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A business tour of London

From a place where you can learn about the world’s first business computer, to a restaurant where you can enjoy the absolutely best ...

By Adam Kingl . 12 June 2012

From a place where you can learn about the world’s first business computer, to a restaurant where you can enjoy the absolutely best lemon parfait, we have packaged an alternative business tour of London. All aboard.


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Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, Notting Hill


Please, do not open the biscuit tins. The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising (www.museumofbrands.com), located in Notting Hill, is a festival of colourful adverts, marketing materials, packaging and, yes, biscuit tins that shows the history of the last 150 years of British consumer society. Over 12,000 items, many instantly familiar, are part of its displays of innovation and evolution — showing how packaging, labelling and more have both changed and stayed the same. Though “Beanz Meanz Heinz,” the design on the tin means nostalgia, iconography, quality and much more.

Robert Opie started the collection currently housed in the museum when he was 16, and it now covers all aspects of branding and packaging from foodstuffs to travel and fashion. There are a number of areas of the museum set up for education. Some of the worksheets available to guide children though exhibits and help them think about branding and business solutions may even be of interest to those holding advanced degrees. One worksheet asks how the reader imagines the current job of marketing executive differs from the position in Edwardian times — helpful to think about for children, business people pondering the evolution of the modern marketplace and Downton Abbey fans wondering about the shopping habits of the Crawley clan.


Fuller’s Griffin Brewery Tour, Chiswick


It may seem like an easy way to sneak in a beer on an otherwise educational afternoon, but the tour of the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery is more than a look at some casks and a tasting. The brewery (www.fullers.co.uk), a family business in operation since 1845, currently produces more than a dozen labelled beers including London Pride.

The 90-minute tour of the factory in Chiswick starts with a history of the business and proceeds through the entire process of making and selling beer, from the shipments of raw ingredients to the packaging. Despite the current stagnant economy and pubs closing in their hundreds, Fuller’s has shown growth and continues to acquire pubs at a steady rate, especially in the run-up to the Olympics. Its expansion and innovation over more than 150 years has kept what started as a small family business growing and keeping pace with the times, while not overextending itself.  The business lessons – organic growth, the merits of family ownership and so on – may be best pondered over a tasting session after the tour.


Bobby Moore Statue, Wembley Stadium


There are many lessons to be learned from the life of West Ham United and England footballer, Bobby Moore. When gazing upon his statue, located outside Wembley Stadium, one of the clearest is that if someone offers to cast your likeness in bronze, be sure to pull up your socks neatly before they start. Moore clearly did, as his imposing figure stands with one foot resting atop a ball, arms crossed, gazing sternly into the distance, socks perfect.

Captain of England’s only World Cup-winning football team in 1966, Moore knew how important the details — like socks — are to success. Having begun his professional career with West Ham at just 15 years of age, Moore earned a regular spot, not because he had the greatest speed or ferocity on the pitch, but because of his understanding of the big picture.

Being bigger or faster than opponents isn’t necessary in football or business if one can anticipate the opposition’s moves and take advantage of the insight. Moore was not only a motivating captain but also a leader who could assess the whole field and predict where the ball would go. The ability to see the trend rather than react to others’ moves was as invaluable to Moore in sport as it is to a person in business. The statue of the iconic player may serve as a reminder that one not need be the biggest or baddest to be the best.


World’s First Business Computer, Hammersmith


Hammersmith is not the business or technological centre of London or the world. Sixty years ago, however, J. Lyons & Co., a tea merchant, bakery and eventual founder of the Wimpy burger chain, was located in what was then a centre of industry. In addition to employing more than 30,000 people at one point as well as stocking and running tea shops across the land, Lyons produced the world’s first business computer — and manufactured and sold computers for business use.

Not as famous as the Macintosh, the LEO was also not as portable. A control panel ran the 5,936 valves and 64 mercury tubes, each five feet long and weighing in at half a ton. The desk that could hold LEO on its top would have been massive indeed. Some components of LEO are currently held at the London Science Museum, which celebrated the machine’s birthday last year. However, stopping by Kaevener House in Hammersmith, where a plaque commemorates the building that housed the machine, gives insight into how London — and business— has changed. While corporations now are often dedicated to a single industry and computer manufacturers are the innovators of technology, 60 years ago there was innovation afoot in all areas. That the first business computer was housed in an unassuming building on Hammersmith Road, in a tea merchant turned computer seller, is food for thought about diversification and the wealth of possibilities that can exist where we least expect.


Tour the Tube, Farringdon Station


Used to get to and from work since the first section opened in 1863, the Tube is not just a train line. It is also a reflection of the lineage of the city itself: as London grew, so did the need for more links to its underground transportation system.

