Ricoh Europe's Executive Customer Forum

Meeting of minds

Our academics and leading corporate executives are collaborating to create new ideas, share best practice and embrace fresh perspectives on the future of work.

The Ricoh Europe Executive Customer Forum (ECF) launched in May 2017, hosting C-suite leaders from some of the world’s most distinguished organisations. The two-year programme provides a unique opportunity for Forum participants, known as ‘members’, to discuss and debate how the workplace will evolve in the years ahead, and the challenges of these changes for business.

The Forum meets twice a year for three days at Saïd Business School to attend workshop sessions with guest speakers, leverage networking opportunities during college dinners and take part in team building events. Members discuss topics as diverse as the 'frenemy' (rival 'enemy' companies that are sometimes friends or partners), next generation organisational structures, and how to entice talented millennial workers.

While most Forum members are Ricoh Europe clients, further members have been engaged by Associate Fellow and Programme Director, Allyson Stewart-Allen, through her professional network. The current cohort consists of senior leaders across a breadth of industries and backgrounds who are keen to share their experiences while discussing the new realities associated with the future of work at global, organisation, team and individual levels.      

Speaking about the significance of Ricoh’s sponsorship of the programme, Caroline Bright, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ricoh Europe and Programme Director, explains that 'as a digital services company, Ricoh is in the business of leading change at work. In practice, this means providing consultative and strategic support that helps our customers respond to the changing demands of the modern workplace. The Forum offers the ideal opportunity to keep up with market trends, stay close to our customers’ needs, and identify how we can bring people, processes and technology together to support business transformation.'

Caroline also thinks that hosting the summits in Oxford inspires members to approach the experience with an open mind.

The members are aware of the centuries-old wisdom that surrounds them, an awareness heightened by the customary dinner at an Oxford college at the beginning of each summit. Because of this, metaphorically speaking, people are open to going anywhere.

Caroline Bright

Senior Vice President of Marketing, Ricoh Europe

Business critical

The Forum concept started some years ago, with the germ of an idea by previous Programme Director Paul Nanninga, now Managing Director of Ricoh Global Services.

Paul had noticed a trend while meeting an increasing number of senior executives at client companies: 'We were becoming a more business-critical stakeholder because we were handling confidential information on our customers’ behalf, beyond their firewalls. We were sole suppliers to global companies. Suddenly, I was getting more requests to meet chief information officers who wanted to understand what kind of company we were.' Corporate decisions to engage Ricoh as a service supplier had, he says, escalated from middle management to executive level. Reacting to the heightened interest in Ricoh among senior executives, 'I wanted not just to meet them once, but to get to know them better and allow them to share ideas with other people who understood their role.'

Seeking a Forum for this, Ricoh drew up a list of universities as potential collaborators. In 2015 it chose Oxford Saïd shortly after staff heard Professor Jonathan Trevor, former Programme Director, speak at a conference and invited him to their London office. 'At that meeting, it’s fair to say that Paul and I hit it off straight away,' says Professor Trevor. 'There was a meeting of minds about how to explore the topic of the future of work' – the deliberately wide-ranging topic which Ricoh had decided it wanted to discuss with its customers.

Speaking about their first meeting, Paul said: 'I felt, here is someone who is very strong academically, but who is also entrepreneurial and can connect with my customers.'

The two were in complete agreement on the ideal approach for the Forum. Professor Trevor described it as a 'think-tank,' with Oxford Saïd academics and corporate executives to 'create insights and strategies for the future, globally, organisationally and individually.' He said: 'This is not an educational programme at all. There is no curriculum, there are no learning objectives, and it is not part of an HR agenda.'

The Forum also involves collaboration with the wider Oxford Saïd community. As an example, several of the School’s best MBA students joined the May 2017 summit to discuss the topic of millennials. 'Our students explained how they saw the world and what they thought would make for an attractive employer in the future' says Professor Trevor. 'Equally, our members were also robust and constructive in giving advice on how students could think about their corporate careers.'


The face-to-face Forum summits, which take place every six months, are just one activity which underpins the two-year programme. Every six weeks, members also take part in 90-minute online sessions, as well as collaborating via a dedicated Forum website where they share research and insights, post articles and discuss workplace trends.

According to Allyson Stewart-Allen, who took over as Programme Director when Professor Trevor took sabbatical at the end of 2021: 'The Forum design means we can take a broad-brush approach to examining how future trends impact boardroom leaders in global businesses, focusing on global, company, team and individual levels during the successive summits.'

Finally, the Forum is multi-disciplinary. Oxford Saïd involves academics in the discussions from a variety of disciplines as far afield as social policy, economics and engineering. By creating an environment which unites experience with academia, the Forum truly embraces the talents, perspectives and passion needed to build a better future, today.

How do all parties benefit from the programme?

For Oxford Saïd

'This collaboration with Ricoh means we get to draw on the School’s award-winning research capability and business experts from some of the world’s most renowned companies. It is a unique proposition which we can easily replicate with other organisations looking to engage on such an important topic.'

Allyson Stewart-Allen, Programme Director

For Ricoh

'The Forum is a tremendously uniting force that represents our commitment to keep striving to create innovative and impactful solutions for our customers. This is such a great platform to help us understand our customers better while giving them the opportunity to better understand us. We’re building strong relationships and trust with them.'

Caroline Bright, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Ricoh Europe

Caroline firmly believes that member companies can benefit from the Forum too: 'Members know that if they make the best of this, their customers will benefit. The Forum supports a core strategic management responsibility to identify and deliver new value to customers while contributing to the development of society. In this way, the programme is such a simple, beautiful concept.'

The members are there to prepare for the future and meet leaders from non-competing businesses to share ideas and most importantly, take time from the day job to reflect and learn. What better place is there for learning than Oxford University?

Allyson Stewart-Allen

Associate Fellow and Programme Director

Eureka moment


The ECF has been a great success, but it was a novel and untested idea when it launched.

For Paul, ‘this process started to work from the very beginning. We held a one-hour call with each member to explain exactly what this was about, what we expected from them over the two-year journey, and what they could expect to get out of it.’ Members were also warned, he notes, that ‘there would be homework involved.’ The enthusiastic responses reassured Paul that this mutually beneficial initiative would prove a resounding success.

For Allyson, who conducted the most recent round of 25 briefing calls for the third ECF cohort, ‘it is clear that the appetite to think harder and deeper about how the world of work is changing is very strong, especially when members know they’re not alone in feeling they don’t have all the answers. What’s great about this collaboration with Ricoh is that we’re jointly giving leaders the chance to think about the answers that fit their organisations.’