Business agility; facing up to the pandemic

22nd February 2021

News, Alumni news

Be bold and be agile was the message from Wadham alumna Aneeqa Khan on steering a business through the uncertainty of the pandemic.

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Aneeqa Khan (PPE, 2005), founder of eporta told members of Wadham’s 1610 Society and Wadham alumni how, at the start of the pandemic, she and her colleagues made the bold decision to add a product stream to their core  business as a B to B marketplace for interior design companies, hotels, restaurants and offices.

Speaking alongside JoJo Sanders (PPE, 1999) and introduced by 1610 Society President Colin Drummond at the event Corporate Strategy in the Pandemic, Aneeqa said: “In January last year we focused 70 percent on the hospitality market, kitting out their spaces. Then Covid hit and we had to think through how long the impact of the pandemic would last.” The business was faced with a choice between downsizing and riding the storm or using the time as an opportunity to work on medium term strategic initiatives, helping businesses to develop ecommerce channels directly on their websites. “It was a bold decision but the right one given it’s now a bigger business than our existing one,” she said.

Developing ecommerce solutions for others was always an idea for the future in the back of Aneeqa’s mind, but the pandemic provided an opportunity for the 40 strong eporta team to develop the idea. A positive response from the business’s venture capital investors made the change of direction a reality and then Aneeqa and her team focused on supporting staff with the move to home working.

Now Aneeqa describes her business as ‘remote first’, with home working here to stay. “If you're not becoming a remote first business within the tech industry then the overarching theme is you're not going to be competitive to hire talent anymore. This is a permanent change and suits people's work life balance better,“ she said.

Jojo Sanders, Head of Pan European Cash Equity Sales for JP Morgan, outlined the challenges which faced the banking world at the start of the pandemic.

Flexibility, in terms of working patterns, was kind of a dirty word in banking before the pandemic she said. And she still feels the office environment is essential to certain aspects of banking; from access to high speed cables for trading to creating a democratic environment for staff members. “It was not easy to begin rotating teams, with some working from home and others in the office so that the capital markets could function through the lockdown” she said.  

“We didn't anticipate that actually for young people we'd have to deal with mental health problems… Some of our junior members of staff living in flat shares didn't have the privacy needed to work.” Training also became more of an issue. “We learn so much by osmosis - learning on the job, hearing what the person is a little bit senior to you is saying or thinking or doing. The office also provides an opportunity to focus for people having to balance looking after young children at home.”

Jojo also believes that working remotely has led to a tougher environment for many who are terrified of being caught not at their screens in a way they are not in the office. Maintaining diversity in the team is also more challenging with remote working. “We're trying to hire people from different sorts of backgrounds, ethnicity, as well as socio economically. When you send people back into their home environment they become much more unequal again. It is helpful if we can all be in a democratic environment like the office, where we're equal.”  Describing herself as “a proponent of the office” she also welcomes the increased flexibility that the pandemic has brought to the workplace.

More than 90 alumni joined the lively discussion led by Professorial Fellow Colin Mayer and hosted by 1610 Society President, Colin Drummond (Classics, 1969). Watch a film of the discussion here. 

  • Aneeqa Khan, Jo Jo Saunders, Colin Drummond and Colin Mayer

    Event speakers (clockwise from top left):  Aneeqa Khan, Jo Jo Saunders, Colin Drummond and Colin Mayer

Wadham's 1610 Society

The 1610 Society is a group of over 400 alumni and friends who have pledged to support Wadham’s students, its outreach programme and its world-class tutorial system by leaving a gift to the College in their wills. Philanthropy through bequests is vital to Wadham’s work, typically comprising 20% of all annual gifts to the College.  

The Society hosts an annual dinner at College and members are invited to other bespoke events. If you would like to learn more about becoming a Member of the 1610 Society, please contact Julie Hage, Development Director, at julie.hage@wadham.ox.ac.uk