers I was fortunate enough to have but importantly for the great friendships I made and still have with many Old Citizens. I know everyone involved with JCC feels the same.

My first words as President must be to thank Mark and the whole John Carpenter Club committee, along with Cami and Sarah for the tremendous work they have put in over the past year for the benefit of Old Citizens. It was an unbelievable honour to be nominated by Bruce Todd and Stephen Kelly to be JCC President this year. Standing here as President is something that I could never have envisaged this time last year or indeed at any point in my career, but I will do everything I can to live up to the high standards that Mark and previous Presidents have set.

Looking back, I remember my first day at school almost better than any other. In September 1978, walking up the steps of such an iconic building at Victoria Embankment to be greeted by a bust of Asquith and a welcoming group of boys who proceeded to detag my tie with what seemed like garden shears was indeed a memorable start. I was lucky enough to be put straight into the 2nd year (now year 8) from my primary school but everything seemed daunting, not just because I was younger than most others. My primary school was a short walk from home and finished every day at 12.45. To travel the hour to school through Essex and the East end on the Tube was one thing but arriving at such an impressive building in the City and ‘stepping up’ was another. After meeting the rest of 2B1on my first morning, the 20 or so in our form then played a gentle game of round the table on a table tennis table in the play room where I managed to break another boy’s nose as I brought my bat back to smash the ball. The table was covered in blood and I certainly made an impact. The answer to ‘how was your first day at school’ must have frightened the life out of my Mum and Dad when they saw I only wore half a tie with blood stains all over and had broken someone’s nose.

Life at CLS did get better. The school managed to get the balance just right between encouraging every boy to stretch themselves through some amazing teachers, Jonathan Keates, Frank Gregory and Peter Butt to name three, but also nurtured great artistic, musical and sporting achievement. Playing cricket at Lords, Eton Fives at some of the most prestigious schools around the country and Football at Grove Park where I saw the 1st XI take on a team with Bobby Robson, Malcolm MacDonald and others were memorable moments. I also remember playing in county school table tennis matches at Stepney Green where the barbed wire around the playground provided a helpful reminder of the privileged position we were in and the role of sport in bringing people together. Whilst not terribly talented, I loved the opportunity to compete and played Football, Eton Fives, Tennis and Table Tennis for the school. I was also extremely proud that Seeley won the House title in my last year of school after many barren years, breaking the many years of Carpenter’s dominance.

Academically, it was a huge step up for me , not just in terms of travel and study time but the calibre of schoolboys was incredibly high. French was my low light with many boys having 2 years head start on me, I dreaded the random tests but ironically, my family now spend any free time we get in France and I am extremely grateful for the intensity of M Lorquet.

Another lasting memory were the smoke filled underground carriages within which I attempted to do my homework to and from school. With the 30 year anniversary of the Kings X fire having just passed, its certainly worth reflecting on how much safer public transport is now and how sometimes change is only effected after tragedy.

I was lucky enough to be at CLS as the age of disco was coming to an end and the eclectic mix of music from the sex pistols to Blondie, Madness, Toyah, Tears for Fears, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and The Police were incredible soundtracks to a changing world of self expression. Even Stephen Kelly had a quiff and an inch wide tie and I remember well asking a friend what the time was and his response was ‘dont tread on an ant, he’s done nothing to you; there might come a day when he’s treading on you’. I was a little perplexed but Adam Ant’s great words did seem to sum up the theme of inclusion and diversity at City, a theme I’ll return to shortly. 

After studying Management Sciences at University, my career started back in the City and my first week at the asset management subsidiary of SG Warburg as a graduate culminated in the Great Storm of 1987 on October 16th (v windy day) followed by Black Monday the following work day which saw stock market falls of approximately 25% on both sides of the Atlantic by the end of the month. Just like my school first days, things got much better and I’m proud to say that, through several of the industry’s largest mergers, I stayed with the same firm, now known as BlackRock, for almost 30 years. I was lucky enough to hold research, business management and institutional client roles, I left a few months ago and will join another firm in the New Year which I’m greatly looking forward to. Some of my latter roles at BlackRock were leading Change management and Inclusion and Diversity and I hope I can add some value in both as President this year.

Firstly, change management. The world is changing fast and there is disruption everywhere from technology to education to business to politics. Given this change, there is a lot to do to ensure that our Club remains at the forefront of school leavers’ thoughts on their journey through further education and then building and nurturing their career and family. I am very keen to hear the thoughts of current school leavers and Old Citizens on what they value and how they can give back. CLS has given so many of us an unparalleled start in life and the very least we should do is ensure that we remain valuable and relevant to their and others' futures. Technology undoubtedly has a huge role to play here too and one of the key strategic initiatives of the JCC is to improve and upgrade our digital communication, which will further boost the reach and contribution of our membership.

Secondly , inclusion and diversity which has been one of the great strengths of CLS since the school’s formation. The school has always celebrated and reinforced the diversity of its community, reflecting the social and cultural breadth of London with its wealth of experiences, interests and ambitions. CLS was also one of the first public schools to see religious diversity as an attribute and the breadth of excellent teaching and activities available helps produce an amazing diverse talent pool. Alongside diversity however the focus on inclusion is critical. Successful organisations have people that feel respected and affiliated working together. They feel stronger together than apart and that is what I would like our alumni to feel. The JCC’s relationship with the school is critical to this and I know that Richard Brookes, Mark Stockton and the JCC Exec have conducted a review recently in an effort to ensure this is never taken for granted and our relationship continues to improve, which it must. The JCC will only flourish if it adds value to its membership through effective communication with the school and alumni, strong connectivity and career support via professional/ industry networks, continuing excellence in coordinating sporting activities and a coordinated approach to fundraising. I’m absolutely committed to ensuring we make a success of this.

I mentioned sport earlier and many of the sporting clubs have important anniversaries next year – the Old Citizens cricket club celebrates its 125th year as do the Football and Eton Fives clubs. The success of the latter is remarkable as the club continues to flourish reinforced with some great school talent despite not having courts since the move from Victoria Embankment over 30 years ago. Other successful clubs include golf and water polo but I cant help but think there is scope for others given the great sporting talent that has come through the school, many of whom have received international ties in recognition of their achievements. I would love to hear from anyone on this.

In closing, Andrew, I think I can speak on behalf of all JCC members by saying how immensely proud we are to be affiliated to the school and to continue to hear of the amazing academic achievements and artistic and sporting successes of CLS boys over the last year. The school under Sarah Fletcher, Richard and your leadership continues to produce inspirational, dynamic, vibrant, diverse , open minded, tolerant and connected boys with the right level of self confidence, intellectual curiosity and social conscience. We are excited that Alan Bird will take on the Head role in the New year and along with your help, guidance and support, I have no doubt that the school will continue to flourish. We, as Old Citizens, will do everything we can to help the school and its leavers build on these great foundations.

May I now ask you please to raise your glasses for a toast to the “City of London School, long may it thrive and prosper”.

Pic caption: John Gee-Grant (left) and 2017 President, Mark Stockton