The oldest underground rail system in the world was piecemeal and privately owned for decades. It seems inconceivable today that a transit system serving a major city could be run by not one, but several, private companies, yet that was the case. At one point, six different companies had established and run different lines, leading to gaps between connections and inconvenient scheduling. In 1908, the Underground was born when the rail companies decided to pool their services and put out a map and advertisements jointly. This kind of corporate cooperation would be hard to come by in today’s world, but it benefited all involved. The Tube map is also an iconic piece of design.

A tour of the Tube today (www.insider-worldwide.co.uk) provides insight into the way the lines were first dug and the reasons different rail companies chose to connect different areas for service. Visitors may also learn the history of the design of the stations, architecture, placement of stations, and evolution of tunnel excavation. The Tube, like the Metro of Moscow or Paris or the Subway in New York City, is an invaluable resource, taken for granted by residents and a novelty for visitors. It’s also a successful organisation that has 150 years of history in marketing, corporate innovation and cooperation, municipal planning and organisation. A tour of the Underground will allow for glimpses of ghost stations, the stops that are no longer needed, have been replaced or that served as shelters in wars. It will also provide a look at what’s to come as the Tube evolves and grows with the city above — looking for new outlets, opportunities and ways to serve its customers.


Child & Co. Bank, Fleet Street, the City


Longevity is a prized but hard to obtain asset in the business world. Most who open a business imagine it being passed down to the next generation or two, successful enough to carry the family name and reputation forward. Were he alive, Francis Child, who entered into a partnership with goldsmith Richard Blanchard in 1664, would probably be surprised that the bank that grew from their business survives 350 years on.

Child & Co., now a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, is one of the oldest financial institutions in the UK. Found at 1 Fleet Street, the bank moved to its current location in 1673 (although the present building dates only from 1877), when the banking business outgrew goldsmithing. The bank, the model for Tellson’s bank in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, is a testament to durability and persistence. Through years of plague, the Great Fire of London, wars and economic crashes, Child & Co. has not just survived but thrived, managing to serve customers and keep staff and managers afloat through good and bad times that modern managers can hardly imagine.


Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Chelsea


Come for the lemon parfait, stay to hear a bit of screaming at the staff. Famous for both his food and temper, Gordon Ramsay isn’t often at this premiere and most heralded of the Ramsay eateries, but his chefs have kept up the three Michelin stars he first earned.


It seems impossible that it was only 1998 that this restaurant opened on Royal Hospital Road (www.gordonramsay.com/royalhospitalroad), given how far Ramsay has penetrated into the international food and culture scene since. Yet in those fourteen short years, thanks to exemplary food and exposure on programmes such as Boiling Point, The F Word and the various editions of Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay has become perhaps the best-known chef in the world.

Like some of the most famous entrepreneurs in history, Ramsay’s mercurial persona simmers on top of a demanding nature born of skill and perfectionism. Many of his executive chefs and other staff have been at his side for more than a decade. Before opening Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, his first solo venture, he had an acrimonious split with the backers of the restaurant Aubergine. When he walked out its doors, the entire staff followed, down to the waiting staff he so famously berates. That kind of loyalty is a measure of both devotion to a skilled leader and belief in a manager who believes in you. Ramsay’s staff not only remains loyal but moves up the ranks under his tutelage, payback for the talented and trustworthy.

Ramsay may be a possibly over-extended two-continent television star, but with a dozen restaurants still operating in the UK and more around the globe, he appears to be standing strong for the moment — and the parfait is more than worth the trip.


London Retail Design Tour, Piccadilly Circus


The British may have been dismissed as a nation of shopkeepers, but they are most certainly a nation of shoppers. It might seem simple enough to wander about London looking in shop windows, but given the number of stores, streets, shopping districts and hidden gems, anyone interested in prime retail establishments and marketing would do well to take in the stops on the Retail Design walking tour which starts at Piccadilly Circus (www.insider-worldwide.co.uk).

This three-hour jaunt stops at 15 different establishments from Piccadilly to Soho and Mayfair, including small coffee shops, independent boutiques and top designer flagships. The tour shows visitors an assortment of design styles, innovative interiors, architectural wonders and stunning visual merchandising displays in shops both large and small. Seeing what others have done may not lead to specific plans, but the range of ideas, layouts and similarities among these establishments is sure to spur any business-minded visitor to review their own retail campaign. Instead of learning about other retailers or promotions from pictures, articles or studies, this live tour gives another dimension to marketing and retail knowledge.


The Apprentice Pad, St John’s Wood


The consolation prize for being humiliated on reality television, performing inane tasks in public and likely being fired in a fake boardroom is not just fleeting and questionable fame and a fleeting and questionable job alongside Lord Sugar — it’s the chance to spend a few weeks in the Apprentice Pad.

