Executive MBA student, James Lonnen decided to study at Imperial College Business School after his father, Peter Lonnen, read Physics at Imperial College London in 1970-73.
In celebration of Father’s Day, we speak to James about his relationship with his father, the fond memories he shared with him about his time at Imperial and why he chose to study at Imperial College Business School.
Can you describe your relationship with your father?
A lot of people say we are more like friends, we joke and we wind each other up. He’s a very good sportsman. I played tennis at quite a high level when I was younger and he also played tennis. He was my coach and mentor in tennis and badminton. I spend a lot of time with him and we have a great relationship. If I can be as good a father as him, I will be very happy.
How did you Father’s connection to Imperial College influence your decision to attend Imperial College Business School?
For many years Imperial has been known to be an agile, innovative and entrepreneurial university. My father was there in the early 1970s and even then it was renowned. If you didn’t want to go to Cambridge or Oxford, Imperial was the place to go, certainly for science and physics.
Imperial has always had a really strong reputation from what he told me about his experience there so it heavily influenced my decision in choosing the Business School. For my Executive MBA, I had offers from Cambridge and EPFL in Switzerland, but I chose Imperial. My father’s connection and his promotion of it helped swing the balance.
Peter Lonnen (left) with James Lonnen (right)
What was his reaction when he found out you are studying your Executive MBA at Imperial College?
He was overjoyed, very pleased. My wife Rana Lonnen did her Executive MBA a few years ago at Imperial too and she was proud when we walked my father round the campus. It brought back all the memories and he could see how it has changed and developed. He still remembers where he stayed in his halls of residence, which are still halls today.
My father has been in senior management roles all his life – straight from his degree. He knows exactly the value of an MBA. When he was studying at Imperial, the Business School didn’t exist. He’s really impressed with the new School, the building, and how Imperial has placed themselves at the cutting edge of innovation.
What memories has your father shared memories with you about his time at Imperial?
He read physics at the Royal College of Science and Brian May, the Queen guitarist, tutored him because he was a postgraduate student at the time. He was also the President of the 22 Club in 1973. He went to the 50th anniversary and hopes to go to the 100th anniversary in 2022. He’s still in touch with quite a lot of people from the 22 Club and has good memories of what they used to get up to.
One of the key events he told me about was in 1968, students were demonstrating against the government’s proposed bursaries in the universities to control university spending. It was quite a big issue at the time and he was at the front of the march. He was one of 50 of the front runners let into the Houses of Parliament.
He got to lobby his MP from his local region of Blackburn. He explained to him that the university was perfectly capable of controlling their own spending and his MP noted this. The government in the end never went with it because there was so much push-back from universities around the country. That was a time when students were quite unpopular for their outspoken views. As the head of a few committees, my dad was just doing his job really.
As you study your Executive MBA you are also working full-time and commuting from Switzerland. How do you manage to balance everything?
You just have to keep it going. A lot of it is about focusing your day, finding time to study in the mornings, evenings and weekends. You end up working until two am in the morning sometimes but I’m used to that because I did a PhD. It’s not for the faint-hearted. You have to be open with everyone you work with and explain your commitment to both. That’s the key thing, but it’s not easy.
What’s the most important piece of advice your father has given you?
To have integrity and be your best.