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On 12th February 125 representatives of the regional business community gathered in Leeds at First Direct Arena for our Game Changers event, held jointly with The Professional. With speakers and panelists from First Direct Arena, First Direct BankO2, Blacks Solicitors, Leeds Beckett University and there was a varied line up for our assembled audience to draw insight and inspiration from.

Emma Steele of The Professional wrote an excellent review of the event which we’ve reproduced below.

We were delighted with Game Changers, which we were proud not only to co-host but also to chair on the day. There was a huge amount of positive feedback afterwards and we’d like to say a very big thank you to our speakers and to everyone who came along to be part of the event.




By Emma Steele, published in The Professional, 18th February 2015

In all honesty, we were a little unsure as to whether ‘Game Changers’ would work as the name for our inaugural event, but it proved to be the most fitting of titles. Jointly hosted by The Professional and Whitecap Consulting, it was held at a game changing arena with several game changing speakers, and those in attendance really got on board with

And the reason for this? Leeds is a city which has seen significant developments for the better. Home to innovative businesses and entrepreneurs, it really is an exciting time to be in business in Leeds. What’s also evident is that as a business community, we are on board the game changing concept. We know we can’t rest on our laurels and instead aim to remain one step ahead in order to change the game.

Set out to change the game  

These were the exact sentiments of one of our speakers, Rebecca Sykes, who is the Senior Communications Manager at First Direct. Having been in the role for 10 years, Rebecca has seen the game change for First Direct on several occasions. “First Direct do things differently, which is why we are known as the ‘unexpected bank’. We launched 25 years ago as the first telephone bank and a few years later became one of the first online banks too.

“The game is constantly changing around us, so we need to move with the times. Whilst it’s important to change your game to stay ahead of the competition and keep up with what your customer wants, you shouldn’t forget what makes your business tick.  For us it’s customer service and the fact we are a bank that thinks differently.”

Thinking differently is what has allowed the First Direct Arena to really change the game. When it came to deciding on the requirements for the arena, they were able to look at what works and what doesn’t at their other 230 sister venues across the world, making it a distillation of them all. For example, the arena has the largest polonium beam steel in the UK, so no matter where you sit you have an uninterrupted view of the stage. It also enables them to have a ‘Jurassic Park door’, where 18 lorries can be unloaded in an hour, allowing a gig to take place consecutively, every day.

2014 was a game changing year for the arena, winning several awards, including the coveted Yorkshire Award for Structural Excellence and gaining the prestigious title of New Venue of the Year. “No matter what you’re doing, you need to get it right in the beginning, so that you don’t have to change the game half way through,” explained Tony Watson, Sales, Marketing and PR Director at First Direct Arena. “If it means building something new, make sure you build it to satisfy.” This is testament to the fact that acts book to play at the arena, they don’t book them and Pearl Jam played there on the back of a recommendation from Bruce Springsteen!

The next generation of game changers

When the First Direct Arena was built, it was a controversial development but now it’s a welcome landmark in the city skyline and according to Tony, not a bad word has been said about it. With 500,000 people entering its doors in 2014, it has brought footfall to an area of the city, which had become somewhat neglected. Now known as the ‘Arena Quarter’, new bars, restaurants and shops have brought with them new job opportunities to the city. As the fifth busiest arena in the UK and 21st busiest in the world, if anything, it looks as though demand for amenities in the area will increase.

Many of the people working at the First Direct Arena and in the Arena Quarter, as well as those who attend events there, are the next generation of game changers, some of whom will be Leeds Beckett University students or graduates. Dr Simon Jones was another of our speakers and as the Associate Dean of Leeds Business School, he was perfectly placed to encourage interaction between business owners and the institution.

“As a university we have to act as a broker and provide employable students to local businesses who have confidence, awareness of their skills, adaptability and a willingness to fit in and become productive. We need you to come and tell the students what the real world is like. Perhaps you could offer a guest lecture or an internship?” said Simon.