The homes used to house the British Apprentice contestants have ranged among multimillion-pound addresses in Notting Hill, Highgate, Battersea and the like. The most recent series’ crop was housed in a home in Hamilton Terrace worth more than the winner’s prize. Most of the homes are up for sale, so one can arrange to do more than peer over the gate and gaze wistfully into the leaded windows by calling the local estate agent.

The dichotomy of housing the theoretically unemployed in a dream mansion they couldn’t afford even if they attained the job on offer says something about the economics of the time. The dream of people raised on reality television is not the same as the dream of their grandfathers — a chance at a solid job (which the contestants, by and large, have had), but a glamorous gig that will lead to the kind of home they inhabit while filming.


Innocent Drinks Headquarters, Ladbroke Grove


Innocent Drinks (www.innocentdrinks.co.uk) spun from an idea into a company holding three-quarters of the smoothie market in the UK faster than blender blades spinning fruit and veg into the beverages for which the concern is famous. The brand’s image, bolstered by fun labels, innovative flavour combinations and outdoor music festivals, belies the drive that catapulted three Cambridge friends from a plan to one of the fastest-growing companies in the country, with over 200 employees and more than £100 million in revenue. With a majority stake owned by the Coca-Cola Company, the Innocent headquarters is both the outpost of an international conglomerate and the Astroturf-decorated workplace of a young company selling healthful beverages and giving out grants to NGOs.

While Innocent has held events such as last year’s AGM (A Grown-up Meeting), inviting fans of the brand to tour headquarters, weigh in on drink recipes and ask questions, they don’t generally run public tours. However, a stop by the building in Ladbroke Grove, known as Fruit Towers, may provide inspiration for any budding entrepreneur or inventor. The manifestation of an idea that bore fruit enough to deserve a festively named tower just twelve years out should be even more invigorating than a smoothie.


First Red Phone Box, Piccadilly


It is a curious anomaly that the supposedly style-free British, are design masters. Think of James Dyson’s innovative vacuums and fans, the mini, Concorde, the anglepoise lamp, Jonathan Ive at Apple and much more.   As a reminder of this British aesthetic prowess consider the humble phone box. For nearly 80 years, whether you needed to make a call or change into a superhero cape, a phone box was the place to go. The original prototype of the red British phone box is no longer in use, but it resides inside the entrance arch to the Royal Academy in Piccadilly on view for all to show children who have never touched a public phone.

Phones for public use were in place all over the world, but no company or country had as recognisable a system as the iconic red box. Discontinued in the late 1980s, the box retains its iconic status today as an unmistakable rectangle of steel and glass. The marriage of branding, nationalism, design and function was so nearly perfect that a view of the prototype box demonstrates how little they were changed over the years. Recently, some refurbished boxes have turned up in villages in use for cash machines rather than telephones. The use may be altered, but the boxes lend the same distinct British air and nostalgic feel to the high street. The presence of a cash machine prevents anyone from changing into a cape, but rest assured the first box is roomy as ever.   


Olympic Stadium, Stratford


It’s not the largest stadium in Britain, and it doesn’t have a storied history, but this summer, it is the busiest and most famous venue in all the world. The London Olympic Stadium (www.london2012.com), built in just four years, holds 80,000 spectators and host many events, including the track and field contests and the opening and closing ceremonies.

The modern design elements, including a flexible fabric wrapping and concourses outside the stadium rather than inside, may signify the direction stadiums will be taking — or turn out to be viewed as judgemental errors by the lens of history. Any stadium is a feat of engineering and planning, designed to contain tens of thousands of people, afford them all good views and offer the possibility of using a toilet. This one, not only for the people of the city but the people of the world, takes on special meaning; and it will be a tourist destination for years to come. However the design is judged, the lessons to be taken from each step are immeasurable, from the campaign to win the Olympic bid, to the design and construction of the facilities, to the final staging of events.


The Shard, London Bridge


What is pointy and shiny and would make Godzilla angry if he stepped on it? The Shard (http://the-shard.com), soon to be the tallest building in the European Union and a demonstration of the principle that cities are never finished. Though London has been a bustling centre of commerce, finance and industry for centuries, it, like the businesses that inhabit it, never stops growing.

The Shard, so named as it resembles a shard of glass, was built to replace the Southwark Towers, an office block dating back just 40 years. The glass-encased building will boast a public concourse, viewing areas, office, retail, residential and hotel space along with luxury amenities and a renovated London Bridge tube station below. The modern look may be a bit at odds with the surrounding architecture, but cities, like all living organisms, evolve over time. As animals, people and businesses adapt to changing times and conditions, so does the skyline of a city. The beauty of London is in the melding of history and modernity, of a bank that survived the Great Fire and a stadium preparing to host the city’s third Olympic games — one hundred and four years after its first. A visit to view the Shard can help a visitor not only to see what the future of London may look like, but how the new and innovative can blend with and not usurp the tried and true.

Research by Meg Taylor

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