MGS Business Class with Barney Harford

Posted on: September 20th 2019School News

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The Manchester Grammar School (MGS) was delighted to welcome alumnus Barney Harford – who until this summer was the Chief Operating Officer at Uber - back to the School last night.

Barney, who attended MGS between 1983 and 1990, returned to his old school yesterday (19 September) to speak to a packed audience of pupils and professionals from Manchester’s business community about his successful career, stretching nearly three decades.

He was joined on stage by Hugh Campbell, Partner and Managing Director of investment banking firm GP Bullhound, who is also an alumnus of MGS, having attended between 1984 and 1991. 

The talk was the latest in MGS’s successful Business Class series, which invites top speakers to share their personal business stories. Previous speakers have included former Manchester United CEO David Gill, businessman and star of Dragons’ Den Theo Paphitis and CEO of B&M Retail Simon Arora, another MGS alumnus.

Barney became Chief Operating Officer at the Californian firm Uber Technologies, more widely known as Uber, in January 2018. He told the audience how when he joined, it was his vision to transform the company from a “swashbuckling” firm focused on short-term goals into the £60bn business it is today.

“When I started Uber had 100m riders. My goal was to increase that to 1bn riders,” he said. “Everyone looked at me and said: ‘We can’t do that’, but I think to be an effective leader you need to point to the mountain you want to conquer, and then surround yourself with creative people who can help you achieve you goal.” 

Before his time at Uber, Barney spent seven years at the Expedia Group in a variety of different roles, including Director of Investor Relations, Director of Corporate Development and later President of Expedia Asia Pacific. In 2009, he became CEO of Orbitz Worldwide, a global online travel company, and spent six years there before Orbitz was sold to Expedia for $1.6bn in 2015.

Barney started his business career post-University, having studied at Clare College, Cambridge, as a management consultant, but told the audience it was after sustaining a serious back injury while paragliding that he decided to change direction.

He said: “I was lying in hospital for two weeks and that gave me the window to apply to business school. I knew I wanted to be in technology, and I knew I needed to be out on the West Coast of America. This was in 1997 when the Internet was exploding and there was a lot of start-up companies in the US.

“If you really want something, you need to go out and get it, and put all your effort into achieving what you want. So after I left INSEAD Business School I bought a ticket to San Francisco, and later Seattle, and just started knocking on doors until I got a job with Expedia, who at that time were part of Microsoft.” 

Sharing his business philosophy with the audience, and current pupils at MGS, Barney said the key is to follow your passion and curiosity, and to take risks.

He said: “The culture of business, particularly in the US, is to take risks, try new things, work hard and go for it. You’ll find that if you follow your passion, and be open to serendipity, you will become really good at what you do and that will open doors.

“I had a phenomenal experience at MGS, not just because of the academic side of things but the extra-curricular activities on offer, so my advice is to try different things and don’t be too conservative.

“The early years of your career are an incredible opportunity to learn and develop a passion for something. And some of the best times in business are when things are tough, when you’re in the trenches, and you can bring together very talented people who can help you prevail and overcome a difficult time. That is a great learning experience for anyone wanting to go into business.”

Director of Development at MGS, Simon Jones, said: “I would like to thank Barney from coming all the way from Seattle to speak about his incredibly successful career, and of course to Hugh for giving up his time to interview Barney. We are so proud of our alumni and it’s a pleasure to invite them back to MGS so they can share their success stories and inspire future generations of MGS pupils.”

Hugh Campbell is a Founder and Managing Partner of GP Bullhound, opening the Manchester office in 2013. He has worked with all the leading growth equity funds in Europe and has sold businesses to Real Networks, Tesco, Disney, Accenture and Experian amongst others. Previous to that, he started his career at Citibank before moving onto Goldman Sachs.