Richard Branson | Founder, Virgin Group
What he talks about: Probably Britain’s best-known businessman, Branson writes about his life and experiences, sharing what he has learned along the way. Expect to find business tips and stories from his adventures across five decades as an entrepreneur, with many of his articles focusing on the Virgin family of companies and how they’re striving to change business for good.
Favourite conversation starter: Back in October, Branson wrote “A sneak preview of Finding My Virginity” about his new autobiography. The book documents the past 20 years of the entrepreneur’s life; he describes it as “a real labour of love”.
An interesting fact about Branson: He’s an expert at opening a bottle of champagne with a sabre.
James Caan | CEO, Recruitment Guide
What he talks about: A seasoned entrepreneur, Caan uses his experience and expertise to write about business, focusing particularly on recruitment. The former Dragon’s Den investor has also penned pieces on entrepreneurship, company culture and innovative technologies.
Favourite conversation starter: “The benefits of work/life balance in work performance.” Caan feels strongly that workaholism is not something to boast about – it actually smacks of misplaced management and insufficient delegation. His article argues the trend towards working excessively needs to be addressed for us all to lead happier and more productive lives.
The news story he found most interesting in 2017: It’s one that’s been difficult to ignore: The ongoing Brexit saga. “For businesses especially, trying to plan for an uncertain future in the shadow of the ongoing negotiations has proved fascinating, if unnerving,” he says.
Paul Polman | CEO, Unilever
What he talks about: Polman explores how companies and individuals can collaborate to solve global challenges such as climate change and poverty. He’s passionate that businesses should have a deeper sense of purpose than just creating a healthy profit margin. “Businesses [should] have a positive social impact wherever they operate and reduce their environmental footprint,” he says.
Favourite conversation starter: “Reaping the rewards of the Sustainable Development Goals.” The article showed how business can integrate SDGs within their strategies so they can achieve growth while also benefitting wider society.
An interesting fact about Polman: He wanted to go to medical school, but places are allocated by lottery in the Netherlands, so he missed out. “I suppose everything happens for a reason and whatever path you go down you can always have the opportunity to make a difference.”
Bernard Marr | Author and keynote speaker
What he talks about: Marr is an expert when it comes to all things data, and writes about how businesses can use it to boost their bottom lines. He also writes about the latest technology and management trends, with the broad aim of helping companies improve their performance.
Favourite conversation starter: “Why great employees quit.” Focusing on how to hang on to top talent, Marr said the piece really seemed to resonate with his readers, and LinkedIn’s data agrees: The piece received almost 26,000 likes, over 1,600 comments and more than 9,000 reshares.
How he comes up with ideas for his articles and posts: “I have a notepad on my phone to make sure I capture all my ideas, which come from conversations I have with people, things I read and watch, or questions I get on social media.”
Winnie Byanyima | Executive director, Oxfam
What she talks about: Byanyima focuses on all the topics Oxfam holds dear, from poverty to discrimination, and climate change to the fight for social justice. “I’ve fought against inequality and for women’s rights and social justice since as long as I can remember. These power my writing,” she says.
Favourite conversation starter: Byanyima visited Northeast Nigeria and South Sudan and met front-line humanitarian workers fighting the famine crises. Afterward, she wrote about her experiences in a moving article. “I was proud of this piece because it gave a voice to those people I met,” she tells LinkedIn.
The news story she found most interesting in 2017: Byanyima closely followed the resignation of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and hopes it marks “the beginning of a new dawn for the people of Zimbabwe” and those currently living under other African dictators.
Azeem Azhar | CEO, Exponential View
What he talks about: Azhar covers the convergence of exponential technologies and their impact on society, examining everything from 3D printing and blockchain to A.I. and machine learning.
Favourite conversation starter: “There is one thing computers will never beat us at.” He argues that, despite the rise of automation, there will always be a place in the world for items that incorporate the human touch. “I thought it was quite a fun and challenging idea, and a reminder that what we think is subjectively good will always be subjectively good,” he says.
Where he does his best writing: Azeem says he comes up with his best ideas and pens his finest pieces at times when he should be doing other things. “I have bits of paper scribbled with notes and dozens of emails to myself with ideas that could turn into a thesis.”
Meabh Quoirin | Co-owner and CEO, Foresight Factory
What she talks about: Quoirin focuses on consumer trends, looking at everything from artificial intelligence and the future home to the big structural change being brought about by Brexit. In some articles she interviews inspiring female leaders, with the goal of championing gender equality, while in others she considers how technology can be used to better respond to our human needs.
Favourite conversation starter: “We’re still talking about this?” The article shines a light on all that’s still to be done to tackle gender discrimination.
The trend she will be keeping a close eye on in 2018: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the evolution of humanity in a world of A.I.,” she says.
Chris Parr | Digital and communities editor, Times Higher Education
What he talks about: Predominantly, Parr writes about developments in higher education both here and overseas. Occasionally, he opines about the world of journalism, too.
Favourite conversation starter: “Just because we want you to click it does not make it clickbait! (And Susan Boyle is not dead).” Although not one of his most-read articles, Parr said a lot of people got in touch to thank him for writing about how fed up he was with being accused of producing clickbait. “It seems a lot of journalists, marketers and social media types are also sick of being accused of peddling clickbait when in fact they are just doing their jobs (and doing them well),” he says.
An interesting fact about Parr: He co-wrote a musical that was staged in London, Manchester, Glasgow, and Newcastle, and had a full run at the Edinburgh Festival.
Alistair Cox | CEO, Hays
What he talks about: As head of recruiting agency giant Hays, it’s perhaps not surprising Cox writes about how people can find the career of their dreams and how organisations can find the talent they need to make them thrive.
Favourite conversation starter: “A.I. will be a big part of our future – but what does that mean for businesses searching for talent?” Like many of us, Cox is fascinated with A.I. and the impact it is having now, and will have in future. “No one can yet predict what A.I. will become and how it will alter our world, but the possibilities are endless, profound and exciting,” he says.
The trend he will be keeping a close eye on in 2018: The many rapidly advancing technologies that are transforming the world as we know it.
Sarah Wood | CEO, Unruly
What she talks about: The adtech entrepreneur covers a variety of topics in her writing, including company culture, purpose and profits, diversity in leadership, the UK digital ecosystem and tech and marketing trends. “It’s usually on areas or ideas that mean a lot to me – that I feel passionately about,” she says.
Favourite conversation starter: “How culture is your #1 competitive advantage in a time of uncertainty.” The article explains that a positive company culture inspires staff members, makes them feel valued and, ultimately, promotes productivity.
An interesting fact about Wood: She’s a big fan of maps. Wood wrote her masters dissertation on Cartography, Colonialism and John Smith’s Map of Virginia (1612). “I also used to work for London Underground as a station assistant, where I got to grips with Harry Beck’s iconic Tube Map that re-shaped our understanding of subterranean London.”