He continued, “Employment wise, what are the students going to have when they leave? We hope they will have skills, and they’ll be able to recognise and articulate them – that’s a game changer. We need to provide them with experience and you should need them to arrive with some sort of attitude that they are immediately productive or at least valuable to become productive.”

Simon was also keen for businesses to have their say in the curriculum being taught. “If the curriculum is a bit old hat, if we’re teaching them the wrong thing for your industry, tell me, I’ll change the modules, I’ll adapt the curriculum. We are open for business for you to come and talk to us – I might even buy you a cuppa and a slice of cake!”

Become a social game changer

It is the next generation that is also at the forefront of Chris Allen’s mind. As Managing Partner of Blacks Solicitors LLP, advising businesses on their social media strategy may not seem like the most obvious of topics but it went down a treat with our audience because Chris is a real life example of how social media can benefit a company.

For Chris, the catalyst for setting up a Twitter account was a throw away comment from a conversation with a work experience student, who informed him that ‘Twitter was all the rage for students’. Fast forward a few years and Blacks now has a team of 18 who use Twitter to raise their profile as a company and open doors, thanks to their tens of thousands of followers.

“The game changer is social media and by doing what we do, we are now in the mind-set of the next generation of Blacks. Habits are changing and we need to look ahead at our future customers. What are your next generation of clients doing? I’ve got a long game with my business, it isn’t just about making money today, it is about the future, the staff coming through the ranks and how the business is developing. Are you looking down the line? Are you looking at where your next sets of customers are? I am, and this is what it’s about for me,” said Chris before aptly announcing that we were the #bestaudienceinleeds.

Despite everyone being engaged with Chris’ animated speech, a number of people also had their head down, looking at their phone. It didn’t take long for me to realise that they were logging on to their Twitter account to follow Chris!

Living in a game changing world

Social media is just one way businesses likes Blacks are using new technologies but Ant Morse, Head of Digital Sales at O2, took things to a completely new level by discussing the Internet of Things (IOT) and posing the question, how digital is your business?

This fit in well with our previous speakers, in terms of some of the things that Rebecca’s customers are doing, what Simon’s graduates and students are looking to bring into the workplace and with Chris, who is an example of someone who is embracing digital technology.

“We hear a lot about ‘digital’ – it’s the new buzz word – after all, we are living in the digital revolution. Technology has changed our lives forever and the pace of the digital revolution is unprecedented,” said Ant, who is passionate about technology being open and available to everyone. He continued, “IOT is here today – some say it is years away but I disagree – it’s here already, far from over and it’s going to change everything again.”

Ant gave an insight as to how technology operates within his daily life from the moment he wakes up right through to the end of the day. Starting off with his Fit Bit which wakes him and reviews his sleep, he then uses Nest to turn up the heating in his home and speaks to Cortana, the personal assistant on his phone, about the day ahead. Before he leaves the house, he can set Rover the robot vacuum to clean his house and set the heating to come on in his car. That’s as well as being able to adjust the lighting in his house and send the address of his destination straight from his phone to the sat nav in his car.

“Don’t forget there’s an ‘Off Button’, Ant reminded. “Discipline yourself with it – I think it’s a bit of a choice and something that we need to moderate, but it is fantastic technology. The speed of revolution is the thing that has got everybody to sit up.”

O2’s mission is to help you see the world differently, just like First Direct, First Direct Arena, Leeds Beckett University and Blacks Solicitors LLP. By thinking differently, you have a better chance of changing the game and by changing the game, you remain one step ahead of the competition.


If you missed Whitecap’s previous events you can read about them here:

‘EXPLORE THE FUTURE’ – June 2014, hosted  by Whitecap Consulting, Barclays, Microsoft & Ignite Sports

‘IGNITE YOUR BUSINESS’ – September 2013, hosted by Whitecap Consulting, First Direct Arena & Ignite Sports