Tapping the power of authenticity

Trained doctor Nick Deakin MBA2017 joined LBS and transformed the lives of its LGBTQ+ students


It was a moment of real pride for MBA graduate Nicholas Deakin as he watched Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel step onto the stage at London Business School in November 2016. The lawyer and politician, who’d been his country’s leader for three years at that point – and who also happens to be openly gay – was there to speak about his experience of coming out to an audience of students and business executives at EurOUT, Europe’s largest LGBTQ+ student-led business conference, organised by the LBS Out in Business Club (OiB). 

As co-president of OiB, Nick had been an integral part of the team who made the Prime Minister’s keynote speech possible. More than 200 students from 45 leading global business schools and universities attended. Speakers included executives from BCG, McKinsey, Cisco and Google. Nick listened as Bettel advised the audience, “Don’t be ‘the gay leader’ – just be the leader who is gay. Be successful and be like you are.” For Nick, the message was “phenomenal” and it resonated with everyone in the room. 

“I knew as soon as I joined LBS that I wanted to make a difference to the lives of LGBTQ+ students during their time at the School and as they entered the world of business,” he says. His aim was to make the LGBTQ+ network as strong as possible so that a person’s sexuality is never the most significant thing about them. “I want to be seen as a great banker first, a gay banker second,” he adds.

Champion of diversity

Such a high-profile event helped to put LBS on the map as a serious LGBTQ+ supporter; the Financial Times went on to include Nick in its 2016 OUTstanding LGBTQ+ Future Leaders list. Today, LBS is the first to acknowledge that Nick’s impact on its LGBTQ+ profile is unmatched. Named a Changemaker by the School in 2020, he says, “It’s an honour that I’m now viewed as somebody who’s a champion of diversity and who helps bring out the best in people.” 

When he joined LBS in 2015, there were only about 12 people who openly identified as LGBTQ+ in his intake of 400 MB students. He says, “If you look at the population, around 10% identify as being on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. I realised something wasn’t right and that I could help change things.” The number of openly LGBTQ+ students across the School is now more than 50 – an increase of over 400% – and OiB has more than 900 members.

In his final year of medical school, in 2012, Nick did an internship at McKinsey. One of the first things he did there was to join GLAM, the gay and lesbian network. “It opened up opportunities, even as an intern,” he remembers. At that time, he was increasingly hearing from employers that diversity was something they valued. “Businesses want to make sure they recruit the very best people from all diversity strands. All the big banks, all the consulting firms, said, ‘We want the best people, we don’t want people to be put off applying because they happen to be gay or lesbian.’” Nick wanted to spread that message. 

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“I want to be seen as a great banker first, a gay banker second”

LBS has a really diverse cohort of people coming to London from around the world, he explains. “People are getting to know themselves, they’re moving countries, moving jobs.” For some, particularly those from countries where it’s not safe or socially acceptable to be LGBTQ+, that process of acclimatisation and acceptance takes a while, so he wanted to do anything he could “to help people come along on that journey.

“I realised we have a golden opportunity at LBS to educate the leaders of tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what somebody gets up to in their personal life. It doesn’t affect how they perform at work and it shouldn’t affect how we perceive them.” He believes there’s an opportunity to “level-set” people from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Lebanon and many other places and say, “This is how we do things. This is how business does things.”

His motivation stems from his own life experience: despite growing up in the UK, where laws around gay rights are liberal, it took him a long time to recognise his own identity. He grew up in Stoke, an industrial town in the Midlands, where he attended a Christian Brothers Catholic grammar school. “Relationship education was exclusively on the nuclear family,” he remembers. “It took me until I was 23 to realise I was gay. I’d inherently picked up that this is what a family should look like, this is what relationships should look like.”

The oldest of three children, he was the first in his family to go to university. His goal was to become a doctor and he trained for eight years before switching to investment banking as a way to bring new ideas to healthcare. After working in the NHS for two years, he had seen the challenges “around how bureaucratic it is, how slow to innovate it can be and how long ideas take to move from concept to the bedside. It was quite overwhelming.” 

Everyone thought he was mad, including his parents: “My gran still doesn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be a doctor.” In 2015, aged 25 and at the point when his peers were picking a specialty, he opted for business school, which was “scary, actually, because you’re deviating from a really well-trodden career track.” Nick was conscious that he was leaving the medical world for one where people had trained in economics, finance or strategy – “not topics you learn about at medical school.” He realised there was a gap in his education: “When you’re at medical school, it’s all about learning about diseases and how you treat things. It’s not about the healthcare system and how you can do things better or how to change things. I wanted to think through how people in oil companies or renewable energy companies or retail had decided to do that. And I wanted examples to draw on, to help me think through how I might leverage my experience to be able to change things positively in healthcare.”

“I’m now in a space where I can be imaginative and creative about how I use the power of authenticity”

During his internship at McKinsey he realised that business can help healthcare do things better. “We built a new inspection structure for hospitals for the Care Quality Commission, who inspect hospitals,” he remembers. “And at the end of my project, Prime Minister David Cameron stood up in the House of Commons and announced that this is how hospitals would be assessed from now on. It was an incredible moment.” By this time, he also had an understanding of the US healthcare system, gained as a research fellow in health economics at Harvard, but lacked leadership skills. He says, “I didn’t have the knowledge of how to bring people along with me, how to persuade people and how to change things. And I honestly didn’t understand anything about strategy or finance.” This, he says, is what led him to LBS; not just for its top-tier education but also a network that could “help me over the years – a European-grounded network with global influence.”

He was awarded the very first SARI Foundation Trust Scholarship, which is given in conjunction with LBS alumnus, and former President and COO of Alibaba, Savio Kwan MSc09(1976). It was, he says, “a life-changing opportunity and a massive vote of confidence.” He has an especially close connection with Savio today and the cohort of beneficiaries of the scholarship with whom he meets regularly, which is its own powerful network. While at LBS, he also received the Bain Award for Student Impact and the Alumni Award for making a lasting contribution to the School. 

The new normal

He joined the investment banking division of Morgan Stanley two years ago in a role that straddles his healthcare background and his business training. “I spend half my time with big healthcare companies looking at how they can keep growing and adapt to new technologies, and the other half with founders and scientists around fundraising, so they can inject money to get their ideas to patients,” he explains. As an Executive Director at Morgan Stanley, he increasingly has responsibility for client coverage and owning client relationships. He says, “Part of our job has been to sit with founders and companies and say, ‘Look, this is what the new normal looks like. And this is what people are now looking for. How do we get you in a space in six months or a year’s time when you’re ticking these boxes?’ We’re having a lot more of those conversations today.” 

Reflecting on his time at LBS, he says that a business person’s future is based on the foundation laid down in the MBA: “I’m now in a space where I can be imaginative and creative about how I use the power of authenticity and the power of being different to get on. Since I moved into banking, I’ve always tried to spearhead things and to pay forward the benefits I had at LBS.” What more does he think top organisations could be doing to advance diversity and inclusion? “It’s all about having visible role models,” he declares. “I try to be one myself.” 

He is currently spearheading a new mentorship scheme within investment banking to match every person who identifies as LGBTQ+ with senior managing directors. “Each person will have a mentor who can guide their career, talk to them about careers, progression, politics, networking,” he explains. “It’s something we’re starting as we speak and Morgan Stanley will be the first bank to do this. It’s about people who care passionately about making sure that everyone feels comfortable at work, being themselves and being authentic, because they’ll be better at their job.” It’s clear that, at every stage in his career, he has been doing the maximum possible to make an impact. “I like to leave things better than where I found them,” he says simply.