As a public relations professional working in the renewable energy industry, the business environment tells us that we have to communicate a consistently sincere image in the industry and to build long-term relationships with energy consumers, employees, governments and anyone affected by our business operations. Unlike other sectors, our industry has faced a number of singular pressures that make reputation-building a significant challenge. Learning from the BP experience, we have come to understand that transparency, communication and participation will become key activities and may prove more effective reputation-building measures than sponsoring basketball teams or Formula One races. In this business era, energy companies will have to come out of their quiet position and engage with the public at large, taking a lead in providing comprehensive and relevant information to a diverse group of stakeholders. Most importantly, the company brand must be rooted in the business realities, reflecting the very nature of the company’s activities instead of searching for euphemistic branding solutions that could easily backfire when crises happen.
It was against this backdrop that I found myself taking a year-long break from PR work to pursue a long-awaited dream. In the few months that I have been studying here at the Business School of the University of Manchester, I have come to realize that I am standing on the shoulders of giants. The University itself teems with youthful spirit inspired by the life-changing works of philosophers, professors, researchers and industrialists.
The city of Manchester itself was the epicenter of the industrial revolution, which spawned some of the greatest inventions of the last century. Its position at the centre of innovation is mirrored and informed by its university, which was founded by local industrialists in 1824 as the Mechanics Institute – a place to help workers master the scientific basics required in the new machine age. It was within these laboratories that Ernest Rutherford began his experiments that would lead to the splitting of the atom; where Sir James Chadwick discovered the neutron and where Alan Turing bequeathed the world its modern-day computer.
Ironically, left-wing politics was also born amidst the flurry of capitalism, thanks to philosopher giants Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who figured prominently in the history of Manchester. The Chetham Library still houses the economics books that Marx read as well as the window seat that Marx and Engels used in their meetings.
Today, the University of Manchester can boast of a unique achievement in British academia. For the first time in living memory, this red brick university has more Nobel Prize winners on its staff than either Oxford (which has none) or Cambridge (which has two). This milestone came after the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Professor Andre Geim and his young protégé Professor Konstantin Novoselov the Nobel prize for physics in October 2010 for their discovery of two-dimensional graphene, a 21st century wonder substance which at just one atom thick is the strongest material known to man. Professors Geim and Novoselov join the roster of teaching Nobel laureates former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz, who won the economics prize in 2001 and Sir John Sulston, who was recognized in 2002 for his work sequencing the DNA of the nematode. Now with 25 Nobel laureates to its name, Manchester University – though still behind Oxford and Cambridge in total – has more than Austria, China, India and Hungary.
Whenever I scan the shelves of the John Rylands and Sackville libraries or walk through the corridors of Whitworth Hall, I can’t help but imagine that Rutherford, Turing or Engels also scanned the same bookshelf or walked the same halls as I did. Coming to this red brick city made a lasting impression on me. Far from the maddenning crowd of London, Manchester offers the amenities of a modern city with the ambience of bohemian culture. The city is like a perfumisto’s fragrance notes done right. The top notes would be a metallic opening reminiscent of its vibrant industrial past. The heart notes whip up a spritz of multicultural experience reflected in the international student composition. In my class, the Brits are the minorities and we Asians are the majority. The base notes give a distinct vibe distilled by the Mancunian way of life that is cosmopolitan and traditional all at once. Student life is both exhilarating and overwhelming. The parade of faces in the morning excites me to no end. The cold weather chills my bones but gives me a sense of wonder.
Studying at Manchester is, to put it simply, refreshing. I like the laidback atmosphere and the provincial air that the city exudes. I love long walks and the university has alluring sceneries that change with the season. Academic life is daunting. Periodicals and case studies to be read can look sinister. Here, the truth is, I don’t know how to be a student anymore. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Coming here with solid experience from the work I did in the local energy industry provides me with a sense of deeper understanding of corporate communications as a profession and this has allowed me to write essays and projects that are grounded in the realities of business communications.