Julia Irvine 12 Dec 2018 04:54pm

Tales from the frontline: London's new lord mayor

Senior adviser to Barclays Peter Estlin is the new lord mayor of London. He tells Julia Irvine how he plans to use the historic role to help shape a new future for the capital city in a digital age

Caption: Photography by Ivan Jones
Looking back, I feel that the City of London has shaped the way I am and what I have become. When I was 11, I was sent to board at King Edward’s School, Witley, because my mother became seriously ill and was in hospital a lot and my father was in the Navy. The school, which was founded in 1553 by King Edward VI in Bridewell, has always had strong links to the City and although by the time I joined, it was a normal co-educational school based in Surrey, the connection remained.

I was always a maverick but I must have calmed down a bit because I became head boy. Through that, I met Sir Kenneth Cork who was lord mayor and I was in awe of the role. Never did it cross my mind then that I might step into his shoes one day. Later on I worked with other lord mayors, including Brian Jenkins and John Stuttard, and they were very encouraging. Sir Kenneth influenced my career choice.

He told me he was in the insolvency business. This chimed with me as I had spent a week’s work experience with Roffe Swayne, a relatively small firm of chartered accountants in Haslemere (now in Godalming) in Surrey, doing extended trial balances. It was like a mathematical puzzle. You had this bag of receipts and paper from which you had to produce a set of accounts, and it was a question of how you got from one to t’other. I blagged my way into the University of Bristol to read economics and accounting.

I qualified with Deloitte, worked predominantly in the insurance and banking community including a secondment to Standard Chartered in Singapore, and by the age of 31, I was a partner. I jumped ship not long after to work for Saloman Brothers, ending up as CFO of the corporate investment bank in New York. I was commuting between New York and the UK where my family was. It wasn’t sustainable. So I found a job at Barclays. My timing was immaculate – I joined in October 2008 virtually on the day the market crashed. For some time I’d been getting more interested in the social agenda. In 1993, I became a school governor at King Edward’s and joined the London Fairness Commission. In 2013 I was elected an alderman in the City.

And I negotiated with Barclays to become a senior adviser and started to build up my non-executive portfolio, so I had more time. I was financially OK and it was more a question of doing things that made a difference. I believe the chartered accountancy profession has a fundamental role to play, not only for its integrity and the values that it stands for, but because it also has the capacity to engage with technology and leverage it.

I really do feel that bringing together what I call the true purpose of business and the social impact it can have is something I can bring to my mayoralty. So under the banner Shaping Tomorrow’s City Today I’ve identified three priorities. The first is recognising innovation and technology have a fundamental role to play, both in terms of their economic impact through the businesses that are being created and the social impact they can have when technology is used the right way. Second, ensuring we have the right skills base to fuel these developments.

We have to move towards a balance of knowledge-based, values-led and skills-experimental learning. In seeking to promote digital skills, I’ve been working with Yuhyun Park, the founder and CEO of the DQ Institute, who initiated the Digital Intelligence Quotient (DQ) education framework and assessment – eight skills we all need to be familiar with whether we are digital citizens or seeking economic and social impact through technology. My third point is how do we use and leverage technology to champion social inclusiveness? That, to me, is really important because as a businessman, as someone who earns money, I feel a social responsibility to help those who are less fortunate.

Now some of it is attitudinal shifts but some of it is the postcode lottery of living and we’ve got to tackle that by giving everybody an equality of opportunity. Let’s use technology – we call it a social leveller – to level the playing field. Shaping Tomorrow’s City Today is a more visionary view of how the City of London can play a leadership role in creating a beacon for where we are heading as a digital nation.

Of course, there’s only so much I can achieve in a year, but we’ve launched our digital skills strategy, which is a five-year commitment to driving the digital society forwards. I’m determined that my time as lord mayor will not be a pop-up mayoralty but will leave a genuine legacy of social inclusion.