As I prepared for the final weeks of this academic year, for the first time in a while I had speeches to write. Speech Days were actually going to be a “thing” again and would be requirement of international school leadership.
Fairly quickly I settled on my theme, curiosity. I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Einstein claimed he was “neither clever nor especially gifted, just very, very curious” and Walt Disney rather obviously said that “when you are curious, you find lots of interesting things to do” – films, animations, and theme parks not a bad legacy for a curious young man who enjoyed doodling and allowing his mind to wander.
Also take the possibly apocryphal tale of Adriano Olivetti. Early on after he took over the electronics firm his father had established, some workers caught another worker stealing pieces of iron and taking them home. Adriano should, and could have sacked the worker there and then, even reported him to the police, but he was curious and asked the man why he was stealing.
“Fairly quickly I settled on my theme, curiosity. I didn’t have to look far for inspiration.”
The reply came that he was taking materials home as he didn’t have enough time at work to experiment on some ideas he had. When Adriano saw what the man was working on, he brought him back into the factory, promoted him to head this new product – the first electronic calculator. The calculator sold so many units that a man once branded a thief was promoted to Technical Director.
At Shrewsbury Riverside our new innovation building is designed to foster creativity and curiosity and it is named after our former chair of governors who personified that spirit.
Sir David Lees had the curiosity and courage to suggest that the Bank of England needed to change when he was appointed the chair of its court. He also had the courage to support the appointment of Canadian Mark Carney as the Bank’s Governor, something almost unthinkable at the time.
Sir David’s career in the UK is an illustrious one, turning GKN into a profitable venture and then becoming Chair at huge textile firm Courtaulds in 1996. His appointment to the Chair of the Court of the Bank of England was richly deserved and signalled significant reform in the governance structure at the 350 year old institution.
“I count myself truly fortunate to have been principal at Shrewsbury Riverside over the last five years.”
This section of an article written about Sir David by the Evening Standard in 2014 speaks of his approach. “The chairman of the Court is not first fiddle, he’s second fiddle,” said Lees, referring to his theoretical place in an orchestra whilst pouring the tea in his simple office on the Bank’s ground floor. The simple office, on the ground floor, a cup of tea and playing “second fiddle” are all hallmarks of this extraordinary leader who is both humble and driven.
I can recall vividly the first time I met Sir David. As I walked into the interview room at the recruitment agent in London, the June sun lit up an extraordinary view of St Paul’s Cathedral. Momentarily distracted by the incredible view I was quickly brought to order by the “sharpest man in the room” as I have often described him. His questions were probing and precise, his responses warm and curious.
I count myself truly fortunate to have been in international school leadership at Shrewsbury Riverside over the last five years. I am indebted to Sir David’s curiosity and the courage of Khun Chali Sophonpanich (the school’s owner) and Stephen Holroyd (my predecessor) to support my appointment.
As we all know the last two years have been a challenge but the future is bright for a curious Shrewsbury.
In 1940 when the future seemed less bright for Britain, Winston Churchill coined the phrase the “sunlit uplands”. At the fall of France, and with Britain isolated against Hitler’s forces, he exhorted his country, saying that “if we can stand up to Hitler, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”
“I shall miss Thailand and its incredible experiences.”
Nobody is quite sure exactly what he meant by broad sunlit uplands, but Churchill’s genius was to allow the listener to use their curiosity to conjure up their own images. Many have said that he was referring to the beauty of the South Downs, Sussex perhaps? A traditional view of England, green, pleasant, bucolic – a church in the distance, perhaps even some cricket.
The imagery works in Thailand too, our sunlit uplands here might be the majestic hills of the north, or the azure beauty of the Andaman. Rice fields, beaches, turquoise seas, temples perhaps, families certainly.
For Shrewsbury the broad sunlit uplands are a life without Covid, sport is back, music thriving, art magnificent. Great teaching, engaged students, aspirational and supportive parents. A growing school, more great facilities.
The sunlit uplands are here again, and I know this extraordinary school is ready to enjoy them. I shall miss Thailand and its incredible experiences as I seek a new challenge at Tanglin Trust School in Singapore, but more than that I shall miss the people in this strong and vibrant community. Ever curious to see what is next, I wish them well with all that is ahead.