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.'